Why is that?
I received representation from my Dream Agent, Rachelle Gardner, in December. (That was my best Christmas present ever!) During the call, she told me she loved the story but said, “It needs some revision.” I assured her I was fine with that. And I am.
Years ago, I worked as an assistant editor for a small textbook publishing company. I saw firsthand how much work goes into getting a book ready for publication. Our in-house writers would produce a rough draft, but that was just the beginning. Several rounds of revisions followed before I received the manuscript for copyediting.
Six weeks after talking with Rachelle, I received my Revision Notes. Even with my background in publishing, I was unprepared. She was compassionate but direct when she told me about a major plot problem that would require me to rewrite nearly three-quarters of the story.
“Yikes! How could I have been so blind?” I asked myself. A full week passed as I came to grips with the fact that I had a huge task ahead of me. I knew from the outset that Rachelle was right. Before becoming an agent, she was an editor who worked with some big name authors in my genre, and I trust her. However, I needed to accept the reality of revisions.
I’m currently rewriting this story—for the third time. My first two revisions were self-directed. This time I’m blessed to have Rachelle’s guidance.
When I finish, will I have a story ready for submission? Rachelle says that’s not likely. I may have to go through one or two more rounds of revisions with her, which will be followed by more once the book is contracted. She said I’m at the crucial point where many writers make it—or not. How well we handle revisions is critical to our success.
I’ve accepted the fact that while writing a first draft is fun, much of the time I’ll be busy working on revisions. Thus, I call myself a re-writer.
What Revisions Are Not
Revisions aren’t line edits (sometimes referred to as copy edits). Repetition of words, POV shifts, items that don’t make sense/need clarification, time-line consistencies, etc. will be examined in the line edit stage. An editor will see if house style issues need to be addressed. I think of this as looking at a garden patch. Are the rows straight? Are the identifying signs in place?
Revisions aren’t copy edits (sometimes called proofreading). Grammar, punctuation, spelling, typos, etc. will be examined in this final editing pass along with other details such as fact-checking and verifying consistent spelling of words and names. This is the nitty-gritty, get-down-on-your-knees view of the garden where we get our hands dirty pulling weeds.
What Revisions Are
Revisions can also be called Macro Edits, Substantive Edits, Structural Edits, Content Edits, or Developmental Edits. This is the big picture look. In this case, the garden would be viewed from the top of a hill so a person takes it all in at once.
Major issues are examined in the revision stage:
Often, the fixes require a significant amount of rewriting, which is why some people use the terms revisions and rewrites interchangeably.
Facing the Realities of Revisions
I won’t sugarcoat the truth. Revisions require hard work. We may have to make judicious use of the delete key. Cutting words we worked hard to produce can be painful. We may be forced to make sweeping changes such as eliminating entire scenes, chapters, subplots, or—gasp—even beloved secondary characters. Or we may be asked to add some.
One of the best ways to prepare for dealing with Revision Notes from an agent or editor is to subject our work to constructive criticism beforehand. Contests are one way to get objective feedback. Working with critique partners is another. A third option would be to hire a freelance editor. Any of these will help us learn to receive comments with an open mind, determine which are helpful, and act on those we believe will improve our stories.
In my experience, and that of other novelists I know, once we have our Revision Notes, we’re pretty much on our own. My agent isn’t holding my hand through my rewrite. She conveyed what she saw as weaknesses in my four-page, single-spaced Revision Notes. My job is to use her input as a guide while I rewrite my story. She wants to see what I can do.
Rachelle offered some encouragement as I grappled with the enormity of the task before me. She said published authors go through revisions the same as unpublished ones. I’m sure you’ve heard many novelists talk about working on their revisions. Have you heard any say they didn’t have to do revisions? I did. Once. A novelist posted on Twitter her amazement that she’d turned in her manuscript and found out her editor didn’t ask for a single change. She then added that this was her 80th book.
The Rewards of Revisions
Dealing with revisions is a major part of a writer’s job. If we learn to face them with a good dose of reality and as much objectivity as we can muster, we can prove to the publishing professionals that we have what it takes to succeed in this business. In addition, we’ll improve our work, sell better stories, and gain that all-important readership.
Have you received Revision Notes? If so, how did you react initially? Did you see things differently after some time passed?
If you’ve yet to receive Revision Notes, how do you go about getting feedback on your work?
What’s been the toughest—but most helpful—advice you’ve received?
Keli Gwyn writes inspirational historical romance and is represented by Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Keli was a double Golden Heart® finalist in 2008 and is a current finalist as well. She and her husband live in the heart of California’s Gold Country in a small town at the base of the majestic Sierras. When not writing, she enjoys taking walks, attending Toastmasters, eating at Taco Bell, and dreaming of her next Coach handbag.