Let’s talk about the “R” word!
The “R” word you say? Yep, let’s talk about REVISIONS.
Let’s talk about revisions, baby. Let’s talk about crossing T’s. Let’s talk about all the grammar and the syntax that may be. Let’s talk about revisions…
Yeah, not sure that works with that song (totally dating myself here and now I have that tune in my head), but you get my drift. 😉
Revisions are a key part of any writer’s journey. Unless you’re some kind of alien superstar, you’re probably going to have more than one draft of your novel. You’re going to make changes that are structural, character or plot driven, grammatical, and/or any manner of change that can make your manuscript better. These revisions can come from your mom, your critique partners, your agent (& your agent’s assistant) or your editor (& your editor’s assistant), from the point you start writing to after you’ve sold your book.
For purposes of this post, I’m talking about revisions from an agent or editor.
So you’ve sold your book or gotten an agent. Now you wait for the revisions to come because you know they’re coming. You busy yourself writing and doing other things, and then something pops up in your inbox. Your heart starts pounding as you see your agent’s/editor’s name and the dreaded “REVISIONS” or any of its cousins (edits, line edits, suggestions, changes, recommendations) in the subject line. Opening up the email, you see several pages of notes about what you should change and why … wide sweeping paragraphs detailing everything you didn’t do well. You break out in an instant cold sweat of panic.
Breathe, it’s going to be ok. And it’s not a highlight of things you didn’t do, they are recommendations for things you can do better from someone who has experience selling books. Remember this — a good editor is worth his/her weight in gold.
So breathe, read the notes and step away from your computer for a day or so. Sleep on it (not your computer, the notes). The next morning, get ready to work. Open up the file and save it in Word. Go through the notes line by line and insert your comments in a different color. Agree or disagree, but support why you are doing so. You can certainly defend keeping a character in or a scene in, but you have to pony up the explanation as to why it should stay. This should take you a little while to do because you’re basically responding to your agent/editor’s comments. Wait a couple hours, then re-read what you have written. Make any changes.
Now open your manuscript and save it as a different file. Always SAVE AS and label your version clearly (I tend to use a date and revision sequence). Some people like to start at the beginning and work their way through the revisions. The thing that works for me is CHUNKING. Seriously, chunking is something you learn in first grade, which means putting information into smaller pieces so you can see it more clearly. So basically with a similar approach, I break the notes into manageable chunks. Then I go, piece by piece, and address the appropriate area in the manuscript — if it’s character-based, I focus on that one character from start to finish so I can see him/her as a whole in the novel. If it’s plot based, I focus specifically on that. If it’s pacing, then I address that area.
After I’ve completed all the revisions (and about thirty start to finish re-reads), then I re-read the manuscript one last time, keeping an eye out for pacing, flow and making sure all the revised elements have been smoothly incorporated. You don’t want your book to be clunky or contrived because you’re trying to fix/do too many things. Pick and choose what works. Once I’m done, I submit to my agent/editor and wait to see if they have any further comments. If they do, then I apply the same thought-process and action. If they don’t have any comments, we move on to line or copy editing, which is a different animal that I’ll address another time.
In the meantime, good luck with your revisions. And remember that with a good editor, your book will probably be better for it. Respect their knowledge and experience — take advantage of it. They are in your corner and want your book to sell! That said, if you believe in something and want to fight to keep it in or take it out, then don’t be afraid to have a discussion with your agent/editor. They’ll likely back you up. After all, it’s your book and there are going to be some things worth fighting for. Just remember to use wisdom (my mom always tells me this and I’m still trying to work out what it means half the time), and give yourself a pat on the back. You’re one step closer to seeing your amazing book on the shelf!