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Managing Revisions

Revisions and revision letters from an agent or editor can be a tricky thing. You usually know they’re coming so you’re mentally prepared, but you’re also a little hesitant. Any author who has ever received revisions knows that a simple letter can require you to do something as simple a few tweaks or you might be forced to look into revamping the entire manuscript.

There are a lot of ways authors, agents and editors handle revisions and I don’t mean the mechanics of dealing with them. I mean the emotions. I talked with an author recently who told me that even though he knows the revisions are coming, he’ll still wait a week to open them once they arrive. He needs the time to mentally prepare and steal himself for what is to come. While I think some of what to come is psychological, I can imagine that it also has to do with the sheer exhaustion of knowing you’re going to have to go back into a book you hoped to be done with.

Revisions should always be a part of the process (I would worry if they aren’t), but it’s not an easy part. Revisions are part of the collaboration of working with an agent or editor and how you handle revisions, both physically and psychologically, have to be up to you. They have to be done in a way that helps prepare you for the work ahead.

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5 comments

  1. Jessica knows quite well how well I deal (Ha!) with revisions. I was with a new traditional publisher after publishing 31 novels and novellas through a different NY pub when I received my FIRST EVER revision letter. I freaked. Five pages of editorial comments sent me into a tailspin where I was so upset that I actually talked to Jessica about buying back my contract. She asked me to send the letter so she could see what I was so upset about, and I’m sure she laughed all the way through it. Then she requested my manuscript, and had the audacity to agree with everything my editor said.

    I’ll fight with an editor, but not with an agent who has always had my best interests at heart. So I took writer Anne Lamott’s advice in her wonderful book, “bird by bird,” and went through the notes, comment by comment. It was amazing how simple it was, once I realized my editor wasn’t asking me to change my entire book–what she WAS asking me was to tighten it up and make it better. That was my “duh…” moment.

    The book was better, and revisions on the following books went so much smoother, not because the edits were any easier, but because my attitude had changed. The hardest part, for me, is stepping back and seeing my story the way a reader might–while I know my characters inside and out, the reader doesn’t, and if I don’t show motivation for certain things clearly enough, the points I’m trying to make are lost.

    One funny thing that happened, after I learned to work with the editorial revisions is that copy editors can be a whole ‘nuther critter. My favorite interaction with my editor came when a CE rewrote a sentence in a scene where the hero is watching the heroine at the stove and becoming aroused. It’s from his point of view, and graphic, but definitely how a guy would think. The CE deleted the entire scene written in the hero’s voice and changed it to, “He felt a stirring in his loins.” I cut and pasted the paragraph and sent it to my editor with a snarky comment to the effect that this was why I was so frustrated by the CD who had torn my prose apart throughout the entire manuscript.

    The editor’s one sentence reply restored my faith in the editorial process. She wrote, “There will be no stirring of loins.” And there wasn’t.

  2. And then there are those authors who envision so many possible developments and outcomes for their books, that they can’t decide which route to take. Those might be happy to receive revision letters. I met a few people like that, it was quite interesting talking to them 🙂

  3. It’s similar when you are in the query trenches and receive a revise and resubmit from an agent. Only you have no idea it’s coming in this case. It’s so daunting because you don’t have an agent to turn to to ask for help if needed. And you worry yourself silly that what you do won’t be good enough. To know that an agent is interested but you have to just prove yourself that little bit more… Agh!

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