For the second installment of my Taking the Heat series, I am discussing...revisions! There comes a point in most writers’ careers where they will be asked to make revisions. In the submission phase, this is fondly referred to as an R&R, or a revise and resubmit. I have heard stories of people receiving these and seeing them as a rejection, or seeing no point in doing the revisions, assuming it will just lead to another rejection. This baffles me. Yes, this is a business of rejections, but if you don’t try, you will never get ahead. But I digress, a revision letter is just that: the editor (or agent, or what have you) sees promise in your story and wants to help you make it better. They have taken the time to not only read it, but also to comment on it. This type of feedback is golden. The first partial I sent to Harlequin came back with an R&R/full request. Did the manuscript ultimately get rejected? You bet it did! But I sold the next submission, and I learned a lot from that first revision letter.
Revisions at any stage are a learning opportunity. The process forces you to look at your own work more critically, to see it through an objective person's eyes. The feedback, while often specific to plot points or conflict in the specific manuscript, can typically be extended to future projects as well. Before I wrote this post, I tried to think if I have ever been given a suggestion or note that I wholeheartedly disagreed with and I decided I never have. Each time, the editor has come back to me with keen insight and fresh perspective. They haven’t been staring at this manuscript for months as we (the writers) have. They can step back and see the areas for improvement. Take it for what it is: this is an expert in the industry, a person who has read hundreds, if not thousands of books in this genre, supporting you in this endeavor and sharing ideas based on their extensive knowledge. That is quite an opportunity.
So what do you do once the revision letter arrives? Here are some things I do:
1. Read the entire letter and then put it aside. Come back to it later, after you have thought about the feedback.
2. Read the manuscript as it currently stands from start to finish, making notes as you go along. In many cases, it will have been months since you last visited with this particular book, and your mind has probably been very focused on another project. You will need to remember the little details, not just the big picture.
3. Go through the revision notes and decide which points to tackle first. I tend to work chronologically as the book progresses, but everyone has their own system.
4. To track or not to track? It’s always a good idea to ask the editor if they’d like to see the marked-up manuscript, but also consider how you work best. Tracking changes can be very messy (though colorful).
5. If you start to feel overwhelmed, just stop. If you start to feel like you have ruined your book, just stop. Come back to it.
6. When you think you have finished making all the changes, take a few days off and come back to the manuscript. Read it again from start to finish as it stands in its revised state. Chances are high you will make even more changes as you go through it again.
7. Go over your revision letter again. Check each off each point to make sure you addressed it.
8. Repeat Step 6. (Yes, I know that re-reading your own work by now can lead to thoughts of hating the book altogether, but trudge through. You owe it to yourself.)
With any set of revisions or notes, there is also usually feedback on what IS working for the story. I realized recently that this isn’t simply flattery--this is a very, very useful tool. Don’t just learn from where you went wrong; learn from where you went right. And do it again.