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Revision letter

When a publisher acquires the rights to a book, that happy deal is commonly followed by a revision letter.  The editor sends this letter to the writer, and it covers the changes (or the first set of changes) that the editor suggests.  Often there is more than one revision letter.

I thought I'd describe my revision process in response to editorial letters.  This discussion is on the general side--I'm not going to reproduce correspondence from my editor here--but I think it's more useful anyway to look at the overall process.  These are the steps I followed:

1. Read letter.  In general, an editorial letter is like a critique, except this time you are getting feedback from someone who has championed your book at the publisher's, has gotten them to put money into it, and has agreed to spend months going over the manuscript and shepherding it through the launch process.  This person has made a serious commitment to your book, and wants it to be its very best bookish self.  Therefore, while this letter is not a series of directions that must be followed without question, it is wise to give considerable weight to the editor's recommendations.  It's even easier to do so when you agree with the input!

2. Digested letter.  This involved just letting the letter simmer in my subconscious for a day or two.  Other writers had advised me not to jump right into changing the ms., and this advice worked well for me.

3. Reread the manuscript.  I did this to reacquaint myself with the project (after all, while my contract was being negotiated, I was writing other things), and to view the ms. through the lens of the editorial letter.

4. Outlined the book, and figured out where I was going to add scenes and where I was going to remove them.  Where I had to move a scene, I used the outline to help me figure out the best way to do that.
When it comes to first-draft writing, I'm a "plunger."  Sometimes I use a very sketchy outline, but I drift from it as I write.  However, I find outlines useful in the revision stage, when I have all the puzzle pieces and I'm deciding how to arrange them.

5. Did a couple of character sketches to deepen my understanding of their motivations.

6. Went through the ms. in order, making the smaller corrections along the way, and adding and removing scenes in accordance with my outline.

7. Made some graphs and charts to look at the places where three important characters appeared.  Evaluated their influence on the book's events.  Figured out where one character in particular needed to appear more, went back to the outline, and added scenes accordingly.
I made a calendar tracking exactly on which date each scene in the book happened.  Most of the dates don't appear in the actual book, but it helped me ensure that seasonal details were appropriate.  I also drew a crude map of the characters' town.  (I had always had such a map in my head, but I finally put it on paper for my own information.)
 
8. Did several passes through the ms., each time focusing on particular issues (e.g., one pass for prose rhythm, one pass to check the overall pacing and plotting, etc.).

9. Did a close pass looking for any last spelling or punctuation errors, awkward or cliched or repeated words, etc.

10. While I had referred back to the editorial letter throughout, I gave it one last read to make sure I had considered everything.

No two writers follow exactly the same path as they write and revise, but I know other writers have done some of the same things I did--some in the same order, some in a different order.  I was grateful for those writers who had blogged about their experience, because it gave me some idea what to expect.  So I hereby pass it on!

Comments

Thanks for sharing this! I hope I get the opportunity to put it to good use soon.... ;)
I hope so too! :-)
THanks for this! I actually wish I could do a great detailed outline, but I swear whenever I start at any point in the process, I am bored with the redundancy of what I know is already in the book. :)
Not every tool works for everyone.
I wouldn't say my outlines are detailed--I use one phrase to describe each scene. I usually know the book so well that sometimes all I need is one word to call the whole scene to mind!
Thanks. A very useful post. I'll have to bookmark it and come back to it in a few months when I need it.
Hope it helps, in some way or another!
I hope to need this some day. But I find it helpful now, too, when working through revisions on my own.
Yes, actually I've used some form of this process on other revisions. The main difference is that this time, I had a heightened sense of "last chance to get it right!"
Thanks for walking us through the process. I'm with the others in hoping that I will soon be able to be in the same place as you. I'm reworking things to query in the YA arena. Congrats for your success!

I love your "profile picture." The colors are so vibrant!
Thank you!

(Anonymous)

Great Info!

Hi - I found this post through Nathan Bransford's today (this week in publishing). You're right, it's very helpful to be able to read details like this from someone a few steps ahead of me in the publishing process. My book is still looking for an editor at the moment. I love what you say about how a critique at this level carries different weight since it comes from someone really championing for you and your book. Thanks for putting this out there for us!

Serenity Bohon,
http://www.serenitybohon.blogspot.com

Re: Great Info!

Thank you. Hope you're reading your own revision letter soon!

(Anonymous)

Revision Letter

Thanks Jenn,
I will be doing this fairly soon, so it's very useful to get my head in the right space when the revision letter arrives.

Re: Revision Letter

Good luck! It's an exciting time.
Wow. This is magnificent and incredibly helpful. Thank you so much for letting the rest of us know about it.
Thanks for commenting!

(Anonymous)

I've just cut out the first four chapters of my story, and now have to go back through and outline my scenes and all that jazz. Thanks for this post, it's given me hope when I'm feeling a bit down at the amount of work I have to do now..
It is a lot of work, absolutely. But it's exciting too, to see the tightened story emerging ...
Wonderful post! I too found you through Nathan. It is nice to have someone going through the process sharing their experiences. Thanks!

Hoping to be in your shoes someday...
Thanks and good luck!

(Anonymous)

How often do you let your MS go stale?

This is a really great post. I am a semi-outliner. I basically write a sentence or two as I go to tell me what it going on so I can add scenes.

You read through the book a few times in your revisions. I wonder, how many times do you step aside and let your manuscript go stale before you begin revisions again? A day? a week?

Also, when you deepen your character do you find you have to tear apart the plot and put it back together or are you able to add small clues about their back story?

Thanks so much for this great posting. It is very helpful.

Your Coach for the Journey, Tiffany Colter. Writing Career Coach.

Re: How often do you let your MS go stale?

In responding to the revision letter, I didn't take long pauses between passes. But then, I had been away from the ms. for a while before that, so it still felt fresh to me. I did take a couple of days' rest before the final pass, however. The pattern I use depends on how close or distant my deadline is, how much I have to do to the ms., and how much I've done to it already. I find it's usually good to take little breaks wherever possible.

For your second question, about the depth of revision, the answer is, "It depends." It depends on the story and on the specific revisions that are needed.