Let's start this post with a definition of revisions. For today's post, I am talking about editorial revisions. You sent in an a requested or unrequested manuscript or proposal to a publishing house. You received a letter back. If you are published and the letter comes from your editor this letter may be defined as a revision letter.
If you are unpublished or you are published and this letter is from an editor who is not "your" editor "YET," the letter may not be defined as a revision letter. However, if this letter outlines the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript and does not indicate that you should never darken this editor's door again, you should consider this a revision letter. If there is any doubt whatsoever, do email that editor and say something like this:
Dear Amazing Editor, Thank you so much for taking time to review my manuscript. I am working to strengthen this story using your insightful comments. When completed, may I resubmit this story?
For the record, I'd been submitting on and off for a good many years and had revised and resubmitted many times before my first sale. The story of my first sale is centered on revisions.
I received a snail mail rejection letter for A Place Called Home. When ACFW was in Denver that fall I showed the letter to Love Inspired Suspense author, Debby Giusti, who remarked, "That's not a rejection. That's a revision letter." What did I know? It didn't say revise and resubmit. I did revise, and I did an additional requested revision after the book sold. That book became The Rancher's Reunion.
Do you know how busy editors are? Consider this: they read your pages, logged the story into the publisher's data base as received (yes, you are now in a publisher data base) and took the time to type you a letter. So why would you ignore this opportunity, unless you :
1. Are not very bright.
2. Are a certified diva/divo.
3. Got a better offer.
4. Decided to take a different publishing route.
5. Disagree morally, and/or ethically with the requested revisions.
At very least, send a thank you note. On paper. Yes. Snail mail.
A few more foundational notes.
It doesn't matter if you have published zero books, five books or fifty books, revision letters are as common as rejections. The reasons for both do not necessarily indicate that you suck. So let's take that option off the table.
You can get a revision request at the proposal stage or at the completed manuscript stage.
You can skate along with no revisions for several, or even many books, and then get slammed with heavy revisions. You can have light revisions on all your books. Often the definition of light and heavy is subjective according to which side of the red pen you are on.
Also note that some publishers call the stage when a book has already been accepted for publication macro edits not revisions. Every publisher handles revisions differently. Some use track changes for everything. Some do not until you get to the line edit stage or copy edit stage. ( Edits vs. Copy Edits. / Copy Editing vs. Line Editing.)
My Revision Tips
This post is NOT the unequivocal bible of revision tips. These are my suggestions utilizing my experiences and those of several Seekers who offered their revision letters for our use.
I have had three editors at the same publishing house for seven books. I have also amazingly enough, had books with no revisions, books with light revisions, and had several books with heavy revisions. In all honesty, my first big revision had me in tears. One of my 2016 releases, I apparently forgot EVERYTHING I know and thank you, God, for an editor who didn't ask me if my cat wrote the book, but simply sent me a very nice, albeit detailed, revision letter.
The Letter Portion of Your Revisions
Here is the skinny on your revision letter. Editors are nice people and apparently someone sent them a memo about the sandwich method about the same time the very same memo went out to critique groups. The samples of revision letters here are from several different publishers and yet they all begin with pointing out the author's strengths before discussing weaknesses.
These are some of the lovely positive reinforcements from YES, REAL REVISION LETTERS:
#1 I’m so excited about partnering with you to make xxx the best it can be. There’s a lot to love in this book. Great job on your premise! Your sense of story and the cast of identifiable characters make the reader want to turn the page. As always, though, an editor looks for ways to make the content stronger. That’s my job.
#2 I think your writing is really strong, and you do a great job of character development. However, I think that the manuscript could use some revisions with plotting.
#3 I’m thrilled to have a chance to work with you on another book. You did an amazing job with xx and xx's story. You took the revisions to heart, and the book is a lot better as a result. A few more tweaks are needed, but you are well on your way to a stellar story.
#4 This is an entertaining read that flows nicely and is sure to satisfy romance readers looking for a side of adventure, action, and humor. Likable characters, real stakes for the lead characters, and a feeling of forward momentum with a fast pace. The writing is smooth and competent, with enough going on regarding the plot to hold interest.
#5 Thank you so much for all the work you did on xx. Overall I feel you did an excellent job. You’re writing is polished and reads well, and I especially enjoyed the dialogue. It’s smart and interesting, and made me feel connected with the characters. This story will really capture our readers’ hearts. And while it’s in good shape, it could use some revisions to make it even stronger.
Before You Start!
Your first step is to create a copy of the original manuscript and save it in safe PLACES. Your external hard drive, email it to yourself, in the cloud and on your computer. Give it a specific name that will tell you this is a copy of your original manuscript.
Please, please use another name so you do not overwrite the manuscript.
When you start revisions use a new name.
This is a hugely important first step. You must understand the revisions to do the revisions. If you don't understand what the editor is asking of you, check with another experienced author, or if you are published, of course, you will ask your editor.
2. Bullet Points
Many light and medium revisions come numbered or in short bullet points or even numbered according to the page the revision request is on. Note that to maintain your sanity it will be very important not to mess with the pagination if your editor provides revisions by page numbers.
I like to highlight the bullet points. Cut them out with scissors, and then tack them to a display board and start going through them one by one. I put them in the order I will attack them, which is not necessarily the order the editor gave them to me. It gives me a visual that is less intimidating and a feeling of accomplishment as I take them down when completed. (This is my method. This may not be your method. I am visual, and need a visual aide.)
Often in light or medium revisions you are clarifying, tweaking, strengthening, and layering-in where you may have missed an opportunity to do so.
Big revisions mean you had bigger or more issues to deal with. That's life. It happens. Big revisions can mean goal, motivation and conflict concerns, character issues, plot holes, or maybe a lot of small things.
I find that big revisions mean more narrative. So you have to take the narrative your editor sent you, or even a narrative with bullet points and translate them to clearly name the issue, so you can address the issue/s.
Here are my translations from my most recent revisions. Note: I cannot show you more of the revision letter because the book has not released yet. This was a little over a two and a quarter page revision letter. (Not my my longest revision letter either.) My editor was spot on.
Consider yourself blessed if you have an editor who really cares about your writing as much as you do, and works as hard as you do to make your stories go from good to AWESOME.
What I did on each page was take the paragraph and translate it into what I have to do to fix the issue (It makes sense to me.) So I was able to take two and a quarter pages and turn them into a list of 11 items to address. ->
2. Create a Plan
Just like light revisions, you have to create a plan. Work on the easy stuff first and then attack the issues that hurt your brain and/or the issues that will have a huge ripple effect on your entire manuscript.
3. Save the Words
For this particular story, I took my editor's advice and did a few things right away.
1. I eliminated chapter one, scene one.
2. I cut out three characters.
3. I took action from the middle of the book and moved it to the first three chapters.
3. I also decided to add three additional scenes.
Note: As per her style, my editor told me the issue and WHY it was an issue, and in a few instances gave me alternate options as a jumping off point for ideas. If I had disagreed or was confused, I would feel comfortable to call or email to discuss this.
Every book is different. The important thing to remember is that everything you do in revisions (even light ones) will often impact the entire story's continuity in some way.
Save the Words Method
1. Here is my method. I take everything I cut and put it in an outtake manuscript. This outtake was 5 thousand words. Label this as an outtakes manuscript.
2. Then I go through and highlight what I can use again and color code it as use now or use later. That translates to -I know exactly what to do with those words now or I WILL find a place for those words because they are too good to lose.
Periodically I print off a new outtake manuscript as I utilize the saved words (copy and past them in your final manuscript and then cross them out on the hard copy).
Outtake. SAVE THE WORDS
Socks in the Dryer
I can't emphasize enough the importance of a read through after revisions. After all, you were in the middle of a different project when these revisions came, (shame on you if you were not) and the revision process, like doing laundry, means you can expect things to end up missing, like socks in the dryer. Don't just do a regular read through! Mix it up, because your eyes get lazy and they overlook missing words and lost punctuation. After twenty-five edits and a revision, you have your story memorized.
These tips are from my self-editing class.
1. Read the entire manuscript aloud or have someone read it aloud to you.
2. Print the manuscript in two columns like a real book.
3. Enlarge the font (I mean enlarge.) so you don't miss any words.
Final thoughts: If at all possible let the pages sit for days before you do the final read-through.