The word alone has the ability to terrify the most seasoned of writers. There is good news though. That dreaded “R” word can lead to wonderful things. Our friend Wendy Marcus is here to tell us about her journey through the revision process.
Take it away, Wendy!
For those of you who don’t know me, in October 2010 I sold my first book to Harlequin Mills and Boon. I know what you’re thinking: She’s only got one book to her publishing credit and it’s not even out yet. What makes her an expert on revisions?
I’m not. But, at the request of an editor, I spent six long months revising my manuscript, and in the process rewrote it. Twice. Was I under contract at the time? No. Was I offered any guarantee of a contract if I did the revisions? No. Am I crazy? Quite possibly. But the way I looked at it, I had an editor who liked my voice enough to work with me and give me guidance. I was not about to pass that up. Would I do it again? Yes.
Here’s an actual sentence from the first e-mail I received from my editor dated 4/1/2010: Wendy, we were absolutely blown away by your voice – it’s young, fresh and exciting, with a fab comic/sardonic touch!
I remember thinking: Holy cow! I’m in!! I did it!!! Yeah. Unfortunately having a great voice is not enough to sell a book, because a major ‘however’ lay buried in the next paragraph and was followed by three single-spaced pages of problems with my story.
That was my first of many ‘poop sandwiches’ as my husband calls them; a heaping helping of negative sandwiched between a top bun of praise, and a bottom bun of support and encouragement in the form of, ‘I know you can do it’ and ‘Feel free to bounce ideas off me’. In my editor’s defense, she truly is lovely and tried her hardest to make the negative as palatable as possible.
Initially, I looked forward to my editor’s e-mails. As the arduous revision process wore on, I began to dread them. The hero isn’t heroic enough. The heroine’s actions aren’t consistent. Her anger on page 63 doesn’t seem justified. The new scene you added comes off as melodramatic. Chapter 3 just isn’t working for me. Are you willing to tone down Ali’s drunkenness? We need more hero POV. Chapter 6 is too medical. We need to see them as a couple outside of work. What is Ali’s motivation? You still have too many secondary characters. Why is Jared pursuing Ali so relentlessly? What is going through his head on the dinner date? Can we make Jared more of a bad boy? What if…..
Okay, a major lesson I learned early on: Never, and I mean never ever, respond to a request for revisions in under twenty-four hours. Crumble it up and stomp on it. Yell at the phone or computer screen. (Get creative – as long as young ears are not within range.) Draft a nasty response to the editor who is obviously deranged because there is no possible way you can make the changes he/she requested without totally ruining your story. (I suggest you do this in a word document so there’s no chance of accidentally hitting send.)
When your rampage is over and your children/pets are no longer in danger of physical harm should they wander into your path, head to your kitchen (or bar) and prepare your favorite beverage, take a deep cleansing breath, and relax. The decision to revise, and how to go about doing it, is completely up to you.
So, how to proceed after the initial shock of the dreaded revision request wears off? At some point between the return of rational thought and, for the cocktail imbibers among us, before your blood alcohol concentration gets too close to that of an intoxicated person, I recommend you take some time to really think about what the editor is requesting. What did he/she see in your story that you didn’t? Is there any way you can meet the editor somewhere in between his/her vision for the story and yours? Just because our stories are set in our minds doesn’t mean they’re set in stone. But know this, for your revisions to work you need to buy into the changes, believe in them, and own them. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, you may very well wind up ruining your story.
I know, there are people out there who will tell you not to mess with your story, that editors aren’t writers, and to keep sending your manuscript out until you find the agent/editor who loves it as much as you do. I say, “Good luck with that.” No, really. If this is the avenue you choose to take, I wish you luck. I didn’t have the patience.
I think here is a good place for some quotes by established, multi-published authors:
“Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing.” Richard North Patterson
“Books aren’t written- they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” Michael Crichton
Okay. You’ve written your manuscript and found an editor who’s interested in it but wants revisions. You’ve received the revision request. You’re over your tantrum/meltdown and have decided to proceed with revising your story. Now what?
Since I’ve only gone through the process once, and I don’t think my whining, complaining, spider-solitaire playing ways would benefit anyone, I spoke with multi-published romance author Day Leclaire who very generously shared the following step by step approach:
Early on my editor would say something like: The conflict needs to be strengthened toward the middle and some key event must happen that drives them further apart. Right now your characters are just too happy with each other and you need to drive the conflict home in order to add to the overall tension and deepen the sexual tension (that push-pull) between your hero and heroine. Also, we’d like to see deeper insight in the heroine’s POV regarding why she’s sworn off men. (I made all that up, it’s just to use as an example.) First, I would brainstorm what scene or scenes I needed to add and where. Then I’d make sure *I* understood why the heroine’s sworn off men—in other words, did I actually think about the why or did I just make that sweeping statement without motivating it? Once I have that clear in my head, I make an excruciatingly detailed list of what the editor wants and how I intend to fix it. Then, with list in hand, I go back through my manuscript and look at each scene, making notes (usually on the manuscript itself) about what I need to change (if anything—not all scenes need to be changed!). For most scenes it might be feathering in some internal dialogue that reflected her motivation for swearing off men, maybe adding a flashback scene that shows the key incident that drove her to that decision. And, of course, adding that key scene toward the middle that drives them further apart. I then look at the scenes building toward the middle and immediately afterward in terms of punching up the conflict just a bit between the hero and heroine. It often doesn’t take much—you don’t want to get too heavy-handed—just using certain words to shade the emotion or a line or two to keep the conflict in the forefront. Once I’ve addressed every item on the list, I take the red-lined manuscript, sit down at the computer and revise and perfect.
Day also pointed out that editor suggestions are just that, suggestions.
For those of you looking for a class on revisions, I’ve heard wonderful things about Riveting Revisions taught by author Lynne Marshall. If you’re interested, please go to: http://www.heartofcarolina.org/online-classes.html for information on her next class. When I asked Lynne for a quote about revisions she said, “Don’t be afraid to take out a hacksaw and draw blood.”
In conclusion, I may not be an expert in revisions but I got through six months of them and am proud and happy to report, my hard work paid off. My debut Harlequin Medical Romance, WHEN ONE NIGHT ISN’T ENOUGH, will be released as a 2in1 with author Janice Lynn in the UK in June 2011 and as a single in the U.S. in July 2011. To learn more about me or to read an excerpt, or both, visit my website: http://wendysmarcus.com/
Now let’s get some discussion going. What’s your experience with revisions? How do you handle revision requests? Have you ever taken a stand and refused to revise? How’d that work out? I’m also happy to answer your questions so let ‘em rip.
RU Crew, do you dread the revision process? Why or why not?
Thank you to Wendy for joining us today!
Join us on Friday when Carina Press editor Gina Bernal gives us a behind the scenes look at the editing process.
- Behind the Scenes: Editing
- How To Be An Excellent Hooker
- How To Be An Excellent Hooker
- Debut Author Interview with Wendy S. Marcus
- Who wants to share an agent?