Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Revisions and the Author by Lynne Marshall
Many writers are under the incorrect impression that the hardest hurdle in this business is writing the book. Yes, it is a major accomplishment that only a small percentage of people can claim, and you should be proud if you are one of them, but that’s just the first step along the winding path to publication.
Let’s start here:
You've completed your manuscript. You've fine tuned the character's external and internal motivations. You've examined and re-examined the conflict between the characters - making sure it gets more personal throughout the story. You've addressed the character growth for both hero and heroine, and maintained the proper romantic tension for the various stages of the book. There is conflict on every page, and you’ve planted a question for the readers in each scene.
The black moment comes at the right time and makes the reader feel all is lost, that there is no way this couple will ever get back together. You've written enough chapter ending hooks to keep the reader turning pages, and you've made sure your scenes transition well using goal, conflict and disaster in the active scenes and reaction, dilemma, decision for the sequels.
You've checked and rechecked your character point of view, avoided head hopping, and used POV to reveal important thoughts to the reader. There is a good balance between action and narrative. Your story timeline is in order. Your writing flows smoothly, you've deep edited and re-read the entire manuscript, and read all dialogue out loud to catch awkward sentences. (It doesn't hurt to read the entire manuscript out loud for the same reason.)
You've resolved both the characters' growth arcs and the plot's loose ends. You've written the happily ever after (for romance) and/or a satisfying, hopeful ending for all other works. (i.e. solved the mystery or murder, saved the world, or whatever you've set out to do)
Most importantly, you've submitted your book to a publisher or editor and someone is interested in it!!!!
The Revision Letter:
(This letter can be a single page or a dozen, it all depends on the book and the editor)
The revision process can make or break the sale. I’ve heard horror story after horror story from authors who have gone through three to five rounds of revisions, working closely with an interested editor, only to finally be rejected. Hitting the right tone with the revision requests is paramount to making the book sellable, and unfortunately, there is no formula for success. It all comes down to intuition, fearlessness in changing up your story, and a talent for fixing things and making them better.
Note to the wise: Editors are paid professionals and they tend to know what they are doing. Something that doesn’t at first seem to make your book better in their revision suggestions, on second look may be the key to opening up your story and bringing it to a new level. Consider their requests with an open mind.
How often I’ve heard of authors who have received revision letters and assume them to be rejections, or, worse yet, refuse to change their books, or don’t have a clue how to change their books to the editor’s requests. This ensures failure and rejection.
In my experience your editor will begin the letter saying something positive about your book – “this was the greatest book I’ve ever read!” (That’s a fantasy of mine, and it hasn’t happened yet) or “I absolutely loved it!” or “These characters have so many possibilities!”
Beware of the term possibilities. This always means you haven’t met them and you will need to achieve them via revisions.
After the glowing opening phrase, the next sentence will tell you all the ways to make that wonderful book better. Always be prepared for the BUT, as in “I love this book but…”
That but is usually followed by “but we do have a few revision suggestions for you” and those suggestions are to make sure that you are wringing as much emotion as possible out of your story. (Especially if you write category romance) You will be asked to make some scenes more “heart-wrenching” and others more serious as in “Keep an eye on light-hearted moments that sometimes come at a time when it feels a little inappropriate.” (This sentence appeared in one of my revision letters.)
Translation: Knock off the smart aleck humor, would you? Possible second translation: We’re not looking for snappy repartee in this category line.
You might be told your hero and heroine’s bickering “should be cut back a bit” as in it is annoying as all get out, and to turn the bickering into real sexual tension. You’ll read words like “unsympathetic” which means your hero is too Alpha, your heroine is too dense, or your characters are showing signs of being too realistic for fiction which promises escapism to the readers. You may also see the term “off putting” and should know that means you’ve gone down the politically incorrect path. You get the idea.
CAUTION: Do not feel compelled to work on the revisions for at least twenty-four hours after you’ve first received them. Give yourself this grace period to regroup and allow your brain to subliminally begin work on the revision process. I like to sleep on revisions (not literally) and allow my subconscious to figure out some of the solutions. The technique is called lucid dreaming – we can control our dreams.
Once I’ve recovered from the initial shock of the often multi-paged letter, I re-read the requests and focus in more, then I highlight with a yellow marker the main areas that jump out at me. This can turn a several-page document into a single page of “to-dos” numbered 1-15. The single page of core revisions seems far more manageable and less overwhelming to this writer.
Each editor has a distinctly different style and personality, and it’s up to you, the author, to figure it out and deal with it. File this under that bit where I strongly urge the author to BE FLEXIBLE!!!!
Kathleen Scheibling, editor, Harlequin American Romance, RWR article November 2008: "Revision letters are important. It means something in your writing and your story stands out. We remember the manuscripts, and we're waiting to see them come back." Ms. Scheibling assured this important point: If an editor takes time to write you a letter, either suggesting changes or offering to look at a different project, they're not just being nice!!!!!
REMEMBER: It’s all in the attitude. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing a flawless novel. Be grateful that an editor or agent sees the book’s possibilities. Keep an open mind and be flexible when approaching the changes requested. Then get out your hacksaw and don’t be afraid to draw some blood from your pages!
The following is an excellent resource on what the editor expects from a Revise and Resubmit by Angela James. Go Here
My sincere hope for each and every aspiring author reading this blog is that you may find a two to three page revision letter in your mailbox in the very near future. Then get out that hacksaw and make that story bleed…to perfection.
This is a huge topic to cover, and unfortunately I've only scratched the surface, but I'll be around today. I am happy to the best of my ability to answer any questions you may have regarding revisions.
Lynne Marshall www.lynnemarshall.com is a multi-published author for Harlequin Special Edition and Medical Romance lines. She also writes single title length for Wild Rose Press. Her current release is Too Close for Comfort, a second chance at romance, over-forty story is available on Amazon. For a fun book trailer of this story go here.
Watch for Lynne’s future books from Harlequin: NYC Angels: Making the Surgeon Smile (Medical Romance) June 2013, The Medic’s Homecoming (Special Edition) July 2013.
Lynne will be giving away a print or e-book (the winner's choice) of either One for the Road (Single Title) or Courting His Favorite Nurse (Spec. Edition) or Dr. Tall, Dark...and Dangerous? (Medical Romance) her 2012 books to one commenter.
Winner announced in the Weekend Edition!
(Please note that these are contemporary romances, not inspirational romances, and may contain adult themes.)