Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Revisions- hell or heaven? December 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:02 pm

I haven’t experienced the mixed pain and pleasure of a revision letter yet.

Pleasure because the editor sees potential in my story, she wants to see more, ultimately she must think that this could actually be publishable! Pain because she doesn’t like this and she doesn’t like this and she doesn’t like this and she wants me to add more of that and that and that?  I loved my story the way it was. I sent her the best version I could. How the hell can I change all that?

No wonder we don’t know whether to dance or cry when we get one!

But they are a necessary part of a published writer’s life- next to no stories are published without some revisions, whether minor or extensive. The editor’s job is to know what will make a story work better, and read better, no matter how good it already is. Ultimately, her job is make our stories more publishable-  to help us create stories that readers will buy, read, and love so much they put us on their auto-buy list for next time!

The sad thing is, a huge percentage of requested revisions never get done. Two reasons.

The writer reads the letter as a rejection rather than a revision. Thinking of how to decode “rejection” letters, there’s an oldie but goodie forum thread on eHarl. I’ve heard so many writers say they’ve had a rejection when it’s really a revision, including one of my writing buddies.

Or the writer knows it’s a revision but decides not to redo and resend her story, because it feels like too difficult a job. Sometimes that’s the right decision, the story is too close to the writer’s heart to make the requested changes, and she’s better starting something new. More times it’s just a missed opportunity. We gotta know how to revise to get published!

Maisey’s Call story makes it clear what a big part revisions played-  though the first version of her story was excellent, her finished story incorporating her editor’s suggestions is amazingly stronger. She quotes from her revision letters on her blog in this great post.

Anyway, I want to cut and paste some wise advice for dealing with revisions  posted on the Mills and Boon forum by Historicals author Michelle Willingham. Mainly so when that day comes I need it, I can find it again!

Michelle’s advice-

I go through three phases when I do revisions.

1.  OMG, panic!  This book is the Worst Book Ever! She Hates It! (sobbing wreck)

2. Get over it, Michelle.  Read the revision letter point by point.  Start with the little tweaks.  Think about the bigger picture.

3. Read revision points again.  Realize that she didn’t really hate it, but I really do have work to do.

4. Remember that I’ve done this before. I can do it again. Self pep-talk. Read and absorb revisions again.

5. Start at the beginning,  Realize that editor was completely right and What Was I Thinking when I wrote this?  Start tearing it apart.

6. Start to see the light. Revisions are making the book stronger. Oooh, am loving the changes!

7. Turn in the revised book.  Collapse in a heap. 



Three things that you might try when revising your mss and a scene’s not working…

1.  Change the POV to the opposite character

2. Deepen the scene by revealing more of their emotions and motivations

3. Delete the scene entirely.  Sometimes less is more.

Just thought I’d throw those out there, since they’re techniques I use the most often.  Wink


Revision letters are tough and challenging! But having just had the dreaded form rejection, I would loooooooove to have had one of them instead!


4 Responses to “Revisions- hell or heaven?”

  1. Lorraine Says:

    Great post Jane, I hope to need to revisit it one day 🙂

  2. Heidi Rice Says:

    Boy did your post strike a chord with me…. Revisions are hard work (and I’ve had rather a lot of them recently!), but they really are all part of the writing process. Michelle’s advice was gold dust in that respect. (God I’ve so been there and done that!)

    One thing I would add, if anyone gets a revision letter from an editor, DON’T let the opportunity pass you by. No story should be so close to a writer’s heart that you’d miss out on the opportunity to get it published… If an editor thinks the story is worth the effort so should you… And saying you can’t or you won’t do the work because you love your story too much is frankly a load of cobblers IMHO.

    That said, there’s no guarantee doing the work will get the story published, but at least you will have grown hugely as a writer in the attempt and next time you get revisions it won’t be so much of a chore (actually, scratch that, they’re always a chore!!).

    Whenever I read a call story – and Maisey’s was a great example – it’s easy to see that it’s those people who persevere, who take criticism constructively and make it work for them that get there in the end.

    Sorry about your rejection, they’re always a kick in the teeth, but the fact that you’ve got the right attitude to it is what counts. Rejection letters are just another (albeit, extremely pissy) step on the road to publication, right…

    Best of luck in 2010!

    Heidi x

  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    Fingers crossed for us both, Lorraine!

    Thanks for the good wishes Heidi! Yeah, another rejection under my belt, so on to the next story. Hey, have you read Jilly’s fab MH chapter on I Hearts? Aideen is about to submit her full story too, at last. Before long I’m gonna find myself the only Sister without a contract, so I better get moving!

    I agree totally about doing revisions if one has the chance. Revisions must be darned hard work but I would never submit a story without expecting I would get them. I know it could be possible for writers to have problems with this for some stories though, when what the editor wants changed is the very thing about the story that is closest to the writer’s heart and what makes it special to her personally. It might take some time and distance passing for a writer in that situation to make those big changes.

  4. Robyn Says:

    Hey Jane, had to respond since I feel like you’re talking directly to me. It’s all about ME… just kidding 🙂

    I’m discovering that time is my friend as I “destroy” the story of my heart and reconfigure it into something that’s stronger and more emotional and yet a lot less personal. I have days when I think a flat R would’ve been much easier to deal with, but I set that thought aside and get on with the rewrite because there’s no other choice. Writing another story before I tackled this has really been good for me, and the promise of more new stories keeps me going because I can’t write them until I nail this!

    Thanks so much for your post. It’s helpful to see echoes of my own thoughts; makes me feel like I’m on track.


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