Braving the Revision Trenches

In Spreading The Love by Emily ColinLeave a Comment

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“It is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is common in all writing and among the best of writers.” E.B. White

Hi, Pitch Wars hopefuls! Though I’m not mentoring this year, I’m thrilled to be invited to share some tips with you. What I thought I’d do is talk a little bit about revisions—what they are, what they aren’t, and how to make them work for you.

Revisions can seem intimidating—to experienced writers as well as emerging authors. You’ve worked on your manuscript for a long time, and done as much as you can to make it shine. Now, whether you’ve gotten substantial feedback from a trusted beta reader, been chosen as a PW mentee, or hired a professional editor, you might be looking at some major changes. Maybe one of your characters’ motivations isn’t clear enough. Perhaps the stakes aren’t sufficiently high, or your mentor is suggesting you shift from third-person to first, or you need to shave as much as twenty thousand words off your manuscript. You’ve gotten a five-page edit letter summarizing all of these suggestions, and to put it bluntly, you’re freaking out.

Allow yourself a few minutes to do this—and then take a deep breath and dig in. As much work as revisions are, they’re also exciting. This is your opportunity to make your manuscript the very best that it can be, to give it an ideal shot at publication. And if you’ve got a Pitch Wars mentor in your corner, then you’ve got someone who deeply believes in your manuscript, enough to choose you as a mentee and commit to working with you for months. You’ve got a cheerleader and someone who will guide you through the process, offering support when things feel too overwhelming and accountability when you flag.

Here’s a personal example of how revisions can make a huge difference—and why having an objective third party who loves your book but is able to assess its flaws is invaluable. When I was looking for an agent for my first novel, THE MEMORY THIEF, I queried—I kid you not—upwards of 70 people. My query letter was strong, and I was getting lots of requests for partials and fulls … but ultimately, every agent passed. Sometimes, they’d offer suggestions—I remember one agent told me I needed “a more integrated dramatic scaffolding,” a comment that completely bewildered me. A lot of the time, though, they’d tell me that they loved the voice, the concept, the writing … but something just wasn’t quite right.

I went back to the drawing board. I reread. I rewrote. I tried letting the book sit for weeks. Then I reread and rewrote again. Still no dice.

After months of this, beyond frustrated, I went back to my writing mentor and begged her to help me. I told her I’d done everything I could; it felt like getting an agent was just within my grasp, if only I could fix the manuscript. Did she have any ideas?

I sent the book back to her, and she came up with a brilliant suggestion, involving a substantial revision to the timeline. It was a lot of work—I had to tear apart the first 100 pages of the book and rewrite them—but when I did this and sent the manuscript out again, within two weeks, two agents offered me representation. The book sold in six weeks to Ballantine, was chosen as a Target Emerging Authors pick, and became a New York Times bestseller.

It would have been so easy for me to walk away, to throw my hands up and refuse to attempt yet another revision. But I believed in the book, and I’d already invested so much in it—not to mention, my writing mentor believed in me. I trusted her … and so I was willing to do the work. And man, am I glad I did.

The point I’m trying to make is this—even when suggested revisions may seem overwhelming, if they’re coming from a reputable source, they’ll likely be well worth it in the end. Read the edit letter through a couple of times, letting your mentor or editor’s thoughts sink in. Really consider them, trying not to get defensive—which can be tough, when someone’s critiquing a project that’s so close to your heart. Then take on the simplest ones first, the ones that will be relatively easy to address. In my experience, this will give you a sense of accomplishment; you can cross them off your list before you move on to the more complex suggestions.

Then, when you’re ready to take on the Big Stuff, think about how shifts in POV or stakes will influence the rest of your novel; once you make these larger changes, there may be small threads that you’ll need to follow throughout your manuscript, shifting verbiage or altering language accordingly. Start with bite-sized pieces; before you go through the entire manuscript, show your mentor or editor what you’ve done and ask them if this is what they have in mind. This is especially true if you’re working with a PW mentor—they’re there to help you!

Keep in mind that revisions should be a collaborative process. Your mentor may have identified an issue with your manuscript and a possible fix for it—but that doesn’t mean it’s the only fix, or even the best one! No one knows your book or your characters as well as you do. Take their feedback to heart and brainstorm all of the possible solutions before simply implementing the ones that your mentor or editor has offered. You might come up with something brilliant that never occurred to them. If you think of an alternative, share it with your mentor, editor, or beta readers and see how it strikes them—or just sit down and start writing! You can always discard it if it doesn’t work … but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Above all, do your best to approach the revision process as an adventure, rather than as a slog through a bramble-infested forest that’s necessary to reach the High Castle. There’s something magical about reading through the finished version of your manuscript and realizing how far you’ve come. Beyond that, deep revisions are an incredible learning experience. Next time, you probably won’t make the same mistakes again—your writing will become leaner, cleaner, and more powerful.

You can do it! I believe in you.

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“It is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is common in all writing and among the best of writers.” E.B. White

Hi, Pitch Wars hopefuls! Though I’m not mentoring this year, I’m thrilled to be invited to share some tips with you. What I thought I’d do is talk a little bit about revisions—what they are, what they aren’t, and how to make them work for you.

Revisions can seem intimidating—to experienced writers as well as emerging authors. You’ve worked on your manuscript for a long time, and done as much as you can to make it shine. Now, whether you’ve gotten substantial feedback from a trusted beta reader, been chosen as a PW mentee, or hired a professional editor, you might be looking at some major changes. Maybe one of your characters’ motivations isn’t clear enough. Perhaps the stakes aren’t sufficiently high, or your mentor is suggesting you shift from third-person to first, or you need to shave as much as twenty thousand words off your manuscript. You’ve gotten a five-page edit letter summarizing all of these suggestions, and to put it bluntly, you’re freaking out.

Allow yourself a few minutes to do this—and then take a deep breath and dig in. As much work as revisions are, they’re also exciting. This is your opportunity to make your manuscript the very best that it can be, to give it an ideal shot at publication. And if you’ve got a Pitch Wars mentor in your corner, then you’ve got someone who deeply believes in your manuscript, enough to choose you as a mentee and commit to working with you for months. You’ve got a cheerleader and someone who will guide you through the process, offering support when things feel too overwhelming and accountability when you flag.

Here’s a personal example of how revisions can make a huge difference—and why having an objective third party who loves your book but is able to assess its flaws is invaluable. When I was looking for an agent for my first novel, THE MEMORY THIEF, I queried—I kid you not—upwards of 70 people. My query letter was strong, and I was getting lots of requests for partials and fulls … but ultimately, every agent passed. Sometimes, they’d offer suggestions—I remember one agent told me I needed “a more integrated dramatic scaffolding,” a comment that completely bewildered me. A lot of the time, though, they’d tell me that they loved the voice, the concept, the writing … but something just wasn’t quite right.

I went back to the drawing board. I reread. I rewrote. I tried letting the book sit for weeks. Then I reread and rewrote again. Still no dice.

After months of this, beyond frustrated, I went back to my writing mentor and begged her to help me. I told her I’d done everything I could; it felt like getting an agent was just within my grasp, if only I could fix the manuscript. Did she have any ideas?

I sent the book back to her, and she came up with a brilliant suggestion, involving a substantial revision to the timeline. It was a lot of work—I had to tear apart the first 100 pages of the book and rewrite them—but when I did this and sent the manuscript out again, within two weeks, two agents offered me representation. The book sold in six weeks to Ballantine, was chosen as a Target Emerging Authors pick, and became a New York Times bestseller.

It would have been so easy for me to walk away, to throw my hands up and refuse to attempt yet another revision. But I believed in the book, and I’d already invested so much in it—not to mention, my writing mentor believed in me. I trusted her … and so I was willing to do the work. And man, am I glad I did.

The point I’m trying to make is this—even when suggested revisions may seem overwhelming, if they’re coming from a reputable source, they’ll likely be well worth it in the end. Read the edit letter through a couple of times, letting your mentor or editor’s thoughts sink in. Really consider them, trying not to get defensive—which can be tough, when someone’s critiquing a project that’s so close to your heart. Then take on the simplest ones first, the ones that will be relatively easy to address. In my experience, this will give you a sense of accomplishment; you can cross them off your list before you move on to the more complex suggestions.

Then, when you’re ready to take on the Big Stuff, think about how shifts in POV or stakes will influence the rest of your novel; once you make these larger changes, there may be small threads that you’ll need to follow throughout your manuscript, shifting verbiage or altering language accordingly. Start with bite-sized pieces; before you go through the entire manuscript, show your mentor or editor what you’ve done and ask them if this is what they have in mind. This is especially true if you’re working with a PW mentor—they’re there to help you!

Keep in mind that revisions should be a collaborative process. Your mentor may have identified an issue with your manuscript and a possible fix for it—but that doesn’t mean it’s the only fix, or even the best one! No one knows your book or your characters as well as you do. Take their feedback to heart and brainstorm all of the possible solutions before simply implementing the ones that your mentor or editor has offered. You might come up with something brilliant that never occurred to them. If you think of an alternative, share it with your mentor, editor, or beta readers and see how it strikes them—or just sit down and start writing! You can always discard it if it doesn’t work … but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Above all, do your best to approach the revision process as an adventure, rather than as a slog through a bramble-infested forest that’s necessary to reach the High Castle. There’s something magical about reading through the finished version of your manuscript and realizing how far you’ve come. Beyond that, deep revisions are an incredible learning experience. Next time, you probably won’t make the same mistakes again—your writing will become leaner, cleaner, and more powerful.

You can do it! I believe in you.


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