revisions

My Own Editorial Letter

I was always really curious about this big, ominous-seeming thing. The editorial letter. I'd read blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts. Some were ecstatic, some resigned, some neutral. I know that every one is different in regards to length and detail. How could it not be? All manuscripts and editors are different. But I finally have one of my own, and I can tell you guys what mine is like.

Wonderful.

Yes, you read that right. It might seem boastful or optimistic, but it really is just an amazing thing. Someone loved your book so much they made all this time and effort to make it better and put it out into the world. They painstakingly combed through every page with just as much care and attention as the one who wrote it. 

My agent and I went through revision after revision before sending it out, wanting it to shine so brightly that the editors would be blinded when they opened that word document. (Okay, that may be a tad melodramatic. But it's more fun this way.) 

Anyway, one of my editor's comments was that he had noticed that the manuscript was in good condition. I still admit to being slightly apprehensive about that letter. I'd heard of authors getting ten, twelve, or even twenty-pages of suggestions and tweaks and changes. 

Yet, when I opened my e-mail one morning and found that letter waiting for me, there was nothing to be afraid of. Three pages. Three pages of kind, encouraging - and, most importantly - accurate notes. Editors aren't as pushy as the movies make them out to be, as bad as that sounds. 

I didn't realize going into this how much would be up to me. Maybe I'm really, really lucky. Maybe the next editorial letter will really be twenty pages. But it's not something to dread. Not only does it mean that we're just that much closer to seeing our stories out in the world, it's full of compliments and changes that will only help improve the writing.

So, the point of this post. Editorial letters are good. I can't wait for the next one. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, I've got my work cut out for me.

Guest Post by Author Ryan Graudin: Revisions

Today I am so excited to have Ryan Graudin stopping by the blog! Her book sounds amazing and I'm pretty sure she's going to be one popular author. Which is why it is so cool she's doing this guest post, because then I can tell people, "Uh, I know her. She totally did a guest post on my blog." Anyway. Thanks for being here, Ryan!

When she’s not writing and drifting around the globe, Ryan Graudin enjoys hunting through thrift stores and taking pictures of her native Charleston, SC. Her novel LUMINANCE HOUR, the story of a Faery who falls in love with the prince she’s forced to guard, is due out with HarperTeen in 2013. You can learn about all of these things and more at http://ryangraudin.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @ryangraudin

When I was a senior in high school, I used to do my homework at my parents’ kitchen table. One afternoon, as I was distinctly exasperated with my workload of Honors Physics and AP English assignment, I looked over at my mom and asked, “Will there be any homework in college?”

She just stared back with a dubious look. Years later, when I was balancing the reading of four separate English classes and a writing fiction class, I would think back on that moment and laugh. How could I ever have thought that there wouldn’t be homework in college?

Well, revisions are kind of like that too. When you first finish the rough draft of your manuscript you probably jump around the house for a day or two in jubilation (I know I do). Somewhere inside those 48 hours the sinister realization sinks in that your manuscript has flaws. Flaws that cannot stay. Flaws that must be fixed.

That’s when the real work begins.

It took me four months to write the first draft of Luminance Hour. It took me two major revisions (as well as countless smaller ones) to find my wonderful agent. Once I signed with Alyssa, I tempted the vain thought that maybe the bulk of the work for the manuscript was behind me. *insert evil laughter here* A few weeks after she signed me, Alyssa sent me a four page revision letter for my manuscript, pointing out the weaknesses of my story and showing me how to fix them. We went through two rounds of this before it was shipped out into the wide world of editors.

Surely. Surely now the majority of labor to snap this story into shape was behind me now.

I was fortunate enough to get my manuscript picked up by HarperTeen and work with editor Alyson Day. My revision letter arrived in my mailbox on December 19th. It wasn’t so long, only four pages (I have friends whose letters are twelve + pages long). But within those four pages was a month and a half worth of work (compared to my agent’s four pages, which took about three weeks to fix).

What was in this letter you ask?

An editor’s first revision letter usually addresses “big picture” issues, such as plot, character arcs and world-building. My letter helped guide me through the development of two separate characters. It also addressed the romance in the book and its pacing. All of these were things I agreed with and was eager to make work.

I finished these revisions on February 10th and sent them back to my editor. She’s reading them now with red pen in hand, getting another letter ready for the second round! From my understanding, the second round of edits focuses on smaller things—individual scenes. There is also a line-edit, where your editor goes through the novel line by line and focuses on language (awkward sentences, repeated words, etc.).

But wait. There’s more!

If you’re lucky and your revisions get approved after the second round, then you will go on to copy-edits. Copy editors check your story for grammatical, cultural and historical accuracy. In my case, they will probably tear my story apart for American words and turns of phrase (my characters are all British).

After copy edits, the author has to read through the galley of the manuscript and look for typos (those pesky things are everywhere!). Then, and only then, is the book finally out of the writer’s hands.

Phew.

Oh hold on! Don’t forget you just finished the rough draft of your next novel!

I think it’s safe to say, a writer’s work is never done.

The Five Stages of Revision

This might be just me. Maybe. Hopefully not. But it happens every time I've finished a manuscript, and the feedback starts rolling in from betas. Every writer knows that their first draft is so rough it could be used as sandpaper. But knowing is not the same thing as hearing it. Does that make sense? It's kind of like the five stages of grief. Yeah, I'm using it for my own sick and twisted version. (If a post like this has been done before, I shall again go through the following five stages.)

1. Denial

My first instinct is to argue. After I've opened that e-mail and reread it probably a hundred and seven times, I sit there and ignore the obvious. No, you're wrong. That scene is perfect, and the fact that it only makes sense to me doesn't matter. Everyone else will get it. Well, besides you. And that other beta. And that other one.

2. Anger

I can feel it building up inside me, like... puke. No, something more literary. Like molten lava. My hands form fists and I'm gritting my teeth so hard it hurts. I can't even think right! These people are so, so wrong. I don't care if they've never been wrong before, or that they are excellent writers themselves, or that they are only trying to help me. I should delete these e-mails. I should. I really should. But I can't bring myself to do it. It's only because I'm normally a nice person, not because deep down I know they're right! Stop looking at me like that. Stop it! Right now.

3. Bargaining

Okay. Breathing deeply. There might be some valid points to what you're saying. Just a little, okay, so don't go getting all smug or excited. Let me explain to you why the story needs to stay the same. Well, I will have to change that now that you've so rudely shown me how confusing it is. Are you sure you're trying to help me? Because it feels like you're ripping my guts out. Fine, well, what if I do this, but leave that the same? I know it doesn't work, but I need this, dang it!

4. Depression

Then comes a point for me after all of this where I feel my stomach sink, and I think... Wow, I suck. How could I not have seen that? How could I have written that? I turn off all the lights, and I curl into a corner. Ignore the ringing phone. Let the cat eat that library book. Hug my dog so tight he gets annoyed with me. Great, now even my dog doesn't like me anymore. So pathetic. I'm not going to write anymore. What's the point? I suck. Suck, suck, suck.

(I may be dramatizing this for my own amusement.)

5. Acceptance

It's as obvious as the freaking sun. They're right. So right it hurts. I don't know how you put up with me, betas. I really don't. You're amazing people. Please excuse me while I turn away for a moment. No, don't look. I'm not crying; I have something in my eye. Now! (Cracks knuckles.) I have some work to do. See you in a couple weeks.

How Do You Edit?

Since my mind is pretty much set on one dial - edit - I'm not capable of posting about anything else. Because it's such a monumental project, so overwhelming. To make it manageable, I go through the manuscript three times. I use three stages.

1. Plot

This is the biggest part, and I'm not one of those people who puts the hard part off. I like it out of the way as soon as possible. So I go through the entire thing, looking for those plot holes that we all have, or things I forgot. For instance, I recently found in one scene that my character was changing out of her clothes. There was a knock at the door when she had no pants on, and for some reason I completely forgot about this and she opened the door. And she had an entire conversation with someone seemingly oblivious or uncaring that she, uh, had no pants on. So the first stage is to look for things like this.

2. Description

In my first drafts I have a tendency to be direct. Someone will state something, and I don't have any tags or facial expressions or voice tones. So the second stage is to change this. Add detail and description to the story. Describe rooms, surroundings, physical characteristics.

3. Technical

This is my favorite part of the whole process because, well, it's the last one! Plus it's the easiest. Just getting rid of those pesky commas that appeared somehow, without our knowing. Working on weird sentence structure, repetition, ridding ourselves of those horrible adjectives. Breaking up or combining paragraphs. The technical stuff.

So those are my three stages. How do you edit?