secondary revision letters

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My editor at Del Rey, Betsy Mitchell, does a weekly blog called “What I Learned This Week” at Random House’s SF site, Suvudu. This week she wrote about rewrites. I’m one of the authors whose manuscript she re-read last week.

I think this is the first time I’ve actually gotten a *secondary* revision letter. I almost always say, when I turn a book in, “If there’s anything I’ve missed or anything else you think I should do, let me know,” but I think this was the first time I’ve ever gotten a new set of notes back. The really bizarre thing is that I was surprisingly *pleased* to get further notes: I suppose it’s partly that thing where we always feel we could do *better*, with just a little more time.

The letter’s requests were brief and easy to take care of–maybe 2 hours worth of work, as opposed to 2 weeks for the initial revisions. Some of it was stuff like “how about using ‘madness’ here instead of ‘idiocy'”, which was such a good call I feel like an idiot for not thinking of it myself. Some of it was stuff like a simple complimentary comment on what may be my favorite line in the whole book. So we’re talking about genuinely minor stuff here, but also things that can make a subtle and important difference in the quality of the final product.

I do not at all enjoy doing revisions. What I enjoy is the end result. The changes I made in THE PRETENDER’S CROWN during both revision passes were not story-altering sized changes. One subplot, which initially had very weak structure, was strengthened enormously, and is somewhat different from its original shape, but is still the same plot and does precisely the same thing. It just does it better now, and I am *vastly* more pleased with the result than I was when I initially wrote it.

Yesterday I was chatting with a fan and fellow writer who’s recently finished his first novel and who is working on edits and revisions. He asked me if they get any easier. “Even 1% easier would make it seem worthwhile,” he said.

I think it does get 1% easier. It might not get as much as 10% easier, but it does get one little tiny itty bitty percentage point easier. The things that make it get easier are practice, professional-level feedback, and stronger initial drafts. The ability to recognize something that’s weak–like my subplot, which I *knew* was weak but couldn’t work out how to fix right away–makes revisions a little easier. But the thing that makes them worthwhile is the improvement in the story when you’re done. I think if I got a *third* revision letter I might be a bit despairing (my God, I screwed up *that* badly in the first place?), but two–two seems like, “Yeah, ok, I can feel confident that I’ve *gotten it right* now.” It’s a good feeling.

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2 comments to secondary revision letters

  • Catie,
    I always get a second revision letter, from my MIra editor, but she combines it with the line edit and copy edit so it all comes at once, but marked with two (sometimes three) different colored pencils. It’s right pretty by the time I add in my purple or teal colored pencil comments and replies. And the changes are totally comprehensive. But having it all together like that makes it really easy to follow.

    My editor at ROC is new and I have no idea what I’ll be getting from her. She promised the first rewrite letter by Thursday. I am really a bit nervous about it, frankly. Fingers crossed.
    Faith

  • I’ve found that rewrites and edits have gotten easier over time, but only because I’ve learned to put my ego aside when the letter arrives. That was always the hardest part for me: taking criticism not as an affront, but as part of a mutual effort by my editor and me to make the book better.