Writing Tips

My Love/Hate Relationship with Revisions

Young womanI loathe writing revision letters but feel very satisfied once I’m finished with one, like I’ve done my job. As I read a manuscript, I take notes with sparkly pen (because I hate taking notes so why not make them pretty) and my comments tend to be unfit for public viewing. On a designated day, I’ll take the manuscript, with its sparkly notes, and reinterpret my ranting scribble into helpful (I hope) feedback.

If the world were a perfect place, all manuscripts that crossed my desk would be ready to edit (or wouldn’t need editing, which would mean unemployment for me, so thank you for any imperfections). I imagine that writers don’t like receiving revision letters either, but expect them.

So can we establish a mutual dread of the revision letter?

Some facts I’ve learned about revisions as an editor and writer:

Diplomacy is nice but writers want direct feedback–page numbers, chapters that need extra work. It would be so easy for me if I could just write: Can you add romantic conflict in this manuscript? Yeah, sure. Like, where?

The longer the revision letter, the greater chance the writer will run for the Maalox. I try to keep letters short (1-3 pages) and sweet–without being too saccharine. Even better if I can do Track Changes in the manuscript itself so the writer can see areas to improve. But not everyone is technological (okay, we’re talking about me here–and Track Changes means no sparkly pen).

Writers can smell BS, so I try not to BS in a revision letter. But I also avoid being unnecessarily critical (which is so easy nowadays, isn’t it?): Ugh, pllleeeeassse, make the heroine stop with her whining!!! I find it’s effective to fashion the revision note in the form of a question: Can you have the hero take off his shirt at the end of Chapter 3?

After writing or reading a revision letter, take time to digest it. When I received a revision letter for my book, I forgot about it for a whole weekend. By the time Monday night rolled around, I was ready to tackle every note and felt good about improving my work (I still needed a Maalox power shake, though).

If I start a revision letter in the morning (with that Nike mantra: Just Do It), chances are it will go out that same morning. Just do it. Write that letter. Go through those revisions, point by point.

We’re all here for the same purpose: to provide the best book possible for your audience. Yes, I have more revisions to request. Will I get that letter out today? Only the sparkly pen knows for sure.

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11 thoughts on “My Love/Hate Relationship with Revisions”

  1. I kinda wish I could read your sparkly notes. I like tough revision notes, even if they’re snarky, because anything that makes a manuscript better makes me happy. But I might have felt differently 20-published books ago, I admit.

  2. Paula, it’s funny, I have some authors who like the snarky notes, too. They want me to be brutal. I have a tough time doing that, but I like knowing that I don’t have to hold back.

  3. Great post, Patience. I prefer tough, no BS revisions, too, but I also love that my editor sprinkles in happy faces and responds with positive comments to parts she likes. And I prefer revisions as track changes as opposed to a formal letter–then I don’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the revisions.

    1. Thanks, Melissa. You’re definitely making a strong case for me to do the Track Changes. My editor did this with me, too, and it was so helpful.

  4. As much as a writer may not like revisions, I’m sure giving details regarding them is much nicer than a general ‘Make this better’. And a newer author may need more guidance until they find their way and begin to do it on their own. And, honestly, I think the hero should take his shirt off at the end of every chapter. Unless he already has it off, which, of course, would then be redundant.

    1. It’s scary some of your timing on these blogs, Patience, like you’re reading my life. I just got my revision letter for the short story I sold. Didn’t run for the Maalox, but will take your advice and let it sit for a day or so before diving in.

      She didn’t ask me to take the hero’s shirt off though. *pout*

      1. Congrats on the short story sale! Maybe you should have had hero’s shirt off to begin with?

  5. I hate getting revision letters…but I love how much better the book is when I’m done revising. I do prefer a mix of “love this!” notes in with the “what the HELL were you thinking?” bits 🙂

    I just did a revision letter for a published writer friend who I did a first read for, and it was just awful having to say, “I love this, this, and this..but about that…”

    You have a tough job!

    1. It can be a tough job, Deborah, but at least I’m not the one WRITING the romances. Honestly, I don’t know how that happens. I tried many times and could not do it. You guys are fierce!

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