Last year, I received my very first revise and resubmit letter. The editor made it clear that it was not a guarantee of an offer. They would look at my manuscript again should I decide to address the items listed. She saw potential in my story, but it needed cleaning up. Clarifying characters and their motivations, plot points and world building were at the heart of the R&R. Tighten these chapters here, explain this bit there.
So how to go about revisions without merely marking off each point like a checklist, adding a sentence here, cutting a scene (or chapter!) there that didn’t come up to snuff?
The technique that worked for me involved a couple of steps. First, I read through the letter and made sure I understood exactly what was cause for concern by the editor. If I wasn’t sure, I asked. An editor would rather explain what they mean than have you miss the point. Really. I wanted to make the story stronger, but I also wanted to make sure it was my story, so I didn’t just follow the list of revisions. I considered which ones worked “as is” and which ones could be modified. Not ignored, because if the editor noticed something enough to remark on it, I’d better find some way to explain myself if I didn’t address her comment directly.
Next, I re-read the entire manuscript and highlighted anything specifically mentioned. (Yes, that included an entire chapter!) Then I color-coded areas of general concern: world-building blue, relationship pink, plot green. That helped give a visual idea of balance as well as a quick reference when I changed something in one part of the manuscript; I knew I would need to find that same thread later and follow through.
Then the fun began. I worked on the manuscript for four weeks, sent it to my critique partners, and let it sit for another four. Let me repeat that: I let it sit for four weeks. Now, I will admit my ability to resist going back in to tweak the tweaks did not stem from iron will power. Not at all. I was out of the country for that time without my computer. Did that mean I never thought about what I’d done, or that I didn’t come up with ideas about how I might re-re-address the items of concern? Oh, heck no! I thought about it all the time. I jotted notes while on trains or during rare lulls in activity. But it was important that I not look at it. I also started writing the next story (spiral-bound notebooks and pens fit nicely in carry-on luggage and don’t need charging). That helped tremendously in keeping my writerly brain engaged but not dwelling on the one manuscript.
As soon as I could, however, I opened the file and re-read what I’d done before my trip. I gathered my crit partners’ notes. I sat at my computer, cracked my knuckles and began the next three weeks of revisions. That was more of a careful reading for consistency, ensuring the changes I’d made earlier made sense, that the plot was logical and the dialogue still flowed and reflected the action. I incorporated the little (and one or two not so little) ideas that came to me while I was supposedly not working on the manuscript, as well as those of my critique partners.
All in all, I took nearly three months to get the revised manuscript back to the editor. The hardest part was waiting for the response. Had I addressed everything properly? Had I clearly explained why I did some things and not others in my cover letter? Would any of that be a deal breaker? Apparently not. After two months of nervous hand wringing, an offer was made for what would become Rulebreaker.
A revision request is not just a matter of plugging in bits and pieces here and there and sending it right back out again. It requires reviewing the entire manuscript, noting how threads might be drawn tighter or, if necessary, snipped altogether. It might mean tearing out and re-weaving elements and details without puking up an info dump that will make a reader’s eyes glaze. It is not a fast fix. It takes time, and it can be frustrating, but well worth the effort.
And remember to let the manuscript sit untouched for a while, even if that means leaving the country. Hey, after the hard work you’ve done, and in preparation for more to come (because even if your story is accepted, there will be more edits) you probably deserve a vacation!
Cathy has been a school bus driver, an office assistant for an assisted living facility, and a wildlife biology researcher. These endeavors have allowed her to parallel park large vehicles, gain insight and wisdom from her elders, and hoot for spotted owls (and get lost in the woods overnight, but that’s another story). She has lived in New York and Oregon, and now resides in Alaska with her husband, kids, pets, and the occasional black bear roaming the yard. Everything Cathy writes tends toward speculative fiction because she likes to make things up as she goes along. Her debut novel Rulebreaker, a F/F science fiction romance, is out now. Track her down on her blog, website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.
Liv Braxton's Felon Rule #1: Don't get emotionally involved.
Smash-and-grab thieving doesn't lend itself to getting chummy with the victims, and Liv hasn't met anyone on the mining colony of Nevarro worth knowing, anyway. So it's easy to follow her Rules.
Until her ex, Tonio, shows up with an invitation to join him on the job of a lifetime.
Until Zia Talbot, the woman she's supposed to deceive, turns Liv's expectations upside down in a way no woman ever has.
Until corporate secrets turn deadly.
But to make things work with Zia, Liv has to do more than break her Rules, and the stakes are higher than just a broken heart…