Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Do It Right: Revisions

by Raelene Gorlinsky

This is a follow-on to the previous post, Do It Right. Specifically, the issue of having an editor or agent ask you as author to make revisions to a story before they will consider buying it—and with no commitment they will buy it even if revised. One of the things I listed is that "Penny" got such a revision request on her path to successfully selling her book.

So how did Penny handle the revision letter? To start, she understood that there was no guarantee that making the requested changes would get the book sold. He might still not like it enough to accept it. But it was another opportunity. So she evaluated the suggestions and responded to each one.
  • Make the story darker. “I can do that. Here are my ideas for how…”

  • Change a specific element, with a suggestion on how to alter it. “Yes, no problem.”

  • Rewrite the story in first person POV (it was in third). Wow, both of them realized that’s a major effort and would take a lot of time, plus could significantly alter the tone and style of the story. “I hadn’t thought of this and am not sure it will work for my story, but upon consideration I understand why you feel it might make the story stronger. I will rewrite the first three chapters into first person and send that to you for review. If you like it and are then willing to accept the book, I will revise the whole thing into first person.”

Discussing suggested changes or negotiating how to do revisions is perfectly fine. You as author need to understand the editor's or agent's reasons, what they are looking for, why they think these changes will make your story stronger and more marketable. Of course, the editor's or agent's willingness to go through discussions and reviews will depend on how much they really want this story, how much they love it. If they think it has "potential" but is borderline or iffy, they are less likely to want to put additional time into it.

And do be sensible about how you word that discussion. Never, ever react with the "you're destroying my writing style, you're killing my baby!" attitude. You should have some faith in this person's understanding of the business and their advice, or else why did you submit to them? So seriously consider their advice as a way for you to learn and improve. Have a professional and calm discussion based on your mutual goal of making this story the best it can be. State up front that you want to be sure you understand so you can do it right. If you seriously object to any of the suggested changes, explain why and then listen to the other side.

If you find yourself dealing with an editor or agent who refuses to discuss or explain, who takes a "my way or the highway" attitude (I've never run into one, but a few authors state such experiences), then you may want to rethink trying to sell your book to this person. Do you really want to deal with that attitude for the whole editing process of this book and any future books? Perhaps you'd do better to just politely state that you don't think you and the editor/agent have a shared vision for this book and so it might be better if you don't work together on it, and perhaps you'll have some future submission that meets their needs.

This revision process displayed Penny as a smart and business-like author who could communicate and cooperate. That's the type of author an editor or agent wants to work with.


Anonymous said...

"You should have some faith in this person's understanding of the business and their advice"

How much faith can we expect in return?

Let's say an Aspiring Author with no publishing credits and no sales record submits a story in which the Heroine is a breast cancer survivor.

Editor sends a revision letter wanting to change the Heroine's emotional make-up because, she says, breast cancer survivors aren't like that and the readers won't believe it.

Stunned, Author wonders if it's worth mentioning her six years of medical training, ten years of experience of working with breast cancer survivors, that her mother, sister, and aunt all had breast cancer, or the twenty survivors she interviewed while researching for the novel.

Or, should she shrug her shoulders and move on? The Editor believes what she believes and the author is nobody to her.

ECPI Editors said...

Hi, Anonymous,

The editor/agent has skill and experience in the PUBLISHING business. They (theoretically) understand what readers will buy, what books will be successful (as in, sell lots of copies and make money for publisher and author and agent). That's their job, to weed out the .0001% of submissions that actually are marketable books.

Doesn't matter how accurate or true or wonderful an author thinks their book is, although hopefully the author has faith in themselves. What matters is "How would I market this book? Will enough people pay money for it?" So author's experience and knowledge are meaningless unless they translated into a wonderfully written page-turner that has a hook and a twist. And the expert on that is the editor/agent, not the author.


Anonymous said...

"If you like it and are then willing to accept the book, I will revise the whole thing into first person.”

That's a good approach.

Thanks for possting.

KB Alan said...

I was fascinated to hear an editor say recently that a very small percentage of authors followed through and resubmitted revised manuscripts to her. I wonder how true that is across the industry.

K. Griffin said...

Hey, quick question from another aspiring author... is there a time frame in which revisions should be wrapped up, or at least in which the author is expected to contact the editor again, and update him/her on the story's progress? I mean, presumably all we aspirees have jobs and/or families and/or school, and potentially lives even beyond that, and so re-writing a 60k word story in first-person perspective isn't going to take a few days. =) But I imagine that, in going through the piles of prospective manuscripts sent in every week, an editor can't be expected to remember one would-be author or not-quite-acceptible manuscript for seven months, either... right? So how much time for these revisions is acceptible, and how much passes before the editor assumes he/she is never getting the revised story?

ECPI Editors said...

Hi, KB,

I'd have to agree that we at ECPI don't hear back on a large number of the "revise and resubmit" books. The author may well decide they don't want to make those changes, the revisions would take the book in a direction the author doesn't want. So the author may decide to try submitting it elsewhere else, see if some other editor/agent likes it "as is".

Which is perfectly fine. Part of the marketing component that editors must consider is how this book fits their company's target market and does it overlap existing or planned books? If the editor suggests you change your talking cat to a talking dog, maybe there isn't anything actually wrong with your cat. It may be because the editor knows the publisher already has three stories slated for the next year that have talking cats in them, and so yours has no chance of being accepted unless you change that element. Or the publisher may be trying to narrow their mystery line to focus on harder, grittier stories - and the editor feels yours doesn't quite fit that, but with revisions could be a good match.

So it's possible you feel as author that even though your book is not a good match for this editor without some changes, it might well fit elsewhere. And therefore you decide not to revise and resubmit until you've queried other possibilities.


ECPI Editors said...

Hi, K. Griffin,

If you get a revision request from a submission, take a few days to think it through. Then it could be good to get back to the editor with a brief note acknowledging receipt of their correspondence and letting them know your anticipated return date of a revised version.

Do get the revisions done as quickly as possible (without rushing through in a way that reduces quality). That editor's world is not standing still - she may find another similar submission she likes better, the market conditions may change so that she feels your story is no longer as sellable as it was six months ago. The editor may even change jobs - and you'll be back at square one in submitting to that publisher. There is no commitment until a contract is signed.


Anonymous said...

I'll change my talking cat to a talking dof in a haertbeat, as long as you show me the $$$$!

You buy it, you can say how it goes, no questions asked (other than, "where's my check?").

I mean seriously, who cares? Find/Replace Cat-->Dog (insert desired canine type here: boxer, retriever, lab, weiner dog, etc.).

Next story...take your pick of these 5 ideas each with sample chapter Ones...Oh, #3, but with happier ending instead of sad and w/ extra character dev? You got it. Check, please.