Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Revisionist at Work

I had a revelation a couple of days ago about how often writers I respect and admire receive revision requests. I guess I had in mind their success and experience had reached a level where such requests, on a large scale, were unlikely.

I was wrong.

And when I spoke with one of those authors, a friend of mine, she laughed at my assumption. Then she gave me some advice that's been rattling around in my head for the past couple of days.

When an editor asks you to tweak your manuscript, it's a good thing. In means in the back of her mind she's thinking, this has the potential to be one darn good book.

Take a minute and consider that.

And then consider this--that editor has an inbox stuffed full of submissions. Some will invariably be in better and worse shape than yours. Yet she saw the potential in your work, and took the time to give you a step-by-step guide on how to revise your book. She wants to buy your book, or she wouldn't have invested hours out of her day pondering how to make it the best book it can be. That's something to be proud of in and of itself.

This is where the first part of my friend's advice comes in.

When you're a new writer, you may not have the skills to complete the revisions asked of you. There's no shame in that. We all need time to learn and grow, and sometimes our stories are a couple of steps ahead of our abilities. In that case, it's better to shelve the book and come back when you can tackle the changes. The majority of R&Rs are open-ended, so don't be afraid to take all the time you need.

The rest of her advice was, admittedly, aimed at me.

We've all written book-of-my-hearts and they're draining because of the emotional investment. When you get a request for revisions instead of a contract offer, it's a painful experience. More painful than another project that you've put equal amount of time and effort into, because for whatever reason, your heart-book has your heart in it.

She knew I'd gotten an R&R recently, one I was excited to dig into. Her advice was to give my mind a break. Move on. In a couple of weeks, or a couple of months, go back and then search out a fresh angle and tackle the editor's suggestions. She knew, and I knew (but was too stubborn to admit) that I needed a break. Burnout for writers is real, and we shouldn't let one project, no matter how much we love it, push us to that brink.

I'm rambling hard at this point, but I hope you'll take this away from my post... You're not alone. We are all asked to revise our work at one point or another, and there's no shame in taking a break instead of pouncing on revisions.

The fact is that a request for revisions doesn't guarantee you a contract. So there's no rush. No one is going to beat you to the finish line. There's no timer setting on that editor's desk with your name on it. You can relax. You can take time to be grateful they thought enough of your work, and you, to want to work with you. And you can put your best foot forward by taking whatever time is necessary to corral your thoughts and approach the problem with a calm and clear mind.

I think that about says it all. Thanks for letting me bend your ear, and happy revising!  


D. F. Krieger said...

Thank you for this blog today. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I recently had an editor ask me if I was willing to revise and, if so, to e-mail her back a 'yea' or 'nay'. I e-mailed back a 'yea' but haven't heard from her since. Now granted, it's only been two weeks, but it's been nerve wracking. Reading this has reminded me that she's probably slogging through her e-mails and still trying to go over what exactly I need to revise. Thanks for that reminder!

Hailey Edwards said...

It's been my experience that revision letters are slower in coming than acceptance or rejection. Mainly, because the editor must take the time to weigh what's working against what isn't and try to condense the experience of reading your book into a couple of paragraphs in your revision letter.

I'll keep my fingers crossed your revisions go well. :)