If you’ve noticed that the blog has been quiet for the past few weeks, it’s because I got a request from a publisher to “revise and resubmit”.
You might think publishing houses accept a manuscript “as is”, but reality teaches us differently. Almost everyone is asked for some revisions to their manuscripts, whether it’s to fall in with a publishers’ or agents’ guidelines; to better fit the expected length of the genre; or because the agent or editor finds something that keeps them from loving the story wholeheartedly.
In my case, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON falls into the last category: the publisher’s editor likes most of the elements of the story as well as my writing style. But there’s something that’s standing in the way of her loving it wholeheartedly; she suggested I revise it and resubmit the edited story for review.
So, where would you go from here?
First, recognize that a revise/resubmit request does not guarantee that your edited manuscript will be accepted for publication. It’s a risk you’re taking that may or may not pay off. So the amount of work required has to be a factor in your decision. Will it take a day or two? A month? A year? Once you undertake the revision, you are essentially putting your “baby” on hold for that length of time. The reward of possible publication has to be weighed against the time you’ll spend revising.
Second, the feedback you get needs to be specific. “I didn’t like this character” is not enough information to base a revision on. What if you eliminate the aspects of the character that appealed to her and play up the ones that didn’t? What if you eliminate the character completely and it changes the story in a way the editor doesn’t like? You’ve wasted both your time and theirs.
I worked in Customer Service for a loooooooong time and always told my trainees: The only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask. Ask away – the agent or editor has something specific in mind and it’s your job to make sure you understand it. So ask for details before you set out, and get as much information as you can about the editor’s request.
I was fortunate enough to get really specific feedback: the editor did not like one of the sub-plots and wanted more world-building.
So I had to decide if the changes requested would cause any harm to the story as I envisioned it. Ironically, I had taken some of the world-building out to cut back on the overall length. (A first-time author has little chance of placing a book that exceeds the norm of her genre by too much, and mine was over by more than 20,000 words before I cut it back.) Revising that part was simple; I had saved all the passages I had removed and I just put them back in. Took two days. Well worth the effort.
Second part, not so simple. This particular sub-plot was fairly extensive. Yes, there were a couple of chapters that focused on it and could be taken out completely, but there were also a few details in those chapters that I felt were critical to an overall understanding of the main plot. Not to mention being critical to the flow of the story itself.
So I decided to identify every chapter in which the sub-plot played a major role. I had already created a chapter-by-chapter outline that I based my synopsis on; I took that spreadsheet and highlighted all of the chapters that would need to be re-worked in yellow, and all of the chapters that could be eliminated in orange. End result: over one-third of all my chapters were highlighted.
My first reaction was, This is just not possible. My second reaction was, Maybe I could, but it would take months. Or even a year. My third reaction, and the one that really counts, was Let’s look at this more closely.
I pulled up all the individual chapters that had been highlighted in yellow. I found that, far from being intricately woven in, the sub-plot was almost always a separate scene within the chapter. I was pretty surprised — I had thought of it as an integral part of the story, not separate vignettes.
I started pulling the chapters and scenes out.
I created a new version of the manuscript, so if I didn’t like the revisions, I would still have my original. This is a step I couldn’t afford to skip. I had no idea what my reaction to the new version would be: what if I hated it? what if I went too far? what if nothing made sense any more? I couldn’t let that original version go.
I also created a new document for every scene I pulled out, and put them in the folder called “Snippets”. I stored and labeled each scene individually: Daniel proposes, Annie is sick, etc. That way, I could easily go back and put in anything that might still be necessary to the main plot.
So where do I stand now?
I’ve got three more steps to go: I’ve identified the details that are essential to the main plot and I need to find the best places to put them back into the manuscript; then I’ve got to re-read the entire thing making sure that what I’ve done hasn’t interrupted the flow of the story; and last, but most important, I need to send it to the Beta Readers I’ve lined up, and they’ll tell me if they think the revised story works.
Oh. Wait. I guess that’s not the last step. Would be nice, after all that work, if I send it back to the editor, too!
BTW: If you’re not sure what a Beta Reader is, stay tuned for a follow-up post.