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Monday, June 27, 2011

Revisions

June has turned into an incredibly busy month. Not only did I have two books out with Harlequin, the full length More Than a Mistress , but the related short story Deliciously Debauched by the Rake came out too.

Then of course there are all the preparations for Nationals in New York, what to take, what to wear.....

And what shows up?  Revisions from my editor.  Not copy edits, or line edits, major revisions.

So I thought I would say a word or two about how to handle them.

First take a deep breath. I am fortunate, my editor starts off by being exceedingly complimentary before she gets down to brass tacks. Or rusty tacks in this case. With jagged edges. Boy, those paragraphs of cool calm logic sting.

And no matter what stage of writing we are at, we have all experienced, the feeling of panic ... I can't write worth a d**n.... Grief. Oh, no she wants me to change that wonderful section that I so enjoyed writing..... Anger perhaps.  She's wrong....

If you have entered a contest, joined a critique group, had a friend read a first draft, you may well have experienced these emotions and more.

Hoping I am not preaching to the converted, I just want to say that this is part of the business. A very important part of the business. And if you are unpublished it is vital to have people critique your work so you are ready for revisions of your contracted work. (And reviews)

My way of handling them is as follows:

1. Thank my editor, critique group, friend, for taking the time to provide feedback.
2. Resist the temptation to argue of justify or defend.  Just absorb.
3. Take a pen and highlight the key points.  The heart of the criticism. Or make a note of what I think the heart of it is. An editor or a critiquer might know something is wrong, but they may not quite put their finger on the real problem. What they see as confusing, you might spot of lack of clarity in motivation or the conflict is missing, etc.This analysis is key to fixing your story.
4. If an editor/critiquer/contest judge makes a suggestion for fixing a problem, think about it, but know that this is your story and if you can fix it a different way, then do so. But do be aware that these people are trying to help. They do not take time out of their busy days to make comments just for the sake of making you sad or angry.
5. Make the changes on a new version of your file. A small detail I know, but sometimes you need to go back and see how it was before. I also keep a file of cuts. Everything I take out that is either a sentence I loved, or is a full paragraph. I have discovered I rarely if ever go back and use those cut paragraphs, but keeping them gives me a sense of comfort.
6. Keep a list of the changes. Especially important when it is a contracted work. You will want to be able to point out to your editor what you did and why, if it is not quite what she/he suggested.
7. Breathe a sigh of relief at the end, knowing what you have is a better novel.

Can you or should you protest to your editor, critiquer, contest judge? Tell them that they are wrong? Obviously, if it is factual, and this can be annoying in a contest if you are marked down for something that is correct, then you can explain in a polite note to the Judge or the editor. But be aware that in fiction perception can be more important than fact. With an editor, I suggest you just fix it the way you feel is best for your story. And if you don't fix it, don't mention it, unless it was a major point for the editor, in which case you may have to buckle in the end.

Personally, I prefer to try to address all the points in some form or another, so I don't have to go round again.  In the case of an editor, she is the one who releases the money, and it is her job to make sure your book can sell as many copies as possible, just as it is yours.

Take comfort in knowing that there are stories which receive almost no revisions....occasionally. Out of the 7 full length stories and 7 short stories, two of the short stories have come back with absolute no changes at all. Talk about big smiles.  These were The Rake's Intimate Encounter my very first Undone for Harlequin, and the one above, Deliciously Debauched by the Rake which is the most recent. Nice little bookends.

Writing is hard, and I for one am grateful for all the help I can get. And I hope this is of some help to you.

I would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have on this vexing but important part of a writer's life

If you are going to RWA Nationals in New York, I will be signing at the literacy and will have Trading Cards for my two latest releases. I am also planning to attend the HHRW AGM so it will be fun to say hello.


Ann Lethbridge has completed seven of her eight book contract for Harlequin Historicals and eight short stories.  You can find the details of her books and information about her at  http://www.annlethbridge.com .  She also can be found digging into the Regency at her Regency Ramble Blog where you will find not only facts but photos from all over Britain, as well as Regency Fashion and of course the odd squee about books.  Ann is also on facebook and twitter and well all those wonderful places we love to hang out.

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