Digesting the Revision Letter, a pep talk

19 Jul

A Guest Post by Erin Bowman


You’ve written a book. Your agent has sold it. Your editor (holy cow, you now have an EDITOR) is working on getting you revision notes. They’ll come in the form of a “revision letter,” which will likely be long and single-spaced and full of big picture items that need addressing.

If you are anything like me, you will simultaneously crave and fear this essential document. So without further adieu, some things to keep in perspective as you read through your letter:

Remember that Editor loves your book

She had to love it enough to pitch it in an Acquisitions meeting. She had to get Sales and Marketing and Higher Ups onboard. She had to believe that your story was one the world should see, and then she brokered a deal that would make that possible. Remember this, because a revision letter can come with big and sometimes overwhelming suggestions. Things like: Subplot A should be cut, Character X feels flat, world-building is lacking, and oh, lets switch from first person present to third person past. You might not be prepared for it. So no matter how long your letter is, no matter how many characters are flat or subplots need cutting, remember it in no way correlates to how much (or little) Editor loves your story. She loves it. The end.

These edits will make your book better.

Stronger. Tighter. Un-Put-Downable. Everything Editor points out is done with the end goal of crating a better story. She might even ask a bunch of questions, offering no answers along the way, simply because she wants you to think about what these questions mean for the story and know that readers will be asking the same things as they devour your tale. As you read through your letter, there’s a good chance you’ll be nodding your head in agreement to 99.9% of the things Editor says. I know I did. You might even kick yourself for not seeing them first. Deep down, we know there are flaws in our books, areas that can be strengthened. Editor will find them, document them on paper, and then push you to man-up.

Take some time to digest it all.

There’s a rare chance it works for some people, but I advice against reading your letter and immediately jumping into revisions. I like to sit on my thoughts before any major rewrite. I let ideas marinate. I think about how one change here might affect twenty things there. I brainstorm several different options before I sit down to tackle the right one. I think this is a crucial step. Read your letter. Think about it for a week or two. Make notes. Think some more. Then start.

Ask Questions.

If something is unclear, always, always, always speak up. When I was younger, I never asked questions when I needed clarification. I thought it would make me look dumb, like I had no clue what I was doing. I am a firm believer that you actually look smarter when you say, “Hey, I’m not quite following this. Can we talk it over again?” And here is why I bring this up: Revising is hard. We all know this. You don’t want to spend weeks revising only to take the story down a path opposite of what Editor had in mind. If you don’t follow something in your letter, ask Editor to clarify. If you see what she’s saying but think it will drastically (and detrimentally) alter other points of the story, see if she can hop on the phone to hash it out. I’m pretty sure she’ll be more than happy to discuss things.

You have the answers.

You do. You envisioned the story, dreamed up the world, peopled it with characters. You have the answers even when you fail to see them. Remember this when you are knee deep in a scene, your story’s guts spilled because you’ve hacked it apart, and all you can think is, “I have no clue what I’m doing. How will I ever fix this?” You will. Maybe not that very day – you might need to take a break or go for a walk or come back to it tomorrow – but you will figure it out. You will find the answer and you will stitch your story back together impeccably. It won’t even scar.

Do it your way.

This has been more of a pep talk than an advice-centric post because I truly believe that writing (and editing) is an individual and unique experience. No two people will tackle it the same way. Only you can decide what works for your story, your situation, your process. Find those tactics and stick to them.

Happy Revising!


Erin Bowman lives in New Hampshire with her husband. When not writing, Erin enjoys hiking, giggling and staring at the stars. She drinks a lot of coffee, buys far too many books and is not terribly skilled at writing about herself in the third person. Her debut THE LAICOS PROJECT will be available Winter 2013 from HarperTeen. She blogs regularly at embowman.com.


12 Responses to “Digesting the Revision Letter, a pep talk”

  1. katyupperman July 19, 2011 at 12:52 AM #

    So wise, Erin! As well as editorial letters, this is fantastic advice for CP feedback and agent-requested revisions. Good luck on your revisions, Erin, and thanks for the great post, LTWF!

    • Erin Bowman July 19, 2011 at 9:12 AM #

      Katy, so true! I didn’t even realize, as I wrote this, that many of the points in here apply to all types of feedback. Heck, I use many of them (waiting before I jump in, asking questions, etc) when I get feedback from my CP or readers. Thank you for the kind words, and good luck on your revisions as well!

  2. CA Marshall July 19, 2011 at 3:10 AM #

    Also great advice for those who receive editorial letters from freelance editors too! ❤

    • Erin Bowman July 19, 2011 at 9:13 AM #

      Yay! Glad this mini pep-talk can be helpful in all sorts of situations! 🙂

  3. savannahjfoley July 19, 2011 at 8:43 AM #

    Wow, thanks for the great advice, Erin. I would imagine that the ‘sitting on it’ part would be the most difficult. I usually start work immediately, even though it’s just with spelling and grammatical errors.

    • Erin Bowman July 19, 2011 at 9:19 AM #

      Thanks, Savannah! Glad this was helpful. I’ve heard some people mention that they like to start with spelling/grammar tweaks. I personally always wait to do them. When I make my big picture edits, I know I will rewrite so much that I’ll be left with a whole NEW bunch of spelling/grammar edits, and I’d rather just address them all at once. At then end.

      But again, this is just more proof that everyone is different. What works for one, does not work for all, and that is 100% OK!

  4. Erica O'Rourke July 19, 2011 at 10:34 AM #

    Such wise advice! Every single point resonates with me — particularly “You Have The Answers,” because it is so true. Easy to forget, when one is feeling overwhelmed and panic-stricken, but keeping that once truth in mind is a lifeline when you might otherwise think you’re going under for the third time. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Erin Bowman July 19, 2011 at 5:44 PM #

      Thanks, Erica! I have to tell myself the “you have the answers” bit almost every time I sit down to revise. Happy to repeat the reminder to you as well 🙂


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