Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - Surviving Revisions

Hello everybody! It’s Lynne Marshall ( from the Harlequin Mills and Boon Medical Romance line and it’s my turn to blog for The Pink Heart Society’s Writer’s Wednesday. My topic:


This picture captures the feeling I always get when I open my e-mail and find revisions from my editor for my latest book.

Many writers are under the incorrect impression that the hardest hurdle in this business is writing the book. Yes, it is a major accomplishment that only a small percentage of people can claim, and you should be proud if you are one of them. But that’s just the first step along the winding path to publication.

After selling seven books, I believe the hardest part about making that first sale, or any future sale, is REVISIONS! I was fortunate enough to have an article in the RWR (Romance Writers Report) back in January of this year on the same topic, and I was surprised how many stories from the writer’s trenches I received from multi-published authors who had struggled with the revision process at one time or another.

Here is a sample of some of the some of the requests by editors.

Abby Gaines, Fully Engaged, Harlequin NASCAR, and The Diaper Diaries for SuperRomance, was asked to “take the Cinderella out of a Cinderella story.” Married by Mistake, SuperRomance April ’07 had enormous revisions, according to Abby. “Strangely, to get rid of the Cinderella element, I ended up making nearly all of the changes to the hero, rather than the heroine. The end result was a much more believable story, which garnered a lot of positive reader feedback.”

One of my critique partners, Trish Albright, was a Golden Heart finalist in 2007 with her Historical romance, Siren’s Song, which sold while she was attending conference in Dallas. She was promptly asked to cut 30,000 words plus the ending! My hysterical historical friend managed to make the changes and survived the ordeal with both her gorgeous red hair and sanity intact.

What are my words of wisdom?
A successful revision experience is all in the attitude. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing a flawless novel. Be grateful an editor or agent sees the book’s possibilities.

There are a couple of important things to remember when tackling your first or fifteenth revision letter. You need to be flexible, and you musn’t be afraid to take a hacksaw to your story and draw blood.

After twenty-six years as an RN, I tend to think through everything in medical terms. I’ve even gone to the extreme of equating Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Death and Dying, with the revision process. Think I’m nuts? Check this out.


Denial – The book of my heart is perfect.
Anger – How dare you insult my baby!
This is the time you want to throw a fit and pull your hair out. Can’t they see the gem you’ve submitted?

Beverly Brandt, after receiving a two-and-a-half page single spaced revision letter, said: “I couldn’t figure out how to change one part of the story without impacting everything else that came before or after.” (Recommended read – Article “The Perfect Book – Revised!” RWR, May 2003.)

Bargaining – If I change that, may I leave this the way it is?

Lillian Darcy, Café du Jour, Harlequin, Australia: Mira Books, Aug. ’07, says, “--You don’t always have to do what an editor suggests, but you do have to deal with her concern. - … The opening line of my book was ‘I seduced him,’ which I loved. - … The editor felt it weakened the hero…- …She wanted me to change it … I revised – (the flashback) - scenes so that the heroine was still convinced she’d been the one to seduce the hero, but we also saw the hero – wiser than she – understanding that in fact he was the one who’d been in control…-…This whole aspect of the book became stronger than both my original version and the version that would have resulted if I’d done what the editor wanted, and at the same time I’d stayed true to my vision…”

Depression – It won’t seem like the same book. Why even bother?
This is the stage where many authors give up. Don’t! If you don’t try to fix y your book, one thing is sure: You won’t sell!

TJ Bennett, The Legacy, Medallion Press April ’08, once wrote an article titled “Married to It,” and had this to say: “I had become too married to my story. - Passionate adoration of every word that I had lovingly opened a vein over did not make for objectivity. I could no longer see the possibilities of changing it. It was just too much work for my exhausted soul.” This was part of her growth stage as an author, and when recently asked by an agent to make changes to her current paranormal, she had this to say, “My first instinct was to say no, but I asked for a few days to think about it, and I’m glad I did. I wanted an agent. If I had thought her suggestions would make the book worse, I wouldn’t have agreed to change it.”

Acceptance – If I make one change at a time, I think I can pull this off.
Stella Cameron, “The most important lesson I’ve learned about revision is to believe anything can be fixed. I’m absolutely certain any action can be motivated – as long as the writer is willing to slash out parts that don’t work and start from scratch” Quoted from RWR, August 2003 article “Am I Revising Right?” by Cheré Dastugue Coen.

Eloisa James, “Rewriting is tough, but it’s not nearly as bad as writing.”
Quoted from the same article.

Here’s a little secret, my fifth Medical Romance, Pregnant Nurse, New-Found Family, (8/08 UK, 10/08 NA) is a totally revised version of the first medical romance I’d ever submitted, and which had been rejected. After selling four novels, I decided to go back and take a closer look at what had gone wrong with the story. After extensive rewrites on my own, I submitted the book only to have my editor request more revisions … twice! Did I give up? No! I rolled up my sleeves and worked through the problem areas having to delete the prologue, and change major story threads in the process. The end result is a book on the shelf.
After reading about so many other authors’ experiences, I admit it’s great to know I’m not the only one who has had to wrap my writer’s brain around editorial input, which hadn’t occurred to me for my stories. As long as the suggestions don’t seem overbearing, I comply with 80% of the requests and so far, that has been enough to satisfy my editor. Nothing can assure we’ll make a sale in this fickle business, but if we don’t attempt to mold our manuscripts to fit the vision of the buying editor or acquiring agent, one thing is certain, we won’t have the chance to find out. And because we make the changes, the book remains ours, completely ours!

Remember; when you receive a revision letter take it seriously. It may seem like a lot of work, but it could make the difference between selling your book or storing it under your bed.

Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win a prize!

Lynne will be presenting her workshop: Riveting Revisions, the Key to Getting Published, at the Moonlight and Magnolias regional conference in Atlanta, Georgia in October 2008. Contact Lynne via her website:


  1. Hey Lynne - love the comparison with the grieving process. Couldn't have put it better myself.

    One thing I've learned along the way (with only 2 of 16 books having no revisions) is not to sweat the little stuff. I think if a writer moans and whinges about every dropped word, or coma change in her ms you lay the foundations of discontent in your ed/writer relationship. Instead I think we need to let them go and concentrate on the big things, the important things that you know in your gut have to/must stay for the integrity of the story. I think eds are much more willing to listen to your side of the story when its something THAT crucial.

  2. Lynn, I also love that you used the stages of grieving for the revision process - so apropos! My editor's revisions always end up making my book stronger and more saleable. From time to time, I do request that a few items remain, giving an explanation for my request. My editor always agrees with me on those, and I think it's because I'm always willing to do the work on the big stuff.

  3. Hi Lynne,

    I agree, great comparison, and so true! No doubt, revisions are daunting. Bottom line is if you want to sell a book, you probably have to jump through hoops. But we're writers, right... that's what we do.
    Have fun at your conference in October!!


  4. Hi, Lynne. Great post. Revisions can indeed be hell, and sometimes there is a point when you have to say enough is enough. However, I absolutely agree that if an editor or agent asks for specific changes with the intent to acquire, it is definitely the right idea to take a shot at making those changes.


  5. Hey Amy, you've hit the nail on the head. As I said, be flexible and don't sweat the small stuff.

    And Carol, it really is true that when we step back and really study the revision requests, the end result is usually a much better book!

    Deanne! You know that's a fact: Want to sell a book? Jump through hoops.

    Bottom line, we're writers for hire. But we get to write the stories we create and that's a BIG RUSH!

    Thanks for stopping by and reading the blog ladies. PHS is a great blog site!

  6. Hey TJ,

    When an editor or agent asks for specific requests, it must be taken as a good sign! Jump on it. Makes the changes. Get that sale.

    Though not all of these scenarios wind up with a sale, and that is a tough lesson to learn.

    Thanks for commenting TJ!

  7. Great blog Lynn. I had my share of revisions letters from M&B and I followed them to the letter. Wouldn't dare argue with an editor when I am not even published. The bad luck is when you do the revisions but your editor changes and the new editor wants different things.

  8. Mona, my heart bleeds for authors caught in the midst of editorial reassignments. I hear this horror story over and over. One editor loves your work, but moves on ... leaving the author-on-the-verge flailing in the aftermath with a lukewarm editor.

    I wish you all the luck in the world with whichever book you have up for consideration with Harlequin Mills and Boon!

  9. Great post, Lynne. I also like the comparison to the 5 stages of death and dying. Oh, what many of us have to look forward to! :)

  10. Bottom line is that revisions make a stronger book.
    You have to try to figure WHY the editor is asking for the revisions.
    Personally, I would be very worried IF my editors ever did not ask for revisions. I am far too close to my work and a pair of objective eyes can really help.
    There is always a little something that can be made better. And often, it is a case of how do I keep what I want while giving the editor what she needs and understanding the why behind the request.

  11. Hi TS. I'm sure when the time for revisions comes, you will rise to the occasion! Thanks for stopping by.

    I totally agree, Michelle, that editor revisions make for a better book. I am always amazed how they can zero in on what needs to change and give such great reasons why. I always wonder why I couldn't figure it out for myself, but like you've said, we're too close to our work to get the full picture.

    Thanks so much for stopping by.

  12. Hi Lynne
    Great post. Well, I had monster revisions on the last two books I sold, which was a harsh lesson to learn but the revisions not only made my book a stronger book, I also think they made me a better writer.

    This time around, I'm trying to avoid those pitfalls again - no doubt I'll find new ones to fall in to - but I've yet to have an editor ask me to change something and not give me a good solid reason why. Once you have the why, you know what you have to do.

  13. Hello Lynne,
    As Heidi said, this is a great post! So far I have been lucky with the revisions my editor has asked for. Yes, it is never easy realising there is more work to do, but once you get to see that the book will be the better for the revisions, it does get easier! Having said that, the revisions I did for my second Wessex Wedding were mind-boggingly difficult. But the strange thing was, I really enjoyed doing them! Wierd or what?
    Best wishes

  14. What a great post! And exactly what I need at the moment... revisions are tough but I am learning every day!

  15. Heidi - I hear ya. It seems I do the Twyla Tharp work on one thing, and then another, and then another, and eventually you are back to where you started again. LOL. My first book it was about making the hero strong - haven't had that request again. Then it was focus. ANd endings, secondary characters...each book seems to have a different angle!

    But the book is ALWAYS stronger in the end.

  16. Good morning from California. The time difference has delayed me from answering sooner.

    Hi Heidi - it's amazing how somehow we figure the best way to tackle our revision requests. I always give myself a couple of days to think things through, but the actuall process of re-writes seems to be very organic. The answers come deeply from somewhere inside, and amazingly, the editor requests get fixed. I wish it could be more like magic, and we could just snap our fingers to make it better, but then we wouldn't be writers, would we? LOL

    Hi Carol,
    I think, as we see our book shape up, and that we've managed to come up with a way to "fix" the book, us loony writers find joy in that. If we can call a slow form of torture joy! LOL

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting on the blog today, ladies. I'm honored.

  17. Hey Biddy, I'm so glad my timing was right for you. It's funny how life brings us the things we need, when we need them. Good luck with whatever you are working on at the moment.

    Oh Donna, I totally relate to what you've said. There is always a new aspect to focus on, and I believe that one day we might just write a near perfect book! Ha ha. You'd have to pick me up off the floor if I were ever to be as fortunate as Amy Andrews and not have any revision requests for a book!

    We can always dream, right?

    Thanks for reading the post. Keep those comments coming, folks. I've got a beautiful Silver plated heart bookmark to give away. And if you twist my arm, I'll include a copy of Pretnant Nurse, New-Found Family. ; )

  18. Thanks for the great post. Very interesting, revisions sound like they can be pretty darn hard.

  19. Hi Rebekah, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad this blog has given you more insight into what goes into writing those Mills and Boon books. They may be pretty packages at the end, but a lot of blood, sweat and TEARS goes into writing them! ;)

  20. Lynne,

    Excellent post! There is so much great information I found myself taking notes.

    Revisions are hard for me and you just inspired me to get to work on some chapters I need to polish.

  21. I just had a new writer (friend of the family) visiting California last week . She just finished her first short story for a magazine contest. She said writing was the easiest part. After some suggestions from me (on GMC and verb tense), she's already on revisions. I make no claim to be a good editor, but I think she'll be successful if she's always this open to making her stories better, which is what it's about.

  22. Hi Fronnie. I'm so glad I've managed to inspire you! YAY. Now get to work! ;P

    Hello Jessica. Yep, the biggest part about making revisions work is the attitude. We have to be open to suggestions, or our work might fall short of the mark. Critiquing for friends can get tricky, though! LOL.

    Thanks for stopping by, ladies!

  23. I actually enjoy the revision process. My books are always stronger after having gone through the wringer.

  24. That's a great way to put it, Kate! Going through the wringer is how it feels. But sometimes, the requests are so daunting, they may feel impossible to tackle. That's when we have to really dig deep and pull it all together and make it work!

    thanks for reading the blog.

  25. This gives me hope, I'm revising/editing on the suggestion of an agent I didn't land. See how I go.

  26. Good for you, Natalie! I wish you all the best with your revisions and agent search.

  27. Lynne,
    Fabulous topic and not one new authors are aware of until they are asked to make changes. I had HOPED that an editor would ask for revisions instead of rejecing when I was trying to sell, then I had a heart attack when one did! I didn't have a clue as to how to make those changes. Eventually, I took my hatchet to my story and removed a good chunk of it.
    Now, having just turned in my 4th book, the process isn't any less painful, but I learn something from every revision I do. That's where the magic is.

  28. That's right, Molly. We really get on the job training when it comes to first revision letters! Sink or swim, it feels like. Here's hoping your book #4 is an easy revision book!

    Well, folks, I see that Thursday's blog is now posted, so I'm reaching into the basket to draw the prize winner's name:

    Drum roll please! ...
    Mona! Please contact me via my website so we can make arrangements for the bookmark, and book *(if you'd like it) to be sent to you.

    I had a ball talking with all of you wonder ladies. Thanks for reading my blog. And remember: Be flexible when it comes to editor revision requests! And don't be afraid to take a hacksaw and draw blood. ; o

    My very best wishes,