About a year and a half ago, the agent to whom I’d submitted my manuscript called and offered representation. Meaning my first novel would soon be published, my kids could all go off to college to become rich and famous, and I could hunker down and focus on writing a dozen bestsellers.
What I didn’t know was that my agent was working on a Revision Letter for my book, similar to the kind an author receives from a publishing house after the book is contracted. In my case, it was a long letter detailing what changes the manuscript needed in order to be ready to sell. We’re talking long. Like Obama’s Health Care Bill long. Okay, ten pages, single spaced.
I’d heard about these revision letters and expected to get one—in the same way I expect to die someday. As in: you know it’s inevitable, and you make every effort to prepare yourself, but it’s still going to suck. So I was forewarned about revision letters and was advised to prepare myself mentally and emotionally (I am not kidding about that), pray, and get my attitude ready to accept what was contained in The Letter. And then I should open it, read it, and put it away and let whatever it says gel before reacting in any way. That means any way. This would include things like pitching a tantrum, collapsing into a bawling snot-puddle, flushing the manuscript, torching my computer, and tossing myself off a bridge.
So when the letter came, I held my breath, opened the attachment carefully, read the nice greeting and the opening comments which listed what my agent liked about the book, and exhaled.
Then I moved on to the stuff that needed to be changed. Revised. (There’s a gentle euphemism. One that really means DEMOLISH THE CLUNKER AND START OVER.)
The story had been re-written and revised much already, but I’ll be honest: many of the suggested changes were things I’d secretly feared were needed. I had tried to work them out and finally concluded that it would take far too much work; they were impossible to fix. The story would just have to do. I’d pitched the book, hoping someone would take pity on the little waif and love it in spite of a few flaws.
Blinding Truth Alert: Since the book and I were contracted with an agent (YAY!!), it was now my job—my duty—to fix those impossible flaws. Uh . . .
You’re familiar with the Kübler-Ross model known as the Five Stages of Grief. I’m convinced Ms. Kübler-Ross had suffered the trauma of a rigorous substantive edit and had writers specifically in mind when she developed this tool. I’m going to be totally honest here and describe what the Stages of Grief looked like for me.
Denial: Sorry, Ms. Agent, but I think I got someone else’s letter by mistake. Poor sap. Good luck with that.
Anger: Are you kidding me? No. This is ridiculous (yet sounds suspiciously and painfully accurate . . . ).Who do you think you are (I mean aside from being a long time publishing professional, a fiction expert and a highly respected editor in the industry)? Do you even know how to read? How do you expect me to make even half these changes? Where’s the Tylenol?
Bargaining: Well, okay, fine. You’re right about items #3, #18 and #74, but I need you to understand why I did #12, #28 and all the #90s because I have to keep those. Please? [This phase lasted about a week. In my head.]
Depression: [After a month of listing all the threads and scenes to change, scrapping the list and starting over, scrapping it all again, and then another month of whining to all my writing friends.] Oh God, I can’t do this. This is so absolutely beyond me. I have no idea how to tackle the major changes. I don’t see how it can be done, I honestly don’t. That’s it—this book is going to molder in a box under my bed.
Acceptance: I have to do this. It’s true, every one of these changes are absolutely needed to make this story sing. And I have to try to do it somehow because Someone gave me this compulsion and knack to write. Someone else spent a lot of valuable time giving me vital feedback on this story. If God wants me to write, he will have to help me do the impossible. I can’t do it, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
So, for several months following, I crammed pedal to the metal and worked my way through my novel revision. The job took longer than I would have liked, but it’s finished (and much improved) and I am now preparing for the next step.
Major revision isn’t easy. But it is critical for us to see it through to completion if we are truly serious about getting published. If you write for publication and have never used an editor, I want to encourage you to consider doing so, at least once. As for me, I’ll continue pushing myself to learn and grow, even if it is the Hard Way. But it doesn’t matter how you press on and grow; it only matters that you do.
P.S. Rachelle edited this post.
Camille has been wife to the same amazing guy for 27 years and is mom to three brilliant college-bound kids. She has a PhD in Learning Stuff the Hard Way, and is also a church secretary, a bassist, and a passably devoted fan of classic rock, muscle cars, and Jane Austen.