The Many Types of Revision

There's a common saying in the writing world, probably attributed to some awesomely famous and prolific writer (who I should probably know but don't remember), that goes a little something like this:

Writing is in the Rewriting

That phrase has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks. Between doing my own initial revision of AST and starting the second revision after getting feedback from my amazing critique partners (more on that below) rewriting has been a reoccuring theme in my life so far in 2014. As such, I thought I'd talk about the various types of revision that occur along the path to publication and the unique challenges of each.

Personal Revision

You've finished your first draft, let it sit (or not, if you're impatient like I am), and went back to read it over. By the time you make it to "the end," you're horrified. What follows next is the initial revision of your MS. I like to call it the Personal Revision because this is (potentially) the only time you're revising based solely on your own gut instincts as a writer. You're revising to turn the mess of an MS into something you like enough to share with others.
 
The Personal Revision can be both overwhelming and a ton of fun. You probably have a lot of problems to fix, and the amount of work ahead of you might seem overwhelming. Overall, I really enjoy Personal Revisions because I'm still alone in my world and can make changes as I see fit; however, that also leads to missing out on some big issues. You may have a character who you think is complicated and deep, but you don't realize what you see in your head isn't properly communicated on the page. For now, all you can do is trust your gut, fix the problems you do find, and then move on to the next type of revision.
 
That's so important, I'm going to say it again. Once you've fixed all the problems you can find, move on to the next type of revision. The goal with the Personal Revision is to fix all the issues you see in one revision, which is why a proper revision strategy is important. You don't want to waste time making the prose awesome in a chapter or subplot you ultimately cut. If you've never revised before, or can't imagine being able to fix everything in one pass, I highly encourage you to check out Susan Dennard's revision blog series. Ninety percent of my current revision technique I learned from her. Seriously, check it out.
 
Now that you've completed your first revision, it's time to send that freshly revised MS to your critique partners/beta readers.

The CP Revision

So, you sent your MS to your beta readers and/or CPs...and they replied. 
 
How are you hanging in there? Perhaps I should have reminded you to wear thicker skin when you opened their feedback. Sorry about that.
 
Critique partners are a vital part of the overall revision process (at least for me, your mileage may vary). These are writers who want you to succeed, and sometimes that means they need to sprinkle on a dose of reality. The job of a good CP is to point out the flaws in your MS you currently can't see yourself. And a great CP relationship will be able to do that while also inspiring you to see your story in new ways.
 
It can be really scary to let someone tear apart your story. I recently sent A STOLEN THRONE to my three wonderful CPs, and the nerves I had while they were reading were ridiculous. And then that initial sting when I got their feedback? Ouch. But, having taken time to mull over their notes, I can recognize the issues they cited in my work, and I know what I want to do to fix them. After their feedback, I'm even MORE excited about my story, about the twist possibilities and the romantic tension, than I was before.
 
That's what makes the CP Revision great. It can be tough to hear that feedback, and you have to wade through their thoughts and figure out which advice to use and which advice doesn't fit with your vision of your story, but ultimately it opens you up to new possibilities. It makes your book better, richer, than you ever could alone. In some ways, this is the most vital type of revision, especially for unagented/unpublished authors.
 
Unlike the Personal Revision, CP Revisions might have multiple rounds. With A STOLEN THRONE, I expect to make at least two (or maybe three or four) rounds of revision. I'm less concerned about the "number" of rounds as I am about getting the green light that I'm ready to query. And that's a big part of what makes critique partners so valuable. Not only do they push you and help you grow as a writer, they also keep you from burning bridges with agents by querying too soon.

The Agent/Editor "Revise and Resubmit"

Once you've made it through your various rounds of CP Revisions and you've gotten the green light, it's time to start querying! You do your research, write your query letter (which your CPs can help you edit), and start sending those emails out into cyberspace. Some agents/editors respond quickly (within a few days to a week), others may take months to respond, and some have a "no response means no" policy. Either way, this process is going to take awhile.
 
Agents' responses (if they respond at all) at the query stage come in three varieties: No/Pass, Request for a Partial, Request for a Full. If an agent has requested materials from you, feel free to do a little happy dance before sending off whatever it is they've requested. And then get prepared to wait. Again.
 
Once the agent/editor has your MS (for the sake of argument, let's assume they have your full) there are three general types of responses: No/Pass, R&R (revise and resubmit), and Offer. If they pass, keep your chin up and send out some new queries. If the agent offers rep or the editor offers a publishing contract, celebrate! And then do your research before signing ANYTHING. But what about those agents/editors who request an R&R? Why, I thought you'd never ask.
 
If you're asked for an R&R, the first thing I want you to keep in mind is that such a request means you show potential (hurray!), but there's something holding back an offer. Go over the notes the agent/editor provided and take a few days to decide whether the requested changes will make your book better or whether they would destroy what you consider the heart of your story. The revision notes should make you feel like the agent/editor "gets" your story. If what they're suggesting makes no sense or would require you to write a completely different book, it may be wise to walk away. You want to work with someone who understand what you're trying to do. Otherwise, you'll be at odds every step of the way. And you don't want that.
 
Once you've decided the revision makes sense, and you're excited about making those changes, get to work! Just remember, it's not a race and it's not a "test." The stakes will feel higher, but try to remain calm. Unless the agent/editor gives you a deadline, it's much better to take your time and turn in something great rather than rush and turn in something sloppy. Call on your CPs if you're need reassurance before you resubmit.
 
Above all with an R&R, make sure the changes you're being asked to make will enhance your story. After all, if the revision turns into an offer of rep or a publishing deal, you'll be working with this person to further refine your MS. You want to make sure you have the same vision in mind.

Agent Revision

If you've signed with an agent, depending on how editorial they are, you may be asked to do a revision (or two or three) before you go out on submission. I can't speak to this type of revision too much (as I'm not an agent, nor do I have one - yet), but having watched one of my good friends (and CPs!) go through edits with his agent, it seems like it's a lot like the CP Revision. The main difference seems to be (from my outsider view) that with the Agent Revision you really need to communicate well if you don't want to follow a certain edit.
 
Your agent's job is to sell your book, so he or she will not only be working to make your book "better" but also more "marketable." If your agent requests something that you think will break your book, you need to speak up and figure out how to protect the heart of your story while finding a way to deal with whatever marketability concern your agent has. Unlike with your CPs, who are likely other writers, your agent has a level of industry know-how you (probably) don't possess. As such, really spend time considering what you're being asked to do before you decide it won't work. Don't be afraid to talk to your agent! It's also possible that the change the agent wants does make sense, but the way it was explained doesn't jive with your muse. When it doubt, talk it out.

Editorial Revision

Once your agent is happy with your MS, she'll submit it to publishing houses. If you don't have an agent, you might be submitting to small presses on your own. After you've signed a contract with the publishing house, you'll be assigned an editor to hone and refine your work. For the sake of this post, I'm going to call that your Editorial Revision. Every editor and publisher is a bit different, but based on the experiences of some of my friends, this is what we can expect.
 
An editor's job is to make sure the books they publish are the absolute best they can be. This often means going through a number of rounds of edits (and you thought all the CP edits were tough!). Typically editors will send their author a list of overarching issues (plot points and character issues) that need to be addressed. With each round, the edits get more and more refined until the author is working with a copy editor who makes sure the grammar, punctuation, and spelling is spot on.
 
When working with an editor, it's important to clarify if you don't understand a particular revision request. You don't want to spend weeks making changes only to find you've brought the story in the wrong direction. As with other types of revision, it's also good to know when to make changes and when to talk to you editor. As the author, you can change just about anything, except the heart of your story, the piece that made you want to write it in the first place. This is why it's so important to make sure your editor really "gets" the story you're trying to tell. If you ever get a request to change something and you think to yourself, "But that was the whole point of the story!" you've got a problem on your hands. Always remain professional, but talk to your editor to see if you can find a different solution to the problem they pointed out that will allow you to save your story's heart.
 
And after pass pages and arc and all sorts of final pieces, you're book will finally (eventually) hit shelves.
 
That's it! Those are the different types of revision on the road from first draft to traditional publication (I can't really speak for self-pubbed authors). As you can see, writing really is in the rewriting. Everyone, from newbies to published pros, go through various levels and stages of revision. And despite all that revision, you're still bound to find a typo or two once your book hits the shelves. Such is life.
 
So tell me, where are you in your revision journey? I'm in the midst of CP Revisions with A STOLEN THRONE. I expect to spend a few rounds there before I move on to query. Wherever you are, I wish you the best in your rewriting journey!
 
-Isabel