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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Insecure Writers Support Group: Revisionist Blues

Here it is the first Wednesday in October and it's time for the second edition of the Insecure Writers Support Group. Welcome! My fellow group members and I are here for you and each other. Below you'll find a list of the other cool participants. Last time I talked about my fear of having everything I write suck. Today I'm going to talk about revisions, which I know can suck out loud and sideways.

We do everything possible to ensure that our story is in the best shape possible and hey, it's been accepted. However, we have to be prepared to make changes and revisions no matter what. It's inevitable, like Republicans complaining about Democrats.

Editors will still find basic structure problems like pacing, weak prose, dialogue that is stilted and places where your main character waffles and steps out of herself. We are not perfect writers and our manuscripts, no matter how much we love them and have had other eyes look them over, are not perfect either. But that's okay, it's part of the routine, NOT that your writing sucks.

However, instead of those structural edits, I'm focusing on those revisions and changes in content. The ones that require you to alter your actual story, the most painful, horrific edits of all, in my opinion.

The editor knows their publishing house, know their readers and they will ask for changes accordingly. WHAT!! New to the business writers always seem to have a problem with this one. They always tell me there is no effing way they will allow anyone to destroy the vibe of their book. It's their story, damn it, their heart, their soul, their baby. "I know," I sympathize. "And you've already argued with your crit partners and beta readers about things, too. You can't possibly make one more single change. Period." "Damn straight." They nod fiercely, convinced of the superiority of this mindset. I hate to crush them, but that is oh so wrong and let me count the ways.

That love story in your political thriller that you insist is mere background, well your editor feels it should be played up more to add some additional flavor to the main characters. Oh and think two suspects is enough in your cozy mystery? Think again. You now have to add two more. The battle sequence in the desert was surely long enough at a thousand words. No, no, the editor thinks it should last longer, more to the tune of another two thousand words. Prefer a bare bones description of that European seaside village? Wait, your editor wants you to put the readers right there like they are looking at a guidebook.

Some changes will even come for marketing purposes. Like that title you so love and painstakingly labored over. It may not fit with their overall promotion scheme and will have to go. Gasp! Yes, your superfantastic Fires of Darkness is now Hot Nights. This kind of stuff happens all the time and you have to remember that it is no reflection on your skill as a writer or your ability to name your own kids.

Now, are there times where you can completely disagree with an editor and be heard? Heck yeah. You absolutely do not have to accept all those changes if you feel it threatens your voice. Ah, but here's where you have to be your most calm, though. In spite of the seething mass of roiling rage within your veins, you must be ice and civility. No one will listen to a crazed writer who is alternately screaming and crying unless you have a gun to their heads, but that's another story.

The bottom line is we as writers have to suck it up for this stage on our road to publication. Pretty shitty advice, I know. But, we want our babies published more than anything and the editors hold the magic key. It behooves us to listen. At the end of the day, they are only looking to ensure that our best possible work goes out there. I survive this part by commiserating with my fellow writers. So feel free to call me up or just pop on over here and tell me about those big bad editors and how they are ruining your masterpiece.


  1. Never had this problem. I don't have an agent or publisher telling me what to do. I do, however, edit until I turn green. I use a beta reader to look for plot holes. My experience with an editor was money wasted because he became a glorified spellchecker. I guess my own editing skills were on the money, giving him virtually nothing to do.

    I understand the game however. I've read enough to know that the ms you send in isn't going to look like the ms that goes to print. This is a fact that all writers should learn and accept early on if they want traditional publishing and representation.

    But no one should let that crush them. It doesn't mean you're not a good writer. Having your work molded into someone else's vision for it has to be tuff.

  2. Editors make those suggestions so your book is better! I had no problem with that. I rarely question any changes my critique partners suggest either.

  3. Great advice. Hope to need it someday. :D

    Publishers have to edit with their readers' tastes in mind. That's the business side of writing. The end goal of commercial fiction is to SELL. Though I can sure understand a writer pulling their hair out the first time they read their revision letter. Gah!

  4. Holy hot sauce, the guy on your cover is divine. Can't wait to read. ;D

  5. Yes, I'm a bare bones describer. It may be a result of me being a bare bones kid who refused to put any meat on those bones back then.

    Man, how I've filled out since those days.

  6. I had to edit my piece coming out in an anthology ... maybe sometime this century. lol

    For self publishing, I get to decide, which I like.

    But soon, as more fans voice their opinions, I will start to tailor my stories more and more to my market. For now, I'm still learning who they are.

    But yeah, we have to suck it up more than we want in this business.

  7. "You absolutely do not have to accept all those changes if you feel it threatens your voice. "


    I wish, we translators, could do the same sometimes. We have absolutely no say in what changes editors will put into our translations even when they put in mistakes and stupid things ... which happens more often than some people think :(

  8. I haven't been, there though this is really helpful. It must be incredibly frustrating to have to suck it up make substantial changes at that point in time. Thanks for your perspective, Melissa. I hope someday I will need your support around this. =)

  9. If the suggested changes are improving my book, I'm all for it.

  10. What a fantastic post! I think it is difficult for anyone in a creative field to accept that there are times when someone else may have a different (and sometimes better) vision. But you're right, they want your best possible work out there, just like you do.

  11. You hit it right. Changing content to suit an editor's wishes is painful. I always end up feeling like I'm writing their story and not mine.

  12. I'm with Susan - I've turned in screenwriting, been told it's terrific; then the changes start a'comin'. Seven drafts later, it's like the filmic equivalent of the Telephone game - how did THAT first draft work its way over to THAT seventh draft?

  13. Thanks Melissa, I always appreciate your honesty! I rather hear how it is then sugar coated. Sounds like child birth, before your book baby is born! It sounds like alternating DNA, ouch!

  14. @Wendy I hear you. Some editors really aren't worth it, I know some other writers, who have had similar experiences.

    Knowing what you want from your writing and the direction you take with it is a very important piece of advice. Thanks for sharing. :)

    @Alex I love my crit partners for that reason. They are only trying to make my work better.

    @L.G. Exactly! Editors at these respective houses do have to edit with their readers in mind and if the end goal is to sell our work, then we writers have to be willing to work with them.

    @RaShelle Thank you!! Isn't he just delicious? ;)

  15. The feeling is similar to having your teacher send your paper back covered with red ink. Then you have the opportunity to correct it in order to improve your grade. It's a lot less work than editing your manuscript, but it's the same principle. The experience can also be likened to your mother telling you to clean your room... Thanks Melissa

  16. @Jeffrey I tend to be a minimalist on my descriptions, too, though I am not minimal in size myself. ;)

    @MPax Knowing what the market wants is very important when you sell your work. And I agree, we writers do have to suck it up a lot. ;)

    @Dezz Thanks! You bring up a great point. I had not thought that editors would tackle translations like that. It must be frustrating to want to correct a mistake, but knowing you can't because you're not the writer or the editor.

  17. @Robyn You can always count on support from me. :) It does stink, but getting my work out there is the most important thing.

    @Hannah Absolutely! I love when my work gets made better because someone spotted something wrong or stilted.

    @Julie Thanks! I'm so happy you enjoyed this post. It all boils down to getting your best work out there.

  18. @Susan When the changes are so extensive, it really hurts and it becomes forced. I actually went over an editor's head one time because this person told me that my story would not work at all as written.

    @Craig I'm all for changing things, but too many changes and it starts to feel like someone else's vision. How awful to go through seven drafts. I told Susan that I had an editor who told me my story could not work the way I had written it. Like this person questioned my creativity and found it lacking.

  19. @Ella Alternating DNA is a great description for some of the changes editors expect writers to make. I'm so happy you enjoyed my post and were able to take something from it.

    @Empty Nester Oh how I remember those red-inked papers. They were sure easier to do than composing a whole paper, but man it sure made you feel incompetent. :)

  20. Melissa, I understand how it is when we have our babies growing in a particular direction and get a whiff that it might not be totally the right one. I've had to make some addition that improved my work.

    Luckily for me, the changes my editor suggested for my last project, I could see through, but there have been times when critique partners suggested changes that rankled, but were better for the book in the end.

  21. @J.L. My changes have mostly all been for the better, but I did run into one editor who just seemed to hate my story, period. There were so many revisions it was no longer my story, our story.

  22. Hello fellow insecure writer :-)
    I think that 95% of the time you really can tell the difference between a book that's been through an agent and editor, and one that hasn't... Hope to get an editor to look at my book someday soon! I'm querying agents now...

  23. What?! You mean everything I write isn't automatically PUUUUUUUURE GENIUS?!??! Nooooooooooo!

    Haha ( : Jk!

    This is actually fantastic advice. When I first joined a critique group, it was TOUGH swallowing all those red pen marks blemishing my precious manuscript! [Because of course, its my baby. And its perfect. Ha!] But after my pride has been mangled so many times, I think I can handle a few more compromises with the publisher. ESPECIALLY if it means... well... publication. [So says the girl who has never actually been mangled to death by a REAL editor... gulp.]

    Great post! Its tough advice we ALL need to hear.

    P.s. New follower!

  24. @Deniz I agree. There is something about that go through by a professional trained to spot weak content and finer points that really gives a manuscript that extra edge. Another pair of eyes is best because most of the time we writers are too close to our work and our brains will automatically correct the mistakes. Good luck with getting an agent. I know it will happen for you. You're an incredible writer. :)

    @Julie Hey!! welcome to the craziness of the Imaginarium. I'm so happy you've decided to join me on my rambling adventures.

    Having our babies skewered is so not fun, but most critiques will only make them better. Especially when publication is the end game. Editors know what their readers are looking for and almost always their crits make our stories better. But I am always here when the revision blues get you down. :)

  25. Oh gosh, I'm totally with you. I don't mind line edits, etc., but the ones that ask you to change you story line - noooooo! That's awful. Hopefully its all worth it though, right?
    Great post!
    - http://pensuasion.blogspot.com/

  26. @S.L. HI! Thanks for dropping by, it's great to have you here. Those content edits sure can get you down. I think at the end it is all worth it because it's about putting your very best book out there for the readers.


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