Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You Will Be Edited

As some of you already know, I have an agent with whom I'm working to get my book (current working title, "Horatio") published. My agent first read the ms in early March, and he came back to me with a suggested major change to the way I was telling the story. It was a good suggestion, and even though I thought I was finished writing the book, I revised for three months and at the end of May sent the much-longer ms back to my agent for his opinion.

Naturally, I assumed that the next time I heard from him, it would be a message saying something like, "This is amazing, and I've just sold it at auction in a significant deal and where should I mail the check?" Naturally, when I heard back from him on Sunday evening, that's not the message I got.

Mr. Agent, who has a well-earned reputation as a "hands-on" sort of guy, asks that I make further changes to the book. These will be pretty major structural changes and will take me about two months, I estimate, to complete. Darn, I say. I was hoping to get a decent start on my next book. But no.

The point is, even after I revise the novel again, I know I won't have seen the last of the revisions. Once it gets picked up by a publisher, an editor will go through it and make a list of suggested changes I'll be expected to do. Every published author gets this "revision letter" from their editor. Yes, even your favorite author, although they may claim otherwise.

So the moral of this little tale is that you should get used to revising. I don't mean the kind of revisions Davin was talking about in yesterday's post. What you'll likely see from agents and publishers are bigger, story-level things that will make you annoyed and wonder at what point your beloved novel became someone else's artistic property. The upside is that my agent is not telling me what story to tell, but is trying his best to help me tell that story in the best way possible. Still, it irks because I am a Creative Genius and blah blah blah. But that's part of this business, and you should be prepared for it.


  1. Gak. The dreaded R-word. Good luck!

  2. Heh heh. I think I see the creative monster in Davin grumping. This is a great post though, and despite all the hard work you're going through, I will be very happy when you mention to us that your book is available for purchase.

  3. Next they'll tell you to change your POV character.

  4. Scott, this really is good to know. Thank you for sharing your publication journey with us - because I know many of us really are clueless. Well, I know I am, at least.

    The IMPORTANT thing about revising is that it is actually WRITING. I think most of the other stuff we do before we seriously start revising is just drafting. Fortunately, these agents and editors know what sells, so I'll be happy to follow their advice as long as I still feel the integrity of the book remains intact.

    Haha, Justus. I think if they did Scott would lose it.

  5. So the short of it is, revising isn't over until the book actually goes to print. A bit disheartening, yes, but if that’s what it takes, then I won't be complaining if/when i get to that stage. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. I imagine this is frustrating and encouraging at the same time. It's good to know that many agents care enough to make your story the best it can be. That said, revision after revision can really take its toll.

  7. Ah, yes. This sounds familiar. I just sent my third revision to an agent. An agent who's not even technically my agent yet.

    It's just hard, no other way to put it. You have to hope that you've done it perfectly, and it stings when you find you haven't.

    Hang in there. For me, I take comfort in knowing, without a doubt, that my book is much better than it was when this process started.

  8. Good to know. I guess I expected a revision with an agent and then another with the editor, but not continuous revisions.

    Lynnette Labelle

  9. Wow...I am impressed though...he must really love your writing in order to take on something that needs so many changes!! That has to be encouraging, right???

    I wish you tons of luck..... Soon I'll be in the editing process...just mailed my signed publishing contract. And I worry about the changes they'll ask...and how I'll feel. I don't want to feel like it's not my work, my creation anymore.

  10. hmm...being edited can be likened to being censured in some ways, but also to being set free (in a weird, masochistic way).

  11. I liked how your post had both the "but I'm a Creative Genius" parts and the "this revising business is the way it goes" parts.
    But man... I feel exhausted for you.
    Good to know, though, and thanks for sharing. I need to get over my instant gratification mindset.

  12. What! Everything that falls from my pen and ends up on my computer is not genius? Someone would think they have the right to tell me to change it? Ugh!

    So sorry you have more changes to make, but that's the business. It's nice to know the real process. I worry that I will feel that, in the end, it's not my book when so many people put their oar in. Of course, if I'm the one doing all the rewrites, I guess it is still technically my book.

  13. Angie: Like Glam says, the revisions are where the real writing happens. I am learning to love the process. No, really.

    Rick: We're all blah blah blah.

    Eric: That wasn't Davin grumping. He grumped yesterday; today it's my turn!

    Justus: At that point, I make the protagonist a sparkly vampire.

    Glam: "Know what sells" is something I am on the fence about. As the book stands, my agent likes it and thinks he can sell it. But he thinks that with some changes it'll be more salable. So I don't know. But he's not asking me to change my prose or my characters or my story. He's asking me to do some restructuring. My first response was "Shut up!" but then I started getting really cool ideas for how the story could be with these changes, and I wrote two great new scenes last night and so, you know, maybe he's right.

    quixotic: At some point, they do have to send the thing to the printer, right? Can I sleep then?

    Cindy: Yeah, there's the law of diminishing returns. I was really ready to move on and write something else.

    Natalie: Yeah, the book is better for my agent's suggestions. And your agent probably isn't going to spend time and effort on you without actually offering representation afterward.

    Lynette: Not all agents are this involved. Some days I wish I had one of those agents, because I'm a tired, middle-aged man. But at the end of the day, the book is better for his kicking me.

    Stephanie: It's not that the book needs these changes, it's that everybody ends up revising their work, until you're famous enough that they'll print your "to-do" lists and write you million-dollar checks.

    Jeannie: Yeah, in a weird way I feel more free to experiment with scenes now.

    Annie: At some point, I won't have the strength left to revise further. I will moan, "You've killed my muse" and become a hermit. Until then, I remain alternately fascinated and repelled by this whole process. It's taking much longer than I imagined, and I do worry that I'll get to the point where a suggestion that jousting clowns riding penguins sounds like a good idea to me. Is the object to get published, or to write a good book? Are they mutually exclusive?

    How comfortable are we with the concept that we stop being lone gunmen and must join a team with total strangers in order to see our books in print?

  14. First congrats to you! I think I understand the need to have novels revised, I would just wish I had more control over how it was done.

  15. Lois: That's the main thing. It's all still my work. Nobody is writing (or rewriting) this but me. No matter how many people get involved in the publication, at the end of the day it's still me, sitting alone and writing. Art and commerce have always been an odd mix.

  16. Hey Scott,
    Thanks for the update! Last year I had the chance to talk to some people who had just published their first books, and all of them expressed how exhausting the process was. I've been bracing myself for the post-agent, post-editor revisions, and I expect them to be substantial when the time comes.

    I'm really glad you think your agent's suggestions are good ones. And, it seems like he's being positive about the book as it stands. He seems like a supportive guy. And, though it sounds like you are already doing this, just keep in my mind that in the end it is your book and you can always put your foot down. I've had some lit mag editors suggest changes before. I try my best to take their advice, but a lot of times I timidly ask if it's okay to keep my work the way it is. I'm always shocked when they write back and tell me I'm the boss of my own work. It's something I need to be reminded of.

  17. Ah, but you have taken the first step which is to write the book. Second, you queried. Third you found a fab agent. Now this next step is just another curve on this road you're on. I wish you good luck. :)

  18. Davin: Jeff's approach with me has always been, "I think you could try pushing this idea" or "I wonder if this character needs more scenes" rather than "You have to change this" or "I don't like this; lose it." In his most recent message, he asked that I address his comments (because he wants to at least hear my opinion of them), but not necessarily act on them. And after I got over my umbrage at having my Artistic Godhood challenged, I realized that I like his central comment. I like it so much that I sat up until the wee small hours of the night last night writing two new scenes. Jeff didn't specifically ask for these new scenes; it's up to me to decide how I incorporate these ideas. And I can still say, "Just try to sell it the way it is now." But I want to follow this process as well as I can, because it interests me, and revisions for me are cool intellectual puzzles to solve. Like working a Rubik's cube in my imagination.

    Still, I'm very tired.

  19. Is this all a ploy to get Mighty Reader to do the moving while you sit in your beautiful new kitchen and revise?

  20. This is so true, and super important to understand. I think we need to see our agents/editors and partners in this process. When I do that, I feel less intruded upon. Plus, I remind myself that I am lucky to be where I am and that I actually invited this agent to share the journey w/ me.

    good discussion going on over here :D

  21. I think when I get an agent, he'll say, "No revisions necessary, friend."

  22. 1st: Congrats on finding an agent!

    2nd: I fear this. I worry that the changes will indeed be someone else's point of view and story. How do you make such "major" changes and still make it your own story??


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