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November 17, 2004: Revisions, Revisions

Last month, I was moaning that I hadn’t received my revisions letter yet. And then it arrived, which caused even more moaning (and not the good ‘moan in the back of your throat’ kind of way).

A revisions letter isn’t quite what I had imagined. Instead of giving specific instructions (‘cut chapter three’ or ‘lose this scene), the editor makes some general comments and it’s up to the author to do the dirty work. In my case, the editor pointed out my hero and heroine spend a lot of time thinking about each other. One sentence, she said, is fine, whereas three sentences can be neurotic. The writing doesn’t fall that far from the apple tree is all I have to say.

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I got the letter on a Wednesday, then spent the next day and a half in mourning. I slept a lot. Friday night, after speaking with a fabulous friend about how to tackle said revisions, I began to hack. And hack some more. By the end of the evening, I had chopped 4,000 words from the manuscript, although I hadn’t come close to the 20,000 the revisions letter requested.

The next evening (by the way, my husband was conveniently out of town), I did it again. And I came away another 4,000 words lighter. I didn’t make charts and graphs of my scenes, or plot out my characters’ escalating changes of heart. No, like I’ve found I do most things, I just plunged in and cut. I kept asking myself if scenes or lines of dialogue moved the plot forward or were just places where I demonstrated how clever I can be. Sadly (or luckily, depending on your perspective), it was very easy to lose over 10,000 words that way. Apparently I think I am very clever.

When I had done all that, I reviewed the specifics of my editor’s letter again to see what else could go. In addition to asking me to shorten the book by 20,000 words, she had also asked me to beef up the villains’ presence and motivations. She, regretfully, asked me to tone down the sex scenes since this is a traditional Regency. And, lastly, she questioned the necessity of including a certain secondary character.

My hacksaw (otherwise known as the delete button) and I went to work again. I made the sex scenes less explicit, which took fewer words, made the villains’ dialogue more pointed, and, in a middle of the night epiphany, decided my editor was right, and I would remove the secondary character entirely. She didn’t add anything to the book besides a cheerful perspective. I cut her completely, even though it hurt. But once she was removed, the book’s storyline was not altered at all.

By the end of the week, I had cut almost 16,000 words, which brought the manuscript within the specified parameters. I am hoping the readers won’t require a magnifying glass to see the font. I turned the revisions in within a week, a full five weeks ahead of schedule.

And now what? My editor emailed me and asked me to suggest scenes for the cover. I also had to provide a bio, which necessitated some conversation with my father, since I had stigmatized, unfairly as it turned out, my parents as "feckless." My dad, otherwise known as Mr. O.E.D., suggested "gormless" as an alternative. Thanks, dad. A friend took photos of me for the inside back cover and my incipient web site, but they didn’t turn out exactly right, so we have to do them again. I hired a website designer, registered my domain, and sent him banal details of my life to include on the website (I collect Heywood-Wakefield furniture; I am obsessed with bookmarks; I don’t like lima beans). I’ll announce when that goes live.

Oh, and the writing. Yeah, I’ve been trying to write my second book, too. As my Fabulous Friend (mentioned above) warned me, the second book is way, way harder to write than the first. I’m having a lot of fun with it, but it is also super-stressful. Of course, I manage to make most everything in my life super-stressful, and at least I have complete control over this aspect of my life.

It’s all been an incredible learning experience. The best part, of course, is that I was so engrossed in revisions I forgot to eat. Forgot! I lost a few pounds, and about 16,000 words. Awesome.

Thanks for reading.

-- Megan

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