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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revision Notes

Many an author has blogged or tweeted about receiving Revision Notes. Often the initial reaction ranges from shock to mild surprise. Some even admit to discouragement or dismay.

I've often wondered what was included in Revision Notes that would bring about such a strong reaction. Sure, I had an idea, having read blog posts for over two years, but those accounts didn't satisfy my curiosity.

In recent weeks, I've been able to view two sets of Notes, one belonging to a brave novelist friend who shared hers with me, and the other the Notes my agent, Rachelle Gardner, sent me a week ago. Because some of you may be as curious as I was, I'm going to give you a glimpse of mine.

Before I share what was in my Notes, I want to make it clear that Rachelle called and spent an hour going over everything that was in them before I ever saw them in print. Had she not done so, I might have been devastated to read her comments and suggestions. However, Rachelle isn't known as one of the best agents out there for nothing. Her fellow agent Chip MacGregor says she's "nice," and she is. She took the time to share her thoughts with a wonderful balance of compassion and directness. I had to hear truth if my story is to improve, but she delivered it in a way that honored me and my story, and I'm extremely grateful for that.

And now, for the promised peek at my Revision Notes . . .


My Editorial Memo, which is what Rachelle called my Revision Notes, consists of four single-spaced pages. Rachelle worked for many years as an editor and edited for some big name authors such as Brandilyn Collins, Mary DeMuth, and Lisa Samson. The Memo I received is much like that my friend received from an editor at a major publishing house, both in appearance and content.


Rachelle broke the content into the following sections:
  • Opening - Rachelle began with almost a full page of compliments. She listed what she liked about the story, what she sees as its strengths, and what areas of craft she thinks I handled well. (To be honest, this was my favorite part of the Memo. *grin*)
  • Transition - After having noted the strengths in my story and my writing, Rachelle took two paragraphs to explain the motivation behind her upcoming suggestions. She also reassured me that she knows this is my story and has no intention of meddling with my Voice, honors me as a writer, and is open to discussing my concerns or areas in which I may disagree with her.
  • Concerns - Rachelle has two, each of which filled an entire page. While that may sound overwhelming, her explanation enabled me to understand what she meant and why the two weaknesses she spotted are concerns. She clearly stated each, gave sound reasons for them, and made suggestions as to how I can address them. (For the record, I agree with her and am in the process of plotting my fix.)
  • Characters - My two main characters, which I like to call the hero and heroine, each received two paragraphs of comments. Rachelle shared what she liked about them and enlightened me as to what she sees as shortcomings.
  • Pacing - Rachelle suggested I reread my story and note areas of repetition. She pointed out several chapters where the pacing is slow.
  • Length - I submitted a 111K story, so I wasn't surprised to hear it has to be tightened and cut to 100K.
  • Conclusion - Rachelle offered to assist me through the process.

  • Expertise - It was easy to see that Rachelle knows her stuff. Her experience and grasp of the editing process are evident. Although it wasn't easy to hear that my story has some major weaknesses, I realize she's right and am grateful to her for pointing them out.
  • Personality - Rachelle's clients speak very highly of her. I see why. Receiving one's first Editorial Memo can be overwhelming. She herself used the term "shell-shocked" to describe the reaction many experience. My experience was far more positive than I had expected. Rachelle treats her clients, even newbie writers like me whose story isn't yet all I believed it to be, with respect and consideration. Not that she sugarcoats things. (For example, my letter includes such phrases as "The problem is that it's totally unbelievable . . ." and "None of this rings true." Taken out of context, those statements may sound harsh. I don't feel that way. She says what needs to be said, but she couches it very well.
  • Support - Throughout the letter, I picked up on the fact that Rachelle believes in my story, despite it's rather glaring weaknesses. (That description is mine, not hers, btw.) She assured me it can be fixed and gave me great suggestions on how to go about it. I also feel that she believes in my ability as a writer, which she conveyed in many ways throughout the Memo.
I'll be exploring the various aspects of the letter in more depth as I go through the revision process and will share my thoughts in future blog posts.

Questions for you

If you're a writer and have received Revision Notes or an Editorial Memo, what was your initial reaction? Did you agree of disagree with the agent or editor's suggestions?

If you're a writer who has yet to receive Notes or a Memo, were you surprised by what was in mine?


Kwana said...

Thanks so much for sharing.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I appreciate you sharing all this info. I've learned lots from reading it. I would be thrilled to have someone like Rachelle to edit my short stories!

I believe that you will have a best seller on your hands when you and Rachelle finish with refining your book! Can't wait to read it!

Amy DeTrempe said...

Thanks for sharing the editorial notes. I learned from it.

Jessica said...

Wow, thanks for sharing all that! I definitely believe she loves your story or she wouldn't have repped you! Very cool stuff.
I can see how it would be daunting too.
One of my critters is repped by Rachelle and I got to see her first editorial/revision letter. I was so glad she shared it because I'd never seen one before. It's pretty neat to look at someone else's, but I think I'd be scared to look at my own. LOL I'd be referring to the first page often! :-)
I hope your revisions go smoothly!

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I'm drooling. :D

This post is very encouraging. I love knowing there are agents out there working with their clients like this. I welcome a strong critique. While it might sting initially, I know watching the work grow and morph into something more beautiful is a greater reward. I hang on for that.

Thank you for sharing.
~ Wendy

Keli Gwyn said...

Kwana, thanks for stopping by. I hope your writing is going well.

Donna, I'm glad you found the information helpful. Rachelle is a superb editor. I'm so grateful to have her helping me take my story to the next level.

Amy, I love to share what I've learned. I'm all about paying it forward.

Jessica, it was far easier to read my friend's revision letter than my own because of the emotional distance. Since I got to see hers first, I was more prepared to receive mine. I saw how the editors' goals were to help her make her story the best it can be. I kept that in mind as Rachelle discussed my notes with me. We're on the same team, and it helps me to think of it that way.

Wendy, I'm glad you found the post encouraging. That was one of my goals. The thought of revision notes can be scary, but now that I've received my first set, I won't be nearly as anxious the next time.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for sharing this, Keli. I had no idea an agent would get this involved in a manuscript!

Sounds like she is a wonderful agent, the way she called you in advance to prepare you.

Best of luck with the revisions! I know you'll do great!


Keli Gwyn said...

Sue, Rachelle is super. I'm incredibly blessed to have an agent who not only believes in me but who has experience editing top name authors and is willing to share her expertise with me.

I'm having fun with the revisions. The resulting story is going to be much better. I'm happy with the new direction, and my characters are thrilled that they get to mix it up much more.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wow, Keli, this is wonderful that you're sharing. I will learn so much through you and this process you're detailing here. You are such a treasure to share so openly!! Thank You!!

Terri Tiffany said...

Thank you thank you for sharing this here! I hadn't a clue how much would be required to rewrite. You know we always have these visions where the agent loves it all!!lol! NOT! I'm glad she was kind to you and encouraging!

T. Anne said...

I read once where Steven King said he is usually shocked and angered the first day he reads his revision notes from his editor, then after a time tends to agree with everything they've said! Good luck to you. Hurry up I'm dying to buy your book.

Keli Gwyn said...

Eileen, thanks for your kind words. My desire in sharing my process is to help others. So many have helped me, and if my experience can benefit someone else, I'm all for it.

Terri, your comment made me smile. I had my eyes opened through this process, but they needed to be. I want my story to be the best it can be. I find it interesting how I can read contest entries and spot others' weaknesses, but I was clueless when it came to recognizing those my own story. I had a vision for it, and I was unable to see how it could be heaps better by letting go of that and embracing a new one. It's humbling to admit how far off base I was, but the thrill of catching a new vision, one that will make my story far stronger, is awesome.

T. Anne, I was "shell-shocked," to use Rachelle's term. She said that's common after one receives her first revision notes. Even though I understood what she was saying as we spoke, I grappled with a myriad of emotions as I dealt with the news. I knew she was right, but I allowed myself a few days to grieve the loss of the story I'd written. Once the feelings bled off and I looked at my story with fresh eyes, I reread Rachelle's notes, nodding my head and agreeing with everything she said. I got excited because I can see how the new story will be far better than the previous version.