Please welcome Maya Rock as our guest today. In 2010, she founded Fresh Ink Book Editing to offer editorial support to agents, authors, and publishing houses. She graduated from Princeton University in 2002 and has worked in book publishing ever since. Prior to Fresh Ink Editing, she started at Anderson Grinberg Literary Management, then moved to Writers House, where she agented for four years.
As an editor, I’ve helped many writers through the revisions process and have noticed that it can be challenging for them. There’s not as much glory in revising as in just having a completed draft or book, and they’re often unprepared for how much time it will take. I thought sharing some of my insights on the process might help.
The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Revisions
All writers experience fears when handing over a manuscript to an editor, from potential distress upon receiving edits, to the nerves of getting on the phone and talking it all over, and finally to the feeling of being overwhelmed while implementing changes. Being able to anticipate your emotions during a revision will make this process go more smoothly.
Step One, Fear: Handing Over The Manuscript
You may be scared to hand over your manuscript to an editor. Not only have you invested a lot of time on the project, you may feel, on some level, that you’re showing your soul. You’re vulnerable. How can this fear be lessened?
- Get In the Right Mindset. You dread edits on your manuscript when, instead of seeing them as helpful, you see them as a judgment on the manuscript’s value—or worse on, your Reframe, and think of edits are a tool, meant to help. This change of mindset can help turn fear into excitement—it’ll be fun to see your manuscript improve after receiving great edits.
- Choose the Right Editor. Choose an editor with whom you have a good rapport. If your editor intimidates you, you’ll have difficulty talking to her. Make sure that you don’t only respect your editor because of her reputation, but that you also communicate well with her.
- Be Careful With Correspondence. Take a break to reread any message you might send to them before sending it. Fearful authors often end up writing very long emails, often with lots of asides about their worries. Of course, it’s good to be friendly, but keep the focus on your work.
- Manuscript Quality. You’ll feel more confident and relaxed if you hand in only your best possible work. Make sure you are happy with the manuscript before you give it to your editor.
- Take A Break. While your manuscript is out with an editor, seize the chance to take a break from working on it. Taking a break will clear your head and keep you calm, ensuring that you have the space you need to make great revisions.
Step Two, Distress: Receiving Edits
You knew that you are going to get feedback. You may have even asked that the editor be ruthless. Yet actually seeing the feedback is causing some uncomfortable feelings and thought. There’s just so much of it. Then, there are issues raised that never even crossed your mind. Here’s how to deal with the initial distress upon receiving edits.
- Get In The Right Mindset. More important than ever, it’s time to recall that these edits are not personal, and they are not about your worth as a writer or person. Don’t try to figure out if there are too many or too few or if this kind or amount is normal to receive. It doesn’t matter—it’s what you’ve received that counts.
- Take Your Time Reviewing. Go over all the edits slowly and in a quiet place. Take your time and read twice if you have to. Try to read without judgment for the first time, and then go over and consider suggestions one by one, seeing if they resonate with you. Try as much as possible not to react defensively or fall into explaining why you made certain choices. Even if your explanation is logical, the element being questioned still may not work.
- Read The Manuscript Over Yourself. Hopefully you haven’t read the manuscript yourself since handing it over to an editor. Now’s your chance to look at it with fresh eyes. You’ll perhaps understand more of the editor’s comments, and make some discoveries of your own.
- Vent to a Friend. If you have a writing buddy or literary agent who is familiar with the work, and you have some problems with the letter, consider talking it over with them and getting their take. It might help you make up your mind about what edits you’d like to accept and what you’d like to reject.
Step Three, Nerves: Having A Phone Call
I’ve had many conversations with writers about edits. Conversations are great ways to clear up any confusion about the letter. Writers often feel nervous before phone calls. Instead of viewing the conversation as a means to get practical feedback, they can get caught up in searching for reassurance the work is good, or they don’t have a plan at all for the phone call and end up meandering. Here are some ways to make sure nerves don’t get in the way of your having a productive phone call.
- Get the Right Mindset. Take deep breaths before the phone call, and remind yourself that this call is to help you.
- Have Your Questions Prepared. As an editor, I often feel that I have said everything I feel about a work in the letter. Therefore, it’s important that the author comes to the conversation with questions. Having a format for the phone call helps to stabilize the interaction. Consider asking these questions of the editor, “Is there anything more you’d like to add?” and “What are the strengths of the manuscript?”
- Listen And Take Notes. The information you get in one phone call could lead to major changes in your book. Writing it down will help you keep track of what’s been said.
Step Four, Overwhelmed: Implementing The Changes
Now that you’ve had the phone call and the letter, it might really be sinking in: You have a lot of work ahead of you. That day when you finished your first draft and were flushed with pride seems ages ago. You’re feeling overwhelmed that you won’t be able make these changes. Here’s how to make the daunting process of revision less so.
- Get Your Attitude Right. Remember, this is about making your manuscript the best it can be. You’re going to need to be strong, determined, and resilient.
- Break It Down. Write up a plan of attack. You might want to write out what will need to change in each chapter, as well as a list of global changes such as “Write more physical details about characters” or “buff up setting.” It can be very satisfying to cross off each item as you accomplish it.
- Set Up A Routine. Get in a routine, whether it’s the early bird or the night owl. The routine will hopefully take on a life of its own, and help you get into a rhythm.
- Stay Open Open yourself up to making other changes in the manuscript. Don’t let it be just a mechanized, paint by numbers process. As you immerse yourself in your words, you may see some potential for change in places you haven’t thought of before.
How do you feel when you give a manuscript to an editor? How do you prepare yourself for feedback and for implementing changes?