Friday, 7 February 2014

Doing the Revisions by Annie Burrows

Usually Annie Burrows blogs here about the research that goes into creating her historical romances.

But this month she'd like to talk about another important, behind-the-scenes aspect of being a writer - Doing Revisions.

Well, you see, I've just finished the second round of revisions of the next book I hope to have published. 
I've had 17 books and novellas published, so you'd think by now I would know what I'm doing.  Sometimes, when royalties come through, it looks as though other people do, too!
But then I send in a fresh manuscript, my editor reads it, writes back to tell me what she thinks of it...and I go into meltdown.

Every suggestion she makes feels as though she's taken a knife and slashed at my precious creation.  I've been living and breathing my characters for months by this time, wept with them, laughed with them, (even throbbed with them when I've been writing the naughty scenes) and then, this woman who does not know my darlings as well as I do has the gall to find fault with them!

Or (sharply indrawn breath) is she right?  Is my writing rubbish? Should I just give up and go out and get a "proper" job, because clearly, I'm an impostor, and about to be found out.  (Cue alcoholic beverage)

Fortunately, I know a lot of other published authors, and almost without exception, they react just the same as I do when revisions come in.  And those who've been in the business longer than me have given me some very helpful advice.

First, after reading the revisions suggestions, they recommend just walking away from the computer, and not looking at them again for a whole day.  By that time, I've calmed down, and when I read the email again, the suggestions don't seem cruel and unreasonable, but practical ways to improve the book, and put my hero and heroine's case more strongly.

The next, and equally helpful piece of advice is to take the revisions letter, and break it down into bullet points.   And then look at one issue at a time.  (Because if there are several pages of these "helpful suggestions", the prospect of applying them all is really, really daunting)

It also helps me to print out the list of bullet points, and put them in order of importance.  And draw arrows linking them, if my editor is mentioning the same point, in various ways.  So that I can then lump them all under one heading, such as "make the hero appear stronger" or whatever.
As I go through this process, I generally come up with ideas for how to implement them.

Though of course another advantage of having a printed page is that I can scrawl "NOOOO" on it, in red pen, if I really, violently disagree with something the editor has suggested.  This gets the frustration out of my system nicely.  And I can then email my editor back, politely pointing out why I don't think that particular suggestion will help.
On my last round of revisions, for instance, I broke my editor's letter down into 23 distinct points.  I could see, straight away, how to implement 19 of them, and told her so.  Of the other 4 points she raised, I thought 3 would be impossible to implement, and the other one tricky.  However, I promised to have another think about them as I worked in the rest of the changes.

Result?  In the end, there was only one of her suggested changes that didn't get done.  

(I'm hoping that pointing out I did the other 22 will distract her enough so she doesn't notice!) 

Annie's latest book, Portrait of a Scandal, is out now.


  1. How fascinating, Annie, to hear all the hard work that goes into producing a finished book. And reassuring too that published authors get so many revisions!

  2. I've just been through this process, having submitted what I thought was the perfect book :) ... turns out that some of the things happening in my head, didn't quite make it to the page! It works out for the best, but it certainly requires a sharp intake of breath and rolling up of sleeves!

    1. Well, that is why we need editors. To make sure that what we meant to get across, does get across to readers. Keep going Chris!


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