How to Revise with an Edit Letter: Part One

My fabulous agent Kirsten did not miss a beat and just days after signing me, she spit out a pretty epic edit letter.

I’m not going to lie, when I read it I had a mixture of feeling like this:

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and then this:

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She had some very specific things she’d like to see addressed and although they aren’t huge, they are the kind of changes that have ripple effects. In other words, the first half of the book is going to get a pretty serious overhaul.

So how do you even begin to tackle a revision based on an edit letter?

Here is what I decided to do, part one.

First off, don’t do anything for a day or two. Keep reading the edit letter and start revising in your mind. I’m serious about this one. Just stew on it for a day or two.

For practical purposes, I pulled my revision plan together from three sources: the venerable Susan Dennard who’s writing advice is beyond amazing, Beth Revis who’s writing guide Paper Hearts is a must read for all writers and then one of my CPs Alexa Donne who has some pretty kick butt blog posts on revising.

The first thing I did was print out my entire MS and put it in a binder (though it’s also fun to get it bound!) I was trying to save on paper/printing costs, so I shrunk it down to 10pt font and put it in single space. That helped cut down the pages printed by over half. I could do that because I wasn’t actually looking to revise on the page, but just read.  I’m sure you could do this just by reading on your computer or maybe transferring it to your Kindle, but I wanted the option of scribbling on the page and I also revise a lot by hand. (Note: you’ll also need to revise your novel in 10pt/single space at the beginning because you’ll want your notes to match up, so keep that in mind.)

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I then read my edit letter probably 10-15 times. I wanted to get her suggestions down deep so that as I was reading through, I would know what to look for without having to reference the letter. The same goes for the plot/setting things she pointed out as well.

Then I had a separate blank sheet of paper for every main character (and plot relevant minor character) as well as a page for plot problems and setting problems.

As I read through my entire MS, I was looking for areas where I could deepen a character POV, flesh out a reaction, make the characters fuller. Instead of marking the manuscript, I would just mark it on the corresponding sheet. With plot/setting, I was looking at where I needed to implement my agent’s suggestions and would mark it down on the sheet. I also would mark paragraphs/dialogue in the MS that I didn’t like with “re-work.”

For example, on my plot page, I would write: “On page 47, get rid of “Roger” character and replace with Liam to tie in better with the Initiative.” For a character, I would write down, “Soften the Senator’s reaction on page 6, give him a moment where he is kinder to Willow in this scene.”

Note that I didn’t actually do any revising yet, I just plotted out on a broad scale where I would revise things.

So that is part one!

I’m writing this blog series as I go, so I’ll know what worked and what didn’t.

Up next on my plan? NOTECARDS 🙂

How I got my literary agent!

This post is something I’ve been dreaming about writing for over a year, so you know what that means?

I’m going to be LONG WINDED!

I learned a LOT along the way, so pull up a seat and settle in, because Aunt Dee’s gonna tell you all about it…

So I revised my manuscript last May and then began querying for about a month until I realized that my manuscript was just not strong enough yet.

You see, I subscribed to the rule of send out more queries every time you get a request because that means it’s working. It’s not always a bad theory, that is until you start getting form rejection after form rejection on your fulls, which is agent speak for “I stopped reading because it didn’t keep my interest.” Yeah.

Do you know what a form on a full feels like? Like this:

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Then something exciting occurred, I got an R&R (or in layman’s terms: an agent who says this is what I didn’t like about it, why don’t you try to fix it and then I’ll read it again). I totally agreed with her thoughts and so I immediately pulled my manuscript from consideration from the remaining agents who hadn’t gotten back to me and started working on it, but I was having a lot of trouble trying to fix certain areas of the book.

It wasn’t until I decided to enter #pitchwars and was selected and then mentored by the amazingly talented Trisha Leigh, who gave me such a comprehensive edit letter, that I kicked back into full gear. This book became an entirely different beast than the one before. I added almost 20k words, combined characters, changed up plot points, etc. It was a total overhaul!

I ended up getting several requests out of that contest and then additional requests in #pitmad a few weeks later. Then I began querying (not as widely this time) and got a really encouraging response on that as well.

I had silence for most of January. Just nothing but crickets in my inbox. I had basically stopped querying in December, so I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting on responses to requested materials.

Then, one afternoon an email from an agent I was really thinking would be a good fit pops up. Negative nancy over here immediately assumed that it was a rejection. I was already mentally preparing myself for the epic pity party I was about to throw myself because I had really thought that my manuscript would be right up her alley.

I took a deep breath and clicked on the email.

It was only 2 paragraphs… totally a rejection.

BUT THEN I READ IT! In those two paragraphs she gushed about my book and my characters and then told me she wanted to set up a call.

So what did I do?

I started balling my eyes out.

I called my husband and not being one to normally resort to tears, he immediately thought someone had died. It took him a few minutes to calm down from the scare and then he started crying too 🙂 I then called my mom and my sister (who cried), texted my CP’s and just jumped around all night long and consumed some champagne.

We had our call the next morning and we absolutely clicked. We laughed a lot and she GOT my book and my characters. It was like oxygen to my soul to hear her discuss Aniq and Willow like they were real people. Her vision for the book really echoed my own and it just felt right.

Ahhh! I probably talked way too much and interrupted too much (I do that when I’m nervous), but in the end, I didn’t scare her off because she offered representation.

I wanted to accept right there, but I still had requests out and so I needed time to be able to nudge.

Then came the longest ten days of my life.

I had several step asides throughout the week ranging in reasons from didn’t have time to read or didn’t feel passionately about the project to throw their hat into the ring. I then had one agent who read it and loved it and said she wanted to offer, but didn’t think she was the best agent to take it to market. She very graciously told me to go with the offering agent as this agent was just getting into YA and wanted to give me the best shot. It wasn’t until the very last day of my deadline that I got a call from a very amazing agent who has been in the industry a long time. Our call was almost an hour and I was beyond impressed with him and his vision for the book and my career. Both agent #2 and agent #1 had very similar revision ideas and it was absolutely not an easy decision, but in the end, I had to go with what my gut was telling me all along. So on Valentine’s Day (aww!) I accepted representation from Kirsten Carleton at Waxman Leavell.

I’m so incredibly excited to start this new phase of my career and roll up my sleeves and start revising my manuscript again!

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Right after I signed the contract!

And now for the thank you part of this speech (cue Oscar music):

I have so much to be thankful for, but want to give special shout outs to Ashley, Rachel and Alexa who let me show my crazy during this intense period in the query trenches and for somehow making me feel normal 🙂 To my amazing husband who saw my crazy, got scared, but still loved me. To the insanely supportive community of PW writers that I’ve been able to share this journey with! Our “secret” FB group has been a God send! And obviously thank you to  Trisha Leigh for taking on my MS and helping it get shiny enough to catch Kirsten’s eye! And finally, thank you Kirsten for taking a chance on me and believing in my writing! I think we are going to make a wonderful team and a force to be reckoned with!

And for the stats for those of you who love stats:

Queries sent: 25
Contests: 2
Requests: 26 — 11 cold query requests (7 fulls and 4 partials – 2 of which upgraded); 15 contest requests (all 15 were partials and 8 upgraded)
R&R: 1
Offers: 2

Total time in the Query Trenches: 4 1/2 months (2 months for the first round and then 2 1/2 months in round two)

Tips For Writing a Dual POV

Okay, so I’m not an expert by any means, but before my massive revision I had one resounding note from people who read my book.

“The dual narrative voices were too similar”

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Ugh.

How disheartening because they were SO incredibly distinct in my mind. Writers can attest that you know your characters and of course know their “voice” so when that is not portrayed on the page, it’s difficult to know where to start.

Yet when I went back and started revising… you can guess it… the further into the book it got, the more similar they sounded.

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Here are three tips I picked up while revising:

1. At the beginning, exaggerate their voice. I went back through and revised my male character and probably went overboard on everything from curse words to slang and whatever to differentiate. I needed to get in a rhythm of his voice and figure out how he would say the things he was already responding too. He’s not going to say “what was that?” he’s going to say, “What the hell?” He’s not going to wax on poetically in his internal monologue, he’ll be more dry, but also intense. In my effort to differentiate and set his tone, I accidentally made him wildly misogynistic. Oops! Had to rein that one back in 🙂 After I went overboard, I revised all his chapters back down to make him more realistic and relatable, but overall it really helped to establish his voice.

2. Revise one POV at a time. In my novel it was basically an every other chapter kind of split (though it did vary) and so I would ONLY revise one character POV at a time. So that would be revising chapters 1,3,5… and go all the way to the end. Then I would start back over at 2,4,6… This helped me SO much in keeping in the “head” of my character.

3. Read your chapters out loud. This is particularly useful when you are having voice issues. You just may realize that they are sounding more similar. Also, while reading out loud, tweak as you go rather than go back.

Extra:

If you’re writing YA, pretty much make sure you only use contractions (aka: it’s rather than it is). This helps establish voice in YA characters and can be used to differentiate voice as well.

So these are a few things I picked up while trying to differentiate my dual POV! Hope these help!

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An end to querying – for now

So recently, I have revisited my manuscript for a particularly exciting reason!

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It’s been fun getting back into these lives that I spent so much time with. These voices that once lived in my head for a year.

It’s made me think about a lot of things, but the main thing is my manuscript is just not ready yet.

So I’m taking this incredibly opportunity and am going to stop querying until I can get this MS in tip top shape!

So for my wildly unsuccessful stats for my first time ever querying:

Queries sent: 48
Requests: 11 (10 fulls and one partial that upgraded)
R&R: 2 (one I accepted, one I did not as it was too far from my vision)

I wasn’t ready this time, but I’ll be ready my next round!

What I learned during round one?

  • Only send 7-10 queries out at a time. and WAIT. Yes that means this process is slower, but it will be more precise.
  • Wait to start getting feedback on requested materials before you start sending more queries out. For me, I started getting requests trickling in, so I got excited and blasted like 20 queries in one day. But then within a few weeks, I started getting passes and they all listed a very similar reason. If I would have waited, I would have been able to revise before continuing to send out queries.
  • Don’t get too excited and start querying before you’re ready. How do you know you’re not ready? Oh. You know. And I really did if I was honest with myself, but I told myself it was just nerves. It wasn’t. It was too soon and you only get one chance with agents. Don’t screw yourself by querying too early.

In the end, this is all a learning experience and it might be super weird to say it, but I’m actually really enjoying the process.

PS. rejections suck.

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