why, yes, I am procrastinating

A question from /comments which allows me to spend a little more time not working on the manuscript right now (I’ve done 100 pages so far today. I have to do at least 50 more. Another 100 would be good, because it would leave me with a bearable amount to do tomorrow, but either way I’ll finish the first revision pass tomorrow):

Though, now I’m curious — is there an average number of times that a manuscript will pass between your agent, editor and self? I never really thought about an editorial review process including a literary agent before, but there’s the obvious sense of having someone review it while keeping the marketability of a book or series first and foremost in mind.

So, is there some system of when you reach a given word count, review due date, or some other milestone — such as a hair-pulling e-mail “OMG, I am stuck — I know this should read better, please help me?!?!” Or some combination of all three, or something else altogether…

It’s exceedingly rare that I get a manuscript to /my agent before it goes to my editor as well. HEART OF STONE did, though. I wrote the original manuscript in 2003, and rewrote it heavily before sending it to Jenn at the end of 2004. Jenn read (what was to her the original version) and said, “Revise this heavily and make it more *you*. Cut a hundred pages!” I did. I sent it back. She said, “Good! Now cut about 30 pages from the first 100 and we’ll really be on to something!” I did. She said, “Good!” and we sent it to Harlequin. My editor said, “Ooh, we like this, but we’re not sure how to sell it. Can you rewrite it completely and revise the series to have Actual Sex in it?”

I did.

The end result, after four *major* revisions, is a book in which everything is completely different from the original manuscript except the story. That was by far the most difficult and involved revision process I’ve ever gone through, including the revision for HOUSE OF CARDS, which saw me get the revision letter, throw out two thirds of the manuscript, and rewrite the third that was left. My editor didn’t actually say that’s what needed to be done, mind you, and neither did Jenn. My editor just said, “Look at these six things,” and the only way to fix them was to throw most of the book out and rewrite what was left.

The third book in that series, HANDS OF FLAME (out now!) took six major rewrites before I got past page 300, but that wasn’t at editor request. I just couldn’t get the story right. (I finally did, and I’m really happy with it, but God.) I actually had a complete breakdown writing that book which involved sobbing all over my poor husband and begging him to read the manuscript to tell me if I’d gone horribly wrong. He didn’t think I had, but I can’t remember if that was during the 5th or the 6th rewrite, between which I dropped a character I really liked from the book because the story just would not work with her in it.

In fact, I don’t thiiiiiink I’ve flung myself on either my editor or my agent with the “OMG THIS IS NOT WORKING HELP ME I AM SO SCREWED” stage of the book. (Jenn? Have I? I might’ve once, but I think I get neurotic about other things at you…) I fling myself on Ted. I fling myself on Trent. I fling myself on Deborah and Rob and Lisa (in fact, I touched on this at Magical Words a couple of weeks ago) and sometimes on other people in chat rooms, so they’re usually the people who get the “this isn’t working” stage. (They get specifics, more accurately. LJ gets me snarling and swearing about generalities.)

More typically my own process is to go through about three rewrites while getting to the end of the book, so by the time I actually complete a draft I usually think it’s pretty solid. I send it off to Jenn and whichever editor it’s due to, and get back letters of commentary/revision from both of them. When I’ve got both, I sit down to revise, and after a while turn the manuscript in again. Usually at this stage (sometimes at the next one) I fix the end of the book, which I’ve almost always reached with a pathetic last gasp without having really nailed what I want to do with it.

The next stage of feedback is copy edits. They’re usually much smaller changes than the actual Revision Letter Stage, though they almost always involve some degree of rewriting.

The last stage is the galleys or author alterations, which is the last time you see the book before publication. Ideally this doesn’t actually come with any editorial commentary, because at this stage, in theory the book is flawless and needs no correction other than weird typos. In reality, ahahahahaha. You’re not *supposed* to do much rewriting at that point. Whether you do or not depends on many factors.

I have yet (thank God) to turn in a manuscript, get and do revisions, and have it come back to me with a “No, this still needs work” letter. So generally there are two stages of editorial input once the manuscript’s turned in, and it’s almost always annoyingly insightful, accurate and helpful. :)

1 Comment

  1. Wow. I’m exhausted just after reading that.

    But it totally makes sense, too. Revising, tweaking, tossing away characters, cutting scenes, etc. It’s all for the good of the book.

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