Turned in my revision yesterday. It’s a complete rewrite. Feeling trepidation

Yesterday I turned in the revision on my book. Now that I’ve (sort of) hit my deadline, I feel free to reveal that even though my editor gave me five months to do this work, I spent the first three finishing a novel for adults, so I’ve only been working on this revision for two months. I know, my wife was kind of horrified as well, but in my defense…these revisions just keep on coming, and if you don’t find ways to do other work in the meantime, you’ll never get anything done.

However when I finally turned seriously to this book two months ago, I was a little bit disturbed to find that I had serious problems with the draft that’d sold. Previously I’d just been reading my editor’s comments, which, it seemed to me, could be fixed with a substantial amount of revision, but wouldn’t require more than a month or so of work. Once I waded into the book itself (which I hadn’t looked at since the book had gone on sub last September), I found myself appalled. The manuscript was a mess. I liked the characters quite a bit, but the plot was all over the place. It was just a bunch of stuff happening because this was a book and things need to happen in a book. I literally was unable to bring myself to fully reread the manuscript. Instead after about five or six chapters, I was like…I need to rewrite everything.

So I did what an author facing a tight deadline always does in these situations. I wrote nothing for two weeks as I pondered exactly what changes to make. I don’t think of this as procrastination, I just think of it as being part of the ‘visioning’ process. In this case I knew what I wanted was to boil the book down to the essentials, and over those two weeks I thought I figured out what those were. I am a big believer in the idea that a book isn’t just words: it’s composed of concrete elements. This is why when a book is translated into another language or turned into a movie, the result is often a work of art that produces an emotional reaction which is similar (though not exactly the same) as that of the original. What I wanted was to figure out which of the elements in my book needed to be altered in order to create the emotional responses I wanted.

Ultimately, what I decided was that I needed to make my protagonist less mature, less certain, and more confused, and I needed to make the deuteragonist more mature and more certain. By bringing these two characters more evenly into line with each other, I would make their romance more believable, and I’d give my protagonist more to do, plot-wise. The plot could be driven by his wishy-washiness.

Simultaneously, I drew back on all the other plots in the book. I saw this as being primarily about a struggle occurring within my own protagonist. He himself would be the source of most of its conflict and most of its drama. There wouldn’t be an antagonist, as such, and although other characters would have their own motivations, those motivations would be deeply backgrounded within the text.

After about two weeks, I felt ready to start the rewriting, and it was not a simple process. I did have to go back a few times and alter what I’d done, and a few times I got lost in the text and had a hard time figuring out what I was working on. It’s not easy to completely rewrite a book (I’m talking about starting from page one and just typing out a new book), because a book operates on so many different levels. In this case, I was simplifying my book and making it less complex, removing extraneous elements and subplots (it’s about 20k shorter than the previous draft), but it’s still hard work to make progress on every single element simultaneously.

Normally the experience of revision, for me, is the experience of working so intensely on one element of a book that I forget the rest of it exists. For those few weeks, all I care about is one relationship or one subplot. But in this revision that wasn’t an option. I needed to make progress with the whole. Probably I’ll find, in the next revision, that I dropped a lot of balls, and I’ll need to go back and look at some of the things that were only briefly sketched out in this version. Already I’m wondering about some of the secondary characters and wondering if, in this draft, their motivations are really there.

But anyways, the editor has it now. Hopefully they like it. Editors generally want more revision than authors are willing to give (authors are generally pretty willing to put things into a book, but they’re loathe to take anything out), so I’m hopeful that my rewrite (which was inspired by my editor’s comments) will be well-recieved. But there are reasons for trepidation. Much of the voice of the original is lost. That character was very cocky and sure of himself, and that naturally translated into the voice. It was impossible to retain that self-assurance and also make the changes I wanted. The new character feels like he has less voice. He feels more submerged in the story. And part of me mourns for the old voice. I think the revision has been good, but it did come at a cost. And maybe my editor and publisher won’t like that. Sigh! We’ll see.

4 thoughts on “Turned in my revision yesterday. It’s a complete rewrite. Feeling trepidation

  1. disperser

    I’m curious because I don’t know . . . isn’t the revision process supposed to be a more collaborative process?

    Meaning, I thought you would have discussed the decisions you made and the direction you took with the editor(s).

    Execution would still be an unknown as far as how it would be received, but this makes it sound as if they weren’t in the loop with the direction you decided to take and this version of the manuscript will be a surprise on a number of levels.

    Again, as a non-published author, I’m a bit surprised because you seem to be saying they’re receiving a different version of the book from the one they purchased the rights to publish.

    As I said; just curious as to the mechanics of the process.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Lol. That’s the whole point of revision. You change the book in response to comments. How you do that is what’s up to you. The editor can’t, and usually doesn’t try to, get involved in the imaginative act, what they tell you is the ways that they wish the response evoked by the book was different.

    2. disperser

      OK.

      Still seems strange, though. It makes it sound like they bought the book but wanted a different character and feel. I suppose if the story doesn’t change, that makes sense . . . somewhat.

      Anyway, thanks. If I ever sell anything, I’ll find out first hand.

      1. R. H. Kanakia

        Writing and publishing books is a pretty complicated thing. What publishers want is a book that’ll sell. Any revisions you do that don’t affect its salability are usually, in my experience, okay. If I’d changed the genre of the book or significantly increased its length, that would have been bad. Same deal if I’d changed the age, sex, race, or sexual orientation of the main character. Short of that, you’d be surprised at how much leeway there is for the plot of a book to change after editors buy it. In fact, it’s not at all unusual for them to want significant changes. Ultimately I made these changes because I thought they were in line w/ what the editor wanted and because I thought they made for a better book. It’s totally possible though that my editor won’t like them, but I’m also pretty certain it’ll be okay. Anyway, we’ll both find out soon enough =]

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