After the Editorial Letter, Part 1: a peek at revising under contract

Today is my birthday! (*does happy dance*) A year ago this time, I had just finished signing with my agent. My how things have changed! A huge milestone these past twelve months was selling my book, and after that, it was surviving my editorial revisions for Taken, which are finally nearing completion. So I thought we’d take a quick look at what happens after an author receives their first editorial letter and jumps into the revising process.

STEP ONE: Revision #1

This is typically the most robust revision round and it begins as soon as the author receives the editor’s revision letter. (Before I was a part of Pub Crawl, I actually guest posted about digesting the revision letter over on the Let The Words Flow. It is a crucial step, so much so that it could be considered Step 0.5). The letter will outline all sorts of required changes, most of which are wide and sweeping. Chapters will need to be completely rewritten or heavily revised. Plot holes will need filling, characters will need arcing, worlds will need building. This initial revision is a complicated process because as you pull one thread and rewrite it, a dozen more always seem to unravel. Timelines can vary by project, but an author usually has anywhere from 3 – 8 weeks to complete this first revision.

Tips for getting through this round:

  • Brainstorm with your editor. (I jotted a ton of notes right into my revision letter and sent them back to Editor Erica as a word doc. She then left me additional notes and thoughts in the comments and track changes). When changes are large, it’s always best to hash things out before you start hacking the MS to bits.
  • Deep breathes. Sometimes you’ll feel absolutely stuck/lost/hopeless but you will find the answer. Step away. Come back later. You’ll get there.
  • Just start. It’s hard when there’s so much to tackle, but pick something small and run with it. Once you start pulling plot threads, you’ll have to keep fixing them until all of a sudden, voila! Revision complete!

STEP TWO: Revision #2

Assuming you rocked revision #1, the next round focuses heavily on tightening and perfecting the story. The letter will likely focus on smaller issues: Pacing, particular scenes/chapters that aren’t 100% there, the completion of character arcs and motivations, etc. Since revisions here aren’t as massive, the deadline is usually a bit quicker, somewhere between 2 – 4 weeks. (In the case that the novel still needs massive revisions, Step 1 will be repeated as necessary before moving to Step 2. The same is true for this step. Smaller more focused revision rounds will occur until the MS is ready to move into line edits.)

Tips for getting through this round:

  • Be ruthless while tightening prose. Ask yourself which words really need to be there and if they are truly adding to the story.

STEP THREE: Line Edits

Rather than a revision letter, these will typically arrive as comments and tracked changes within the MS document. At this point, all the heavy-lifting revising is over and the focus is on individual lines. Your editor will help you polish clunky dialog or awkward phrases of prose, and point out instances that conflict with previous pages. You’ll also weed out any repetitive or unnecessary lines. Turn-around for this step is rather quick, usually around 1- 2 weeks.

Tips for getting through this round:

  • It’s easy to grow attached to certain pieces of our novels, to fall in love with particular lines. Know which battles to fight and be prepared to let go of a few precious snippets of prose for the sake of a cleaner, smoother novel.

STEP FOUR: Copy Edits

The nitty-gritty. Commas. Capitalization. The round that makes you question if you ever actually learned grammar when you were in elementary school. These will arrive in the MS document, again handled via tracked changes. It is a tedious process and you’re likely to spend many hours reading sentences aloud with emphasized pauses, debating between comma placement. Turn-around usually happens in a week or less.

Tips for getting through this round:

  • A grammatically correct sentence is not always the right answer, specifically when it comes to dialog. It’s OK to fight certain edits if you feel a character’s voice suffers or becomes inauthentic otherwise.
  • Don’t freak out after you hit “send.” You’ll still have another chance to review the novel when you get your page passes.

After this, the “revision” portion of the process is complete. Yes, future steps account for typos and the like, but the story itself has been finalized and future work will happen outside the .doc file! A final tip: after each of these four steps, always proof your novel before sending it off. Your editor could have missed something and while it is his/her job to help you perfect the novel, you are ultimately responsible for the final product!


So in celebration of being (almost) done with these four steps for Taken, and of course because it is my birthday, I’m offering up some goodies. ONE WINNER can choose one of the following:

A 27-page critique of a YA manuscript. or A $27 gift-card to or 2 of the following 7 books of your choice (which were my favorite MG and YA books that I read during my many months of revising):

  • UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi
  • THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
  • ON THE JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta
  • LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins
  • GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
  • BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young

Can you guess how old I’m turning? ;)

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment telling us which you prefer: drafting or revising. Then fill out the handy giveaway form below! The crit and gift card items are open internationally, but the 2 books are limited to US only. We’ll announce a winner next week!

Rafflecopter giveaway

This post was originally published by Erin on
It has been republished here and added to her blog archive.

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