Stories that Matter

When Your Agent/Editor Says The "R" Word, (And They Don't Mean "Ready!")

Before I was published, before I had an agent, I really didn’t know what to expect once I passed the first level of ‘wannabe writer’, and actually had someone far more knowledgeable than I was about all things publishing, looking at my work. I was more concerned about actually getting past that level. Didn’t much care what happened afterward! Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Having somebody who works in publishing (freelance editor, editor, agent) and knows their stuff rip your book apart go over your manuscript and kindly suggest ways to improve it, is an experience to look forward to. No. Really. Sure, I’d had numerous critique partners go over my manuscript, but only a few of them had gone on to be published and they were still getting their feet wet too. They lacked experience.

I’m very fortunate to have an agent that is more often than not, willing and able to invest a significant amount of time reading her clients manuscripts, making notes, looking for ways to improve the book in hand, and, in some cases, suggesting revisions. Before the manuscript even hits the desk of an editor.

Pretty special, I think. But okay. Let’s be honest. You’ve just spent the last ten years several long and painful months of your life writing this book. It’s pretty awesome if you do say so yourself. This is the one. You just know it.

And you never want to see it again until you’re holding it in your hands and it has a bright, shiny cover holding all those pages together.


Seriously? Dude.

The first time this happened to me, (yes, there have been other times. Several.), I kind of freaked out a little. Oh, fine, I freaked out a lot. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. I knew it meant my agent didn’t hate the story or she wouldn’t bother trying to help me make it better. But what had I done wrong? I thought I was getting there, really. Thought this one was pretty good. I immediately ran to my library of all the how-to writing books in the world, read them over again, ordered more books, and a year later I was ready to tackle those revisions.

I’m kidding.

I do own how-to writing books, but honestly, I’m still trying to figure out the whole concept. No, what I really did was take my agent’s advice and breathe. I took a day or two, or however long I needed, to read her notes. Think. Ponder. Percolate. I kept telling myself that this was not, was not, was not, a rejection of the manuscript. My story was still alive, still breathing, it just needed a little CPR. In some cases we had to get out the paddles, but I digress.

Repeat after me:

Revisions are a good thing. (I have brown sandwich bags in the back if anybody needs one). And let’s face it, once your manuscript eventually catches the eye of an editor who likes it enough to take it to committee and they like it enough to take a chance on you, guess what? Yes, you’re right. They’re [more than likely] going to present you with a few pages of revision notes. Back to square one.

Remember how, when you first started out, first declared your burning passion to the world and hollered from the highest mountain top (or closest ant hill) “I am Writer, hear me roar!”, and a couple of your wiser writer friends took you aside, (after they finished laughing), patted you on the head and told you the first thing you needed to do was take one little orange pill a day and start growing that rhinoceros skin?

They weren’t joking.

As a writer, you will be faced with a myriad of disappointments. Rejections. Bad reviews. More rejections. Bankruptcy and eventual homelessness. This is not an easy road. Even though the thought of delving into your story again, looking at it with new eyes and a fresh perspective kind of makes you want to vomit, don’t. Celebrate. Go shopping. Have a glass of champagne or your beverage of choice and let yourself breathe.

Revisions are a good thing, remember? You can do this.

And so can I.

I asked several of my writer buddies at various stages in their careers to tell me how they feel when faced with  the “R” word:

“Bring it!” – Katie Ganshert – author of WIldflowers From Winter, Waterbrook Multnomah, May 2012.

“Hooray, she likes it! (I’ve had the R word – Rejection – more than the R word – Revision)” Sue Harrison – author of The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The StoryTeller Trilogy.

“I’m odd, but I tackle them right away, because I cannot bear to let them be!” Mavis Duke Hinton – author of I Am Dachshund, OakTara Publishing, June 2011.

“I always panic at the sight of them. Always. I wonder how on earth I’ll ever get them done. Usually I let them sit for a few days and then I take a breath and dive in. One change at a time…! Always, the story is better for it!” – Courtney Walsh – author of Scrapbooking Your Faith.

“Revisions are emotional. It’s not easy to take pieces of your writing apart. But once you realize you’ve pieced them back together, better than before, it’s delightful.” – Joanne Bischof – author.

“Yay! I’ve got a shot at this. Now to get busy and revise!” – Keli Gywn – author of A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, Barbour Publishing, July 2012.

“It does get easier with each book. I used to dread them, but now that I’ve just finished edits for my third book, I’ve had a change in outlook and attitude. I’m learning to embrace edits and revisions because, after all, they only make the book stronger.” – JoAnne Durgin – author of Awakening and Second Time Around.

So what about you? Wherever you are in your publishing journey, how do you feel about REVISIONS?

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  1. Davey on February 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    An enjoyable read, Cathy! You and the others you included are right: revision means you’ve got something good percolating.

  2. Cathy West on February 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Davey! Yes, it’s important to remember that as hard as they may be, revisions are better than rejections!

  3. christina billings on February 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I haven’t written any stories in a while but now going back to things I penned 5, 10, even 15 years ago is a real eye opening experience! Amidst the groans of laughter, I may find a few things worth keeping, but most of it ends of being un salvageable. However, to combat the discouragement, I then remind myself that my “inner editor” has become sharp enough over time so I can now spot most of those glaring mistakes I previously wouldn’t have.

    But it’s never easy having to actually make revisions, especially if you’ve already polished up your “baby” to what you feel is a glowing shine. So much work goes into the making of a well written book. Blood, sweat, and tears for sure! 🙂

    • Cathy West on February 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Christina, you’re absolutely right! But in the end, when you’re finally finished and you get to hold a copy of that book in your hands – it IS worth it!!

  4. Heather Kopp at on February 1, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I pretty much my barfed my thoughts yesterday on you about revisions. Just wanted you to know that I think this s a great piece. I love your sense of humor! All the cross outs cracked me up totally. Your blog looks so fun and helpful. Best, Heather

    • Cathy West on February 1, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Heather, thanks for stopping by! I love your blog too! I think we are kindred spirits!!

  5. Dianne Christner on February 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks for a great post, Cathy. I just attended a workshop in Phoenix and the speaker was Colleen Coble. She told us that getting her revisions (to do) was the most exciting part of her writing experience. I guess that was because she knew it was the key to making her work better. For those who don’t know, Colleen writes Christian Suspense.

    For myself, I’ve learned first of all, to let it soak in before I respond. The emotions of defense do simmer down (I agree it hurts). And next I’ve learned that those revisions really DO MAKE A BETTER STORY. A free way to learn more about writing!

    • Cathy West on February 3, 2012 at 9:31 am

      Thanks Dianne! I’m impatient and I tend to want to jump into edits right away, so I’m learning to sit back and wait…which isn’t easy for me!

  6. Steven Belanger on February 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    Good post. In this business, you have to have a thick skin–and you have to like revising. I do like it. Many of my best ideas, and sentences, have come in the last possible draft. I’m talking, very last second, like “Oh, wait, this can go here,” and then pressing send. The genius is in the details, and the best details come from revising.

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