Since I’ve been on the topic of revision, I thought I’d share the revision process I followed while getting my memoir ready for publication.
I eagerly took on the task of editing and revising my memoir manuscript. I had spent many years editing and rewriting proposals to the U.S. Government, and I used much of this experience to revise my book. One of the first lessons I learned on that job was to plan before doing, and that was the first thing I did before embarking on my rounds of revisions. Here’s my process.
1. Create a revision plan. I created a revision plan based on my publisher’s and first reader’s notes. Once I buy-in from my publisher to this plan, I was ready to get to work.
2. Don’t edit as you write. Write, wait a while, then edit: Leave your work alone for as long a time as you can before sitting down to edit it. While I spent over two years querying agents and small presses, my manuscript laid dormant. So when I finally got my book contract, I read it front to back, chapter by chapter, with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen. Also I made no electronic changes to any part of my manuscript until I completed this first round of edits. And surprise, surprise, I found lots of things to edit, including typos, awkward sentences, repetition, and inconsistencies. Unbelievable! After all the times I had gone over it! During this first edit pass, I also looked for places to insert the new material necessary to my story and where I needed to update material that was clearly out of date.
3. Post a hard copy of your book on storyboards. I set up foam storyboards along the walls of the long hall next to my office and pinned up a printed copy of each chapter as I electronically finished incorporating my first round of edits. Storyboarding allowed me see the book all at once and better spot redundancies and inconsistencies and places that needed cutting, moving, and expanding. I also saw where each chapter best belonged. I highlighted my problem-child text in yellow, so I could see where I needed to go back and revise again.
4. Have others review your work. After I completed the first round of edits and reworked the yellow-highlighted portions, I gave an electronic copy of the book to three willing writer friends. One person did a line-by-line edit – and he too, found punctuation and sentence structure problems. Another friend looked at the content for repetition, inconsistencies, and writing accuracy. And the person who originally helped me create my revision plan read it again for ways to best organize the book. She made suggestions about where to move things around and which chapters could be eliminated or combined.
5. Take your reviewer’s suggestions as just that. I made sure I was still in control of my book. I decided whether to take my editor's notes or not. I was the person with the last red pen. Even my publisher said,
"I know you are working very hard on the final draft of your book, and I like that you are keeping in mind that it is YOUR book, YOUR story, and YOUR voice. Others can only offer advice. Only you can write this book."
So I reviewed each comment, fixed what I thought relevant, and filed the rest away.
6. Create a schedule with real milestones and stick to it. Because I was reliant on other people’s inputs, I needed a schedule with hard and fast deadlines for them, and me, and in keeping with my publisher’s schedule. I made it tight. I gave myself five months to complete everything, including incorporating my revisions and reviewer’s comments; merging the finished chapters into one document; gathering photos for the cover and body of the book; getting permissions to use quotes from other authors, and writing dust jacket and book cover copy.
7. Keep going over your manuscript until you’re satisfied with it. I kept asking myself, what does finished really mean? Even after incorporating the relevant review comments I realized I still needed to make a few little changes, add a few little things, and make a few more edits. In all I must have gone over each of the manuscript chapters at least four (some many more) times during my entire revision process. I knew I was really done when I stopped thinking what I could to the book, when I didn’t have any more changes or adds or deletes or reorganization ideas left in me, when my mind stopped living and breathing the book every waking moment of every day, and when I was comfortable letting it go.
This piece was originally published at Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents website on May 20, 2011