April 14th, 2010

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On what it means to get a revision letter


First off, I am working with several writers on revising their manuscripts, and this is not related to ANY OF THEM. So if I have asked you to revise, rest assured, this blog post is not about you.

Now that that's out of the way....


Back in late 2005, I tried out for a write-for-hire project with a major publisher. A publisher, in fact, i write for today-- just under a different imprint. A couple of weeks after I submitted my proposal, I arrived home to find a tyvek envelope on my porch. When I saw the publisher's name on the outside, I freaked out and tried to rip it open right that second.

Anyone who has ever opened a tyvek envelope knows that they are impenetrable forces that are invented just to make you freak out while turning the house upside-down in search of a pair of scissors.

I get it open, and inside is a book (one from the series I wanted to write for) and a revision letter.

I was beside myself with excitement. I whooped and hollered and my dog got so excited he started jumping around, and before I knew it I was dancing with my dog.

No, really. I held his paws in my hand and jumped around in circles.

Over a revision letter. Because someone, somewhere, thought I had talent. They had nice things to say. And they spent time advising me on how I could turn what I wrote into something they could publish.

Did it work out, in the end? No. Did I ever again dance with my dog over a revision letter? No. In fact had I realized that revision letters would become a recurring theme over the next 3 years, I may not have danced at all.

Should you dance with your dog? Or at least scream and jump up and down and celebrate? Sure. Why  not? At least the first one.  I know what you really want is an offer (of represenation or publication), and anything less seems like failure, at least to some people. But this is not an overnight success sort of business. It's one where you pay your dues and you put in the work and you slowly rise through the ranks, and eventually you'll have something to show for it.

I see writers, often, despairing over revision requests. They get downright upset that someone wants them to change things about their project, or worse, resist all changes completely, becuase they don't understand why somoene could say what they wrote just isn't working.

Please don't think this way.

Because that first revision letter is a turning point. It's a milestone that deserves to be celebrated. It's a moment in your career where a publishing professional is saying to you: "You have talent. Work with me, and maybe we can make this thing shine. Maybe, this will be the start of a beautiful relationship. I see something in you, and I want to bring it out."

When you first start on the road to publication, it doesn't feel like a road at all. It feels like a forest of brambles, and like you're bushwacking your way through. With a dull machete. In the dark. Without food.

When an agent or editor comes along and hands you a revision letter, they're handing you a sharper machete. They're pointing you in the direction of the path.

They want more than anything to see you blaze your way straight through the brambles, and then skip along the path until you have a project they can get behind.

Please don't see revision letters as discouragment. See them as an opportunity.

An opportunity to learn from a professional and hone your craft.

And maybe an opportunity to dance with your dog.
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