Monday, January 25, 2010

What's in a revision letter, anyway?

The revision letter came, and I promised I'd share. In the interests of demystifying the process, here it is with as much detail as possible. At the end of the letter I'll add a few closing remarks . . . one potentially helpful to fellow writers, the other just plain funny for anyone. Here we go!

Dear Rachel,

I hope this finds you well. Happy new year.

I finished the MS of Dead Lift. Much improvement in some areas we discussed, especially Jeannie and her interaction. And less of the old story.

I will write to you fully when I get back end of the month, but some points to consider are:

Emily working for [character omitted] – is there a satisfactory wrap up to this issue, ie her dislike and the role Richard has put her into…. Maybe she needs to consider more the ramifications of a new job and thus how to execute it (doing stuff she doesn’t like). I do think you do a good job with the mix of [character names omitted], it’s a poignant position for all.

The cell phone deal, Richard not replacing hers, its unreliability. I see why you need it disabled for the plot mechanics, but a new cell would be so easy and so cheap to pick up, this isn’t very credible. What real reason can you give when say Jeannie is flinging money around on clothes etc and Emily at the spa while snooping why Emily doesn’t just buy a new one? Why must it be a phone purchased for her by Richard and why is she willing to leave herself vulnerable and unable to do her job well by waiting on him?

[Character]. Is it believable she is so criminally careless with [details omitted]?

The largest problem has to do with [character names omitted]. First, if [this guy's] mom was 90, then how old is [this guy]? Mom left two sisters and a brother in law who are still alive albeit elderly. So where are they in this picture? Is [this guy] an only child?

[Unfortunately, I'm cutting a huge part here in the middle because it has to do with the Whodunnit portion of the novel, sorry.]

Further, I see no way [character] would have [done that]. And anyone who went into the house would discover as easily as did Emily what [bad guy] is up to.

One way you could deal with this – you perhaps should get legal advice about [character's situation] – would be to [editor suggests a plot alternative here].

You should try to talk to [professionals in the field, basically do some more research] and think this through. It’s a good plot idea but simply can’t work the way you have set it up.

When we get back I’ll send the MS to you with my usual scribbles and they may reveal a few other points but this is the big one.

This is a relatively short novel so you have room to expand without damaging the pace as long as you weave it in with dialogue etc and don’t drop in facts. Might be fun to embroider on the plight of people like [character].

You have already realized that your audience for this is going to be mostly women via the spa setting, which is fine. But it’s a bit different than the appeal of Final Approach, and a landscape of interest to men, ie sky diving. No criticism, just reiterating. It probably fits well with the central trope of Emily, Annette, and building some kind of family.

Vince progresses nicely and as said, Jeannie is great!



When I received my first revision letter for Final Approach, I wondered what "TEE" meant, because those are not her initials. I was afraid to ask. Eventually, another author at the press clued me in: The Evil Editor. But the truth is, she's not evil at all. In fact, "I luv my Editer." :-)

Cell phones, on the other hand, are the devil to mystery writers. Or at least to this one. That bit about the phone up there says it all. To put characters in true peril, we take away their lifelines and force them to be resourceful. But today phones are so fast and easy to replace. I shake my fist (and my red editing pen) at cell phones.

As promised, here is a helpful article by Jennifer Hubbard about dealing with revision letters. I was lucky to read this before Final Approach sold and still approach the revision process the same way.

And finally, an oldie but a goodie. This is kinda how it feels to be me today. Enjoy!


  1. This is interesting, thanks!

    I don't necessarily know how fast and easily replaced cell phones are; I guess it depends on how important they are. My son lost his a while back. Without an upgrade available, and no "phone insurance" we were looking at a couple hundred bucks to replace it, minimum. Or so we were told. I wasn't really interested in paying that much, so we went to eBay. Got one, and once it was set up we discovered it really didn't work for anything other than texting.

    I'm not trying to derail your post with an unrelated anecdote, I'm just saying that for certain types of characters, say any type where money is tight or they are behind on a bill or two, that process ain't so easy. Something to think about, anyway.

    I think for some of us who don't live on the thin line between drowning and treading water, a "simple" thing like this can really be a huge issue for someone barely making it day by day.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Rachel. It's always fascinating to me to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the writing/publishing process. And yes, cell phones are the devil to us writers!!

  3. Thanks, guys. Chris, I'd probably rip off your idea for ways to keep a cell phone off the table for a while if this character didn't have a shopoholic friend staying with her for the week. The sidekick has no problem parting with cash. I can at least give the main character qualms about buying a new phone until the danger level starts to rise. Alan, death to cell phones!

  4. SO easy to replace except they break; the battery runs out; they fall out of your pocket; and even in Los Angeles, where it never rains, they drop in a rainstorm leaving battery sinking in a puddle and cover floating rapidly toward the nearest storm-drain.

    I really enjoyed getting to see your letter. Thank you.

  5. What a great post Rachel! Thanks for sharing!

    A truth about cell phones....I did indeed drop mine, yes, in a a glowball (nighttime golf) tournament....on a night I was supposed to drive 4 hours to NJ leaving town at 11pm. Trust me, there are no cell phone providers who will replace a phone at midnight on a Friday! And especially if it is under warranty I would not race out and buy one instead of waiting a few days for the replacement.....I don't know if you can use any of my dilemma but you are welcome to it ;-)

  6. ha! You guys just watch. No lawsuits please. :-)