Revision strategy: the composite revision letter

I just finished a major revision of my latest novel (whew!), and now that I’m done, I want to share one of my revision strategies with you. I’ve never tried this technique before, but I found it helpful in organizing my thoughts and creating a revision plan.

Any writer who has gotten a revision letter from an editor or agent knows that responding to one requires a level of digging into your manuscript, rethinking assumptions, and killing your darlings that you would never reach on your own. In short, it’s torture. Strange to say, though, one of the things I miss most about having an agent and an editor is getting that dreaded revision letter because in spite of the challenge it always offered, I enjoyed being pushed beyond my perceived limits.

That’s why I decided to write my own revision letter. I had queried a number of agents with the previous draft of my novel, and several asked to see a full manuscript. Of those who read the full, three or four sent me detailed feedback about my story, letting me know what they enjoyed about it as well as what didn’t work for them.

Instead of just filing these responses away, I decided to combine them to create a revision letter to guide me toward my next draft. I cut and pasted sections from each agent’s email, making sure to include not only their suggestions for improvement but also their words of encouragement. The result was a cohesive letter detailing what worked in my manuscript and providing concrete steps for making my story stronger. I printed the letter and used it as my guide throughout the revision process, responding to the comments through making hard decisions about my work, the way I would if I were doing a rewrite for my agent or editor.

One of the agents who gave me feedback said she would be willing to look at my novel again if I addressed the issues she brought up, so I’ll definitely send the new version to her. And even though I received rejections from the other agents who read my full manuscript, their suggestions have helped me strengthen my work. I found working from my composite revision letter rewarding, and I hope other writers will find the technique useful, too.

Do you have a favorite revision jumpstarter that you’d like to share?



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