By Lyndsay Ely
The End—every author’s favorite words to type in their manuscript.
But while “The End” carries a well-deserved sense of accomplishment, it can also tempt some writers into thinking the real work is done when, the truth is, it’s really just beginning.
To be blunt: a first draft is not a final draft.
It’s very tempting to view your completed draft as perfect, just how you want it, a future runaway best-seller. This is especially true during NaNoWriMo (much to the chagrin of agents’ inboxes come December and January).
While some writers revise as they go (guilty), only when you have a completed first draft do you truly see how all the pieces of your story fit together. At this point, beta readers and critique partners are invaluable. It’s very easy to see what you want to see in your manuscript, overlooking the little mistakes or plot holes that others might catch. Or to miss the opportunity to take a story arc from merely compelling to utterly and captivatingly devastating.
Before any of this happens, though, an author needs to be open to revising. If you’ve been part of critique groups or writing classes for any significant length of time, you’ve probably encountered the person who submits their work for critique, then refuses to make a single change based on feedback.
More bluntness: Don’t be that person. Critiques—and revisions—are almost always to the benefit of the author and their manuscript.
(Admittedly, yes, the feedback you get may not always be good, but learning to constructively decipher critiques is a whole other topic.)
Great works of art are often created only after repeated studies, movies scenes are rarely perfect in a single take. It’s the same for books. Every round of revision is meant to help refine and perfect a manuscript.
It is also crucial for an author to learn to embrace them, as they can happen at many, many points in the publishing process. Before querying, it’s well-advised to do at least a round or two of revisions to your first draft, preferably with critique partners involved. (Or sensitivity readers, if your story calls for it.)
Once you’ve begun querying, an agent may ask for an R&R (revise and resubmit) before offering representation. (Some agents even do this on almost all the manuscripts they offer on; seeing how an author handles a round of revisions is a good test for how a professional relationship might go.)
After signing on a client, but prior to going on submission, an agent may ask for another round (or two, or three) of revisions. Then another one, based on the feedback that rolls in with editors’ rejections.
And just when you think you can’t possible revise the manuscript anymore, voilá, your book sells, and you go through yet more rounds of revision with your editor.
Honestly, it’s exhausting to read about, much less do. You’re probably heard it before, but publishing is not a race, it’s a marathon. Persistence and endurance are key traits at nearly all points of the process.
So what are the benefits of embracing revisions? At the most basic level: a stronger plot, more in-depth characters, an a richer, fully realized world.
Or, to put it in a more appealing way: a manuscript an agent wants to represent, an editor wants to acquire, and readers want to buy.
Lyndsay Ely is a writer of speculative fiction, and that’s as specific as she’s willing to be about genre. She lives in Boston, where she works in publishing and organizes a local speculative fiction writing group. By pure coincidence, she has both a cat and a red sofa.