Editing: Five Tips for Surviving the Revision Process

Matilda Butler, SCN Editorial Service, #7

Story Circle Network’s Editorial Service (SCN/ES) is a valuable feature of this organization. Kendra Bonnett and I are pleased to be SCN/ES’s co-coordinators. As you probably know, we have put together a team of professional editors who are especially attuned to the stories women write. It can be a scary step to have a manuscript professionally edited and we’re here to make that step as easy as possible. If you have questions about the process or the costs, please email either of us–matilda (at) womensmemoirs (dot) com or kendra (at) womensmemoirs (dot) com. We’ll be glad to walk you through the steps or answer any of your questions.

Sometimes one of our editors writes a post, giving you the benefit of her thoughts and experiences. Instead of an editor, today I have something a little different to share. Pamela Jane Bell is an author with more than 30 years of writing experience. She has published 26 children’s books with Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Avon, Penguin-Putnam, Harper, Mondo, and others. Her books include Noelle of the Nutcracker, illustrated by Jan Brett, which has been optioned for a film, and the “Winky Blue” and “Milo” series published by Mondo. Books in these series have recently gone into Spanish, big book, and CD editions. She is completing her memoir about becoming a children’s book author.

Pamela is a guest blogger on our website and came to us with the idea of 10 tips for the revision process once you get a manuscript back from an editor. As you can imagine, she has worked with a number of editors. We gave her a thumbs up to the idea. Then we came up with an idea of our own. We decided to share the first half of her list with you. You can see the second half of her list here.

Kendra and I have found the SCN/ES editors are especially writer-friendly. They give clear direction on what to do next in your revision process. However, a lengthy email from an editor can seem overwhelming. We think Pamela’s list is an on-target approach to moving forward with changes rather than feeling overwhelmed.

By Pamela Jane Bell

Editorial direction – conveyed in a mysterious language all its own – can be daunting. What does she mean I need foreshadowing? What the heck is “pointing?” How am I supposed to do more “weaving?” Authors who work with editors have to figure out how to translate abstract concepts into concrete changes. Here are five tips for surviving the revision process – that unsettling time after you get comments from your editor.

[By the way, I explain “pointing” and “weaving” at the bottom of this post.]


At times I have read an editor’s suggestions with total dismay. Not only did I feel my work was a failure, I also had no idea how to make the changes the editor wanted, or even understand what she meant. Below are the first five of 10 tips for how to successfully survive the revision process with both you and your memoir intact and improved. These are strategies I’ve discovered through thirty years of working with editors on book revisions. And believe me, I still need them myself (the tips and the editors).

1. Don’t try to take it in all at once

A long letter or (as in my case recently) several single-spaced emails filled with editorial suggestions can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re reading at the end of the day, or when you’re about to take your dog to the vet after he ate your daughter’s earphones and her retainer (true story). Glance over the editor’s letter or email. Then put it aside for a quiet moment when you can really think about what she’s saying.

112. Break down the criticism

It’s helpful to separate the editor’s suggestions into steps, or arrange them in a list. This gives one side of your brain something productive to do while the other side is panicking. A list will also help you to see that revision isn’t an utterly unfathomable process, but a logical step-by-step procedure.

3. Find alternate ways to make the suggested changes

Let’s say your editor wants to know more about a person in the first chapter of your memoir or autobiography. What does the person like to eat, what are her favorite books? These are questions you may not be interested in exploring or that you don’t feel are relevant to your narrative. But chances are your editor is on to something. Listen to her suggestions and find another way to address them that is uniquely your own, and that will take you deeper into your story and your characters.

114. Request clarification

If you are really having trouble understanding what the editor is asking you to do, ask her to clarify. For example, your editor may ask you to drop a hint that the you are hiding something from the reader. Ask her how many sentences she imagines you will need to accomplish this. “Oh, three or four,” she may say, and suddenly the elusive “foreshadow” becomes a much more tangible concept. Most editors are happy to expand on their suggestions.

5. Ask the editor for concrete examples

For me, concrete examples are more helpful than something general, such as “show the narrator falling in love.” Sometimes I even ask the editor to write a few sentences to illustrate what she means, however rough or unpolished. For instance, “She tossed and turned all night, thinking of him, trying to picture his face.” You won’t use what she writes, but it can give you a template to help shape your own language. The template functions like training wheels on a bike; they help get you started revising your memoir until you’re moving along confidently on your own.

*Pointing refers to trimming and shaping your memoir to illustrate its theme – the story you have come to tell. Weaving is taking a thread of your memoir – for instance, how you felt invisible in school – and making sure the issue of invisibility is touched upon or revisited consistently throughout the story.

And don’t forget, you can see the second half of my list here.

5 responses to “Editing: Five Tips for Surviving the Revision Process

  1. Thank you for sharing your insights into the revision process, Pamela Jane. Often we find advice for revision before we submit our manuscripts, but your list fills a needed niche for authors with a contract and that often overwhelming letter that includes a kind of vagueness that terrifies.

  2. Thank you for the useful tips and strategies. They are especially timely for me as I am heading into the revision process on my memoir and working with one of the top-notch editors from SCN/ES. I’m heading over to read the rest of the tips now!

  3. Thank you so much Linda; good luck on the revision process!

  4. Pingback: Blogtalk: Literature by email and 3 articles for writers — Writing Through Life

  5. Pingback: Blogtalk: Literature by email and 3 articles for writers – Writing Through Life

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