Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review of Revisions, part 1

It wasn't too long ago (June 30) that I typed "The End" on my shiny manuscript, and posted about how I was planning on revising it.

As I start submitting, I find myself thinking about that revision plan. It was something new and different, and, for me at least, I think it worked.

Here's the simple version of the revision plan: readers.
  • Alpha reader: read as I was writing, usually between 25-50 pages a week
  • Beta readers (2): read after I finished writing and had done a rough revision on my own
  • Gamma readers (2): read after I polished the manuscript
I gave each of these readers a specific goal/worry to focus on. I asked my alpha reader to help me with pace and focus, as I know I can sometimes drift from the plot in first drafts. I asked my beta readers to focus on the big picture issues, such as characters and plot. And I asked my gamma readers to help pin-point any of the areas that were still weak even after I thought it was perfect.

  • Layers of readers: The key thing that worked in this revision process is that I was able to have the readers work and focus on different things in the manuscript.
  • Why this worked: I don't think I could have done this with the first manuscript I did. This worked for a couple of reasons. First, I knew my own writing process--and trust me, it has taken me years and practice to learn how I work best--and, in the case, worst. I know that in the first draft stage, my problem is drifting focus, in the first revision phase, it's the big picture things, and in the final stage, I know I have a problem with not going far enough in revisions, and stopping before it really is perfect. The second reason why this worked is because I chose to work with people that I had already worked with before. I knew, from experience, that my alpha reader was great on keeping me on track, that my beta readers were wonderful big picture girls, and that my gamma readers had the experience to know what I needed to push further in my manuscript. The key to this: experience, both in my writing, and in working with others.
  • Resubmission: Perhaps the single best thing about having several layers of readers was to be able to revise, and then submit the revisions to completely different people. This not only gave me viewpoints of multiple readers, it also helped me to really test whether the problem was fixed.
  • Why this worked: In the past, in working with critique groups, I have noticed that when a critique group suggests a change, and you change it, they tend to then accept the change. The change they saw is, after all, better than the original. The problem with this is, even though the change may be better, it still may not be your best. I blogged about this before, but it's worth mentioning again. When my alpha reader said something was weak, I changed it, then submitted it to the beta readers. When they still noticed the weakness, I changed that and submitted it to the gamma readers. When they still noticed the weakness, I was finally able to bring my writing up to the level it needed to be. Had I submitted the first revision to the first reader, it would probably be labeled "better, good job!" It's human nature--you notice it's better, so you don't think to comment again. But if you notice it's wrong for the first time, you do comment.
Addendum to the Plan
I also did a few things that were not part of the original plan, and, in general, they seemed to work.
  • Critique Group chapters: This has been beneficial in polishing the final work. Crit groups work best on small hunks at a time, so they've helped me with the minutia, especially in the first chapters (which I always struggle with). Additionally, I was able to get a second opinion on the final revised version of the changed manuscript, which gave me a boost in confidence.
  • Paid professional: I can't afford a full manuscript critique--it's way WAY out of my budget. But I could afford a $50 sample critique. I went with Stacy Whitman (who, as of last month, has stopped doing critiques to focus on her new Tu Publishing venture). Sending her the polished version of the manuscript assured me that the rough beginning--which is the #1 thing all my readers commented on, despite revisions--was finally ready to go. It also enabled me to give my chapters that final spit-shine, and gave me the confidence that I was ready to submit.
  • Time: It's also essential to note that I had time on my side--although I did manufacture it a bit so time would be on my side. I know, from my own experience, that I focus best during the summer, when I'm not working. Therefore, I dedicated the summer to finishing my manuscript (June) and revising (July & August). Because I wasn't working during the summer, I was able to essentially turn my 9-5 into revising. Having time on my side enabled me to work quicker, more efficiently, and with greater focus than if I had been trying to snatch moments of time to work from a hectic day. It also enabled me to repay my wonderful readers--they worked on my manuscript, but I worked on theirs' in turn.
Tomorrow: What didn't work. about you? What methods have you devised for revising that work especially well?


Rebecca L Sutton said...

I'm excited you posted this because I'll be in heavy revisions mode next month. Perfect timing for some tips. ; )

On this WIP I've had readers reading as I'm going too, and I think that works out really well. I like doing some revising as I go instead of getting slammed at once.

Great advice, Beth!

Anonymous said...

Very cool. I think it's great that you went out on a limb to try all this and how much of it worked great for you. Hope you're loving the book. :)

Bontemps said...

Very good post Beth!
This is all new to me so articles like this one really help.
I'm nearly finished my MG novel ( - I just have the big climax at the end and aftermath to go, I've been looking forward to writing this all the way through!), so I'll be hitting revision territory later this month.

I don't have as many readers available as you Beth, but you can be sure I'll be hunting high and low for them soon to give my work the polish it will need.

Looking forward to the next post on what didn't work too.


Unknown said...

Bontemps: Finding good readers was a long journey for me! I didn't have any for my first novel--and it showed. I found SCBWI (where I found my alpha reader and one of my beta readers) and this blog (my other alpha and my gamma readers) to actually be the best sources of finding readers. I've been accumulating readers, critique partners, etc. for a long time, working on various projects and participating in a give-and-take where I'd help them, too.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Great post. Can't wait to read what didn't work and why.

Lynnette Labelle

Robyn Campbell said...

What worked? YOU! You're my crit partner.

Hope you two have fun this weekend. Think about me will ya? Hehehe :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I am so impressed. The level of planning and follow-through on your part is bound to have great results. I have felt for some time that I need a good beta reader for the big picture. I have crit buddies who give me lots of great advice chapter-by-chapter, but I feel I'm missing something in big picture. Lots to think about in this post.

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, this sounds so thought out. My revision process is much less...than that. I do have stages of readers, though, and I'm currently in the middle of a major revision that will strengthen the book. I find it's always good to know what you're weak at and ask for help with that.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I have a crit group with some really great readers who do chapter by chapter for me.
AFter each chapter is done, I re-read the whole thing and if I think it's ready, will give it to one or two trusted beta readers.

Unknown said...

I really appreciate you sharing the details of what's working for you. I'm still trying to figure out what works best for my writing, but you've given me some ideas and things to think about. Unfortunately I get hardly anything done in the summer. :)