Monday, March 23, 2009

The Dreaded R Word

My guest today is, Aussie author Annie West is a bestselling author for Harlequin Presents/Modern/Sexy. Annie discusses her love/hate relationship with revisions and what she calls "hardest part of your writing life"; the waiting.


People talk about being in deadline hell and I sympathise, oh boy, do I sympathise. But finishing the book isn’t the end of the story. I wish it was! Often there are those r…r…(oh go on and don’t be a wimp)…those REVISIONS.

I have a friend who tells everybody she loves revisions. They give her the chance to make the book the best it can be. I understand the sentiment. I spend so many hours slaving over a hot manuscript, trying to make it the best I can get it, of course I agree. I still think my friend is odd. Odd? Let me be frank – I think she’s loony.

I like the result of the revisions – a polished story. But the process? Argh!

I love the first set of revisions. It’s wonderful to sit in a comfy chair away from the computer with a manuscript, a red pen and a cup of coffee. I’ve achieved something. There’s sparkling dialogue, sexual tension, page turning chapter endings and…OK, maybe a few things that need changing. But I feel great when I work out how to fix them.

I get back up from my friend, historical author Anna Campbell, who reads my manuscripts as I read hers. I rely on her to find things that never occurred to me. What? Me get too close to my work?

Finally I send the story to my editor and wait. No one told you before you sold that waiting would be the hardest part of your writing life, did they? She’ll love the book. After all, I think it’s terrific and I’m an expert on this story.

Funny how editors see our work differently. Call it distance. Or an understanding of the market and reader expectations. Of all the books I’ve sold to Harlequin Presents only one got through without revisions.

Why do I con myself there’ll be no request for changes?

The email comes setting out areas to improve. Problems here. Possible solutions. I read and my head spins. My mind goes blank. If I change that thread so much else will have to change. Easy revisions are cutting word count, getting rid of a secondary character, losing a chapter (can you tell I write long?). Harder ones involve rejigging themes and motivation.

I spread the hard copy on the dining room table. It takes me days to work through the implications. I highlight major points, underline specific changes, query others till I think I know how to bring it off. I have a scrawled list of ‘to do’s’. Post it note reminders multiply as each change has consequences elsewhere. I write new sections, hoping I can hold it all in my head. Hoping I can bring it off. It’s a mess of notes, new dialogue, altered timelines and haphazard memos. At some point it doesn’t feel like my story but a maelstrom. Finally it settles into shape and…I think it works. I don’t believe it though because I’ve been to hell and back reshaping it and I’ve lost perspective.

Then I wait. Word comes that my editor loves it. Whew! I want to celebrate but I’m pooped.

Then the longer wait. Eventually the book is out and a reader contacts me. She loves the characters and lost herself in the story. Really? Those revisions worked after all.

I think about the story I’m writing now and realise it’s so much better. A corker of a story. This time there’ll be no revisions. I’m confident!

Aussie author Annie West is a bestselling author for Harlequin Presents/Modern/Sexy (depending on which country you’re in). She gets a kick out of going to Australian writer and reader conferences where she gets described as ‘a Sexy author’! She’s won and been shortlisted for several reader awards and is just about to start work on what she hopes will be her 11th book for Harlequin. Annie loves her work, spending days fantasising about gorgeous men and their love lives. It’s a hard job but she has no regrets. Annie lives with her family on the east coast of Australia between the Hunter Valley’s world class wine country and some of the state’s best beaches.

Her next releases are The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride (Harlequin Presents Extra in North America in April) and Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife (Mills and Boon Modern in the UK in May). You can read excerpts of her books or enter contests to win new releases on her


~Sia McKye~ said...

I want to say a warm welcome to Annie, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on writing Over Coffee. :-)

Anna Campbell said...

Hi Sia! Hi Annie! Annie, great post! Oh, that nail-biting wait for the news on what revisions one has to do! 'Orrible! I think in your case, revisions only polish a diamond. As you know, I think you're an amazing writer and it's a privilege being your critique partner. Honestly, I'd pay for this gig! Hmm, should I be saying this in public?

Congratulations on the new releases. Needless to say, they're all beauties!

Annie West said...

Hi Sia,
Thanks for the welcome and in fact for the invitation to come over and chat. I have to say it was very cathartic blurting about revisions. They're one of my least fave parts of this writing business. I wonder what others think. Whether that stage of 'getting it right' is harder or easier for others.


Annie West said...

Helloo, Anna. Lovely to see your familiar face here.

Poor Anna lives vicariously through the ups and downs of my writing life and believe me, revisions don't usually count on the upside (G)! What a smooth talker you are - I love the idea of polishing a diamond in my books. You're so good for my ego! Yes, you should definitely be saying nice things about me in public. If you don't who else will?

Seriously, it's invaluable having someone I trust so completely to read my work. That way I know when I send my ms to my editor it's vastly superior to what it would have been as a first draft. Then my editor will come back with a fresh eye and a new perspective that will lift the book even further.

Thanks for the comments about the new releases Anna. As you know I'm flying high at the moment as I've just heard my 10th book for Harlequin has been bought. Fingers crossed that no 11th will be accepted without revisions. Well, a girl has to have something to aim for!


~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey Annie! Congratulations on book 10 with Harlequin!

I don't know about anyone else, but Revisions and Rearranging (R&R, I call it) isn't fun. The first time I was hit with them, I was totally non-pulsed. 'What do you mean you like it, but...?' It freaked me out, to put it mildly, because if I changed this part, it changed bit of everything. It seemed overwhelming.

I do believe in the value of a good crit partner, not only as a support at times like this, but is turning out the best MS you can.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anna, how's one of my favorite people today? Well, actually, it's evening in Australia, isn't it. Dropping your haiches, are you? good to see you here. Sounds like you and Annie are a great team.

I'm looking forward to having you here Over Coffee, sometime soon. :-)

Sun Singer said...

I don't understand why "my people" can't handle everything having to do with the "R word." :-)


~Sia McKye~ said...

You want someone to do it for you, Malcolm? Lolol! I have to admit it would be grand if one could merely write and hand it off and go back to writing.
Oh god, the first time I faced it, I just let it mull in the brain for about 4 days before I could even open it to look at, much less work on it. lolol! It doesn't freak me out any more.

Anonymous said...

Annie, Eleven books -- wow! Quite an accomplishement

As for the dreaded "R" words: I like revisions and rearranging. I revised More Deaths Than One several times, trying to get it right. (The first draft was laughably bad.) I like part of the editing process, too, but that last polish is something I truly dread. Especially going through to turn the "was"es into more powerful words.

Annie West said...

Sia, I love the idea of calling this part of the process R&R! You sly thing. Yes, it can definitely seem overwhelming. That's why I think a few days' space before starting work on the changes can definitely help. It's amazing how much clearer I think after a day or two mulling over possibilities. Even when it comes to those changes that I initially think impossible to do. Am getting quite good at telling myself nothing is impossible (G)!

Annie West said...


I appreciate how you feel that way. Wouldn't it be great to click your fingers and have it done?

On the other hand, the idea of someone else mucking about with my ms without me would send shivers down my spine. No one knows my story better than me and when it comes to making sure all the loose ends are tied up and all the successive changes fixed so it still hangs together, I'd prefer to do it myself, irksome though it is.


Annie West said...

Hi Pat! Thanks for the congratulations. Here's hoping the next book will be an 'easy' one.

Like you I don't mind the editing process and it's so good to see something stronger emerge from the first version I got done on the page. Hm, isn't it interesting the way we each have our own bugbear when it comes to editing. You find yourself struggling with better verbs. I always seem to be cutting.

I think part of the difficulty for me lies in the fact that by the time I send it off to my ed I feel I've done everything I can and so turning around to do more, sometimes in a new direction, can be such a mental challenge. Opening those mails that say 'we like it but how about...?' can be hard work. Wish there was far more of the 'we love it just the way it is' (G)!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Aren't you just a ray of sunshine, Annie, lolol! "we like it, but a how about..,?" and oh, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one that has to really mull it over several days. My muse and my computer have an automatic lock down sequence process. I'm not sure if it's to protect me or the computer files, lol!

Seriously, once I get over that whole, 'how in the hell am I suppose to do that' I don't mind editing it. I like the end result.

What's the time zone differences right now Annie?

Anna Campbell said...

Annie, congratulations on your latest acceptance!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anna, what's this? Are we talking awards or her lastest MS being accepted?

Annie,give us info here, inquiring minds and all that, eh?

Anna Campbell said...

Annie, do you have some news for us?

Sia, I was talking about Annie's 10th book milestone for Harlequin! That's a fantastic achievement!

~Sia McKye~ said...

I think in today's market, every book and author has published is an achievement, both to the writer's perserverance and abiliy to tell a good story.

Jill Lynn said...

Anna, I'm about 20,000 words shy of finishing the first draft of the novel I'm currently working on, and I keep thinking I can't wait to get to revision stage. You've just reminded me how I'm going to look back and know I was crazy to think it! :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by Jill. You have several very interesting stories. We'll see if you change your tune once you are handled the suggested revisions. I'll be around to remind you of this, lol!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Annie, your article will be up tomorrow too. Just so you know. this way some of your Aussie Readers can comment tonite on those books of yours they liked or just say hi. :-)

Kat Sheridan said...

Annie, nice to meet you and congrats on such a succesful writing career! And Sia, thank you for introducing us to another great writer! I'm unpubbed, so I get the joy of thinking my MS is absolutely perfect! Of, course, it took me four "tiny" little revisions to get it in this shape. LOL! It's with an editor now, and I'm waiting, waiting, waiting, and dreading the thought of more revisions. But hey, if that's what it takes, I can do that! Good luck with book 11!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, I'm looking forward to holding Ashes in my hand. I like it. Of course, I'm reading from a MS, but still it's a good one. And those 'tiny' revisions weren't all that tiny, lolol!

I do get to meet some fabulous arthors here. I so enjoy them and reading their take on things.

Annie West said...


Sorry not to be online sooner. I've been out all day plus I've got major computer probs. Just hope I can post before the system shuts down. It's now 6.41 pm here in Eastern Australia. Assume it's getting very late your time.

Laughing at being a ray of sunshine! More likely to be seriously worried and morose when the revisions come in... It's only when I've nailed them that I perk up. And now, when the book's accepted, I feel mighty fine (G)!

Annie West said...

Ah, Anna, I can count on your to blow my trumpet for me. Thank you! Yes, indeed, am stoked about the recent acceptance. Especially since the revisions were small. Turned them around over the weekend (even with visitors). I wonder what the longest time for revisions is? Must be quite a while I'm sure. I suppose one of the incentives is if you happen to be on a contract which specifies when the next book is due so you want to wrap up the one you've already invested so much time in, get it right, and start the next one (after a little break).

Sia, so glad I'm not the only one to need days to mull over how to tackle revisions.

Annie West said...

I don't think you're crazy at all. Far from it. So much better to have the words down on the page, don't you think? Creating can be such tough work and as they say, you can always fix a page you've written, but it's hard to fix a blank one! Best of luck with those last chapters. Hope it's not long before you're breezing through your revisions and making the book a terrific read.

Do you find you pick up lots of overused words? I do. Fortunately Anna picks up a lot for me (old eagle eye) but I'm getting a little better and noticing them myself.

Annie West said...

Hi Kat, it's lovely to meet you too. Ah yes, it's nice when your revisions are self imposed, as when you're unpubbed, but don't you find you still work yourself hard to get it right before you submit? I'm ashamed to say I thought I did but can vividly recall getting a partial back in the mail, rejected, then reading the first couple of pages and seeing how I could have improved it. One of the great things about not being under contract is that you have the luxury of setting the book aside and letting it mature, then coming back with fresh eyes.

Having said that, I hope your wait for news and especially your wait for an acceptance is a short one. Persevere! I never quite believed a contract would come my way - it happened to other people not me. Fingers crossed for good news for you.

Annie West said...

Argh, sorry Sia. I didn't intentionally call you Siam! Typing very fast as I'm afraid the computer will shut down. Apologies for any typos. If I say anything horrendous I'll blame it on speed rather than me (G)!

Helen Ginger said...

I agree, revisions are a bear! I have to put time and distance between myself and my manuscript before I can tackle it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

No worries, Annie. I've been called worse, lol! Sorry to hear about your computer woes.

So we are about 13 hours different in time. Blows my mind when I think of it. :-) right now you're either in bed or soon to go there--unless you're a night owl that writes at night.

I love your encouragement: Perservere. And really, that's the key, isn't it? Perserverance and perfecting your craft. I look at writing, being published, and promotion as a series of mountains. The only way you get to the otherside is by putting one foot in front of the other. Granted, I'd love a helicopter ride, but I haven't seen many of those flying over offering a ride. So one foot in front of the other it is. At least I know I'll get there, lol!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Good timing with this interesting post--I'm working over my w.i.p. for revisions and I can't imagine somebody loving to do it--there are times when I enjoy it (when I sense it'll be a better book) but it's hard work!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Amen, Conda. As Annie said, there are those odd ones out there that love it all. Like you and Annie, when I can sense the editing and revisions are working and making it a better book, I can handle them. No way are they fun, lol! Much harder than the original writining of the blasted story, lol!

Thanks for stopping by, Conda. I like your blog, a lot of good info in the archives. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Annie, I want to thank you for stopping by and sharing your experiences with us Over Coffee. Doing a blog between North America and Australia is interesting and of course the time zones differences create some problems here and there, but we did it!

I wish you the very best for the future!

Annie West said...

Hi Helen, you put it so nicely. Revisions ARE a bear! Thanks for popping by.

Annie West said...

Hi Conda,

Sop glad the post hit a spot with you. Isn't it great when you come across something at just the right time? Maybe it happens because so many of us face the same issues.

Annie West said...

Sia, it's been a real pleasure stopping by. Just sorry I haven't been able to get here a little more promptly. Am still plagued by computer probs which I hope will shortly be fixed. Can you tell I'm an optimist? I try to hang onto that frame of mind when I tackle revisions but sometimes it's not easy.

To everyone else facing the R word - make the most of them. They can make such a difference to whether you book gets through or not. Best of luck everyone!

waving from Aus!