How to Revise and Resubmit: By the Numbers

Posted: September 23, 2015 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Numbers Background

I don’t know how many of my readers are at this particular stage in their novel, but hopefully many of you will be soon, or at least eventually. If you find my advice helpful, I hope you will bookmark this post for future reference.

I’ve discovered something about the art of writing a novel, now that we’ve actually written one, queried it, and approached the rarefied air of agent representation. What I think I’ve discovered is this:

The further along you proceed in the novel-writing process, the more structured you have to be. We started out as “pantsers.” We had very little structure (okay, none) and only the ghost of a storyline. We started just writing to see where the characters took us. Several chapters in, and we found we had to stop and plot the rest, because there was no way else we could move forward with what we had in mind – we needed some structure. We needed a map.

By the time we got to the end and started refining and adding in minor story arcs and plot points, we had to pick our way very carefully through what we had already created, lest we unravel it.

Then, at last we had a manuscript worthy of sending to agents (apparently, given the response). And are faced, once again, with a need to make changes to our carefully-woven structure. In some cases rather substantial changes that will occur over a broad range of chapters. It’s like a massive game of pick-up sticks, in which you have to replace all of the red sticks with yellow sticks, without disturbing any of the other sticks.

This is going to take some serious structure and planning.

Fortunately, I happen to be extremely ana― … er, compulsively organized. So the first thing I did was to go through the manuscript page-by-page and create a comprehensive outline of the novel. It looks like this:


Once I finished this for every chapter, we went over the R&R request e-mail with a magnifying glass and made note of every request, suggestion and question, so we could define what we wanted to change about the manuscript. Our results look like this:


Notice the clever numbering and color-codes? These are so we can keep track of each of these changes as we implement them throughout the manuscript.  The next step was to go through the outline, chapter-by-chapter, bullet-by-bullet, and find all of the places – or the specific places – where we need to insert one or more of these ideas.  In some cases we lined through part or all of a certain bullet, because that needs to be rewritten or replaced.

With our new marked-up outline, we set to work.  And we are now at this point in the process.  I expect we will make a few adjustments, discover a few directions we hadn’t considered, perhaps slightly different  or additional places to introduce some of these concepts.  But for now we will use this outline as a strict blueprint.

There is a certain freedom in having structure to rely on, to guide you.  And that is certainly the case here.  But nevertheless there is a whole new kind of pressure in this process.  Before, we may have had a vague timeline in mind for finishing our manuscript, but we always let inspiration rule.  And if we were stuck, we didn’t force it.  Later, when our manuscript was finished and we had beta readers’ feedback. we had a stricter deadline in mind because the contests where we cut our querying teeth were looming and we needed to be ready in time.  But even then, if we weren’t ready for one contest we could get extra ready for the next one.

But this is different.  This is real pressure.  Because if you are doing a revise and resubmit you (presumably) have an agent who is interested and eager to see your revisions.  An R&R has more than one purpose.  In addition to adapting your manuscript with the agent’s guidance, you are also demonstrating your willingness and ability to work with this agent – your willingness to take direction, consider alternate opinions, and work under pressure.  We told our agent we would have our revision ready to resubmit in two months.  Because I was sure we could do it, but also because I wanted us to appear to be professional.  And now that we’ve committed to this we are facing our first true deadline.

So the pressure is on.  I’ve heard it said that some people do their best work under pressure.  We’ll see if we are among those people.

  1. Norma Berkowitz says:

    I find this all very interesting and truly never realized before the work and structure and the willingness it takes to do and follow through with this. Bravo I am proud of you and Missy..Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathryn Clark says:

    I haven’t quite gotten to the revision stage (I seem to be perpetually stuck in the drafting stage… sigh) but this looks like a great way to work out the revisions. It sounds like you’ve already made some great progress – I can tell from the outline of chapter one that you’ve changed quite a bit since I first read it, and based on your R&R Notes I’d say it’s only going to get better. Congrats on the R&R request, and good luck with the rest of your revision!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So this is what the agent process is like. I self-publish so I’ve never worked with an agent before. It’s interesting to see the other side. Good luck with your deadline.


  4. […] How to Revise and Resubmit: By the Numbers September 23, 2015 […]


  5. […] time adding a new scene elsewhere to replace some of the missing elements.  This required a lot of planning and outlining.  All of the changes had to work in concert, so everything I revised had to be part of this master […]


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