Ready for revision? Yes, this means YOU.

The biggest piece of advice for all of us who write is to not be afraid of revision. Well, more than that actually – to know revision is inevitable and necessary.
When I was a freelance book editor the number one issue I saw with most of the books I edited – almost every single one of them — is that they weren’t finished. People were sending me first drafts, thinking they had a finished product. Some would listen to me when I told them they had a lot more work to do, some wouldn’t. No skin off my nose – they’d find out soon enough what they had when they tried to pitch it.
I was pretty sure I’d done a good job of finishing my own first mystery novel. I’d written, rewritten, had people read it, wrote more, went through it again. I’d done so many revisions, I was sick of the book. Almost hated it. But I was sure it was done.
Last year at Crimebake, a fellow sister in crime asked me if I’d like to read her manuscript. Sure, I said. But she wanted to read mine in exchange. It was only fair. OK, I said, but don’t go suggesting any changes, because I’m done. Of course, I quickly realized how stupid that was and told her to make any suggestions she saw fit.
She did. And I realized I wasn’t done.
It had been a year after I’d “finished” writing the book, and the layoff combined with her suggestions helped. I made a lot of revisions with her help and deemed the book done.
And so it was, until I started thinking about my so far unsuccessful query process. Particularly, how much trouble I’d had answering an agent’s question about my hook at Crimebake last year. I realized I had to dig a little deeper and get that hook in. Which I did. Voila! This time I really was done.
Until I decided to enter it in a first mystery novel contest last spring that had a 90,000-word limit. My book was closer to 96,000. I figured I could kill 6,000 words and maybe make the book a little better. So I went through it again, discovering a plot flaw along the way. Done! Better, tighter book.
A couple months ago, an agent asked to see the full manuscript. I’d been down that road before, but was still pretty excited now that my book was really done.
Eight weeks later, her assistant sent the rejection, along with some feedback. I don’t mind getting feedback, but this feedback was so general, so very generic, at first I deemed it unhelpful. But then I started thinking about it. Maybe I could go through the book again and see if I could figure out what she was talking about. No harm there.
Around the same time, I was reading a book by an author I admire who has a unique voice. It made me start thinking about voice in my own book. While this was not one of the agent’s criticisms, I started getting this nagging little feeling that when I wrote the book I held back, didn’t use my full voice.
So I’m going to go through it one more time. Even though it’s done.

About Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at @mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at She hosts the podcast Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.
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3 Responses to Ready for revision? Yes, this means YOU.

  1. Beth Kanell says:

    Maureen, you’ve nailed exactly what happens to me, too — those insights that make revision “work” seem to require both time and the “borrowing” of other readers’ eyes. A great piece, and I’m so glad you shared this with us.

  2. Maureen, this is a great post! I’ve been working on a novel for the past three years, and I’ve taken it apart completely twice, now–once to completely change the point of view, and another time to add a second point of view. The book is finally feeling like it was “meant” to be like this, so it was definitely worth taking the extra time. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Revision is Writing II: It’s also required and relentless (and that’s writing, too) | Pen, Ink, and Crimes

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