This week three of my clients are rewriting their entire manuscripts, each at the behest of a publishing house editor who has expressed serious interest in the project. That means three of my clients faced the dilemma: To rewrite or not to rewrite.
To put this into perspective, this isn’t the first rewrite for any of these manuscripts. I’ve already directed each one of the writers to do at least one major rewrite. So it’s not like they cranked out a manuscript, I sent it to an editor, and then the editor came back with a rewrite request. No, these writers already have demonstrated rewriting resiliency.
Diving in Again
But there’s something about being asked to go another round. It’s not as easy to agree as one might think.
Maybe you’ve faced the same dilemma. Perhaps your critique group keeps finding flaws and suggests you take on yet another makeover of your baby. Or your agent reads over your revision and then comes back with more ideas on how to strengthen the manuscript–and the suggestions are major.
How do you decide if you’re going to dive in once again?
Do the Suggestions Resonate?
The first question to ask yourself is whether the suggestions make sense. Often a writer instinctively knows the manuscript will be stronger when the changes are made. That’s the moment to ignore the gut-wrenching thought of plowing through all those pages once again. Instead, give in to the reality that you’re not through with the manuscript yet. Lean into the part of you that wants to do your very best, even when the price to get there feels steep.
Can You See What Needs to Be Done?
Sometimes, when asked to do a rewrite, the author’s first response is, “Huh?” The changes being suggested sound foreign and how to make them a mystery. That’s a good time to take a deep breath, ponder how you would begin to make the changes, and envision a way forward. If you still feel lost, talk over the situation with your agent or with your closest critiquer. This isn’t a moment to complain or whine but instead to seek advice.
For one of my clients, when I explained what the editor needed to see before taking the project to the publishing committee, we went over the book chapter by chapter, talking about what changes she could make. And I offered to brainstorm with her at any point in the rewriting process. That sort of concrete help gave her the impetus to start to rewrite.
Will the Manuscript Stay True to Your Vision for It?
One of my clients facing a rewrite was asked to add a significant element to the manuscript. The benefit of doing so would be to add a layer of meaning to the original concept. It also would be easy for sales reps to talk about when presenting the project to book buyers.
The potential downside was that it could overshadow the book’s theme, become the dominant aspect of the manuscript, and isolate the author into a brand he would never choose for himself.
As he talked to trusted friends, weighed the pros and cons, and started playing around with the idea, he began to see how to use the element to sharpen the focus of his project and make the theme even clearer.
Knowing this could be a win-win, he’s working on not only the manuscript but also figuring out how to create a series of books using the concept and building online ways to market the book that hadn’t existed before this change.
Will You Obtain a Contract if You Make the Changes?
Unfortunately, an editor asking for a rewrite can’t deliver a promise that the book will be published should be changes be made. The decision to publish isn’t in the editor’s hands alone. All the editor can do is put together as compelling a case as possible to the publishing committee. And sometimes that means asking writers to give a manuscript a different slant, to start a novel in a place the writer never considered, or to remove sections of a book that the author loved but that kept the manuscript’s theme from shining through in a bright and consistent way.
To Rewrite or Not to Rewrite?
Sometimes an editor wants a book that would be a kissing cousin to the one you created. Sometimes an editor sees one aspect of your manuscript that could be a book in itself–and that happens to be the book the editor wants. And sometimes an editor wants a book that bears so little relation to what you’ve written that both your agent and you are wide-eyed at the prospect.
You don’t need to agree to a rewrite in such situations.
The Publishing Process
Every writer must face the rewrite question over and over again. I describe getting to a contract as a process. Rewriting is part of the process. Just some of us are asked to do it more often than we ever thought possible.
What’s the most challenging rewrite you’ve ever undertaken? Did it end well?
When asked to do a manuscript rewrite, how do you know if you should? Click to tweet.
What questions should you weigh in deciding whether to rewrite your manuscript? Click to tweet.