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“Great Job, Let’s Do It Again!”: Second (and Sometimes Third) Draft Revisions

A couple weeks ago, we talked about first draft edit letters, the kinds of things we look for, and how it’s vitally important for authors to not panic.

So I send the edit notes off to the author. They take a couple of days to look over and process, and then we sit down and have a very long phone conversation where we go through the entire edit letter, make sure we’re all on the same page, and (very important) we set a date for when they’re going to send me the revision.

Time passes. And then the revision magically appears in my email, and I’m SO EXCITED.

Not only do I get to dive back into this world that I love so much (remember, we LOVE your book!), but I also get to do another edit letter! (Or possibly track changes.)

I mean, there’s always the hope that the author will have completely nailed it, and we can move right into line edits, which are minor tweaks. But usually, like 75-80% of the time, we’re going to need another round (or two) of edits. And that’s OK! Every round that we do makes the book that much better.

So, what do we look for when we’re going through the second draft? Of course, we always look for the same things we look for in the first draft, but in addition to that, here are a few questions that we might ask:

1. Is there anything missing? Does something still not make sense?

For example, in Signs Point to Yes, once Sandy discovered Teo’s real name, Jane and Teo’s characters (and their relationship) really clicked. But, we were starting to lose the fabulous and wonderful Margo, and Ravi was becoming problematic.

So, in the second draft edit letter, we isolated a couple of places where it might be nice to have a few extra scenes/chapters where Margo and Jane got to have a little bonding time. We also took a good long look at the question of, “Why would Teo go to Jane for help when his best friend is right there?” And that’s when we decided Ravi needed to go on an unscheduled trip overseas!

2. Did one of the revisions actually create a new problem?

I know this sounds strange. Obviously, the revisions are meant to make the book better, not create new problems. But sometimes even a small change can have a strange ripple effect.

For example, in The Boy Next Door, there’s a place where Maddy has a BIG misunderstanding about Gabe and the nature of their relationship. I’m not going to elaborate on this too much because spoilers, but… In the second draft, the reasons for why Maddy was jumping to this conclusion had gotten lost, and it was really hurting her character and the relationship as a whole.

So, we asked Katie to take a lot of the character motivation that was originally revealed at the end of the book and layer it in earlier as set-up and character depth. That way, when we got to the point where Maddy jumped to the wrong conclusion, it was much more understandable and relatable.

3. How do the revisions affect the shape and flow of the story?

Every story has a certain shape. I tend to think of them like the mathematical sine curves, almost like you could plot the tension and story arc on a graph. Not that I’ve ever actually done that (because it would be WAY too much math), but that’s how I visualize it. And sometimes when I get a second draft back, the author will have all the right elements that I’ve asked them for, but they’ll be in the wrong order.

For example, in Love, Lies and Spies, in our first draft edit notes, we asked Cindy to add a few more spy scenes and to rework the ending to tie up some of those loose ends and put Juliana and Spencer in the same spot. And she did that. Brilliantly!

But, when we got her revision back, we realized that the climax of the romantic plot actually happened well before the climax of the spy subplot, meaning that the ending of the book had a lot less emotional tension. So we asked her to switch them around, thereby hopefully keeping the emotional investment high all the way to the end.

4. Now that we’ve fixed the big issues, are there any medium ones that have come to light?

If you’ve read Love Fortunes and Other Disasters, (and if you haven’t, shame on you, go buy it right now!) you know that Fallon and Sebastian are fated to NEVER fall in love. But, when we were reading through the second draft of the book, there was a spot in the middle where they had a very romantic kiss. In fact, this kiss was so romantic, that it completely messed up the ending of the book.

So, despite our instincts to preserve any and all romantic kissing, we had to sabotage it. Fortunately, we had some handy dandy spinsters hanging around who were able to interrupt our romantic moment, pre-kiss. And, as an added bonus, doing so created an opportunity to deepen Seabstian’s character just a little bit by explaining why he wasn’t allowed to fall in love.

And that’s all I’m telling you! :)

5.  Does the timing still work? Is the pacing smooth and solid?

As I mentioned last time, this is a vitally important element that we will be revisiting at almost every single stage, because every single revision will affect the pacing in some way. As you’ll see when we talk about the line edits stage, even cutting a few short phrases can make a scene go faster, and adding a single line can help smooth out a transition. But at this stage, we’re probably still looking at the bigger scene-level revisions.

For example, in No Love Allowed, Kate Evangelista had given us EVERYTHING that we had asked for in our edit letter. And more! Much more! In fact, she gave us so much more that the book had started to slow down a bit, and we were losing Caleb’s voice and momentum.

So, for her second draft edits, we sent her a heavily track-changed document filled with comments like, “Do we need this? Let’s get to the good stuff!

As you can see, second draft edits change dramatically from book to book, and the way I send the notes will also change. Sometimes you get another edit letter. Sometimes you get a track changes document. Sometimes you get an even more detailed outline. But no matter what format they come in, the point is that each draft (whether it’s the second, third, or even fourth) is a step forward, and your book is that much closer to publication.

Check back next week to learn about the next step in the editorial process!

And in case you missed the previous entry for this editorial series:

• “Don’t Panic!”: First Draft Revisions

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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