WBP Survey: How do you approach notes after first receiving them from CPs, agents, and/or editors?

Hey, we’re back with another WBP survey, the first of which was on average chapter lengths, which you can check out: here. We want to do more of these, so definitely let us know in the comments if there is a question on craft or publishing that you’d like the writers of WBP to answer! On to the question:

How do you approach notes after first receiving them from CPs, agents, and/or editors?

Axie: Day One: I first skim read them, just to get the whole thing out of the way. Day Two: (Yes, I wait a whole day). I read the whole thing over once carefully. Day Three: I go in with a highlighter and pens and make notes, highlight important parts. Then – if the book needs big revisions – I’ll take the rest of the week (or 2) to brainstorm solutions using a craft book to help guide me, like Story Genius by Lisa Cron, which offers helpful ways to dig into character motivation. Then I break ground on the manuscript and the rest of my revisions are always in chronological order, continuously referring to my edit letter/notes as I go! I usually don’t make a calendar for my revisions unless I have a tight deadline or I’m close to my deadline, then I always do (what that means is I’ll put in my calendar that by this week I’ll have finished Act One, or have reached 100 pages, etc.) And I will sometimes talk to the person who gave me notes on the phone, but not always! I’m definitely the type of reviser who wants to “prove” I know what I’m doing, and then be told afterward whether it works or not.     

Kat: I read through it IMMEDIATELY because I am impatient and must know! But then I let it simmer for at least a day. I learned that this is what’s best for me because I have a lot of jerk reaction to some notes where I try to be defensive and explain why it’s not as “bad” or “messy” as the notes might make it seem (to be clear, my CPs, agent, and editors never actually mean that the MS is bad or messy, but my anxiety brain reads it that way initially because I’m a hot mess). Then, after at least a day of simmering I’m able to come back and look at the notes with a clear head. I like to categorize the notes into “big picture plot/conflict” “character development” “world building” “language/word usage” and “misc.” Sometimes I’ll even make a whole spreadsheet (if you want to know how extra this is then check out my Instagram Highlight “Editing Chats”) 

I write down my initial thoughts for each note to give myself guidance. My notes are the most important part here because sometimes I do decide that some notes don’t require as big of an edit as they might imply because of X solution I figured out. I also, try to make sure if a change I decide to make affects another edit suggestion, then I make note of that in my notes section. This all might sound really confusing and it does sound like the edit spreadsheet equivalent of a conspiracy board (and you’re not wrong to think that). But this way my edits are catered to how I perceive the story and I make sure that I don’t lose my personal vision for the story even as I incorporate the thoughts and notes of other minds. It also makes me feel smart when I can find one solution to address more than one note lol.

Katy: It sort of depends on what book I’m working on and what stage of revision we’re in, but a typical process for me goes like this:

– I get an email from my editor/CP and panic a lot because it’s probably been 4+ weeks since I thought about the book and I forgot everything.

– I open the email. It usually says something nice, so I panic less.

– I read the edit letter. I usually have to take breaks as I read to process/panic some more.

– I get to the end of the letter and at this point my editor usually asks to set up a call in a few days’ time. In the intervening days, I re-read the edit letter, read all the inline comments and make lots of my own notes. If time allows, I will reread the entire draft myself, making notes for myself as I go about how to address certain parts of the edit letter. Then I usually call my sister and make her talk through any particularly tricky notes with me, usually while we walk around the neighborhood. I take notes on our discussion and compile them with everything else.

– Editor call happens. I go through each and every point of the edit letter with my editor, conveying to him all my ideas that I’ve been brainstorming in the past few days. At this point I don’t necessarily have EVERY point figured out, so there may be some additional brainstorming that happens on this call. I take copious notes.

– After the call, I take everything–the edit letter, my initial notes, the in-line comments, my discussion notes with my sister, & my brainstorming notes with my editor–and try to break it down into a list of changes by chapter. Sometimes I color-code this outline by plot thread/revision thread if I feel it’s necessary.

– At this point I can start to conceptualize how much work this round of revision will be. Depending on the round of revision I’m in and also the revisions themselves, I might triage this list such that I do any huge rewrites upfront, saving smaller changes for later. This can get a little chaotic because sometimes various revisions require me to go back and forth throughout the manuscript–that’s why the revision outline is so crucial, so I can keep track of what still needs to be done.

– Sometimes I also try to make a schedule (like, “finish this particular rewrite by x date”) but I almost always fall behind. But that’s ok, I thrive off deadlines

– At some point, I might get stuck on a certain point, or change my mind about something. If it’s a big enough change, I’ll usually drop a note to my editor just letting him know what I’m thinking in case he has any suggestions or wants to discuss it in greater detail.

– That’s basically it! The last 10 days or so of revising a book are usually a mad dash to the finish line. No matter how well I try to plan out my revisions, somehow this always happens. I have just decided to embrace it as part of my process–in fact, I usually feel like I get some of my best work done during these frantic bursts of revision.

– On rare occasions I’m able to actually complete big revisions early and read through the whole draft before I turn it in, making small tweaks as I go. RARELY.

Akshaya: My answer is going to be a bit weird because I’ve basically only revised the one book for the last 4 years so my process is a lot less chaotic than it used to be. Prepping to revise takes me about 2 weeks, and I find that I need this time to not only think about what I’m doing before I do it but also ease into the story after a break. 

When I get notes, I have to read them immediately, even if that means stopping in the middle of a grocery store or my best friend’s bachelorette party to do it, both of which I’ve definitely done. I don’t really take edit letters personally, but I do like to give myself a few days to process aka have a whole existential crisis about how much work I have to do. 

Then I reread my book and make my own notes. I usually end up giving myself more work to do than just what my edit letters say, so I will consolidate the notes into one massive document. I then brainstorm the changes I want to make, usually with the help of CPs (shoutout to Katy & Ashley who helped me a lot with my current revision!) Then I’ll have a call with whoever gave me the notes to clarify anything and run ideas by them. Once I’m pretty sure I have most of the revisions figured out, I create a very detailed outline that has every change I need to make in every chapter. I’m a pretty chronological reviser, but if I do need to jump around, this gives me the tools to do that without getting lost. 

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