Sunday, March 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Photo: Green Chameleon 

Several months ago, one of my picture book manuscripts received a rejection.  The good news is the agent said that she'd take another look—if I revised the piece.  This is common practice when an agent sees some potential in a manuscript.

Despite her generous offer, I was miffed.  The agent wanted a significant revision.  No other details.  So, I didn't know if she had a problem with the plot of the story, the main character, or the lyrical way in which the story had been written.  My gut feeling was she couldn't connect with the lyricism.  And hence, my dilemma.  The story had to be told precisely as it had been written it.  If the lyricism was removed, the voice and emotion of the story would be lost.  I dug my heels in.  I would not revise.  And I would not query her again.

My friend Reggie could relate.  He received a rejection on one of his favorite stories.  But in this case, the rejection came with specific suggestions on how to revise.  Still, this did not make him happy.  He felt that the story was perfect as written.

Something overcomes writers when we are asked to revise.  Some of us take it personally.  We get defensive about our work.  We have created masterpieces and no one is going to make us change a single word.

As several months passed, more agents passed on my manuscript.  I began to think about revising it.  Maybe there was a way to stay true to the voice and make the story better.  But I was unsure.  So, I put a question to Twitter.  I asked the writing community what they would do if they had encountered an agent who wanted a revision on a manuscript.

Here's a sampling of the responses:

A. Amit says revision is about "asking if the world the story has created encapsulates my vision in the best way possible. Rechecking that the characters are the best fit for that world—not good/bad, just right for the world."

L. Rogalsky says, "To me, revision is often the heart of making the story more of a story.  It's where you go to refocus, rearrange, and re-envision your story."

S. Hendricks replied with an emoji: ­čśČ which I interpreted as grit teeth and tighten up the story.

Overall, most people tweeted that they would do the revision.

When writers are given the opportunity to do a revision, they have three choices to make.
  • They can choose not to revise and continue to submit the manuscript as originally written.  
  • They can revise the manuscript and submit the new version to other agents.  
  • They can revise the manuscript and re-submit the new version to the agent who had offered to take a second look.  
Reggie chose not to revise his work.  He felt the story worked well as written and he was going to submit it to other agents without changing it.  That's his choice.  Time will tell if another agent will like his story.  I felt differently about revision.  Even though I was skeptical about changing my manuscript, I decided reworking the piece might be a good thing to do.

I began by modifying the structure of the story.  That meant keeping the plot and the main character, but striping away the rhythmical format.  Weeks later as the story evolved, a minor character emerged along with a new setting, and these two developments led to more conflict and foreshadowing.  The best part was, I was able to weave in some rhyme and repetition.

I believe in this story, especially because it carries a strong message:  how we all, even the very young, have the power to spread kindness.  Though there is no guarantee, I am hoping that the message and the voice of the story will capture the heart of the agent.

Doing a revision ended up being a great writing exercise—taking the bones of a story and guiding it in another direction.  A better direction.   I love what this manuscript became.  The story is powerful and it has the potential to touch people's hearts.  Make people aware.  Show them how simple it is to care.  And to think, none of this would have been possible if I had stubbornly resisted revision.

✌ and