A Strategic Plan for Revising

It’s been a good experience going through revisions for my new book, The Yank Striker. As I’ve gone though that process, it’s occurred to me, with this being my second book, that I’ve started to refine a clear system for this process.

When you get into the later stages of those revisions, it’s important that you have a clear plan and/or system for how you plan to complete them, whether you are self-publishing or working with a publisher.

For the benefit of those writers who are looking to improve their revisions, I hope that this look at my revision process might be useful. Consider it to be an example of one of those process analysis essays I’ve assigned to many high school or junior college, where writers explain a process to give their readers a deeper understanding of it? Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Some Notes

Before we get started, I should mention that I am working with an outside publisher rather than self-publishing. Much of what I am talking about is intended to pass along information to an outside editor, so some of this might be more like talking to yourself to those of you self-publishing. However, what I’m describing would still be helpful to those writers in keeping track of the changes you make.

Also, most of what I’ll be talking about here is separate from straight editing and proofreading, where writers are looking to make any grammatical or proofreading errors. I highly recommend that you either invest in a good proofreader (like I did with this project) or at the very least round up some very kind and generous beta readers to help you with that. No matter how good of an editor you are, just relying on your eyes to handle the editing process never works out.

What You Need

When you are revising a book or publishing project, the publisher will send you a proof copy. This is a published copy of your book to review before it is sent out for mass distribution. Consider it the proof copy you can make on the photocopier before you make the 40 two-sided and stapled page copies.

I make a new document copy of my manuscript and give it a different name. I usually borrow the software naming convention for this purpose (2.0, 3.5, etc.). I make any changes that I want to do in the revision on this document.

Then I create an entirely new revision document. This is where I will list any of the changes I wish to make on the proof, as well as where those changes are located in the proof copy. Since the publishers are referring to the proof copy (since they are formatting my copy for publication), it’s important for you to refer to where the changes are on your proof copy rather than the document file of your manuscript.

You will also be making notes on your proof as well. My recommendation is to have a good supply of sticky notes and smaller sticky flags for this purpose, as well as a writing tool. (My personal preference for this is a mechanical pencil.)

Once you have your proof, the revision list document, the new document version of your manuscript, and the assorted notes and flags, you are ready to begin.

How to Proceed

The first step in the process is to begin your read of the proof. You read from the beginning of the book to the ending. Again, this is not looking for editing or proofreading errors, but things having to do plot, characterization, setting: in short, anything to do with ideas, organization, word choice, and style. If you see something strange when it comes to grammar, feel free to make that change, but that’s not the focus of that process.

The lion’s share of these changes are things that a typical outside reader, and definitely an outside proofreader, would not think about. For example, in my manuscript for The Yank Striker, I realized that my description of one of the settings of the story, which was a soccer club’s training ground, was inadequate to the task. It was too vague, and I didn’t think that it was a greatly faithful representation of such a facility. This was a particular issue due to this being the first book in a series, and thus a setting that I would return to. So, after a bit of research, I created a new description of the setting that I’m happy with.

Anyway, as you continue your read and find these areas that need to be revised, mark them in the proof’s pages using the sticky flags. On a separate sticky note, you can write exactly what the changes are and where they are on the page.

I find that being as specific as possible with these descriptions is important to keep track of them. My descriptions typically list both the page and the paragraph on the page where the revisions need to be. For example, Page 42, Paragraph 3. I consider the first paragraph of a page to be the first paragraph to start on that page. If a page starts with a paragraph that is continuing from a previous page, I will give it a listing like: Page 23, last paragraph, continuing onto Page 24. All lines of dialogue are considered their own paragraphs, of course, even those that are single sentences, phrases, or even a word.

You continue to read through the proof like I described above, until you reach the end of the book. Now comes the next step of the process, which will require your proof, the revision document, and the new electronic copy of your manuscript.

In your next reading of the proof, make sure that you are following along in both the proof and the new copy of your manuscript. As you come across a section of the book where you have listed revisions, make sure to make these revisions in your new manuscript copy.

I do say this with the realization that this step is not necessarily needed to let your editor know what is to be changed. For example, my editor only wants to see my revision list document. However, I prefer to make this part of my revision process for at least two reasons. First, it is very useful for me to have an updated copy of my manuscript so that I can review and reference it whenever needed. Second, I find it less time-consuming to simply copy and paste the revisions I have made in my new manuscript copy into my revision list document. This is especially helpful when I have made extensive revisions to a paragraph or a group of paragraphs. Then, I can just copy and paste the whole text rather than describe each and every change that I made (for example, “Text will now read as follows:”)

Once you make the change in your new manuscript copy, you will describe the change that you made in the revision list document. Once again, you will need to describe these changes that you make based on where they are located in the proof copy, not where they are located in your new manuscript document.

Here’s a couple of examples of how you might list such changes.

Page 34, Paragraph 5, all references to “Maya AC” in the paragraph will be changed to “CA Maya.”

Page 51, Paragraph 7 – paragraph will now read as follows: (copy and paste the text here.)

Each of these revisions should be described in the revision list document in the exact order they occur in the proof.

In this manner, you will continue to read the proof, making your changes in the new manuscript document and then describing them in your revision list document. In this process, you might encounter some revisions that you missed during your first read. Simply make these changes as you come across them in the new manuscript document, then describe them in your revision list document. Once more, your descriptions should list where they are in the bound proof, not your manuscript document.

Once you’ve finished the second read and making all of your revisions and notes, send the revision list document to your publisher.

What Happens Next?

This can depend on your particular situation. The publisher might send you a second proof and ask you to review it, first to ensure that all your revisions have been made as you have directed, and whether there are any revisions or changes that you have previously overlooked and need to be made. You could thus repeat the process I described above as many times as you might think necessary, but typically publishers might only do a couple or a few proofs before calling time on any further revisions and edits.

Also, like I mentioned previously, none of why I described above could be considered editing and/or proofreading. That’s an entirely different process, which should occur after revisions (and that I’ll likely describe in a separate post). Of course, if you unexpectedly need another revision of your work after you proofread it, you’ll need another proofreading session, whether you or someone else does it.

Let me know in the comments or by email if you have any follow up questions. I’ll be glad to answer them.

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