A Submission Story with Revisions (and lolcats!)

I've gotten all kinds of requests for the story behind the selling of House of a Thousand Dolls. It's actually a very simple story: Jenn sent out the book, some people said "no", some said "we loved it, but no" and eventually someone said "yes."


Okay, maybe not that simple.

We went on submission around the first or second week in March. On the first of April, Jen sent me a note asking to talk on gchat.

(Just realized that was April Fool's Day! Never occurred to me at the time, lol.)

When I got on gchat, Jenn gave me a rundown. We had some serious interest from an editor! Her name was Sarah and she loved the book. In fact she could make an offer right now, BUT...

*cue scary music*

She wanted...REVISIONS!

Sarah felt her chances of making a good offer would be better if I would be willing to do some revisions on the first eight chapters. She wanted something she could take to the acquisitions committee to show them her vision of what the book could be.

Well, I've been around the Internet long enough to know revisions are part of the deal. And I knew if we sold it to Sarah, she'd want to make the changes anyway. So I agreed to work on it while we waited to see how the rest of the submissions panned out.

After all, I thought I'd handled Jenn's revision notes pretty well. I could deal with whatever Sarah threw at me.

(Hear that sound? That's the universe laughing at me.)

When Jenn sent me Sarah's notes, I was stunned. She was super enthusiastic and lavish in her praise of the book, but the revisions she asked for were daunting. Things like reducing the number of characters and making the mystery and romantic arcs stronger. These were deep changes, dealing with things that I had never considered before.

It was absolutely terrifying.

I told Jenn I was intimidated. I told her I didn't know how to do any of the things Sarah was asking me to do.

Jenn, being the awesome voice of reason that she is, pointed out that it was late on a Friday night and perhaps I should think about it over the weekend.

So I did. I let it simmer for a few days, and lo and behold, the ideas started to flow. (My subconscious is so much smarter than I am.)  And I started to get excited. I'm a sucker for people who not only tell me how good I am, but challenge me to be better. Sarah's notes were the most challenging thing writing-wise that anyone had ever asked me to do.

Once I had an idea about how to make the biggest changes, I got systematic. I took the first chapters and cut them up into scenes, assigning each of them to a specific change I wanted to make. (Scrivener was awesome for this, but I could have done equally well with just different highlighter colors in Word.)

Then I went through the letter, point by point and change by change. I smooshed two characters together. I cut out some things and added in others. I rewrote Nisha's love interest yet AGAIN. (Long-time readers will remember him as the character I hate.)  I tried to be brave--Jen had told me early on that I wasn't bold enough in revisions--and I gave myself permission to experiment.

And when it was done, I let the chapters sit for a week and then reread them and sent them in. Jenn asked a couple of clarifying questions, I made a few tweaks, and then she sent it to Sarah.

Two weeks later I had an official offer for TWO books, House of a Thousand Dolls and its unwritten sequel.  My revisions were exactly what Sarah needed to push the deal through.

I know revising can suck. I used to hate it. Every time I had to go back and change something, it felt like a slap, a big red handprint of failure. It hurt, having to tear apart my babies and feeling like it was ALL MY FAULT because I hadn't done it right the first time.

But I was wrong.

No one gets it right the first time.

(I'm going to say that again.)


I think writers tend to view writing as drawing something that we're constantly being asked to rip up, paint over and draw again. Instead, I invite you to view writing as sculpture. A first draft is just the rough shape of the story, and every revision you do allows you to chip away more stone; to find the story you were looking for in the first place.

In other words, revision is a lot like THIS:

So that's my story. Any questions?

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.