Monday, 25 April 2011


There is such an interesting, very useful, three-part discussion about revision, rewriting, self-editing - call it what you will, on Tania's blog. Many different writers, all saying how they approach this subject. True, it is directed at short fiction - but so much is relevant to longer pieces of work. Inasmuch as my own current work is reaching the end of its preparation process, and inasmuch as it started life as a series of discreet sections, I chime with much of what is said in these discussions - I share many of the processes described.
Here are the links - the posts and subsequent comments are very valuable.
Part I (also available as a PDF)
Part II (Also available as a PDF)
But there are some differences, of course, as there always will be where a group of writers share their processes. In working on each of the separate pieces between late 2006 and early 2010, I started after a while to do a lot of editing as I went, revisiting the work of the day before and seeing things I didn't like, changing them until it felt better... and using those pages as a jump-off point to continue with that day's writing. And I'd often stop, go back over a paragraph, a few lines of dialogue, shake my head and change them. It became a physical process. I could FEEL when the train was leaving the rails - ie its own rails, and being pushed by the writer. That's when I stopped and rewrote.
It was a very different process to writing a stand alone short story, for this writer. When I started 'The Coward' I was a writer who staunchly believed in writing a first draft right through before looking at any of it with a view to revision, as that's how most of my shorter pieces were approached. With some notable exceptions of course...but in the process of this work I changed completely! And, I believe, I saved myself a lot of time - but perhaps that's a different issue? Perhaps the end result would have been the same.

This pic? The stages of revision of the whole manuscript, AFTER the first draft of the novel was completed. Starting in March 2010, finishing in Oct 2010 -re-creation of one character, then plot tweaks, and the all-important structural revision, where I needed to see the whole thing in one spyglass, over and over and over. Then the revisions became smaller, then tinier, a word here a word through for sound - working towards a cleaner and cleaner product. Because that's what it became. Emotion left the room, and only the words mattered. Getting them right. The top few layers are Bloomsbury-led, tweaks and copyediting proofs. The final layer is the uncorrected proof pages recieved last week- and the uncorrected proof book itself, all ready to go out! Very exciting.
It's a salutary thing though. My manuscript was c 250 pages in length. It didn't vary much. The finished book is 380 pages - 130 pages longer - maybe due to different typeface, less lines to a page... ! Even though I feel horror at my use of precious paper in revising here -I don't know how else I might have done it - and I console myself that the pile could have been a lot higher.


  1. How did it come out as longer? Did you use a very tiny point size for the orig ms, or have you added a lot?

  2. Hi E

    I havent the foggiest idea! I used 12 pt Times New Roman double spaced...or maybe one and a half spaced...maybe it was the margins that are different? No I added not a whit of wordcount. if anything it came down...and white space was deleted as well, so I am mystified.
    In the trade paperback version, it looks like it will be back to my page-count... we'll see.

  3. Great post, great pix. I think different publishers have different styles which include left and right margins, number of spaces for indentations, number of spaces between sentences. All that contributes to the number of pages -- but the difference of 100 pages...yikes!

  4. Hmm - thanks for posting Sue - maybe I will go and check on my own page count, in the morning...

  5. Love the pic! My piles and piles of papers (okay I might be exaggerating) were a source of great embarrassment to me but not anymore. Since I've accepted the idea that I am a "writer" they are now a source of pride. At one time the piles pointed to failure -- How many revisions do you need? or Can't you get it right? Now I see it as the normal course of the imagination's journey to clarity and cohesion.

  6. Right have checked.
    My manuscript was 248 - Where did I get 280 from? Times New Roman, 12 pt, 1.5 space - thats where the difference is, I think. I had 35 lines to a page.
    Proof is set in Adobe Caslon and has 30 lines to a page, looks like. Endmatter includes a note on the type, fascinating!

  7. Hi Dora - isn't it interesting how we change as we go along? The truth is, I think - there are so many writers these days, and if we want to be published via conventional routes, the manuscripts we submit for consideration by agents and publishers must be darn near perfect.

  8. What I find strange is that conventional wisdom seems to be that longer books aren't as viable commercially (as they price themselves out of the market if you charge enough to cover the costs), and the standard ideal seems to be about 250 pages. So it seems odd that they've made it longer. Maybe it's just for the hardback, which is a different kettle of fish altogether - people are buying a luxury product. I'm having kittens that my wip is going to be longer than 250, as I've been warned off so many times. How many words is your novel? I read that the ideal is 70,000 to 100,000.

  9. I have no idea what the production costs are - hardback, 380 pages, hand-illustrated cover with silver blocking - I am a very very lucky person, that's for sure. And the cost - the same as Salt charged for my 145 page Glass Bubble... £12.99. Wordcount is c.100,000.
    I think the trade hardback will be a shorter page count (I hope not a shorter text!) I wrote for no conventions - not being particularly aware of them, I suppose. It ended up as long as it needed to be. I think... (voice etc required particular beats - so you might argue some words aren't needed - until it is read it out loud. Which of course, I am hoping it will be at some point!

    Are you writing 'for' the conventions?

  10. The idea of writing for any conventions is anathema to me - the whole point of writing is to ignore if not subvert them. But I have read editors and agents writing that they won't even look at books above a certain length - the implication being that THAT indeed (ie making it the 'right' length) is part of getting your book perfect enough to be considered... One editor actually told me this personally, and she was referring to 'literary' work.

  11. Hmm. Did you ask why a certain length is considered 'too long', and conversely, another length considered 'too short'? I guess it's in the publisher's gift to make a book as long or short as they like, page-count-wise! Who is leading this particular dance? Sure, over-written rambly novels are not much cop - so maybe it is an industry-wide effort to curb our verbosity!

    But seriously, and conversely, I have read novels where it is so bleedin obvious that an editor has said 'its too short, can we have another 50 pages please', and the writer has just chucked out another 50 pages...and they've published it like that - even though the book came to a natural conclusion much sooner.

    Do people buy books by weight?! Maybe they do - to line the walls of theme pubs.

  12. Well, the editor I spoke to told me (and I've read it elsewhere) that the production costs of a book over a certain number of pages mean that to recoup those costs you have to charge the kind of cover price people are unlikely to want to pay. As I say, this may simply refer to paperbacks, but then so many books do go straight into paperback nowadays.
    This is also presumably why you get the kind of padding you refer to: I've also been told by editors that consumers/readers like to feel they're getting their money's worth and so don't like thin books (whereas the basic flat cost of producing ANY book means you can't price books too low even if they are thin.)

    It's all so frustrating because a piece of work needs to be the length it needs to be...

  13. I'm working through the uncorrected proof now-spotting things I don't like - so I can see the differences in line-length, number of lines per page, etc. The typeface used is a fascinating one -Caslon - related to the one used on The American Declaration of Independence! Id never really thought about things like that - apart from disliking sans serif fonts with a passion (internet!)

  14. I hope publishing never gets to the point where wannabe writers are srolling through the choice of fonts to find one that fluffs out or shrinks their word count to the desired length! As Elizabeth says, "a piece of work needs to be the length it needs to be".

  15. Hi Rachel -Hope all is well - I suppose it is the font size rather than type that matters, and if we stick with TNR 12 pt we ought to be fine. I'm just confuddled too as to why The Coward is so much longer in book form. I will ask, sometime!

    I agree that work needs to be the length it needs to be... but we also need to listen to the ones who have the power to bring it to the shelves, I guess, unless we are just happy to do the self pubbing thing. In which case I guess we'd find out about prices of printing, and break points where a book is twice as much if 16 pages longer... so we'd cut. Probably!