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Writer’s Revision Checklist


Writing in itself is fun. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. I love it when my brain and my fingers are in sync. In that moment, however long it lasts, a writer’s life is in harmony with the universe. 

Then you type those glorious words, “The End.” Ahh. What a feeling. That means you’re done, right? Wrong. Next comes that dreaded word, the one that makes most writers cringe: 


Yes, revision is that ugly, concrete wall separating you from being published. I once heard a literary agent say, “The biggest mistake I see authors make isn’t misspelling my name or sending a bad query, although they do that. The saddest thing is when I love the premise, but the author didn’t revise enough.”

Isn’t that sad? Spending months or years on a project, only to toss it off a cliff because they just don’t want to comb through it anymore? (Oh boy, do I understand!)

This is the point I’m at with my novel (my first book, How to Have Peace When You’re Falling to Pieces, is a parenting book…yeah, very different from my current project!).  I go back and forth between wanting to hurl it out the window and wanting to rush it out to agents immediately because “the idea is so good, they’ll look past the poor writing.” Unfortunately, there is no shortcut. Revising is a necessary evil. Emphasis on the EVIL part.

In case you’re struggling with it as much as I am, here’s a list of five things to check before you click that Send button. I’ve compiled this list from several books, including Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and from blogs and writers conferences I’ve attended. Enjoy!

1) Look closely at the skeleton.

When I say skeleton, I mean the bones of your story. Is there an inherent arc in the entire story? Is the conflict introduced immediately? Is the ending satisfying, tying off all loose ends and leaving the reader wanting more? Does the ending feel too predictable, or is there a twist of some kind to delight the reader? Is the pacing appropriate? 

If you think your story needs more structure, Dan Wells’ video is a great one. I also like seven time NYT Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson’s lecture series, which goes into story structure in depth. 

2) Look at it chapter-by-chapter.

Does each chapter have a clearly-defined purpose and setting? Does the setting change often enough to keep the reader interested? Do we feel a sense of progression and heightened conflict as we near the end? Does each chapter (and scene) have a natural arc? Sometimes combining scenes and chapters can make for better pace, rising action, and can also cut down on words.

3) Evaluate your characters.

Now that the plot is well-established, let’s examine your characters. Are they unique and consistent? Does each one have a specific purpose, or can some minor characters be combined?  Do they speak and think differently from each other? Are they stereotypical, or does each one have a quirk or personality twist? Are the characters relateable, even the villian?

Does the reader get a sense that these characters have a history, a past that may or may not be applicable to the plot? Does the reader see the best and worst parts of each character’s personality? Do the characters emerge from the ending forever changed? Does the protagonist try and fail several times before getting what s/he wants? Does the dialogue seem/feel natural, like a real conversation? 

4) Look at the Description.

There’s a fine line between too much description and not enough. Go through your manuscript and take out cliches, replacing them with fresh, applicable words and phrases. Think “concise and precise.” Use as few words as possible to effectively get the emotional feeling and message across. Do your descriptions use all five senses where appropriate? Is the level of description appropriate to the scene (fighting scenes vs. walking the beach, etc.)? 

The biggest thing here is this: SHOW, NOT TELL. You’re allowing the readers to create your world in their heads, not shoving a real-estate ad down their throats. This applies to everything, but especially to description. Howard Taylor, a well-known artist/comic, says something like this: “You must make me feel the tree’s bark beneath my hands before I’ll believe the dragons in the distance.” Get the little details right, and the reader is much more likely to be immersed in the world you’ve created. 

5) The Down & Dirty Basics: grammar, spelling, spacing, chapter numbering, clarity, accuracy

Why save this stuff for last? Because while you work on the other four, this stuff changes. I STRONGLY advise you to work with a critique group and/or an editor for this one, because I’ve personally had mistakes overlooked by a half-dozen proof-readers before. It happens. Typos and mistakes don’t mean you’re a bad writer–it’s just part of the process. (You should actually have a critique group look over the previous four things too, preferably as you go.) When you’ve done what you can, have your helpers look for point-of-view issues, verb tenses, common words and phrases, and things that just don’t seem right. If they’re really good, they’ll help you whittle sentences down. Remember, “concise and precise” is key.

You may think “accuracy” doesn’t fit here, or at least it should be done way before this point. Ideally you’d have a grasp on what is and isn’t possible in the research stage, true. But have you ever read a book where the author skipped this step? I bet that wrong detail completely turned you off of the book, right? I’ve done martial arts for five years, and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the ridiculous things people put in their action scenes. Seriously. It goes way beyond fighting scenes, though. If you have injuries or medical-related scenes in your book, check with a nurse at the very least. This is where “knowing people” comes in handy. If you offer to add them to the acknowledgments section of your book, even professionals will probably be happy to help you.  

Yeah, I know, this seems overwhelming. Believe me, I understand. This is a lot of work. Take it one day at a time, one item at a time. It may require a dozen readings of your books. There’s one thing every author, agent, and editor can agree on, though: IT’S WORTH IT. Just imagine that acceptance letter and the appreciation of your future fans. 

If that isn’t enough, there’s always that chocolate reward at the end. Doesn’t work for you? That’s fine. Send it my way instead.

Happy revising!


Does Nonfiction Count As “Art?”


There are two three types of readers. First, there are the nonfiction readers, those who read weight-loss books and autobiographies of famous people, who insist they’re too busy to read books simply for entertainment. They want to learn something. Then there are fiction readers, the ones who get a glazed look at the very thought of reading a self-help book. They want to escape life for awhile, and spending their precious time reading nonfiction is akin to jumping off a cliff blindfolded. Then, of course, there are those who read both, depending on their mood.

There are three types of writers, too: nonfiction, fiction, and crossover authors. I didn’t think there was much of a distinction between these groups until I published my first book, a nonfiction book for women called How to Have Peace When You’re Falling to Pieces.

A couple months after the release, I attended a local writer’s conference. It was an author’s dream at first. It seemed to address any topic you could think of: plot, characters, marketing, and even query letters. Except for one thing. There was barely anything for nonfiction writers. I think there was a class on writing for journalism, but that was it. And the writing contest? Not a single category for nonfiction.

A little stumped by this, I read the bios behind the founders of the conference. Many of the “top dogs” were crossover authors–they’d written both nonfiction and fiction books. But it almost felt like their nonfiction was swept under the rug, as if they were ashamed of it or it wasn’t applicable. No one even acknowledged the fact that nonfiction actually outsells fiction in the national market.

Then, as I talked to guests at the conference, I got some interesting opinions. Here are some of their comments:

“Nonfiction isn’t a true art, not like writing a novel.”

“You can’t be free in your writing style.”

“There’s no beginning, middle, and end. I wouldn’t even know where to start writing a nonfiction book.”

“It has no voice, and it’s so bland. I can’t pay attention.”

And that, my friends, made me confused. Nonfiction, too restrictive? Not a true art? Very interesting.

Let me ask you something. Ever read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom? It’s a true story, a first-person account of a woman who loses everything by hiding fugitives during WW2. The description was so detailed and vivid that I literally wept, and I felt my life change by the end. Not a true art, indeed.

What about the memoir, Tuesdays With Morrie? It was beautifully written and thought-provoking in a fascinating way. The way the story was woven together made it feel like fiction, but it was all the more powerful knowing that it really happened. 

Good writing makes you stop and think. It makes you see the world differently. In many ways, nonfiction is even LESS restrictive than fiction. How many books have you read that followed the age-old, predictable “reluctant hero takes a journey to discover who s/he is, with a goofy sidekick and a wise sage, and defeats the bad guy” plot? You don’t have to follow anything in nonfiction. Nonfiction is much more than self-help books and textbooks. There’s a reason for the old adage, “truth is stranger than fiction.” Good writing is entertaining, regardless of the genre.

Read the two excerpts below, and tell me which one has more “voice”:

“My kids love the kissing monster game. They sit on my lap and I say in my most intimidating voice, ‘What does the kissing monster eat?’ They tentatively say, ‘Kisses!’ and I attack them with kisses. Even my toddler loves it. I think my children feel more loved when Mommy is silly than when we have a clean house. Good thing, because ours is nothing like a clean house.”

“‘I chose,’ Hespira said again, and Horreon believed her. So Hespira took leave of her mother and returned with him to the caves of the Sacred Mountain, and the vines of Hespira’s mother grew over Meridite’s temple. When Hespira left the mountain to visit her mother, as she did from time to time, the vines were dormant, but otherwise they grew and grew until the mortar was all picked to dust and the temple fell in on itself and nothing was left but a pile of stones covered in green leaves and red flowers.”

The first one is from my book, How to Have Peace When You’re Falling to Pieces, and the second is from The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Which one is “real art?” They both are. (Well, just humor me, okay? And yes, I did like Turner’s book.) They’re both entertaining, with unexpected twists and events and funny dialogue. Except that one is true, and one isn’t. That’s fine. Two different genres, two authors, and one goal–to engage the reader.

Have you ever read an incredible story with dynamic twists and unique characters, only to find out that it really happened? That it’s not just a product of a writer’s mind, manipulated by their hand and tweaked to fit a formula, but something that a flesh-and-blood person lived through? How would it be to not have contrived dialogue, with perfect timing, each character speaking in turn, but to have real, living people doing unpredictable things? Reading a person’s voice and personality woven into their story instead of a narrator’s distant retelling?

In my opinion, the best authors are those who can do both. They see the beauty in nonfiction AND fiction, and the line between the two can get pretty blurred. The best nonfiction reads like fiction, and the best fiction feels real, true, and fresh, as if it could have really happened. THAT is the point of writing, and that is the concept I wished I could have seen at that writing conference. Nonfiction isn’t outside of the art–it’s an extension of it. It’s the bridge between real life and imagination.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.

5 Funny Literary Agent Contradictions


If you’re like me, scrounging for query-writing advice online, you may feel a little frustrated. Okay, a LOT frustrated. Like, throw the computer out the window frustrated. Why? Because so much of the advice contradicts itself. Some agents like this, some like that, and you can’t seem to please everyone. If this describes your experience, you may enjoy the following five contradictions:

Contradiction #1: How to write a query.

This week I put my query on WriteOnCon.com, an online two-day conference where you can post your query for advice from other writers and agents. I kept reworking it and thought it was fairly good until the agent commented, “A query should always have three paragraphs: the log-line, the mini-synopsis, and the bio. And don’t make me scroll down! If I have to scroll, it’s too long.” With a screen that small, “scrolling down” meant the query had to be less than four to five sentences. Total.

Um…well, my query was six paragraphs, but they were short and focused, and I separated them that way because QueryShark says that white space is good, and to NEVER start with a log-line…blah.

Fine. So I reworked my query to fit her advice, and suddenly none of the attendees liked it–and frankly, neither did I. The mini-synopsis was suddenly too long and boring, and my awesome “hook” was now a story-summing log-line, which actually wasn’t as interesting. Nor as hooking…hookingy…oh, whatever. Lesson learned: One size does not fit all.

Contradiction #2: Don’t follow trends, but make the book marketable.

You hear it all the time, right? “Don’t follow trends. Write what you love, and what you feel passionate about.” Then they follow it with, “But don’t submit paranormal, though. Oh, and not dystopian. And please, no science fiction, fantasy, western, religious, or anything too true-to-life–basically don’t submit anything even remotely interesting to you.”

Is there anything left? It’s amazing that books get published at all. 

Contradiction #3: Every book must fit into a genre…but also be fresh and new.

If there’s one thing literary agents and editors all agree on, it’s that they want to see the “next big thing,” or something “fresh.” The problem is, no one knows that that is.

Here’s the thing, though. If your book is too different, it won’t fit into an established genre, which makes it hard to sell. In other words, they want your book to be the same, but different. Clear as mud? Yeah, I think so, too. And make sure it doesn’t fit into the list of genres above, or they won’t even read it, even if it really is “the next big thing.” Yeah, good luck with that.

Contradiction #4: Make your characters likeable, real, and flawed–but different than every other likeable, real, and flawed character out there.

My book is a YA, which means that like most YA works, the main character is a teenage girl. There are plenty of opinions out there about how a teenage female protagonist should be: not snarky, but independent and confident, but not too confident, and sweet and giving, but not boring, and interesting with a dark edge, but not rebellious. O…kay. Gotcha. No wonder all the boys in these books are the same. At least we can all agree on love interests: strong yet sweet. End of story.

Contradiction #5: Treat me like I’m the only agent you’re querying…but I’ll probably not treat you that way in return.”

Ouch. This one hurts. You’ve heard the advice to use the agent’s name (spelled correctly), research their guidelines, read the books they’ve represented, and think of something politely personal as an introduction. You craft that letter carefully, crossing your fingers for luck when you hit “Send.” Then you wait.

Months later, you get a form letter rejection.

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for submitting (title). Unfortunately, even though you did your research, reading books I represented and taking the time to address me personally and treat me with respect in your letter, I’m not going to do the same for you.

I’m giving you a form letter rejection because it’s not worth two minutes of my valuable time to tell you why or how you can improve. Why? Because I’m the gatekeeper–the wizard of stardom standing in your way, screaming, “You Shall Not Pass!” And you’re just a lowly author, one of hundreds I’ll respond to today, most of which are rejections. Tough luck.

Sincerely, (Name)

It happens, and it happens to unpublished and NYT Best-selling authors alike. Brandon Sanderson didn’t achieve success until he was writing book #11, and it was his sixth book, Elantris, that finally got published. Stephenie Meyer was lucky to publish her “too long” novel, Twilight, and even JK Rowling received eight rejections before breaking into the business. Just pick up the pieces and move on, and eventually you’ll find the right person to represent your book. 

Onward and upward, writers, and don’t give up! Like our characters, we have to climb the seemingly impossible mountain peak before we can descend into the valley of success. (Sorry, I’m in a dramatic mood today.)

Good luck and keep writing!

4 Tips for the Perspiring–I mean, Aspiring–Author



My book was officially released today, so I’m feeling a little nostalgic.(Excuse that horrible picture, please.) I can’t help but think back to that day a year ago when I got the long-awaited email from Jennifer, the acquisitions editor at Cedar Fort, saying that my writing was “engaging and entertaining” and that they were “pleased to offer me a contract” for my book, HOW TO HAVE PEACE WHEN YOU’RE FALLING TO PIECES.

I had NO idea what I was getting into.

It’s been a crazy, heart-wrenching and elating roller coaster during the last year. When people ask me if I’d do it again, I tell them my second book is nearly done–so yes, I hope to do it again, but I’m changing a few things this time around. Experience is a painful teacher, especially in the publishing business! Here are five tips for perspiring–ahem, I mean, aspiring–authors:

1) Schedule a writing time and place–and stick to it.

With three kids underfoot, writing anything was hard for me. It took awhile to realize that I just couldn’t do it when the kids were awake. So I started getting up at 5am and writing until 7am, and then writing when my toddler was taking a nap in the afternoon. That meant my four year-old got a precious hour or so to play video games, during which time he was banished (happily) downstairs, and I got some precious writing time in. My housecleaning slipped a little, and I had to learn to let a few things slide. But if you wait until the house is quiet, with scented candles and a bubble bath is drawn, it just won’t happen.

2) Make it absolutely perfect, whole, and complete before you send in that manuscript.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often this rule is broken. In my case, I actually only wrote a chapter before pitching the idea to Jennifer. I found out about a publishing fair at the local university two nights before the event and decided, why not? So I wrote the chapter really quick and pitched the idea to her at the fair (not even knowing what a pitch really is). I didn’t even look up the submission guidelines first. I know, it was a bit foolish and naive, and I still can’t believe I did that.

But miraculously, she loved the idea and wrote back within a couple weeks asking for more. I spent two weeks on four more chapters, got feedback from a few friends, tweaked them a little, and then emailed them to her. At this point I still didn’t take it seriously, so I didn’t write anything else. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Imagine my surprise when a couple months later, that email arrived. I pumped my fists in the air like I’d just scored a touchdown and called my husband at work. He was elated, of course, until I read him the contract. Then my jaw dropped.

They wanted the entire manuscript in 30 days.

Oh boy. Hmm. That was a problem. I was going on a two-week vacation in the middle of those four weeks, and even then–how do you write practically an entire book in thirty days? But with the help of my dear husband and my critique group, I got down to business and got ‘er done. It was a stressful, sleepless, panic-filled month.

Please, don’t do this to yourself. Obviously fiction is different–editors require the entire manuscript to be finished before they’ll even look at it. But whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, have enough faith in yourself to get it perfect (and DONE) first. Then take a break and go back through it later with a fresh perspective.

You’ve worked too hard to sell yourself short by turning in a less-than-perfect manuscript. Many editors complain that authors have great ideas and that their writing style is wonderful, but that they didn’t spend enough time editing their work. It’s worth the extra few months to make sure it gets considered seriously.

3) Start building your platform as early as you can.

In the old days, authors would turn in their books and then sit back and watch the publisher do the rest. But the market has changed dramatically. Even the big boys in New York City require a lot of marketing from their authors, and the smaller the publisher, the more promoting you’ll have to do. (If you self-publish, you’ll have to do it all by yourself.)

It takes time to build a reputation. If you wait until your book is released, or even until your book is accepted, it may be too late. Publishers look for two things: great writing and a solid platform. Even if your book is fantastic, many publishers may not take a chance on you if you aren’t trying to get your name out there. No matter how wonderful the book, if people don’t know about it, they won’t buy it.

As soon as you can, start a Facebook account under your pen name. Start using Twitter, and build up a reading list on Goodreads. Get writing quotes and interesting photos up on Pinterest. Start a blog. Enter writing contests and submit articles to magazines. Get your name out there, anywhere you can.

While you’re at it, attend writer’s conferences and meet editors and agents. Learn your craft and do your research. It will pay off a hundred times over when your editor reads your manuscript, likes it, and goes online to find out more about you. And believe me, they will. It’s a big risk for a publisher, so your job is to make that decision easier by having a platform already in place.

I was lucky, because I’d been writing for KSL.com and a newspaper called the Deseret News for a couple years. So my name was already out there, and Jennifer was able to read some of my work and decided that my writing wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t until six months before my book came out that I started a Twitter account. But now that release day is here, I’m wishing I’d begun promoting a lot sooner.

4) Keep writing, no matter what.

Writing should be fun. There will be deadlines, of course, and there will be tough days when the last thing you want to do is plop yourself in front of the computer and force your brain to work. Take a break and refresh yourself, but come right back. Even if your work is rejected, start on something else while you continue to submit it. Write different types of things to keep your mind fresh.

Writing takes practice just like playing an instrument or learning a sport. Even if your first or second (or tenth) books aren’t accepted for publication, it doesn’t mean you can’t write. Don’t give up. Being published doesn’t necessarily mean an author writes better than others, but they had the right idea at the right time and submitted it to the right publisher. Book publishing is fickle and extremely competitive. Take a break, but don’t stop writing.

You can get published. It happens every day to lucky authors across the world, so why not you? Best of luck.

Comments? Questions? Subscribe to my blog or visit me at http://www.AuthorRebeccaRode.com. Have a great day!