As writers, we all know that the work starts to shine when we dig in to the revision. But how many times does it take to make a manuscript really sparkle? That’s what I asked this month’s batch of authors and author/illustrators from the Soaring ’20s picture book debut group. Here’s what they shared.
KC: How many drafts/revisions did you write for your debut picture book? Can you tell us a little bit about that process and about any revision strategies you have?
THE BLUNDERS: A COUNTING CATASTROPHE, written by Christina Soontornvat and illustrated by Colin Jack
Candlewick Press, February 8, 2020
I wrote so many drafts of THE BLUNDERS! The whole book is a joke about a bunch of kids who keep forgetting to count themselves, and it’s important that the timing of each page turn works perfectly. I just couldn’t get the tone right, and there were so many characters to manage. What finally helped work it through was volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten class. I would gather all the kids up and tell them the story. Let me tell you: telling a funny story to a live audience of five and six year olds is just about the best way to work through your issues! Knowing what makes them laugh, how far you can go with a joke, how silly to be (hint: extremely), you learn all of that when you have kids in front of you. Plus, it’s so fun!
WHEREVER I GO, written by Mary Wagley Copp and illustrated by Munir D. Mohammed
Atheneum/S&S, April 21, 2020
Oh, wow! WHEREVER I GO went through so many revisions – complete rewrites. I changed the number of characters, the POV, the tone, etc. It was always ‘a journey’ story but so much changed over the course of 2 years. The turning point for me was a critique that was very blunt and insightful. It was a bit difficult to hear the criticism part of the critique but the words must have struck a chord with me because I was able, with some time and space, to make the suggested and necessary revisions. My best advice is to really stay open and receptive to feedback. Take some quiet reflection time afterwards to ponder it. Then decide how you will integrate those insights or maybe you’ll put them aside. After all, it is your story and your voice and you should stay true to that.
Chicken Little, The Real and Totally True Tale by Sam Wedelich
Instagram: @samwedelich (I’m most active here!)
Scholastic Press, June 2, 2020
I did about a MILLION revisions. Revisions to the story, revisions to the drawings, plot edits, color edits, character edits. Each time, though, the story got stronger and clearer. Sometimes an edit revealed a bigger problem that needed addressing. Other times, a small tweak was just the thing to make it all come together.
My best advice is to be in service of the story. The editors, art directors and everyone involved is working together to make the story a success. It’s easy to get attached to a certain version of things, especially if you’ve been laboring long and hard with your book-baby… but if you can open yourself up to collaboration, you’ll most certainly grow… and in almost all cases, end up with a much better book than you started with.
INVENT-A-PET, written by Vicky Fang and illustrated by Tidawan Thaipinnarong www.vickyfang.com
Sterling Children’s Books, June 2, 2020
I revised this story so many times! Looking back at my records, I have eighteen versions in my files. These revisions took place over the course of a year and had TONS of input from talented and generous people, including my WWTS writing mentor McCleery, my critique partners, Christine Evans and Faith Evans, two editor revise and resubmits, two editor critiques, and my agent, Elizabeth Bennett. Throughout, the concept and the heart remained the same, but I wrangled to perfect the plot, arc, and pacing!
For me, the most important element in the revision process is time. After I revise, I need to let a manuscript sit. Then, when I look at it again, I can read with different lenses in mind: Is the character’s arc strong enough? Is the pacing working? Is the voice consistent and appealing? Is the heart of the story clear and is it coming through? Is the ending satisfying? Sometimes I can accelerate this process by getting feedback from other writers, and their critiques are always illuminating. So overall, I guess my advice is this: hug your critique partners and be patient.
Rescuing The Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words That Built America by Anna Crowley Redding and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
HarperCollins, April 14, 2020
For my book, Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words that Built America, I have more than two DOZEN drafts in my file! And that’s BEFORE the manuscript was submitted and went through revisions with my editorial team at Harper Collins! The revision process on this book changed the way I write because I intentionally began to focus on the scene. So often when we are researching someone’s life, especially when you are writing about history, it’s easy to focus on the action of your main character. But I realized the book needed more depth. Imagine you are in a room without furniture or anything on the walls. Now invite in your main character. As you watch them move through the plot or action of the story, ask yourself what is happening around them? How do you fill in that blank room with the rest of the story. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Discovering that allowed me to branch out my research into what was happening over those three days in Washington. How was news of a British attack traveling through this young capital? What was the weather like? How did people move around? What was the population like? For those answers, I began reading diaries of people who were there and other historical accounts. Those details are not window dressing. They ground the characters and the action. They clarify the stakes. They added depth, texture, and context producing a richer picture of what happened, why, and how. I loved that process and still do!