Rewrite Requests

I have a confession to make. Out of my three (okay, 2.5) pro sales, every one of them has come from a rewrite request. Two of those stories took *two* rewrites to make them fit the editor’s vision. And right this very moment, I’m awaiting response for another rewrite request.

Frankly, I’m terrified.

Getting a request for revision scares the crap out of me. On one hand, it’s wonderful to hear that your story has caught the attention of an editor. The things that are good about your piece are clearly working. But then you’re challenged to go beyond your original concept and make changes. I always worry that in fixing the problems (or shifting the concept, in the case of one piece), I might destroy all the good stuff by accident. And I also worry that I just don’t have the talent or intelligence to solve a problem I clearly missed on my own.

Now that I’m working in editorial, I’m starting to see the process from the editor’s perspective. Some stories are so cool you just really want to buy them, but sometimes there are issues that keep a piece from really gelling. Finding a way to express the problem–without just handing the author some canned solution you, the editor-type, came up with–is difficult. What makes a story great is the unique expression of the author’s world, and losing that unique flavor is the last thing any of the editorial staff want to happen.

So far as a writer, I haven’t had a request for revision that didn’t make good sense, and I’ve been able to make the changes in my stories without undermining my original ideas. I know that doesn’t always happen. I don’t even know what I’d do if i was in that position! I’m eager to hear your stories and advice about times you received rewrite requests, especially ones that were really challenging. What did you do? Were you able to work out a compromise? Was it a good experience?

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  1. Casey Seda
    23/08/2011 at 12:27 pm Permalink

    Have not received any rewrite requests, but I have certainly sent them out. Although I’ve not accepted many of them. I’ve only had one author be completely unwilling to make simple changes. But after having one accepted story with a mostly unaccommodating author I tend to dole out the rewrite requests a little more.
    However, my worst experience so far has been with an author agreeing wholeheartedly with the changes, making them and taking the story elsewhere.

  2. Wendy Wagner
    23/08/2011 at 2:18 pm Permalink

    Oh, heartbreaking! I can’t imagine being such a turncoat. I bet you spent a lot of time on those revisions, too.

  3. Casey Seda
    23/08/2011 at 2:39 pm Permalink

    I did. I fully expected she could make the changes.
    Oddest thing is it went to another zine for less $. I think that it may have been a simultaneous sub and was accepted there so she went for the sure thing. This wasn’t the first time I’d approached this author about possibly buying a story to find out someone else picked it up first.

  4. Christie Yant
    23/08/2011 at 1:16 pm Permalink

    I’ve only received one, and I decided not to rewrite it at this time. The changes the editor asked for defeated the whole point of the story–and they even admitted as much in the notes. I sent it to the next market. If it still hasn’t sold a couple of years from now maybe I’ll consider making it a different story, but not yet. 

  5. Ben Godby
    23/08/2011 at 2:02 pm Permalink

    I’ve had three rewrite requests. Only one of them sold, but in all cases the stories were made better. I don’t have any readers anymore, effectively because I become too easily bored with a story once I’m finished to deal with the critique/revision process, but when I get serious criticism from an editor it tends to be more seriously useful – or at least appear that way to me – and so I alway act on it. So far, I haven’t regretted it: even those rejected rewrites are better stories for the experience.

  6. Mae Empson
    23/08/2011 at 2:38 pm Permalink

    I’ve had four rewrite requests. 

    Two were to help the story best fit the anthology and market.  Both sold with the edits.  In both cases, I felt like the alterations gave me insight into the market.  One was easy for me to do — I felt like it just clarified the framing of the story.  I liked it better for the change.  The other was hard for me to do — I had to really think about whether I was willing to explore a modification to an ending that changed the tone.  Ultimately, I did it.  That’s the one case where I liked the original and the revision equally well. 

    The other two were definitely to fix technical problems.  These gave me insight into my craft (as opposed to learning about the market).  I really appreciated that the editors took the time to think about what was strong and weak in the stories.  I could see the issues once identified, and was more than happy to make the changes.  They were definitely improved by the edits.  Of these, one sold and the other didn’t.  But, it was definitely improved by the edit, and that will hopefully help it at other markets. 


  7. Paolo Chikiamco
    23/08/2011 at 2:39 pm Permalink

    I’ve had one recently, but it was more of making explicit a few things that I’d only implied (or tried to be “subtle” about), so that wasn’t too difficult–although I do admit to worrying about whether the editor was only asking for a rewrite because it was a solicited story (and I’d already been paid), and wondering if it would have been an outright rejection otherwise. I’m paranoid that way, I suppose.

    I think the fact that as an editor, I’ve asked for my fair share of rewrites has helped me be a lot more receptive to the idea of acceding graciously to similar requests made of me. At the moment, my default I think would be to attempt any rewrite suggestion, no matter how much I disagree, and then make a decision as to whether or not to resubmit the story after I take a look at the rewritten version. I don’t think I would be able to objectively judge a rewrite request until I had two versions of the story to look at.

  8. Alan Smale
    23/08/2011 at 3:16 pm Permalink

    In 30-ish published stories I’ve had 2 rewrite requests. The first was for the story that became my first fiction sale, where my heroine just didn’t have enough agency in the resolution of the story. Rookie error. The second was where I had 3 POV characters in a 10,000-word story and Shawna McCarthy (Realms of Fantasy) basically said “No, uh-uh, you only get two.” To fix that I had to literally rewrite a third of the story from scratch (see how that works? ;). It was a bear to do, but it made the story so much stronger that it was a real learning experience for me.

  9. James L. Sutter
    23/08/2011 at 3:24 pm Permalink

    I’ve both given and received a number of rewrite requests. While in the past, I’ve had some serious moral quandaries about whether or not to make an editor’s changes, these days my motto is “whatever the editors want, they get.” The way I see it, you can either have a story that’s 95% your vision and gets published, or 100% your vision and sits in your drawer. Sure, maybe you can sell it elsewhere, but as I do more and more work for tightly themed and shared-world anthologies, that seems like a harder road. An editor’s requests would have to be really, really bad for me to give up a projected sale.

    Of the various rewrites I’ve done, all have eventually sold to the folks requesting them (though there are one or two out right now, so hopefully I’m not jinxing myself). Some of the revisions were to keep me in step with the anthologies’ themes. Others were simply the editor asking for more of what they liked best and pointing out problem areas that could be fixed up–just flat-out encouraging me to make it better. The most significant (three full drafts) was a commissioned story that I’d done in a rush, and which the editor called me out on (correctly) for not having much of an arc–by the time it was done, that story was WAY tighter.

    That said, it can be really hard to get rewrite requests you disagree with. I’ve had editors want me to explicitly state things that I thought I had elegantly implied or ask me to cut huge chunks of load-bearing material. In both cases, I was sure to make an effort to change as much as I thought I could and see if we there was a compromise in there somewhere. The only things that I ever truly push back hard on are grammatical issues. We all have our editorial blind spots, and I’ve definitely held my ground over changes that would make the grammar outright incorrect (usually those pesky tenses). Fortunately, most editors are pretty cool about such things.

    In general, though, the best writing advice I can offer is: don’t argue with an editor unless you absolutely have to. Even if you win the battle and they publish your story as-is, they’re unlikely to publish your next one–nobody wants a reputation as a difficult author to work with. I’d rather have 20 almost-perfect stories in print than one perfect one. In our industry, quantity counts for a lot.

    (And hey, it could be worse–in newspapers and game writing, editors don’t even ask you for rewrites, just buy the story and revise it themselves under your byline…)