new books / writing

Revision time: making a book as good as you can get it

It’s that time of year – along with blossom and hay fever – when lots of people are revising. I’ve spent the last few months revising too, but not for exams, thank goodness. I’ve been working on the revision of my next book.

Once, when I was talking in a school about the process of publishing a book, a boy asked me how long it took me to photocopy all the pages. If that’s how it worked I think I would give up right away! Fortunately there are loads of people to help me make the book as good as it can be before it’s launched. And I don’t have to do any photocopying.

Writer's Notebook Julia Lee

My latest writing notebook. But having a brilliant idea for a book is the easy bit!

I work and work on the first version of a book before I send it to my publishers. At that stage I think I can’t improve it one tiny bit, but of course I can. And there comes a time when I just have to press Send. My editor will have given me a deadline, and I was still fiddling with this particular manuscript late the night before.

Then there’s a bit when I can sit back and relax. Or, in fact, get on with the huge To Do list that has accumulated while I’ve been concentrating on the story. This time it was Christmas. Then in the New Year my editor got back to me with her notes – lots of encouragement (oh, how writers need this) but also her response to the characters, the plot, the pacing, and so on. Questions, but not necessarily any solutions. I wish! So I set to again, revising the book that couldn’t be improved.

But cut an unnecessary character, and you suddenly find there is no one to give a vital piece of information. Cut a slow chapter, and lots of other things have to be rearranged. And strangely enough, the more you cut, the more the word count creeps up while you try to solve the problems just created. When you can’t make it any better (or any shorter) off it goes again.

For this forthcoming book I did have to cut more – with very useful suggestions from an editor – because it will have illustrations inside (yay!) and needs room for them. It’s funny how you end up parting with favourite phrases, jokes, and longer passages – just because you love them doesn’t mean they really, really need to be there. You press Delete and wave ‘em goodbye without a twinge at last, because that’s what revising is all about. And you need other people to help you see it.

By the way, I still have recurring dreams about taking my A-levels without having done any preparation. And so does everyone else I know!


Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection will be published by Oxford University Press in January 2016.

2 thoughts on “Revision time: making a book as good as you can get it

  1. Hi Julia,

    I’m working on the 5th edit of my story right now, going though everything so steady to make it as real as it can get, so you can see everything that happens in this story. 🙂 Everyone on GHB does so well in working on and publishing your stories! 😀

    • You must be very organised, Laura, to know which layer of editing you are on. I just tend to do it constantly, every time I re-open the document. But I find it does help to leave it completely for 3-6 weeks if possible and come back with fresh eyes. Good luck.

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