My First In-House Rewrites: Specific Details

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm in the first stage of editing: the developmental edits, also known as rewrites. Last week my editor at Bethany House called me to begin our discussion about my book and the big-picture changes I would need to make.

Our conversation lasted over an hour. She talked through her list of "major concerns" compiled as a result of discussion with a number of other editors who had read through my manuscript.

I appreciated that my editor took the time to call and discuss the concerns, as opposed to just emailing me her list. With back and forth dialogue, I was able to get a clearer picture of what didn't work and the ideas they thought I could implement instead.

Today, I want to share a few of the types of things I will need to rewrite. But before I divulge, I need to clarify one aspect of this process. While some of the rewrites will make my book better all around for any publishing house, some of the changes are specific to Bethany House and the standards they hold for their books.

In other words, the things Bethany House has asked me to change are not necessarily industry standards. No one should use my list as an editing check list for their book. Because, as we all know, the publishing business is subjective. What might not work for one publishing house will for another.

With that said, here are a few of the changes Bethany House would like me to make:

1. Setting: I need to do a better job of establishing the physical setting in the opening chapters, set up the town better, show whether it's a large town or village, etc. On the other hand, I've included too much of the complicated political/religious struggle and have to simplify and clarify what's going on.

2. Hero's Character: Bethany House didn't like my hero's character arc. They want me to focus on a different internal struggle than the one I'd originally picked. They gave me a suggestion for another conflict I could develop. And now that I've had time to think about their idea, I absolutely love it! However, weaving this particular thread through the entire book will take MAJOR work!

3. Ending: In the last scene of my book, my hero is locked up in prison. (Mind you, this is mid 1600's England when anyone who dissented from the established Church of England could potentially end up in prison or worse, lose his life.) However, in thinking of what readers like, I have to agree that I need a happily-ever-after. My hero must get out of prison and return to his family. I'll need to do some revamping so that I can release him from jail in a way that doesn't appear contrived.

These are just a few of the areas I'll need to rewrite. There are many more changes, some smaller and easier to take care of and others that will truly involve REWRITING! It all boils down to making my story as appealing to readers as possible.

So what was my reaction after my editor shared all of the key and secondary concerns? What did I do after I hung up the phone? Did I go jump off the nearest bridge?

Stay tuned for the next post. I'll share my honest-to-goodness gut reaction to this whole process.

For today, I'd love to hear what you think about these developmental edits. Do any of the requested changes surprise you? Are you the kind of writer that believes the publisher knows best? Would you be willing to make whatever changes they suggest? Or are there just certain aspects of your story you'd never change?


  1. The prison thing doesn't surprise me. I'd think Bethany House would want a happier ending. I've had to do some major rewrites for the first couple of Heartsongs that I did for Barbour. However, I didn't speak on the phone with the editor, they emailed me the list and I just complied with hte changes. I didn't see anything on your list that I'd never change.

  2. Well thanks for sharing Jody. Your adventures are certainly eye- opening. So Bethany how to say this... do you like working under such, ah, guidance? I am sure the feedback is helpful and will make your writing stronger and they obviously know what will sell etc etc... but does it in any way feel a little like wing clipping? Or do you work easily under such suggestions? Not sure how I'd feel. I am sure I have much to learn and the process can only make your work stronger. All the best with that tall list of edits :)

  3. Number two would be a killer for me. If a publishing house doesn't appreciate my characters, they don't understand me as a writer.

    Now plot I'd consider . . . maybe. Man, I love writing short stories. Love me or leave me suits my writing sensibility much better, I guess.

    Good luck and God bless. :-)

  4. I am all for the happy ending, but agree with you, not contrived. I think many high profile movies have failed because it did not have a happily ever after ending. :O)

  5. The only one that surprised me was the second one. Only because that would be HARD!

    About you liking their idea. That usually happens to me. At first, I hold on to my ideas. I think they are better. But when I loosen my grip and wait a few days to shake off the sting, I find that the suggestions I get for improvement REALLY will improve my book. Then I get all excited to get to work.

    I really can't wait to read about your reaction! Thanks for being so transparent and sharing all of this, Jody!

    I hope your daughter feels better (not dizzy) soon!

  6. I agree with the other commenters, the suggestions seemed reasonable except for #2, because that WOULD be hard. I'm trying to think... what if they asked me to change the arc of one of my characters?

    Um, that's like a HUGE part of the whole BOOK. But, like someone else said, they are the experts, and especially if you like their new idea, go for it. You can do it!

    I wouldn't say there are things that I'd never change... but there are things that I'd strongly prefer NOT to.

  7. First, I'm glad they made you change your ending! LOL I wouldn't like a romance that ended with my hero in jail. :-)
    But the character arc.... wow, what a shocker. It's amazing to me and comforting to know our stories may not be perfect but are still accepted with some editing (or major rewriting, lol). I'd do it. In fact, there's not much I wouldn't do, not because I'm desperate to be published, but because this is just how things are. If you want to get in, you have to compromise. At least in the beginning.
    I'm not saying it wouldn't be hard. I think changing a character arc would be really daunting. Overwhelming, even.
    Not sure how you handled this. I think I might feel like crying on the one hand, but on the other I think I'd like that sense of direction.
    Can't wait to see what you say on Friday! :-)

  8. Well at the moment, I would just be grateful to have gotten a far as you have. I don't know that I would be of the mind that the publisher is ALWAYS right, but what choice do you have? After getting a contract can a writer then turn around and say um, no, this is my book, I'm not changing it. Probably not and if they did, I bet that contract would be ripped up pdq. I think, if I am ever in this position, I will try my best to follow their instructions because after all, they've been doing this a lot longer than I have. I'm never keen on re-writes, but I have learned that in the end, they do improve the book, so I do it with an open mind.
    Good Luck!

  9. I love the pic! That's how my mind feels most days! LOL!

    I'm still overwhelmed by the whole editing/publishing project! But I thank you for sharing your personal journey as it helps me with mine if/when I get to that point where I have a book accepted.

    I am willing to make changes if I can see that they will improve my story. I also know that it is my story and I wouldn't want the changes to cause my story to be rewritten as one from an editor.

  10. Hi Jody,

    I have a policy of always making the proposed revisions. Even, actually, if I don't agree with them. I may mildly explain my position on a change, but I always make it.

    Setting revisions I always get requests for. I'm not a good setting writer, and I expect that comment from editors (and I get it.)

    I've had to change an ending before, which completely wigged me out for about 2 days until I saw a way to do it.

    The global revision on your character's arc? Wow. That's a major rewrite. I'm trying to think of the easiest way to do that, and I'm thinking there isn't one! You'll basically have to weave it through the whole book. I guess I'd use Track Changes and cross out the old storyline and add the new one in a revision bubble each time?

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  11. Jody, I just noticed your new header. Your name looks great up there!

    I'm not suprised, no. In fact, I'm kind of relieved. Because though we most often realize edits will happen when/if our book is sold, I find it encouraging that none of that hinders a good book's chance.

    Best with your tweakage, Jody!

  12. Jody, it sounds like you have a clear direction on how to plow ahead. I love that your publisher to the time out go over the changes in a way that gave you good understanding.

    I think an email would have freaked me out.

    I have been thinking a lot about the setting of my story. I am talking about that today on my post. Thinking about all the direction and feedback the publishing houses bring to the table is actually a relief to me. I want my story to shine.

  13. I think that in your position, under contract, you and the publisher are both committed to each other. I don't know that any one person/editor knows BEST, but that you have a dialogue going, and can voice your concerns and desires, is a wonderful way to make your book shine. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  14. Those are tough questions, Jody. Changing the inner conflict sure could cause concern, if what they want it to be doesn't jive with what I feel the story is really about, or if it doesn't help readers grow as well through my story world.

    I guess it's all a matter of what we hope to achieve through our stories. If in the end, we feel our work will help and entertain readers, then I'd plunge right in, but their suggestions go against my moral and ethical beliefs, then I'd be trying to negotiate a better solution.

    I'm praying for you, Jody!!!

  15. My, but you are sturdy.

    I'd be overwhelmed. But you're right, we must be practical, we must be teachable, we must understand that every book is a collaboration.

  16. I don't know what I would do, though I'm guessing I would defer to the publisher for most things, provided it didn't violate my ethics.

  17. Immediately when I read this I want to know more about what you are going to do with setting. It's so hard to splice it in places in the beginning without plopping down too much backstory. So curious to learn how you work with each of these and thanks once again for being a tour guide on your journey.
    ~ Wendy

  18. Sounds like you have a good grip on how to handle this. Looking forward to hearing how you actually did respond. I'm not sure how I would react. I've been writing for a long time and have gotten used to not being attached to my words. They're just words. And my memoir was, after all, about my life. So editorial suggestions needed my input. But mostly, I listened to the editors and made the suggested changes, and the book was far better as a result.

  19. Jody, I am thinking you didn't jump off a bridge, and that, instead, you absorbed what was said, allowed yourself to feel a little overwhelmed, but in the end, embraced what these suggestions will mean: an even better book! It can be an arduous process, but exhilarating as well (especially when the edits are complete). You are still wrestling with them now and that takes a great deal of courage, but I know you will do an awesome job of it. I think most of us who have been critiqued in our writing more than a few times have a sense of when an edit suggestion is truly an improvement, and when it will carry us too far off from where our heart knows the story needs to be. Trust that gut feeling! I can't wait to read the finished result someday.

  20. The changes didn't surprise me, and I'm glad to know they gave you a phone call instead of just a list. Still, it's some major rewriting and it has to be daunting. You've tweeted some about working on this chapter or that chapter. Are you doing a chapter-by-chapter edit and rewrite, or a problem-by-problem edit? (Does that question make sense?)

  21. Hi Jill,

    Yes, I am doing a chapter by chapter edit! I made a spreadsheet of the entire book, each chapter with each scene. Then I made notes of what changes I need to make in each scene. In other words, if the scene needs setting clarification AND character arc revisions, I do both at the same time. That way I can get the scene exactly the way I want it, especially since there is a lot of overlap. Some scenes only need tweaking and some scenes need a LOT of work!

    Thanks for asking, Jill!

  22. My head is spinning thinking about the work ahead of you. I'm curious. How much time have they given you to complete these rewrites?

  23. Hi Susan,

    Thankfully they gave me plenty of time. I have about two months. However, I'm in the middle of researching my next book. The stacks of history books I've checked out are begging me to read them!! For now, I'll have to neglect them!

  24. I'm surprised by how integral to the plot some of the edits are -- I always envisioned editing suggestions to be like your #1: increase descriptive detail or reduce emphasis on secondary matters. Not CHANGE THE PLOT ARC or CHANGE THE ENDING!

    I'm so happy to read that you've embraced the requested changes! What would have happened if, after careful thought, you had disagreed with these edits?

  25. I'm on the fence with this. I understand that the editors/publishers know what sells. But it's hard for me to see where they can go in and change creativity. I understand they have differing views to which they uphold in their houses, but it's interesting to me how a writer creates a story, the publisher accepts it, and then wants to make major alterations to the plot,integrity, text of the story. Maybe I'm just too darn pig-headed (er...strong willed), but it just seems to be a slap in the face of creativity. Getting published is one of my goals and I know I'll have to face this compromise eventually. It's just so hard to think that selling power could hold sway over creativity. Grrr...good luck with your revisions!


  26. First of all, I LOVE the photo you chose to go with this post, Jody. It's hilarious!

    You really have your work cut out for you. But I like how Bethany House is specific with you. For me, that would make the changes much easier than just vague suggestions.

    I write non-fiction, but I willingly make changes when asked. I don't mind unless I'm asked to slash a word count so much that the article is unrecognizable. That's only happened to me once, and I politely declined.

    Good luck with your revisions, Jody. I pray the paper pile behind your desk is nothing like the photo. LOL

  27. These are so interesting Jodi! I'm a little surprised that they want such big changes, but I think I like you would be open to just about anything an editor suggested. I want my book to be the best it can be.

    Good luck with the rewrite!

  28. This is why writing fiction intimidates me. Wow.

    Don't tell us the whole story!!

  29. We do tend to get attached to our stories and characters, but I don't see rewrites as a rejection of my creativity. I am still in control of the rewrites. They are still my characters in my story. I have just been given the opportunity for more creativity.

    I've also worked with Bethany House editors, and I still feel like the stories are mine after the rewrites. In fact, I like them better after going through the process.

    Jody, I have full confidence that you will handle these challenges with grace and great writing.

  30. I've done one major rewrite so far, the others have been fairly minor. The important thing for me is to remember that the editor has the same goal that I do: To make the book the best it can be. With that mindset, edits are easier.

  31. Phew!

    I'm finally caught up on your blog! I've sure missed a lot.

    I have no idea what to expect from the editing process since I am not there yet. But I don't know if I would just take and make every change they wanted. I suppose it would depend on the situation. There are certain parts of my book that I just love, but I'm open to other ideas. But if I absolutely hated the suggestion, I might fight to keep what I wrote.

  32. Once again, thanks for the insight.

    I guess I'm a little surprised at the nice happy ending. While I like them, I hate when they are predictable or far-fetched. Does it make sense he'd return to his family? Based on the history, and I'm assuming Tower of London (?) how many did get out? Why?

    Anyway, I'd do what they want. They know best :)
    Good luck.

  33. Jody, you're stressing me out! But in a good way. I just think we all need to realize that it is no easy street when "the call" comes in. There is still work to be done.

    Like others here, I'm a little surprises at #2. That's an area I'm working on in my current MS, so I would be troubled to have to change it once I put all that thought into it. But, if someone is going to "help" me come up with a better plan, then I guess I would be all for it.

    I hope your daughter feels better soon! Good luck writing and getting to that research!

  34. Wow, Jody, I'm so glad you shared all of these. Opened my eyes more to the publishing/editing process.

  35. There was a day when I bristled and freaked out when confronted with such heavy duty revisions. But, I watch The Husband and in his line of work the client is king, no matter how hard he works on the content of a video or set design, or what have you, they are likely to shred it to bits and he has to start all over. To him, it's all just part of "the process", so he takes it in stride. When I started writing scripts for some of the productions I had to remain completely open to my work being chopped and dissected. I feel your pain.

  36. Jody, I'd say you're handling the editing process with a fair amount of grace. Thanks for opening a window into it for the rest of us.

    The only one that surprises me is the hero's character arc. Because doesn't that, in essence, change the entire story, or at least half of it? My confusion stems from thinking that dislking the arc of a major character would be something that might cause an editor to pass on a story rather than to buy it with plans to change it later. In a way, it widens the window of hope, I guess. Says a lot about your writing talent, I think.

  37. I don't envy you all the rewriting, but I understand and expect it. While we're cocooned in the initial creation stage of our writing I don't think we give a lot of thought to how our stories will be received. We're writing from heart and head, combining knowledge of technique with a story idea. After months or years of writing and revising we're so intricately involved in that story that it's impossible to be unbiased about it.

    If we are convinced it is written exactly as we wish it to be presented to potential readers, we have the right to withhold it from scrutiny by publishing professionals. We could self publish and put it into the market "as is". The thing about those professionals, however, is that they possess knowledge and experience way beyond ours, and are far enough removed from the story's authorship to be able to give impartial suggestions and guidance.

    I can't imagine being so stubborn about my rights as a story's creator that I would resist help in refining it when that help would give it a better chance to be successful. But, oh, the work! As I said, I don't envy you that. :)

  38. "While some of the rewrites will make my book better all around for any publishing house, some of the changes are specific to Bethany House and the standards they hold for their books."

    Jody, this is fascinating. It never occurred to me that this was part of the edits. How much do you think is worth giving up for a single publishing house? Does it make you feel as if you are loosing some of your novel?

    Good post.


  39. Hi Carrie(CKHB),

    There were a few things I didn't totally agree with. And as I thought through the "concerns" I was able to resolve some of them in a way that satisfies my editor enough but also doesn't compromise what's important to me about the story.

    With most of suggestions, however, I'm trusting their expertise!

  40. Hi Mandy(Creative A),

    Great question! "How much do I think is worth giving up for a single publishing house? Does it make you feel as if you are loosing some of your novel?"

    I think each author has to decide what they're willing to sacrifice. There was one aspect of my novel I wasn't willing to change, that had to do with the ending. At first, after getting their feedback, I didn't know how I could change the ending AND keep what was important to me. But the more I brainstormed, the more I was able to come up with a solution that was workable for both sides.

    Also, I think if there was some aspect that you just couldn't change, then you could involve your agent to help negotiate. That's part of their job too.

  41. Hi Patricia!

    I love your question too! Wouldn't "dislking the arc of a major character be something that might cause an editor to pass on a story rather than to buy it with plans to change it later?"

    I wondered this myself after I got their changes! But apparently they liked either my writing or the rest of the story well enough to take a gamble on me! And actually, the new character arc is already partly woven into the natural plot. I will just need to go through and make it the main emphasis rather than the other one I had.

  42. I just love these posts on what happens after the call! I'm hanging on the edge of my seat!

    The changes didn't surprise me. I've recently had a major "aha" moment via a personal rejection. It's wonderful to know what I need to work on in order to sell my books.

    The great thing is--you only have to hear it once for it to sink in!

  43. Hi Jody -

    Oh my, that's a lot of changes. You're basically re-writing the whole book.

    When I've had to re-write smaller pieces, a few well-placed words can sometimes accomplish a lot. It might not be as extensive as it appears at first glance.

    I'll pray for you. :)


  44. Wow, I love that you are sharing this journey with us. I think you are open minded and positive and it will all lead to good things.

  45. I usually trust the editors. I love that you told us what you will be working on. Makes me think I better work on my setting for my current WIP more!

  46. Hi, Jody!

    I am curious to read about your reaction! I think I'd feel uncertain about some of it until I sat down, thought it through, and even wrote some of it out. Usually when I heed the suggestion I suddenly envision/understand what's requested--and then feel more comfortable, even excited about what I need to re-write.

    Thanks for sharing with us! It really means a lot.

  47. Jody,
    I am actually most surprised by #1. As a reader, i often get bored by too much detail in descriptive settings and will skip ahead. But you have helped me a lot by writing today's post.
    I can only imagine the stress build-up beginning at this point for you, but getting even a little done each day will help. Can't wait until next posting. Thanks.

  48. I'm with Melissa! Thanks for this post, it helps me understand what I can expect when my time comes; which is pretty far off. I wish you all the best with the pile of work you have to do. Love the pic!

  49. Thanks for sharing details. I think I'd probably go with what a publisher asks of me, especially on the first book. They know what sells.

  50. Jody, bless you as you work on this project.

    The best advice I ever heard on this subject came from a professional writer I know. On the subject of major rewrites, she said: "Try it first. Try it and see what happens."

    That is the course I plan to follow, should I ever be faced with what you're facing now.

    If I try it and I can't live with it, then it's sayonara, contract. But I suspect that there are *many* ways to rewrite that can preserve your authorial integrity and satisfy your editor.

  51. I am open to making many kinds of changes to improve my book. However, my book is nonfiction; and there are lots of things I absolutely would not change. Not for fame or any amount of money. I would never make a change that I believed would be less pleasing to God.

  52. Phew! Glad to hear that compromise is an option, and I imagine that it DOES make for a better book when the editor and author both workshop the ideas to come to a revision that will be true to the story and characters but also in-tune with the market.

  53. Love that picture! Sounds like you've got a lot of work ahead of you. Blessings on getting it all done! I love stopping by your blog and getting the "skinny" on your publishing journey. Fascinating, to say the least.

  54. I always love hearing about the process of getting a book to print. One change that surprised me is the character arc. Sounds like it will be a lot of work to change.

  55. Wow, that is interesting. Now I understand why the whole editing process can be so time consuming. For me I guess I would just try to look at it all as a growing experience because it might be tough to change major things in my novel:)

  56. First,I want to say a big "thanks" for sharing this journey.The whole acceptance/ editing/etc. part of "trying to be an author" is still mysterious to me. Frankly, I'm most surprised that Bethany House accepted the manuscript, even though they want such major changes as a new ending and different character arc. I've read so much about the "harsh reality" of publishing--editors don't really edit any more, the manuscript has to be perfect at time of submission, use a book doctor to fix your manuscript before submitting, etc.--it is a bit refreshing (but also daunting) to realize the editing process continues until actual publication. After 10 years of creative writing, I still feel a novice. So I WOULD tackle all the editor's suggestions, especially for my first book. As a professional in another field, I recognize where I do have legit expertise and where I still have a lot to learn. Good luck! Patrice

  57. You share this process of writing/acquisition/editing very well. I've got a follow friday on by new writing blog, and have chosen to feature your blog on it this week. You don't have to do this for me or anyone else. This is just something I've chosen to do on my blog to share information to my readers.


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!