Last month, I got to finally announce my book deal. It was one of those days that you dream of for years and years and it was amazing. THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is the second novel I’ve ever written, but the book that finally sold to a publisher is totally different from that first draft I started typing two and a half years ago.
I shared on Twitter that it took three rewrites for me to get an agent with this book and three large revisions after that to get a book deal. That tweet got shared a lot and I had a few people want more details about what those revisions were.
So, in the spirit of honesty, and because I feel it’s important for other writers to see what deep revision looks like, I thought I would give you the short version of how my book changed from first draft until now.
My story started out as a light paranormal about a girl whose two dead grandmothers come back as her guardian angels to help her win back her best friend and find her dad and bring him back home.
I wrote it in about two months and as soon as I typed “The End” I knew it had potential.
What it didn’t have was VOICE.
So I let it rest for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and then rewrote the entire thing from scratch. This time with a strong, clear voice that had only shown up occasionally in the first draft. Funny thing, that voice came out in second person. Weird. But I went with it.
After I finished that rewrite, I realized it was in second person because it was a series of letters this girl was writing to her dad. I also had beta readers tell me that the last half was awesome, but the first half was slow and I needed to add more of a goal to give it some direction.
Change each chapter into a letter. Add a goal. (If she does well on her math test, they’ll ride horses on the Mist Trail at Yosemite for her birthday.) Try to speed up the beginning.
I spent several, several revisions trying to fix my tension issues in the beginning. I worked on it from May-August
Then I got a second chance at Pitch Wars and a team of three volunteer mentors who were going to help me with my book. I sent it off to the first mentor feeling pretty confident. She got back to me pinpointing exactly why I was having tension issues. The guardian angels had no real purpose for the first half of the book. She said I needed to give them goals. But then made a gentle suggestion that maybe my book would work better a straight contemporary.
I thought that she just must not have gotten my book at all and wasn’t the right audience for it, blah, blah, blah. But she told me it made her cry and she loved the heart of it and I couldn’t get that suggestion out of my head. So after a week of thinking about it, I decided to give it a try.
No more guardian angels. One grandma with early dementia. A new idea to tie the story together. The three rules for creating the Everyday Magic behind friends, forgiveness, family, etc.
My CP loved it. My mentor loved it. But it still needed work.
Rewrite #3 was more like a series of two or three big formatting revisions that felt like a rewrite by the time I was done. See, I still had this problem of no tension in the beginning of the book. My first mentor suggested it was because all of the letters are written at some time in the future after the story had happened. So I rewrote the letters to being written as the story played out.
Then I sent it to the next mentor and she gave me probably the hardest revision note of all.
The letters weren’t working for her. They were too long and started feeling like regular prose and then all of a sudden went back to sounding like letters. She suggested I change it to a prose story with letters bookending each chapter.
My CP’s and first mentor didn’t agree. They thought I could make the letters work. They LOVED the letters.
***Side Note*** I rarely toss aside a revision note, but it’s so hard when you get conflicting advice. And this whole business is so subjective. How do you know what advice to follow? I have no great advice. All I can tell you is that one of my CP’s who read the earlier drafts of this book told me that she was still sad I got rid of the guardian angels. That she had really loved them. See? Subjectivity. This is hard! It’s okay if you don’t always know what to do.
I decided to try it for a few chapters and then run it by people to see which version won out. I got at least ten beta readers for the first couple chapters.
The version that was only partial-epistolary won by a landslide.
So I changed it and that was a really big revision. Then my mentor suggested I change the prose from past to present. So I did.
Phew! See what I mean about how this series of revision is rewrite #3 in my mind?
But guess what? That tension problem in the first half was so much better. Not totally, completely solved. But so much better.
Thorough Line Edits
Post-Agent Revision #1-3
These revisions were a lot of character deepening for side characters, making certain ones more important, having some show up more, making my mom character more involved, making the bully less stereotypical.
Rewriting my first chapter.
Then two revisions focused on connecting the reader to my main character more. This required a painstaking line edit by a friend with a sharp, sharp eye who pointed out every single place in the manuscript where he felt disconnected from my character or like he didn’t know how she was feeling. It was beyond thorough. It was amazing. But also a lot of work.
I also added a cat. Because kids taking care of cats, I mean, that makes you love a character, right? These were my thoughts.
R&R from an editor!
This revision was a rewrite of probably 30% of the book at least. I added 3 or four new chapters to the beginning, a lot of memories that became kind of a tiny sub plot, I completely overhauled the bully character into someone who I felt barely registered on the mean scale. I did a lot more that I can’t even remember because I ended having to do it on a very tight timeline (10 days!) It’s kind of a blur, honestly.
You guys, my first round of revisions were a doozy. I had to rewrite about half the book. My beginning and ending were both too long, the beginning was still too sad. My bully was still too mean. I had to find ways to show how my MC was similar and different from her mom to draw out the tension and connection there more.
And then she asked me to cut stuff. All that stuff that I’d added to kind of be a bandaid for my tension and connection issues? My editor is so good, she saw right through it. She didn’t know that I’d added the subplot with the math test and the birthday in Yosemite so my MC could have a goal. Or that I added the subplot with the cat so readers would connect with her more. But she picked both out and said, “These are extraneous. You don’t need them. Take them out and you’ll find something else closer to the very heart of your story to replace it with.” Then she suggested something that had just barely come out of all those memories I added in the last revision that I hadn’t even thought were a big deal. She wanted me to focus more on that.
So, that’s two subplots cut. Another character overhaul on the bully. Three or four chapters deleted, two or three new chapters in their place. I cut the ending length in half and added a subplot that served to show my MC’s dad fall further and further into depression. I changed the timeline of the story from six month to four weeks.
It was a huge revision.
And you guys, it’s so much better.
But guess what I’m going to get soon?
More Revision Notes
This is publishing.
Writing is rewriting is probably the most truthful thing ever written about writing.
Not every book that gets published has to go through this many intense revisions. But mine did. And that’s okay. Don’t quit. Don’t get discouraged. Keep working and trying and rewriting.
You’ll get there.
Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.