The Revision Process

Originally Published: August 2012

by Sheila DeCosse

An author and editor described how they take a manuscript from initial submission to bound book in the June 2012 SCBWI Metro-NY Professional Lecture.

Lisa Greenwald, author of several middle-grade and YA novels, and Maggie Lehrman, Senior Editor at Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, described with honesty and humor how an editor strengthens a manuscript and a writer handles the editor’s suggestions.

They first met when Greenwald’s agent sent her first manuscript to Lehrman. Author and editor met to discuss it. “The most important thing at that meeting,” Lehrman said, “is that you agree on what you like about the manuscript. Then you try to make those good things even better. I also wanted to know if the author was a sane person.”

Ultimately, Greenwald said, that first project didn’t work out and was never published, but she later sold her second novel to Lehrman as My Life in Pink and Green. Lehrman eventually purchased four novels from Greenwald.

After she first reads the manuscript, Lehrman said, she sends the author an editorial letter suggesting major revisions. The one for Pink and Green was 8 or 9 pages long, single-spaced.

Lehrman added that her editorial letters often include the phrase, “Wait a day or two before calling me.”

Greenwald said she read the letter “at least 30 times” to absorb the suggestions. For her second book, Lehrman called for changing from a single point of view to three points of view. “That was huge,” said Greenwald, but since they agreed on the book’s strengths, “the heart of the book didn’t change, even when two thirds of it got rewritten.”

Lehrman explained that editor and writer meet and discuss their concerns before actually beginning revisions, which may take 6 or 7 weeks. There are usually two editorial letters and some “extra-long emails” during this time.

After the major revisions are made, Lehrman said, the manuscript advances to line edits, where the editor reviews finer matters like word choice and chapter endings. Editor and author go back and forth until both accept all the changes.

The manuscript then goes to the copy editor, who checks facts and grammar, makes sure time passes accurately in the story, and keeps everything consistent with the house style. The editor and author then get the manuscript back and resolve any conflicts.

Next, the manuscript goes to the designer, who discusses ideas for the cover with the editor and designs the book’s interior.

Finally, galleys are sent to proofreaders and the author for final reads, then to the marketing department. At this point, Greenwald said, “The author can take a deep breath and begin thinking about the next book.”

The entire process for My Life in Pink and Green took about three years.

Ultimately, Lehrman said, “The editor’s job is to communicate well.” Greenwald added, “It’s an extremely collaborative process.”


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