Gae Polisner: 2k11

Introduced first in 2007, debut children’s authors have formed a cooperative effort to market their books. I featured Revision Stories from the Classes of 2k8 and 2k9 and this feature returns this year with the Class of 2k11.

On Revisions and The Pull of Gravity

Guest post by Gae Polisner

I have revised The Pull of Gravity (Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, May 2011) at least four times, including two major overhauls and two significant clean-up revisions. As for the two major overhauls, during those, I rewrote, added, removed, and, um, then restored, scenes and changed the entire chronology (as further described below), and yet, ultimately, it remains the original book I shopped to my publisher on Day One. Only – I’m pretty sure – better.

Revision Struggle Invisible to Readers

I think maybe that is the key to revision – that the hours of sweaty frustration, doubt, exhausted temper tantrums and sometimes tears cannot be tangibly seen – or picked out – in the final version, only viscerally felt as you read a more cohesive, engaging story.
At any rate, here’s the shaggy-dog tale of revisions in my case.
Through serendipity, my editor (the eponymous Frances Foster) got her hands on a very early version of my manuscript (then called, Steinbeck, The Scoot, and the Pull of Gravity). She loved and adored it (while I’m sure feeling it needed some good hard work), and so passed it around “the house” in anticipation of resounding agreement. Which it did not get. Instead, one well-regarded editor in particular had some harsh criticism and strong reservations, and, as a result, my editor reluctantly passed on it.

Battered but not deterred, I set to work revising so we could send it out wide to other publishers, bearing in mind the harsh, yes, but at times insightful, criticism of the Editor-Who-Did-Not-Love. At that time, at my then-agent’s recommendation (and despite my own concerns), I also monkeyed with the chronology of the story.
As my agent and I were about to shop it wide, Frances came back asking if revisions had been made and if she might see it again. From there, it passed muster house-wide.

A book deal was made (hooray!) and then I sat down with Frances.
She loved some of the revisions that had been made, some fleshing out of the story, some fixes of you-know-who’s issues, BUT she missed the original chronology and wanted it restored. Easier said than done, to keep the new but restore the old and seamlessly weave it together.
I’m guessing that one revision back took a hundred hours. But without the full exercise, I wouldn’t have had some of the great new scenes and fleshing out, and, moreover, I wouldn’t have had a book deal.
The thing with revisions is you have to breathe, and you have to be patient and painstaking. And you have to be willing to put in the time. Because, for most of us, the first draft is just that: drafty. It’s the revisions that make the book.

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