The Art of Revisions

Since I’m currently working on revisions to my upcoming fourth book, I thought I would make my return to blogging by talking about revisions and sharing some (hopefully!) helpful tips. I’ve been known to say that revising is my favorite part of the process – though I also love drafting something new, there’s something especially exciting about getting in there and polishing the words you’ve already written to make them shine, about adding new scenes that you couldn’t have dreamed up the first time around, about tightening and fleshing out plot threads, about beefing up your character arcs and characterization and really making the characters real, flesh-and-blood people. And since I know I can get in there and revise until the cows come home, it lets me loosen up a bit while drafting and helps me shut off my inner editor. Once you get it down, you can always fix it later, but you can’t fix a blank page!

I used to be way more intense about revisions than I am now. My agent loves this story: when I was revising The Violinist of Venice, I typed out each draft manually. The entire thing. As in, I printed out the first draft, put it in a binder, and had it next to me on the desk, and retyped every single word for the second draft. Then I did the same thing again for the third. Retyping it all each time forced me to really consider each and every word and whether it was necessary, and whether it was the best word choice.

Needless to say, this method took forever (especially since the earlier drafts of Violinist were WAY longer than the final draft), and as such, I don’t revise that way anymore. What with now having deadlines to meet, I don’t have that much time to take on a round of revisions. I’m glad I did it, since as an exercise it most definitely made me a better writer and honed my skills, but it’s just not practical at this point in my writing career, nor perhaps as necessary given the experience I’ve gained since then. That’s not to say I wouldn’t ever retype portions of a manuscript again if I was feeling very stuck, so I DO recommend this method on the whole (if you have the time, that is).

My current process, then, looks like this: I start a new Word document for the new draft, then I’ll copy and paste a chapter or two at a time from the original draft into the new document; I read through it, and make whatever changes/deletions are necessary. New chapters/scenes/what have you are just written directly into the new document. The research never ends, of course; I’m always looking up or confirming things as I go. That’s happening a ton with book 4, as most of the plot is centered around actual historical events. I mapped those out (in terms of dates, who was involved, etc.) for the most part when I made the outline for the book, but with changes being made and new information added, I’m doing a lot of double checking, or looking up things I didn’t initially realize I needed to know.

When I’m drafting, there are things I know I’ll have to flesh out more or perhaps tighten in revisions, but part of tuning out my inner editor is pushing all that to the side and just getting the draft done. So as I draft I often make notes of those points for myself, so that when it comes time for revisions I remember any problem areas. The notes also help when I send the draft to my agent and critique partners – I usually provide them with a list of specific things I’d like feedback on, such as whether a plot point is working, whether a characters actions are believable and make sense, if a certain plot thread needs to be fleshed out more, whether I accomplished a specific thing, etc. The list goes on. It helps me push certain concerns aside when I’m drafting to know that I can run it past some fresh eyes later on. Sometimes the things I think are concerns actually are working way better on the page than I thought; sometimes I’m spot on about what’s working and what’s not. And sometimes my critique partners find issues I wasn’t even aware of! That’s why they’re great to have. You can never see your own work completely objectively, so those fresh, outside eyes are key.

With that said, though, I do have to let my drafts site for at least a month before I can start to revise. The distance gives me some measure of objectivity that I can’t have when I’m up to my elbows in it all the time. If I can let it sit longer, that’s even better (and usually I do, to give my agent/critique partners time to read). I always make sure to build that time into the process when working out deadlines with my publisher. Indeed, when drafting OR revising, part of the reason I never work every day is that I find it really helpful to just take a couple days off here and there as I go, to get my mindset at least a bit more fresh when I come back to it.

With book 4, I spent most of my energy in the outline and first draft getting all of the historical events worked out and in place. One of my narrators is a real historical figure, and one is not, so I had to make sure I knew where the former was and what he was doing at any given time (and if I wanted to deviate from the historical record, to figure out what he was doing instead and why/if the change was really necessary) and then fit the latter narrator into those actual events. It was a lot to juggle, so one of my big focuses for this revision is to flesh out the characterization of the fictional narrator, as she fell a bit by the wayside at times in the first draft. So far this is going really well, and she is coming much more to life then she did in the first draft. She’s becoming more complicated and nuanced, and I love her even more now!

I’m also making a big addition of a new plot point, based on a series of actual historical events that occurred that I left out of the first draft. These particular events were actually a pretty big deal historically speaking, but my problem when working on the first draft was that they occurred around the same time as something else that happened, and which I made the emotional climax of the novel. So from a craft/narrative perspective, I couldn’t have both of those things happen at the same time. After the first draft was done, I knew I really needed to figure out how to add the one in, and eventually I figured it out – I’m going to shift the new event to occur sooner than it actually did, before that big emotional climax. This is one of the ways that historical fiction authors can take creative license – these things did occur, but I’m just having them happen at a slightly different point in time. Then I’ll note that change in my author’s note – that best friend of historical novelists – and explain what I changed and why. After all, I’m writing fiction, not a nonfiction, factual account.

I’m also excited for this new plot point because I’ve found what I think will be a great way to insert my fictional heroine into the events, thus fleshing out her story even more. This means, of course, I’ve got more research to do (I’m pretty well-versed in the historical events and context of what I’m adding, but to write about it well I’ll need to do a quick deep dive) but luckily there is lots of information and lots has been written about these particular events and the people involved.

A question I’ve gotten quite a bit – whether when speaking to book clubs or from aspiring/beginning authors – is how do you know when a book is done? When your revisions are done? When it’s ready to submit? How I answer this question for myself is a bit different now than it was when I was working on Violinist and had to decide when to query. Now, when I’ve done a good, solid revision, I’ll send it to my editor, and she and I will continue to revise and make changes together. I don’t ever send my editor a first draft – only my agent and critique partners see those – but something that’s been revised once but is still in need of more polishing. That’s her job, after all – to be yet another set of fresh eyes and find all the things that both I and my critique partners missed, and bring her own unique perspective to it (and believe me, she is GOOD AT IT). I’m leaving lots of notes for her in the manuscript, for questions I have and things I know I want to talk with her about. Book 4 is my most ambitious undertaking yet, and I love challenging myself, but that means this one may need more help than my previous books.

With all that said, though, the question I always ask myself towards the end of the process – and what I asked myself before I decided I was ready to query Violinist is this: Am I actually improving the book, or am I just changing things to change them?

Look, you can revise and make changes forever. It could literally be an endless process if you let it. You’ll never stop coming up with ideas for things to add or change, and every time you read through your work you’ll find something to tweak. Case in point – a few months ago I thought up a really nice description for one of Adriana’s dresses in Violinist, then remembered, oh yeah, that book has been published for over two years now. Your brain always keeps working on those ideas and characters – especially if they’ve been a part of your life for a long time, as that book is for me. Had I thought of that description when I was still working on that book, sure, I would have added it in. Would it have made the book any better as a whole? No. It was just some imagery that I liked. It wouldn’t have changed how readers responded to the book or how well it sells. There’s a really great saying – I can’t remember with whom it originated – that books are never done, they’re only due. I think that sums up revising quite well.

So you see where I’m going with this? You can hang on to a manuscript forever and keep making little tweaks, but at a certain point I think that you stop actually improving the book and are just making it different. And when you hit that point – when you’re just making changes but not necessarily making the book better – that, I think, is when it’s time to stop, lest you get caught in a never ending cycle of revisions. That’s when it’s time to query, or to send it to your agent, or submit it to your editor. That’s when you’re done.

It can be scary to pronounce a book “done” and let it go like that, but remember – until you send those first pass pages back to your publisher, you can still make changes. If you sign with an agent, they’ll have feedback; if the book sells, your editor will have feedback. The book can still be made better, but I think you reach a certain point where you can’t make it any better by yourself. At least, that’s been my experience.

So I am plugging away at the revisions for book 4, and you know what? The first draft wasn’t as bad as I thought it was (it usually isn’t) and, even though this revision was a little rough for a bit, I feel like I’ve hit my stride and I am really, truly improving the book. I’m getting excited thinking about how this one, too, will go out into the world, and about introducing readers to these characters. I’m excited to send it to my editor. This book has been a long journey, and there’s still a lot to do, but I’ve reached that point where, finally, it all seems doable. Where I can see how I can make this book everything I dreamed it would be. And that’s a really great feeling.

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General Updates, July 2018

I know, I know, it’s been a very long time since my last blog post! Since last fall, I’ve been finishing up edits to The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, and finishing my research for book 4. I’m currently working on my revisions for book 4, which is due to my editor in August. I still can’t say much about this one, but hopefully I’ll be able to share more information soon!

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve noticed that my website looks a little different! I did a redesign in anticipation of the upcoming release of The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel – just three months from today! The banner image graphic was created by my dear friend Jennifer Hark-Hameister from photos we took at a photoshoot that she and I did last October. She took a new author picture for me for this book, and is designing some more graphics I’ll be using to promote the book. She’s crazy talented, as you can see, and I’m lucky to be the beneficiary of her gifts!

I’m hoping to blog more over the summer, as well as do some fun posts leading up to the publication of The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. Is there a specific topic you’d like to see me blog about? Let me know in a comment on this post!

Audiobook news!

I’m thrilled to announce that The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel is also going to be available on audio! It will be released at the same time as the print book. This will be the first of my books to have an audio version, and as I’m an audiobook fan myself, this is super exciting for me!

I’ll share more information (on narrator, etc.) as I have it!

THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL – Cover Reveal!

I’m SO excited to finally reveal the cover of my third novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, out October 2nd, 2018 from St. Martin’s Press. Also below is the synopsis of the novel, to give you a better idea of what exactly the book is about! My publisher really worked with me to make sure the cover had the exact vibe that I wanted, and I so appreciate the work everyone at St. Martin’s put in on this. The result is a cover that I am absolutely thrilled with.

Without further ado, here it is!

I absolutely love the creepy, spooky vibe here, with the blue and the tree branches and the misty forest and the blood-red letters. I also love the figure of Katrina at the bottom, how her posture looks both hesitant and determined. She – and her journey throughout the novel – are captured perfectly in that image. I also love the way this is heavy on the text, as it reminds me of covers or title pages that I’ve seen from Washington Irving’s time.

I hope you all love this cover as much as I do!

Synopsis:

When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase.

 

Pre-order The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel now at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

 

Cover reveal for THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL coming 2/6 + a giveaway!

It’s almost time! The cover for my third novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, will be revealed at noon ET on Tuesday, 2/6, right here on my website. I so love the cover for this book and I can’t WAIT to show it to everyone!

Want to see the cover sooner than everyone else? Sign up for my newsletter here and you’ll get the cover in your inbox an hour before the reveal goes live.

If you need a further incentive to sign up for my newsletter, I’m giving away two early (bound manuscript) copies of The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel to two of my newsletter subscribers. You must sign up before Tuesday’s reveal to be eligible. US entrants only. If you win, I will contact you via the email address that you used to sign up for the newsletter. May the odds be ever in your favor! 🙂

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel – release date!

New year, and new news about my next novel! I’m thrilled to be able to announce the release date for The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel! It will be out on October 2nd, 2018. I think this is the perfect release date for this spooky book, and it’ll definitely make for good Halloween reading!

 

(Note: Above is not the cover image)

You can also add the book to your Goodreads TBR here. And the book s now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Happy 2018, everyone!

 

Announcing My Third Novel: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel!

I am BEYOND excited and thrilled to finally be sharing with the world the news of my third novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. It’s a retelling of Washington Irving’s classic short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but told from Katrina’s point of view. In addition to being a retelling, it’s also something of a sequel – it continues on past the point where the original short story ended.

 

This is, as the saying goes, a book of my heart, and for many reasons. The first is that I love all things creepy and spooky; Halloween is by far my favorite holiday, and I’ve always been interested in ghosts and the paranormal and so on. This novel has allowed me to play with those things, as well as with elements of magic and witchcraft, and what was defined as witchcraft in that time and place (as you’ve maybe already guessed by the title!). I’ve been obsessed with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in particular since I was a kid; I used to watch the cartoon version all the time, and to this day Tim Burton’s movie version, Sleepy Hollow, is one of my all-time favorite films (with my all-time favorite film score). I also love the Sleepy Hollow TV show on Fox, and thus far my editor and I have mostly communicated about this book in GIFs of Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane 🙂

This book is just SO ME in its spookiness that when I first told my mom I was writing it, she just looked at me and asked, “How was this not your first book?”

There are lots of other reasons this book is very close to my heart, though. Like my first two books, it has a strong female friendship, though in Spellbook that friendship, between Katrina and a character I’ve invented named Charlotte Jansen, really takes center stage. I have such wonderful, close, supportive female friends in my life who really inspired me to try to render the full truth of that relationship on the page, and show how our friendships can really anchor and support women through our most difficult times. I’ve seen this play out in my own life so much that I knew it was something I wanted to explore more deeply in my writing.

In addition, Katrina is also the first character I’ve written who is a writer herself. Through much of the book, she tells stories; she tells the local ghost stories and legends of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson River Valley, and eventually she starts writing them down. This, plus the fact that this novel is based on one of America’s most famous short stories, really makes this a story about stories.

And that’s another thing: this will be my first published novel set in the United States, in my own country. I learned so much about the history of my country that I never knew while researching this book, and while I’m certainly not done writing about Europe and Italy in particular, it was a wonderful and meaningful change of pace for me to write an American story. It won’t be the last!

Music also plays a part in this book (though not so heavily as it did in Violinist), and Katrina is also my first heroine who has a dog! As a dog lover myself, I just couldn’t resist giving her a handsome, ferocious, but sweet canine companion. And for my fellow dog lovers, please note: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BAD happens to the dog over the course of the book, I promise!!

You can check out my Pinterest inspiration board for the novel here.

I love this book so much and it is so meaningful to me in so many ways that I’m thrilled to be able to share it with the world at last! I can’t wait until it is on shelves for others to read, but in the meantime stay tuned for more updates on the book – such as the official release date, synopsis, and cover – as I have them. I am so excited for you all to meet my Katrina!