Countdown to BREAKOUT: Revising again…and again…

Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, which earned starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It’s about a small-town prison break and manhunt that change the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. Why a 23-day series? Because this book was inspired by the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break that led to a 23-day manhunt in June of 2015. 

Revising again…and again…

Turning a book in to an editor is a great feeling. That project that you’ve worked and worked on for months, and sometimes years, is finally in someone else’s hands! At least for a while…

When I visit schools to talk about writing, one of the questions that kids often ask is, “Don’t you feel sad when your editor tells you all the things you have to change to make your book better?” I tell them that, in fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m thrilled. You see, when I turn a book in to my editor, I’m telling her, “Here…I’ve done everything I can possibly to do make this story as strong as it can be. I’ve used every trick in my toolbox, and I’m out of ideas. Help?” When she writes back, her editorial letter and notes give me a whole new perspective on the story. Her questions get me thinking in new directions, and suddenly, I have a second wind. That means that the book I thought was as good as I could make it can be even better.

Here’s what some of my editor Mary Kate Castellani’s notes looked like for BREAKOUT…

When I get this round of notes from my editor, I usually read through the full manuscript first, adding notes of my own when I have ideas for how to address the questions or concerns raised in her comments. There are more Post-It notes, and then I sit down with the whole project – manuscript, notes, editorial letter, big chart and all, and go back to the drawing board. Again.

It’s not uncommon for a manuscript to go back and forth three or four times, or even more than that, before it’s ready to move on in the process. And often, I’ll have additional readers – both regular critique pals and expert readers – take a look at various chapters during this part of the process, too. When the revision issues are all addressed, the project moves on to copy edits, which we’ll talk about tomorrow.

Today’s Assignment: Find a piece of writing you’d like to work on some more, and read it as if you’re an editor getting ready to publish it. What questions could you ask the writer that might nudge them to think more deeply about the characters and their motivations?

Thanks for joining me on this part of the Breakout writing-process journey! If you’d like to read the other posts in this series once they’re all posted, you can find them here.  

Breakout cover image

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