Colleen Coble

Best-selling author Colleen Coble's novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, ACFW Book of the Year, RWA’s RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers' Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has nearly 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers and is a member of Romance Writers of America. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana and is a proud new grandma. When she’s not spoiling her granddaughter, she is teaching at a writer’s conference or researching a new book. Visit her website at

The Joys of Revision

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I heard you complaining about having to change your novel. I’m here to change your mind. I felt the way you do once upon a time. But that was before I realized what a blessing it is to have such focus on my work. That was before I realized we authors are too close to our work to see it clearly.

Here’s my process.

Revision letter arrives.

1. Dance! Shout out whoo hoo. Do whatever it takes before you open it to have a great attitude. The process is a matter of attitude. If you are determined to make this a good experience, it will be much easier. Tell yourself there will be great things in there to make your book better.

2. Take down your defenses and realize that any criticism is meant to help not hurt. Don’t make it personal.

3. Reinforcements have arrived! When I’m writing a book, I feel like a draft horse pulling a heavy wagon up a mountain by myself. When I get the revisions back, I’m suddenly assisted by another draft horse or two, and we’re coasting down the mountain toward a charming town in the distance. Allow yourself to brainstorm the suggestions and see the possibilities.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Open the e-mail and read.

1. The Good. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down. Read the good things the editor says. Allow yourself to savor those, all the while knowing the medicine is coming. Linger over those passages.

a. Here is one nugget I savored for The Lightkeeper’s Bride: It’s been a long while since I finished a subedit read and thought, “I don’t think there’s a whole lot that needs to be done, here.” Wow.

2. The Bad: Now comes what didn’t work. Read through the entire list of things that need to be shored up.

a. One item my editors said to change in The Lightkeeper’s Bride meant some big changes, but they were right: Katie’s father: consistent characterization. He’s bad, he’s good, he’s bad again. Ami wonders if he shouldn’t die, given that happened in the last book. That would open up a whole lot of other opportunities for development—and impact on Katie.

3. The Ugly: Often after reading a revision letter, you feel overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. But ugly as it looks, it’s possible to do this work in much less time than you ever imagined.

Gear up for the Journey

1. Read the letter again. Even a third time. I always miss some things. If you’re already excited about some changes, call your editor (or crit partner) and talk them through. If you’re not quite there yet, sleep on it. The next morning read the suggestions again and try to get excited. Try not to look at how much there is to do, because it can be overwhelming.

2. Call your editor if you haven’t already. Have the items up for discussion flagged. Then settle in for work.

Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time: Break down your work into manageable pieces.

1. Print it out. Highlight important plot points that need to be changed and things the editor says don’t make sense.

2. Make the small changes first. Erin usually has small inconsistencies marked by page number. I fix those little things because they are easier to find before I make major changes.

3. Tackle plot issues. I go back to my scene outline. Where can I drop in another scene or expand a current one that will allow me to fix those problems? Can I move a scene for more impact?

4. Layer in those character fixes: I use 3 x 5 cards and write down character issues like Katie needs control: show. Or Hates glasses—things that can be easily dropped into existing scenes. Also, list scenes that need to be changed to more reflect who the character is.

5. Theme issues: Where can I layer in more thematic punch?

Finishing What You Started

1. By now my printout is a mishmash of highlights, checkmarks, and coffee stains. (Coffee is indispensable for editing!) Print it out again and read it with a fresh eye. Did you miss anything that needs to be fixed?

2. The editor has given you her best shot. But this is your chance to enhance your book even more. Often after we get those notes, we see the book in a whole new way. Love that about editing! So I always reread my character outlines. I learn about them thoroughly, even more through the writing of the story. Has my character changed any in my mind? If so, now is the time to enhance those changes with small tweaks in the inner and outer dialogue.

• Is that truly how the character would react?

• Am I making their emotions clear enough? Too clear?

• Is that really what the character would say?

• Am I hedging their true emotions because I don’t want readers to hate them? (I’m often guilty of this one—I don’t let my characters get mad enough or rude enough or jealous enough, etc.)

• Would my character really do that? If it’s unexpected, do I properly explain it to my readers?

• Do I have too much back story? Not enough?

• Do all of my characters have their own unique motivations and stories? Do I make them clear when needed?

• Is my main character compelling? Are secondary characters interesting? Is the villain a true conflict?

• Are all my characters necessary? Can some be combined or cut?

• Do my characters propel the story forward with their actions and words?

Things I focus on while line editing:

• Showing not telling

• Varying description/improving it

• Ensuring my details are consistent throughout (i.e. character has same eye color throughout story)

• Tightening chapters and making sure they break properly

• Changing repetitive words and actions (Eye rolls, sighing, and gasps don’t pack a punch if they happen too often.)

It’s Over, Right?

1. You pressed SEND and the job is done, right? Um, wrong. There is another set of edits, the line edits, to come. This is where the editor actually changes things in your document. This is often the hardest stage for writers. It can make them feel like they were wrong to choose a certain word or a certain phrase. But this is where I often learn the most. I see what commas Erin leaves in or adds or removes. I see how she tightens the manuscript yet still maintains my voice.

2. The manuscript comes with Track Changes on. You can reject or accept any changes. And really, it’s okay to reject anything that doesn’t work! But keep your prickles down. Don’t reject it just because the editor dared to change your prose.

3. Talk through any issues you see right away. For example, editor used italics or semicolons. I never use semicolons and use italics only for emphasis. This is a hill to die on for me.


The Lightkeepers Bride