How To Revise Your Novel: Get the Book You WANT From the Wreck You Wrote

No matter how you got there –
30-day NaNoWriMo novel or
five years of cautious, patient, writing –
your book is done.

Only now you’ve discovered
revision is ten times harder
than first draft.

“When Even The Pros Crash And Burn While Rewriting Their Books,
How Are YOU Supposed To
Get Revision Right?”

On TV, in movies, in novels, and even on writer’s weblogs, you see people who make a living from their writing laboring through their fifth or tenth draft of a novel, falling behind on their deadlines, struggling to figure out what went wrong, and more importantly, struggling with how to get it right.

And the funny things is, this is one place where popular fiction shows something the way it is.

Most writers, including most professional writers, do revisions like a cosmetic surgeon trapped in an ER.

They’re doing their thing on a patient who isn’t breathing, who has bled from everywhere, and whose heart has stopped…

…and they can’t figure out why that nose job isn’t bringing him back to life.

  • Almost every writer does revision wrong, by starting on page one, line one, and “fixing” the story one sentence at a time.
  • Almost every revision kills most of what’s good in a novel without fixing what’s bad.
  • Almost every first draft never makes it to second draft.
  • And almost every first novelist abandons that first novel forever, tucking it (and with it the opportunity to learn the most amazing part of writing fiction—how to turn first draft-dross into final-draft gold) in a box under the bed.Right along with his dreams of writing something worth publishing.

And honestly, when I got started, I flailed, too.

Holly LisleMy name is Holly Lisle, and I’m a full-time, well-paid, well-reviewed, internationally published novelist. (22 years, 32 novels published with major publishers, 8 novels now indie-pubbed with more on the way.)

But I spent the seven years before I had a career (while I was an RN working mostly ER) trying to get a handle on revision, while I sent out short story after short story, and revised each draft and each project time and again, all the while garnering more than a hundred rejections and no acceptances.

Believe me, I KNOW how hard it is to get a revision right. I got it wrong so very many times.

It was when I switched from writing bad short stories to writing a bad first novel that I had a breakthrough.

Oh, not in sales. Everybody on the planet shot that first novel down.

But in revision, baby. I learned how to rock in revision.

I tore that first book apart, piece by piece, over and over and over, trying to figure out what was wrong with it, why it didn’t work, how to make it work. In spite of the fact that it never sold, I learned an incredible amount from that particular brutal failure of fiction.

I learned so much, in fact that my next novel sold the first time out to the first place I sent it, one month after I mailed it out the door. (And the book won me an award for Best First Novel, too.)

I then had a steady run of about seven years where every single thing I wrote sold first time out. Runs like that don’t last (unfortunately) but I have gone on to sell 32 novels to major publishers in the US and around the world, my new indie reprint and indie frontlist novels are selling well…and I’ve never spent more than a few months on any revision.

It’s not because I know how to write near-perfect first drafts, either. My first drafts are as mangled as everyone else’s.

It’s because I’ve learned the secrets of doing a good, clear, intentional revision, recognizing and saving what works, fixing what doesn’t, and not screwing around for years on going back and doing it all over again and again.

What I do isn’t magic. It isn’t magnificent raw talent. It isn’t genius.

It’s a combination of:

  • an intelligent, focused approach to the problem at hand,
  • a series of techniques and skills I figured out,
  • and a simple system that lets me apply skills and techniques logically, step by step.

None of what I do is hard to learn.
None of it requires a college degree.

And everything I do, I can teach you to do.

The way I revise requires only your desire to fix the book you wrote so that you can move on to the next one, and your willingness to put in the time and effort to THINK about what you’ve written, and what you want it to become…and then to use simple techniques to make the book you image become the book you wrote.

Here’s what several of my students and grads say about How To Revise Your Novel.

Why did you sign up, Carl?

Carl PlumerMy first ever novel, Mad About Undead You, was a mess. It had parts that were genius (IMHO), but most was a scattered, disconnected mess with many scenes that just didn’t belong. The voice was wrong, too, as was the POV.

What were you hoping to get out of the course?
Teach me how to write. Believe it or not, up until HTRYN, I honestly though that great writers never rewrote. (I thought that rewriting was cheating.) I know better now. Rewriting is actually the best part, where it all comes together and where the “magic” happens.

Your most exciting moment while revising?
Just understanding that there is a way to see the big picture, the view from the mountaintop. I was always nose to the grindstone, one scene at a time.

Now, when I write each scene I am always thinking, “What’s the connection to what has come before and what has yet to come in this story?”

How has the course met or exceeded your expectations?

This is Holly’s blood, sweat, and tears. She has put so much love into this course it is overwhelming. I like to say that I now have a PhD in novel writing thanks to the 2+ years I spent revising Mad About Undead You using Holly’s HTRYN course.
Harder–and far more beneficial–than the Masters in Writing that I received from an accredited college. Every day that I worked on my novel with Holly’s guidance, I would ask myself, “How is it possible that I didn’t learn this in college?!”

Now my book is published (indy via Someday Press) and was a Quarter Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards and a Finalist in the Indy Excellence Awards (both for 2013). Probably could have won more, but I only entered those two contests!

The book also has over 20 positive (and honest) reviews on Amazon. Without Holly, I believe the book never would have come to light, and even if it had, it would have been ripped to shreds by Amazon reviewers.

What do you say to the person thinking about taking the course right now?
It is worth ten times the cost! Holly is practically giving away a lifetime’s worth of insight and practical knowledge. She leads you gently by the hand through dangerous and difficult territory.

You start her course knowing little to nothing (regardless of where you are in your writing career), and, if you stick to it and sincerely complete EVERY lesson, you emerge a real writer. A writer who understands and can apply the craft.

Carl S. Plumer

Zombie Ever After   Shadows of Death

Why did you decide to start this course, Sam?

Sam AustinI got stalled on editing my novel ‘Truth Seeker.’  I hoped that it would teach me skills that I could use to turn this novel, and all the stories after it into something I can be proud of.

You’re just now wrapping of the Triage section. What have you taken away so far?

Every time I look back and realise that I know why I kept feeling this novel wasn’t quite right, and best of all I have some glimmerings of how to go about fixing it.

Anything else?

What You Wish ForA great step-by-step way to analyse the problems in my pieces that my logical brain loves, and hopefully when I get a bit further on (only on lesson 8), ways to fix them too.

Is the course what you expected?

So far I’m finding it great. A heck of a lot of hard work, but great. I’ve even found things I can apply while writing my shorter pieces, to the extent that I’ve started self-publishing some of them.

Suggestions for the writer looking here for help fixing a first draft?

MonsterIt takes a lot of time, and a lot of work, but if you are stalled and have no clue how to edit the piece you are working on and make it shine, then this will help with that. I plan to use it again and again with every novel I work on, and I plan to write a lot of them.

Sam Austin

You’d been writing for years, Peter. What were you hoping the How To Revise Your Novel course would do?

Peter CruikshankHelp me find the problems in my manuscript that I was too close to see and develop a viable process for taking a novel through revision.

Any favorite moment?

When I had identified all the problems with my first draft and was able to start “fixing” them.

What skill that you learned helped most?

The ability to systematically identify the areas that need repair and the tool kit to actually repair them :-)

How has the course met or exceeded your expectations?

I never could have realized the issues I had with everything from timing to conflict arcs. HTRYN not only helped me to identify these, but showed me how to correct them.

What would you tell someone considering taking HTRYN?

I spent over forty years trying to write and publish a novel. The end result, a drawer full of unfinished manuscripts. It wasn’t until I completed HTTS and took the first draft through HTRYN that I will be finally publishing my first novel. The Dragon-Called: Fire of the Covenant (Book 1) will be published in October 2013.

Peter Cruikshank

Why did you decide to sign up for How To Revise Your Novel, Jade?

Jade Eby“I had a goal to self-publish my novel by the end of the year and I knew I needed some heavy revisions before I could send it to the editor. I was looking to revamp and realign my draft so it fit together perfectly.”

What is the most exciting writing moment you’ve had because you took the course?

I really loved the introspective moments like doing the Triage Theme Summary…looking at all the things I did right and all the things I did wrong made me step back and evaluate where I was at and where I wanted to be.

What about writing or revision skills you’ve acquired from the course?

The Right Kind of WrongThere are too many to even count! Honestly, I think looking at the novel in a big picture sort of way and breaking it down into manageable bits was the most important thing I learned during this course.

HTRYN course has given me structure and a guide to follow when revising. Though it was a lot of work, I know I’m a better writer and reviser because of it.

Anything you’d tell a writer considering the course?

If you’re serious about writing and about your craft…take this course. Even if you don’t use 100% of the material….whatever you do use is completely worth your time and money! Stop thinking about taking it and JUST DO IT!

Jade Eby

Finally, Anne Lyle

The Alchemist of SoulsIn December 2009 I signed up for Holly Lisle’s latest Writers’ Boot Camp course, How To Revise Your Novel. The course was a revelation, helping to turn my revisions from panicky flailing around in a morass of conflicting ideas, into a methodical process where I felt in control. And I ended up selling the manuscript in a three book deal, so obviously it works.

Anne did a little better than a three-book deal, actually.

The Merchant of DreamsOn the strength of her first novel, The Alchemist of Souls, she’s been nominated for the British Fantasy Society’s Best Newcomer Award.

Her second book, The Merchant of Dreams, is out, and on her blog, she discusses working her way through my other major course, How To Think Sideways, while she writes the third novel, The Prince of Lies.

From the Acknowledgements in THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS
The Prince of Lies“Fantasy writer and teacher extraordinaire Holly Lisle (no relation!) earns my undying thanks for her online courses on writing and editing, without which this book might still be languishing in revision Hell.”

Anne Lyle

To revise a novel well the first time through, you need to learn the three stages of revision.

Think of these three stages in medical terms.

  • Trauma Triage, where the objective is to FIND the big bad stuff before your patient croaks.
  • Major Surgery, where the objective is to FIX the big bad stuff before your patient croaks.
  • Cosmetic Surgery—all that fiddle-farting around you do to make your patient pretty once the big stuff is over.

Okay, making your ugly book beautiful is important. But if THAT’s where you start your revision (as damn near every writer, amateur AND pro, does) your novel is gonna diiiiieee.


So to prevent you from shoving yet another dead manuscript under your bed, with this manuscript you’ll start with intensive Novel Trauma Triage training.

Medical students don’t start cutting on patients the first week of med school. First they have to learn what they have to cut, and what’s healthy and needs to be left alone. They have to learn to recognize and diagnose problems before they can learn to fix them.

So tell me WHY the FIRST thing writers do with a manuscript they’ve just finished writing is to start cutting on it.

If you ever want do to a revision that’s worth a damn, you must first learn to identify all the places in your book that you wrote right…and all the places you wrote wrong.

You, too, have to learn to DIAGNOSE before you can learn to FIX.

In How To Revise Your Novel, you will spend eight full weeks learning Novel Diagnosis and Triage.

Why, you’re wondering, would anyone in their right mind want to spend eight weeks learning to do that?

And I reply:

“Maybe because YOU don’t want to spend the seven years it took me to learn to do a revision that worked at all…or the roughly fifteen years it took me to learn to do a GREAT revision.”

Maybe YOU’D like to learn—in FIVE months—how to do a real revision that actually fixes your book (and every book you write after this one).

You absolutely can learn by trial and error. I sure did.

But I have to tell you, if there had been anything that could have given me a shortcut through that agonizing, frustrating, years-long process when I was starting out, I would have been after it like a drowning woman for air.

Diagnosis and Triage are the MOST CRITICAL revision skills you can learn.

You need them.

And here’s how you’ll get them.


You’ll Learn How to Create Your Target.

This is the most important (and frequently the most difficult) part of revision…and the majority of novelists, including pros, never do itEver.

You cannot hit a target you cannot see. Which is why even big names in fiction waste years slogging through multiple revisions. They never bother to create the target they want to hit…so they don’t hit it. It really is that simple.

You, however, are going to discover:

  • What you wanted to write, and WHY
  • What you actually did write, and WHY
  • And what you want the story to be when you’re done, and WHY

“Why” is the most important question you can as as a writer…and as a human being. You’ll be asking this question a lot in this course, and you’ll be learning to answer it, too.

You’ll Discover Your Promises

There are three kinds. Most writers are familiar with the second kind, but have no clue about the first and the third kinds. You’ll learn to find, identify, and USE:

  • The promises ALL writers MUST make,
  • The promises you intended to make, and
  • The promises you made by accident.

Your promises are the heart and soul of your book—why you wrote it, why it matters, why anyone else should care.

Get this right, understand THIS, and not just everything you revise now, but everything you write in the future, will start making sense and falling into place.

Get this right, and you can make every book you write better than the one before.

You’ll Learn How to Triage Your Scenes

Some writers never get the hang of scenes, or learn the easy rhythm of conflict, twist, and the interplay of characters.

But you’ll learn how to break down what you’ve written to diagnose where your story starts going wrong:

You learn to diagnose:

  • If you’ve written scenes at all—some bits of fiction masquerade as scenes, screwing up your story until you learn how to dissect them and find out what they’re missing.
  • What happens in each one—you’d be amazed at how simple this is…and how many writers don’t even check).
  • What is each scene doing in your story—This is “Why?” again. Writing is all about the “why.”


You’ll Discover How To Triage Your Plot

Plot moves your characters through your story in an entertaining, surprising, and comprehensible fashion. Or at least is does when everything goes right.

In first drafts, “everything” never goes right.

So you’ll learn to identify and diagnose:

  • Your primary plot, where it hangs together, where it blows apart…and WHY.
  • Any secondary plots you’ve written, what they contribute (or don’t)…and WHY.
  • And any evil NotPlots you’ve put into your story that are sucking the life out of it…and WHY.


You’ll Learn How To Triage Your Conflict

Writers frequently mistake conflict for argument (which, unless you have a spectacular “reason why” for it, is the least interesting kind of conflict it’s humanly possible to write). Writers also frequently forget to include any sort of conflict whatsoever in their scenes.

You’re going to to learn how to determine:

  • What kind of conflict you’ve created in every scene…and whether it’s the right or the wrong kind.
  • If you’ve developed it through the story.
  • If you’ve resolved it well, badly, or not at all.
  • Whether it adds to or subtracts from your story.
  • And most importantly, whether it matters.


You’ll Move On To How To Triage Your Characters

Writers don’t have the constraints of movie-makers—mostly this is good, but when you get to character creation, the unlimited writing budget allows the writer to hire every out-of-work character who comes traipsing across the transom of his mind. This is not good fiction.

So you’re going to learn to dissect the following:

  • Who is this character?
  • Why is he in your book?
  • Is he Main, Secondary, Stand-in, or Redundant?
  • Should you keep him, make him work harder…or shoot him?(We don’t mess around with characters in HTRYN. Buggers will eat you out of house and home if you let them.)
  • How does he matter?
  • How can you get readers to relate to him… the way you WANT them to?


You’ll Learn How To Triage Your World

This drives me nuts. REALLY nuts. SF and fantasy writers get it. Historical novelists get it. But everybody else seems to think that any little scraps of world you find lying around are good enough to toss into your world as background.

The story’s world matters, whether your main character never gets off his front porch during the entire novel, or whether he spends the book leaping from galaxy to galaxy, and whether you’re writing mainstream, literary, romance, mystery…or anything else.

And this week you’re going to learn how to diagnose:

  • A world that does or doesn’t fit its characters.
  • A world that enhances the plot…and one that drags it down.
  • A world that adds deep, meaningful conflict to a story, as well as one that couldn’t drop a conflict rock and hit the floor.
  • A world that adds complications…and one that doesn’t.

No matter what you might have thought, worlds in fiction don’t just lie around doing nothing. Done well, they’re active participants in making your story work.


You’ll Discover Your Story and Theme

While you were writing, you may have considered Story and Theme. You may not have. Most writers, after all, give them only cursory attention.

But Story and Theme are what pull everything else together. They refine your target, illuminate the priorities in your promises, and spotlight every Scene, Plot, Conflict, Character and World issue your story has.

You’re going to learn how to diagnose what you have:

  • Broken and abandoned themes, and how they’re broken
  • Weak themes, and WHY they’re weak
  • Missing themes (oops!)
  • And stories that hold together, as well as stories that don’t…and WHY they’re either cohesive or scattered.

By the end of eight weeks, you’ll know how to Diagnose and Triage a novel. Now you’re ready to learn how to cut.


Welcome to Major Novel Surgery

You Will Discover How Manuscript Surgery Works

If you’re thinking, “Ah, now we get to page one, line one, and we start editing,” think again.

You’re going to find out:

  • Editing VS. Revision VS. The Complete Rewrite, WHY they’re not the same, and when and WHY you use each.
  • How to change “what is” to “what needs to be.”
  • And how to refine your revision needs and musts into usable form…what I call The Block Revision process.


You’ll tackle Story and Theme, Take Two

This is where you’ll learn to take the broken, mangled, or even nonexistent story and theme you discovered back in Week Eight and turn them into something whole and good. Here’s where you give yourself what you want, building it from pieces of what you currently have.

You will write:

  • The theme you want.
  • The story you need.
  • And the plan you must have to create them.


You Will Commit to Your Keeper Characters

Earlier, you identified which characters were weak and which were strong, which were cast well and which had the wrong roles. But as you worked through later lessons and learned more about what your story could be, your ideas will have changed and improved.

This week, you will decide:

  • Who stays, WHY they stay, and what they’ll contribute.
  • Who goes, WHY they go, and who gets the good stuff they leave behind.
  • And exactly how each character who remains will connect with your ideal reader


You Will Rework Your Plots and Subplots

Here’s where you’ll take every flawed scene and every misconceived plot and subplot…and you fix them.

You’re going to learn (then put into action) the following:

  • What to do about story length if you have more or less book than you need.
  • How to NEVER Pad, and exactly what to do instead.
  • How to rewrite your main plot to your target, from start to finish.
  • How to add and seamlessly work in subplots, and when and why you want to do this.
  • How to cleanly subtract subplots, and when and why you need to do this.
  • How to turn NotPlots into subplots that matter.
  • And how to cut fat, not meat, in a long book.


You will Track and Complete All Your Conflicts

This is where you make sure you don’t leave any threads hanging, but it’s also where you make sure that every thread you’re running belongs in the story and matters on several different levels.

You will:

  • Fix the places where you committed action rather than conflict
  • Build real, meaningful conflict in “ordinary people, ordinary world” stories
  • Keep only the conflicts that improve your story—and you’ll understand and be able to explain in clear, objective terms WHY the other conflicts don’t make your cut.
  • Track the impact in the parts that have to go, and fix any fallout.
  • Raise your stakes for your characters and your story.
  • Bring it all in to The End and the BIG Conflict Resolution.


Then in…

You Will Work With SIMPLE Time

This week, you’ll learn and master the basics of controlling the timeline of your story events.

You will:

  • Set up your events timeline.
  • Evaluate your use of story time and how it applies to and affects your plot and outcomes.
  • Test alternate story and time orders to find improved conflict possibilities, and learn when and WHY you may want to alter the presentation order of story events.
  • And adapt the time of your story events to create your most compelling direction for revision.


Next, in…

You Will Work with COMPLEX Time

Complex time moves beyond the range of when events happen in the story, focusing instead on playing with the reader’s comprehension of time out of story.

You will learn and put into practice the How, When, and WHY of:

  • Foreshadowing, where it belongs, and where it doesn’t.
  • Backstory—when it helps, when it makes the story drag, and when it needs to go away completely…and how to make it work WHEN you use it.
  • Flashbacks and Flashforwards, and revising through and around them.
  • Past Lives, Alternate Realities, And Other Paranormal Time Treatments, and how to make sure yours work…as well as how to know when they don’t, and what to do with problems.
  • And you’ll make sure your book begins at the REAL beginning of the story.


Moving on, in…

You’ll Learn To Become Consistent

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Beg pardon, but the dude did not write novels.

If you are inconsistent anywhere in your story, your readers will feed you to the lions and cheer while you scream.

So this week, you are going to skip the lions AND the screaming, and make your novel consistent in your development and presentation of:

  • Characters—not just eye and hair color, but personality, direction, needs, wants, and importance.
  • World—“If it’s ten miles from here to Bobtown, how did your character walk there in eight minutes?”
  • Description—Is she carrying a bag, a purse, or a backpack? Is he riding a horse or a pony? Is the carpet ruby-red or blood-red? (Only seen a few rubies, but I’ve seen a whole lotta blood, and they ain’t the same color.)
  • Voice—Not your characters’ voices. Yours. You will design your prose to FIT the story you’re telling, and to blend with your characters, your world and your descriptions to create one smooth, rich experience for your reader.


And then…

Hands ON! You’ll Do Your Block Revision

All your work, effort, diagnosis, planning and rethinking culminates at last in the moment you’ve been waiting for.

  • First you learn the pro techniques for Block Marking your manuscript.
  • Then you go through a step-by-step walkthrough of the Rough Cut that utilizes all the preliminary work you’ve done in an orderly, sane fashion.
  • And then you will take pen in hand, and…


You Will Cut Your Book.

Even if you’ve never made it through a revision before, you’ll have every tool you need to make it through this one. AND get out the other end with a better book than you started with—one where all the stuff you love is still there, and all the stuff you hated now works.

And once you’ve finished your Rough Cut, you’ll move on to the third stage of revision.

It’s Finally Time To Learn
Cosmetic Surgery Revision

Consider…THIS is the place where almost every writer BEGINS almost every revision. Can you see why things don’t work out for them?

This is how writers can do five or ten or twenty revisions on their novels, or spend YEARS, not months, struggling with the details, and still end up with a books they hate!

Scary thought, isn’t it? But nice to know theirs is a fate you can avoid.

But even when it’s time to line-edit, not all line-editing is created equal.


And in…

You Will Learn Line Editing With Style and Grace

This is where writers suddenly start obsessing about commas. Wrong focus. Commas do matter, but not as much as you think.

So you’ll learn commas…but you’ll also learn the much more important subjects:

  • Style and Grace in writing: What it is and what it ain’t.
  • How to shape YOUR voice and weed out what doesn’t sound like you.
  • How do identify the difference between Writing Rich and Writing Self-Indulgent…and how to fix the latter.
  • And how to use the professional novelist’s techniques of line-editing (these are not the same as a professional editor’s editing techniques).


Next, you’ll move on to…

How To Improve Dialogue, Description, Action, and Flow

This week, you’ll dig into:

  • Revising Dialogue: Fixing talking heads, stage managing, trivial dialogue, inane chatter, and clumsiness.
  • Revising Description: Killing infodumps, making description matter, improving your clarity, and eliminating clutter.
  • Revising Action: Writing action conflict vs. FCS (Friggin’ Chase Scenes), big action, small action, and action in stillness.
  • And making it all flow like you wrote it that way the first time.


With that behind you, you’ll get into…

You’ll Do Your Final Write-In With Scenes and Chapters

You’re nearing the finish line, and doing your final handwritten changes.

This week, you will work your way through testing and strengthening:

  • Your beginnings, to make sure every scene has a compelling open.
  • Your endings, to make sure each one will make your reader NEED to read what comes next.
  • Your transitions, to be sure that each one gets your story from logical plot point to logical plot point without including a lot of clutter.
  • Your pacing, so that where you want speed and tension, you have it, and where you want the reader to catch his breath, he will.
  • And finally, you will do one final run through the Step-By-Step Problem, to make sure you have eliminated it entirely.

And with that, your write-in is done.


Now all that remains for this revision is…

You’ll Do Your Type-In

This is the last step before you send out query letters to editors and agents. And it’s a big step, with plenty of its own surprises still in store. (Simple typing rarely enters into the equation, actually.)

So what you’ll learn this week is:

  • How to prepare your manuscript and yourself for type-in.
  • How to deal with spontaneous live revision, and how to know when it’s a good idea, and when it’s a bad one.
  • Handling Type-In Problem #1—Fixing stuff you missed.
  • Handling Type-In Problem #2—Missing stuff you fixed.
  • And, of course, you’ll DO the type-in.
  • BONUS: Plus you’ll learn how to pull your query letter from your revision materials. (No, it isn’t technically a part of revision. But you have the book done, dammit. You might as well know how to send it out.)

And officially, that should be the whole course. But once you know how to do a revision well, your life will be better if you learn how to do “well” faster.


So in…

You’ll Learn How To Modify This Course Into A One-Pass Revision.

I don’t spend twenty-one weeks revising an average novel.

I can revise a 100,000 word novel to publishable quality in about a month…and I only do ONE revision.

I still do EVERYTHING you’ve learned in this course. But I’ve learned over the years how to streamline the process.

So now that you have the skills, in this final lesson you’ll learn:

  • How to never revise a book the hard way again.
  • How to carry what you learned about your writing from this revision into your next FIRST DRAFT.
  • How to do the “Mental Checklist” on paper until it fits in your head.
  • And how to use the course worksheets into your writing and revising future.


Vanna-Smythe-200Why did you take the course?

“I wrote what would later become the first two books in my Anniversary of the Veil fantasy series during NaNo 2009. Fast forward to December 2010 and the books were still just sitting on my hard drive, because I had absolutely no idea how to go about revising them. I was pretty desperate until I discovered HTRYN. I have since self-published both the novels and am about to publish the final part of the trilogy. I’m sure I could never have done that if I had not taken the How to Revise Your Novel Course.

“I was hoping to learn the art of revising, which is something I have very little natural inclination towards. I can write the first draft in a few weeks, but revision was always foreign to me. “Was” I say, because after taking the course this is no longer the case.”

vanna smythe book 1 300Most exciting moment?

“The would have to be the publishing of my first book, Protector (Anniversary of the Veil, Book 1). In the year and a half since I published it, this book has gotten very favorable reviews and I know I couldn’t have done it without taking HTRYN.

Most important skill you’ve learned through the course?

Learning how to dissect the different parts of the novel, such as worldbuilding, characterization, plot, subplot and making sure each part fits into the whole perfectly.

vanna smythe book2 300How has the course met or exceeded your expectations?

At the beginning, I was sure that revision was beyond me. Now I can revise my books in two months, and I am getting faster and more efficient with each book. The course has also helped me plan better for my first drafts.

Your advice to prospective students?

If you’re serious about publishing then this course will not only help you achieve that goal, but also enable you to produce the best work possible.

– Vanna Smythe 

Anne M Beardsley book 300Why did you decide to take this course?

I had a first draft of my book that even I knew was dreadful, but I didn’t know what was wrong with it–just that it didn’t work. There are all sorts of books out there that promise to tell you how to fix your novel (“Send $24.95 and the secrets of writing a novel that will sell millions will be revealed to you. But only if you act now!”), but those only work if you know what’s wrong. Characters? Plot? Exposition? When everything’s wrong, there was just no place to start, until I signed up for HTRYN. Start from the beginning and take it from there. No, start BEFORE the beginning and see where it leads.

What did you hope to get from HTRYN?

My writing per se is (I think) fine–but my plot, characters, etc.–needed major help. I needed to find out how to develop a plot that hung together and with characters that were worth more than lining a bird cage.

What was your best moment during the course?

Three or four times (or maybe more) during the course, after working through the exercises, I’d wake up in the night with a “Eureka” moment and be too excited to go back to sleep. I’d work through the plot twists in my mind, unwilling to disturb my husband. First thing in the morning, though, I’d have to rush out and write them down. To be fair, two of them didn’t work out–but I loved that feeling of “That’s it! *That’s* what I have to do!”

What is the most important writing or revision skill you learned?

To add in the details that make it more visible in the reader’s mind, and to get rid of the unimportant details that do nothing for the book. Do I really care that the barber has six children, never got much education, doesn’t like tomatoes, etc. if he’s only in one paragraph of the book? Probably not. But if the barber’s my main character, I need to know things like that.

How has How To Revise Your Novel met or exceeded your expectations?

I like recipes and I’m a good “follow the instructions” sort of person. When I’m told to “wing it” I’m generally lost. But tell me where to go, and I can be a good soldier (within reason). HTRYN gave me the recipe to make my book better than it was. Like a novice cook, I wasn’t sure what I was doing–but I had faith that if I followed the recipe, I’d have something worth serving. And it is (I think).

What would you say to someone considering taking the course, but not sure if it would be worth his or her time or money?

I’d tell ‘em to sell all their other writing books at the used book store and pay for this [course]. It truly is the only [course] that has helped me. There are things I still have trouble with (how come all the other books about “show don’t tell” only TELL you how to do that?), but going through Holly’s process of HTRYN will give you a book you’ll be proud of. (But I’ll tell you, some days it’s not easy. This is no quick fix. But it works.)

– Ann Beardsley

So What Does This Course Include?

You’ll get one written lesson in PDF format delivered to your classroom every week.

But you’ll also receive worksheets, and (through the first stage, triage) demos in which I show you how to use the worksheets while I revise a first novel written by a new writer.

In these demos, I’ll SHOW you what various mistakes look like on the page, because it’s easier to see someone else’s mistakes than your own.

Along with the lessons, worksheets, and demos, you’ll have access to both topical lesson discussions and free-ranging student discussions in the HTRYN Writers’ Bootcamp. (Our private, members-only community.)

There are some other neat little extras, but I’ll leave those for you to discover as you go through the course.


What If I Can’t Revise That Fast?

Relax. You don’t have to do a lesson a week. The course is entirely self-paced.

You can take as long as you’d like to finish each lesson—every lesson you pay for will be permanently available to you, even if you drop the course partway through.

And once you complete payment, you’ll have permanent access to the course, ALL course updates, and the community. Stay as long as you like. Run through the process again with your next novel. And the one after that, for as many novels (or other projects) and as long as you’d like.

Your colleague in the HTRYN Boot Camp, veterans and newcomers alike, are wonderful folks.


So Who Shouldn’t Buy This Course?

Expecting me to say it’s for everyone? It isn’t.

Don’t take this course if:

  • You haven’t finished a story yet. THIS IS THE BIGGEST REASON NOT TO GET THIS COURSE. How To Revise Your Novel starts on day one, minute one with you working with your completed manuscript that is at least 6000 words long. More than 20,000 is better.. If you don’t have a completed manuscript, you’re looking for my How To Think Sideways course instead.
  • Granted, I once finished the first draft of a novel by writing, “And then I killed them all. The End.”  And this was on deadline. With one month left to do the revision and turn it it. But I had written the number of words the contract called for when I did that.
    And yes, I turned in the revised book on time, using most of  processes I teach here [some I hadn’t invented yet], and it was accepted with minimal requests for changes. And I didn’t kill them all.So FINISHED is a relative term.
  • You think that you can just read the lessons and your novel will magically revise itself. There’s work involved in revision. A lot of it.
  • You expect the novel you’re revising to sell right away…or even at all. I absolutely guarantee that if you do the work, the novel you revise will be worlds better than it started out…but I can’t guarantee that all of MY novels will interest publishers. Publishing is not a business that offers ANY guarantees.
  • You’re arguing, “It only took me thirty days to write the book! Why should I take five months to revise it?” If you’ve seen everything you need to know to do a publishable revision…and you’re STILL thinking that, I can’t help you.

Vanessa-Wells-book“When I found Holly’s writing site I had already ‘finished’ my first book and was about to ‘finish’ my second. I tried to edit them and nearly killed anything worth reading in the process. I wanted to write, but I was floundering, badly. I’d read Holly’s books for years. She tells a great tale. When she said she could teach me to write like that, I jumped at the chance. I was very torn, but I took HTRYN first (since I had two novels sitting around gathering dust.)

“I had never edited anything at that point in my life and made it better than the original. I didn’t have a system, and I knew it.

“I needed help.

“There are so many exciting moments! It’s hard to pick. The moment when it all clicked and I knew that I was going to be a professional writer…that was a good one. Or the moment when I sold my first story. Or maybe seeing the cover art for the first time. That first book sale. I can’t pick just one.

“I think the most important thing I learned was that it was possible. You hear so many people scoff and say things like ‘Oh, there are lots of people who write…not many get published!’ There is no negativity in HTRYN. Instead the focus was on the things you can control: writing good fiction, writing every day, figuring out your core values and using them…and persistence. I can’t say that often enough. Holly’s courses invite you to write wonderful stories and break down why they work (and why they don’t) and then she encourages you to keep submitting, keep looking, and never, never stop. She helps you build that thick skin that successful writers have to have.

“I thought I was buying a writing course when I purchased HTRYN. (laughs). What I got was a course on applied critical thinking for writers. This doesn’t just list off a couple of common problems and give you advice while patting your hand and telling that ‘you really are ok’. Oh, it does list common problems. And it tells you how to fix them. But it gives you the tools to do so much more than that. This shows you how to fix them yourself, from the ground up.

“You literally can not buy this information anywhere else (and no other published author would sell it at ANY price…much less make it available to other writers). After using the information on three books and a dozen short stories, I would pay three times what I paid for the course, and it would still be cheap. As a single mom, it was difficult for me to find money in the monthly budget to pay for this course. It wasn’t a matter of giving up a daily Starbucks or a weekly ‘date night’. It was a real sacrifice every month to pay for it. It was worth every single red cent.”

– Vanessa Wells

If You’re Serious About Writing,
I’ll Make This Course Worth Your Time

And I’ll guarantee that.

There may not be any guarantees in publishing, after all…

But I’m not that monolith, Publishing.

I just a writer who figured out how to beat the odds.

I’m where you want to be, doing what you want to do, making a living at it for over twenty years now—and I’m happy to show you how I got here, and what you have to do to get here, too.


So Here’s My Guaranteeguarantee-med

  • Every single lesson of this course will be worth your time, will help you reach your writing goals, and will get you closer to writing the books you want to write, rather than the books you just end up with.
  • You will have every resource you need to understand what’s going on, and to understand what you need to do each step of the way.
  • If at any point during the first four months of the course, you are dissatisfied with what you’re learning, contact me at Student Support (the HELP DESK on every page of your classroom) and let me know you want to quit, and tell me you want a refund on your last lesson. If you had more lessons due that month, I’ll include a pro rata refund for the lessons you didn’t receive that month as well. (Don’t worry. Every student has direct access to me. No intermediaries. No run-around.)
  • I’ll give you your lesson refund, no questions asked, and cancel your course immediately so you won’t be charged again.
  • You’ll have one full week to decide on any lesson you receive, right up to the day and time your next lesson appears in your classroom.

So How Much Does All This Cost?

Universities charge thousands of dollars for MFAs—but I have students who have MFAs. I teach what universities don’t. (I also have students who have published novels, and who are professional journalists, and professional screenwriters, and have all sort of other writing-related jobs).

This isn’t a rehash of everything you’ve already read about revision.

This is MY process. I figured it out on my own, over years of trial and error—this is the system I’ve used to revise 33 of my novels (and counting) to the point that they sold to major US publishers, as well as other publishers around the world, to be translated into a multitude of languages, and with my most recent novel, which I indie-published, directly to readers.

By the way, I don’t have an MFA, or any other writing degree. And you don’t need one, either.

You also don’t need thousands of dollars.

You just need $49.95 a month for five months. That breaks down to $11.35 a lesson.


Oh, one more thing…


Bonus #1

When Your Editor
Asks The Impossible,
I’ll Show You
How To Deliver The Impossible

Here’s the scenario I’ve lived through several times now.

The Clock Is Ticking

J.T. Famous, star author, missed a final deadline.

Your editor contacts you and lets you know that you have 7 DAYS to win J.T.’s lead-title slot and promotion budget…if you can revise your completed manuscript to fill that gaping hole in your publisher’s line.

In The 7-Day Crash Revision, you’ll learn how—and how YOU become your editor’s go-to pro—the one who doesn’t blow your deadlines. You’ll learn:

  • How to dissect the novel you have, and plan the novel you want
  • How to make only the changes that improve the book, and not the ones that will kill your contract
  • How to hit the deadline most writers think is impossible…(because for them, it IS impossible)
  • How to stay creative and clear-headed in the most competetive and high-pressure situation writers face…
  • How to deliver the book your editor wants—and make sure it’s the book YOU want, too

The scenario (in a dozen different variations) happens all the time—and has happened to me personally several times.

I’ve delivered on time, every time.

And I’ll teach you how to do the same thing.

The first thing you do when your editor asks, “Can you do this?” is say “YES.”

The second thing you do is figure out how you’ll deliver YES.

So I’ll show you how to deliver YES, and when YOU get that call, you’ll be the writer who comes through when no one else could.

On day one of the course, along with your first lesson, you’ll get my 57-page Crash Revisions module for free.

Bonus #2

When you graduate, you get another bonus:

If you’ve ever considered writing a series,
Or if you’ve tried and failed…

You’re About To Learn
The Secrets To Developing
And Writing Series That Sell

Let’s face it. Writing fiction is hard—at least it is if you intend to write well enough to sell your work. Facing down the prospect of creating a series that could run 300,000 to a million words, though, makes writing a solo novel feel like a walk in the park.

In BONUS LESSON 1: You’ll ask the anything-but-simple question: “What kind of series do I want to write?”

You have 192 types of series to choose from…seriously.

Only a few of these will be right for your writing style, your genre, your interests, and the story you want to tell—and starting your series by choosing the wrong series type will make it next-to-impossible to finish writing your series…never mind selling it.


  • How do you decide whether you should be writing a bullet-proof cast, inconsequential-time, big-world series as loosely-linked stand alones?
  • Or whether your story needs a loner-centered, consequential-time multiverse presented as linked sequential stand-alones to make it soar?
  • Or whether one of the other 190 variations would fit better.

Figuring out how to choose the series type that’s right for you is the first thing I’ll teach you.

But choosing a series type is just the beginning.

You need to know:

  • How to create limitations that will prevent your series from turning seriously stupid
  • How to work out in advance the two critical elements each of your main characters must have in order to prevent accidentally breaking your story several books into the series
  • How to design the skeleton world that will keep you on track, on deadline, and save you a surreal amount of time both before you write, and then all the way to series end
  • How to use the Rule of Significance to decide what to leave out of your series—this is equally as important as what you include…and doing this one thing right will make you more creative, make your story fresher, and get you writing faster than you could imagine
  • And how to write your series plan, the tool you’ll use to write and adapt your series from book one to the very end

But that’s just week one…

Into The Heart Of Writing
Your First Series Book

Writing a series is NOT like writing a solo novel. In the first book of your series, you have a whole series of tasks you must accomplish to set up all the books that follow.

Miss a step, and lose readers. It’s that simple.

In Week Two, I’ll teach you how to present your characters, what you must include about them when you introduce them, and what you can hold back.

I’ll show you how to establish the essential details of your world right away, and make sure the readers who will love what you’ve written will know they’re in the right place when they pick up your book.

You’ll learn which limitations you need to get on page one of Book One, and why—and which limitations can wait a while before you break them out and show them off.

You’ll learn how to control your story:

  • What character bloom is, why it’s a bad thing, and how you prevent it
  • How and when to corral diverging plots, and why sometimes you’ll want to let them go their separate ways
  • How to see crashes coming, and what to do before they hit
  • What to do when you lose your message
  • When to let an “unplanned oops” stand, and when to rip out the pages it happened on before it sinks your series like an errant missile through a rubber raft

In Week Two, you’ll also learn the special characteristics of a series novel ending, and how to bring the first book to a close without infuriating your readers, cheating your story, or wrecking the book. You’ll learn:

  • How to determine the nature of your characters and present them as your “first example”
  • How to demonstrate your series stakes
  • How to introduce readers to your long-term theme
  • And how to establish your series “continuity hook”

With your blueprint for Book One established, it’s time to move on to…

Dealing With The Rest Of The Series

The bigger your series gets, the more complicated tracking story events, character changes, plot twists, and loose ends becomes. So in Week Three you’ll learn how to Track and Connect.
You’ll develop your system for:

  • Keeping what happened in earlier books straight,
  • While planning changes you need to include in the current book,
  • While dealing with unplanned changes that could affect your final outcome,
  • Even as you deal with problem characters and
  • Series surprises

You’ll also learn to use timelines. Some of the 192 varieties of series don’t need them, but even if you decide to write one of these varieties, you may want to do a different series later.

And before you even write Book One, which is when this will do you the most good, you will learn to plan your exit strategies.

Strategies? Plural?

You betcha. You’ll plan:

  • The one you need when you get sick of writing the series, or when you’ve reached its logical end.
  • The one you need if your series gets cancelled early. (It happens. A LOT.)
  • The one you need if you publisher throws so much money at you to keep the series going that you simply can’t say no. (Hey, that happens too. Almost never, but it happens.)

No matter how you go out, you WON’T go out by breaking your story, murdering the character everyone loves just so you can get even with your publisher, or writing an ending so stupid people will be talking about it for years. (St. Elsewhere, do you hear me? Sopranos? Sheesh, people…)

And in Week Three you’ll also learn how to pitch a series, both if you’re a first novelist, and if you’ve beenpublished before but have not yet sold a series. You need different strategies for each situation.

BONUS LESSON 4:Student Interviews and Brainstorming

Finally, in Week Four of the How To Write A Series class, you get the videos and transcripts of two student interviews I did that demonstrate how to brainstorm your way through problems in developing your series.

In each week of How To Write A Series (legacy version) you’ll receive:

  • Video lessons with step-by-step instructions
  • Transcripts you can use away from your computer
  • Printable worksheets to walk you through the process of creating your series, and to make sure your information stays where you can find it … always.
  • Printable mindmaps to help you break through complex problems quickly
  • And a couple surprises I’ve thrown in there.

This course in the version you receive (First Edition) sold for $97. You get it FREE when you graduate. (And you’ll receive a pro-rata discount to upgrade to the new, expanded version, if you wish to do so.)

Will Give You The Tools You Need
To Make Every Novel You Write Better


So now you simply have to decide.
Do you want to be like that cosmetic surgeon who’s trying to save a dying guy by doing a nose job?

Or are you going to take on the challenge of becoming the writer who KNOWS HOW TO REVISE?

You Can Successfully Revise
Your Novel
I Guarantee It

Have your lessons delivered to your secure student page every week for 26 weeks. Learn the workable, successful path to getting a good revision the first time.

How To Revise Your Novel 5-Payment Option

49.95/month x 5 months

Lifetime Access To All Course Materials and Forums After Final Payment

22 Weekly Revision Lessons

Worksheets and Step-By-Step Revision Instructions

Forum with Q&A and Discussions

Bonus Course: How To Write A Series 4/Wk Version

Sign Up Today!

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How To Revise Your Novel Single Payment Option

$239 / 1 payment

Lifetime Access To All Course Materials and Forums

22 Weekly Revision Lessons

Worksheets and Step-By-Step Revision Instructions

Forum with Q&A and Discussions

Bonus Course: How To Write A Series 4/Wk Version

Sign Up Today!

Member TOU | Member Conduct | Guarantees & Refunds | Privacy | Disclaimer

guarantee-medThe HOW TO REVISE YOUR NOVEL 100% SATISFACTION Guarantee

  • Every single lesson of this course will be worth your time, will help you reach your writing goals, and will get you closer to writing the books you want to write, rather than the books you just end up with.
  • You will have every resource you need to understand what’s going on, and to understand what you need to do each step of the way.
  • If at any point during the first four months of the course, you are dissatisfied with what you’re learning, contact me at Student Support (the HELP DESK on every page of your classroom) and let me know you want to quit, and tell me you want a refund on your last lesson. If you had more lessons due that month, I’ll include a pro rata refund for the lessons you didn’t receive that month as well. (Don’t worry. Every student has direct access to me. No intermediaries. No run-around.)
  • I’ll give you your lesson refund, no questions asked, and cancel your course immediately so you won’t be charged again.
  • You’ll have one full week to decide on any lesson you receive, right up to the day and time your next lesson appears in your classroom.

You can be like all those writers out there floundering around on their dozenth revision. Or you can learn to do it once, and learn to do it right.

Be the skilled ER trauma doc for your novel.

You can do this.

Holly signature

Holly Lisle

P.S. The course sells as a five-month subscription for $49.95/mon, or as a single payment today of $239 and I guarantee your satisfaction. You’ll be able to quit at any time. If you pay in full, I’ll refund your full amount for the first 30 days, and a pro-rata amount for all lessons not received after that.

If you are on monthly payments and quit at any time before the end of the fourth month, I’ll refund you for the lesson you decided to quit on, plus the pro rata remainder for any lessons for the month that you have not yet received.

You CAN create the book you want from the wreck you wrote. Start today.


How To Revise Your Novel 5-Payment Option

49.95/month x 5 months

Lifetime Access To All Course Materials and Forums After Final Payment

22 Weekly Revision Lessons

Worksheets and Step-By-Step Revision Instructions

Forum with Q&A and Discussions

Bonus Course: How To Write A Series 4/Wk Version

Sign Up Today!

Member TOU | Member Conduct | Guarantees & Refunds | Privacy | Disclaimer

How To Revise Your Novel Single Payment Option

$239 / 1 payment

Lifetime Access To All Course Materials and Forums

22 Weekly Revision Lessons

Worksheets and Step-By-Step Revision Instructions

Forum with Q&A and Discussions

Bonus Course: How To Write A Series 4/Wk Version

Sign Up Today!

Member TOU | Member Conduct | Guarantees & Refunds | Privacy | Disclaimer

Words matter.