Odyssey graduate Scott H. Andrews will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop; he was previously a guest lecturer in 2016. He will also be teaching the upcoming Odyssey Online class, Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark.
Scott lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, nine guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He writes, teaches college chemistry, and is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the five-time Hugo Award finalist and World Fantasy Award-winning online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
Scott’s literary short fiction has won a $1000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Space & Time, Crossed Genres, and Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales.
He has lectured on short fiction, secondary-world fantasy, editing, magazine publishing, audio podcasting, heavy metal, and beer on dozens of convention panels at multiple Worldcons, World Fantasy Conventions, and regional conventions in the Northeast and Midwest. He is a five-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award, and he celebrates International Stout Day at least once a year.
A magazine editor sometimes will reply to your submitted story not with a rejection or an acceptance but with a rewrite request. (That is, asking you for revisions or changes to the story. For example, moving the point where the story starts, or rewriting the ending. This is different from edits on punctuation or word choice; those are called line edits.) This means that the editor has issues with the story as written, but if you’re interested in revising the story in the direction they feel it needs to go, they’re interested in reading a rewritten version.
Some editors do this frequently, and some don’t. I do it often at Beneath Ceaseless Skies; at least half of the stories BCS has published have had some level of rewrite. Other magazines do it rarely if ever. (A note: for all magazines, if they are interested in a rewrite of your story, they will tell you. If they don’t offer a rewrite request, DON’T ask for it or resubmit a rewritten version of your story. That’s called an unsolicited rewrite, and it’s against the policy of most magazines.)
If you feel the direction the editor thinks your story needs to go is consistent with your vision for the story and you agree to do the rewrite, here are a few things I always recommend:
Don’t rush it! There’s an old-fashioned school of thought that the writer should do the rewrite as fast as possible, to get the story back to the editor immediately, before the editor has a chance to forget the story or buy some other story. In my experience, that’s not true, and hurrying can be worse for the story.
I’ve seen many rewrites that feel rushed. They read as though the author hasn’t taken time to think about what the editor is asking for and the best way to achieve it. The changes to the story feel like spackle spread over a hole in a wall—an obvious patch, visibly standing out from the original; a solution slapped over the story’s problem but not integrated with the rest of the story, not smoothed over and made consistent with the story’s characters or feel or voice.
Take your time on the rewrite. Match as closely as you can the original feel of the story. For voice, try to get your brain into the same “head space” you were in when you wrote the original draft. Maybe you wrote it during a different season of the year, or when you were in a totally different mood; try to get your mind back into that same place, to help make your prose capture the same feel.
Try to get as close to the focal character as you were when you wrote the original draft—what it felt like to be them, moving through the story, facing what they’re facing. One way to get back into the voice and the character is to read the text out loud. That forces you to experience the prose in a new way, very different from staring at it as words on a screen or page. Read aloud the scene you’re working on, then draft your changes.
Once you’ve finished the rewrite, set the whole manuscript aside, for a week or two at least. Just like you would do with the first draft of a brand new story. When you come back to it later with fresh eyes, any parts that are inconsistent or not fully integrated—the blotches of spackle on the wall—will stick out to you, and you can smooth them over and make them consistent with the rest of the story.
A rewrite request is never a guarantee that the editor will buy the story if you revise it to their wishes. But it does show that they felt the story had some engaging spark of character or world or voice. If you believe that the direction they think your story needs to go is good for the story, in my opinion it’s always worth the gamble revising to editorial order. If you take your time and make the changes as consistent as possible with the original, you can make your rewrite the best story it can be.