“Seventy?” I gasped to one. “I mean, REALLY???”
“It depends what this writer calls ‘a revision,’” my wise colleague wrote back.
So let’s define the term: a revision is not the mini-alterations, the change of one word, the breaking of a paragraph in a different place, or the insertion of a comma. That’s called tweaking. Picture books can and will likely undergo many tweaks, and really, no need to count those. With a novel, there can be a thousand such. By the time a manuscript is in the lucky stage of final line-editing at the publisher’s, it will endure a few more.
Revision— on the other hand, is a substantial change in the characters, the plot, and even the theme of the story. A brief survey of published writers I know yielded an average of three to four revisions for a novel, and, just one more, five, for a picture book.
While revisions involve some sectional re-writing, revisions are not complete re-writes. When a full re-write is undertaken, it is in fact a new story. It may cannibalize ideas or characters from the other story, but it can’t be called a revision. The two stories, the first and the re-written one, stand on their own, and could almost be published as separate titles.
Every writer’s process is different, and many say that it is different for different books. Averages don’t, and shouldn’t, mean much. But don’t be daunted when you read that such and such revised their book a thousand times. Some writers like to mystify the process so as to make it appear un-doable, or they may be innocently confusing their internal experience of never-ending tweaking with objective reality.
In other words, it takes work, but it can be done, and if it can be done, YOU CAN DO IT.