Revising and Rewriting Your Manuscript – the Last Checklist You’ll Ever Need (until you find a better one)

 

Yes, you have to revise your manuscript. Many, many, many times. You can either accept that fact of life now or you can:

A. Send out (or self-publish) your first badly written, error-filled, dreck of a first draft and watch the bad reviews/rejection letters pour in and/or listen to the sound of crickets when professionals in the industry won’t even bother to dignify your hack of a manuscript with a response.

B. Give up now, deciding that becoming a fry cook on Venus would probably be easier than this whole writing thing.

 

If you’re still reading, that means you’re willing to do what it takes to be a real writer.

REWRITING IS WHAT MAKES YOU A REAL WRITER.

Hear it, learn it, live it.

Though hashing out a first draft of a novel is hard work, rewriting is truly what makes you a REAL writer. It separates you from the hacks. Anybody can write down a story, slap on a title, and rush to try to sell it. You’re better than that. You’re serious about your craft.
First drafts are often awful. That goes for New York Times bestselling authors and people who are just starting out. Rewriting is what makes any piece of writing great. No exceptions.

On the plus side, if you love writing, rewriting really can be fun. Stop rolling your eyes and making snarky comments. I promise, it’s not like when your math teacher told you that math can be fun. I don’t care if she did bring a pizza into class that one day. Fractions still suck.

This is different.

It’s really very rewarding to see your work get better and better. If you love your characters, think of rewriting as getting a chance to spend more time with them. Though going over each sentence, each paragraph, and each word a bunch of times can be exhausting, it’s a great feeling when you finally get it right. Trimming paragraphs, carefully selecting the right word, and developing that perfect line of dialogue will tighten your work and turn a rough draft into a piece of really great writing.

Do the work. It’s worth the effort.

If this sounds like too much work, do it anyway. If you still hate it, you can always quit writing and do the fry cook thing. The one thing you CAN’T do is get out of rewriting and revising your manuscript numerous times if you want to make it as a writer. Lots of wannabe writers choose to stay in denial about this fact for years before they finally give in to the truth and realize that, no matter how carefully they outline their story and characters ahead of time, rewriting is crucial to success as a writer.

Lots of writers waste years of their precious time denying the necessity of rewriting their work. You’ll be way ahead of the curve if you skip those years and get right to work.

I said GET TO WORK!!

Checklist for Revising

** Wait at least two weeks after you finish a draft before you start revising.

** Read the whole novel from start to finish and record your gut reaction. Don’t censor yourself and try to be as honest as possible. Were there parts that bored you? Did a character get on your nerves or not seem fully fleshed out? Note what you think needs to be fixed but don’t try to fix it yet. Just jot down notes and keep reading.

** The next step is macro edits. You need to fix the big things. This can include fixing things in the plot that don’t make sense or are just not believable, strengthening the characters, and cutting parts of the novel that are redundant or just unnecessary. It helps to have a specific goal in mind for each rewrite. For example, for this first rewrite the goal is to strengthen the main character’s motivation. The next draft might be to fortify a specific relationship between two friends or maybe the goal is to add more suspense. The final revisions should be the ones where you really focus in on specific details like grammar and punctuation.

Beginnings

** Did you jump into the story right away or did you begin with lengthy description or boring exposition?

** Does your opening scene begin with a problem for the protagonist? Does it open *with* the protagonist? The story should almost always begin with the main character.

** Do we know what your characters are after and why? Remember that the more a character wants something, the more compelling the story will be.

** If at all possible, provide at least a hint of what is to come in the opening even if you can’t reveal the whole problem just yet.

** Cut out anything that doesn’t move the story forward or reveal character.

** Be sure to clearly describe your characters so your reader can see what you see. A few concrete details are better than a lengthy description.

** Remember that action can usually reveal character better than a physical description. When the phone rings, does the character rush to answer it or does he roll his eyes and ignore it? Little actions can say a lot about a person.

** Did you set the scene so the reader knows where the action is taking place?

** Reveal setting through the character’s eyes and viewpoint (whoever’s POV you are writing in).

** Be sure that important events in the story are revealed in a scene. A scene means people in action. You don’t want to gloss over the good stuff by simply telling us about it. Conflict is the heart of a good story and scenes are the only way to elicit an emotional response from the reader.

** The characters should enter the scene with a goal, struggle for it, and then end up either achieving little or none of it. Otherwise, why should we keep reading?

** Save most of the backstory, exposition, and character thought for the “sequel”, which follows the scene.

** Are you going too easy on your characters? Make it difficult for them to get anything they want.

** Make sure each chapter ends with something to keep the reader turning the pages.

POV

** The POV you chose should be clear and consistent throughout.

** With first person, try to sneak in some kind of physical description, though it can be tricky.

** If you chose Third Person POV, where you pick one character’s viewpoint, be sure you only show what this character sees, hears, feels, and knows.

** Multiple POV allows you to reveal action that doesn’t always take place within sight of the main character and enables the reader to experience the emotions of more than just one character. Be sure to make it clear when you are switching to another character’s POV, either by adding multiple spaces or starting a new chapter.

** Omniscient POV is when the writer sees and knows all and therefore can show the thoughts and feelings of all the characters. Be sure to be clear about whose consciousness you are in at any given time. Be wary of too much “head-hopping” when the POV changes too rapidly, which can be annoying and difficult to follow for the reader.

** With the Objective POV, you can only show what can be observed from the outside. Instead of she felt angry and bitter when her Cheetos got stolen, it would be she looked angry or she grabbed her Cheetos back and slammed the door . Objective POV is extremely limiting, but can be useful for stories in which revealing a lot of thought and emotion would give away the plot.

Dialogue

** Read dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds authentic and true to the character. Omit boring pleasantries and unnecessary chatter. Get to the good stuff, the conflict.

** Use said as your dialogue tag about 95% of the time, preferably before the character’s name. People rarely say things like said she in real life and words like grunted, hollered, and muttered can be distracting and unnecessary. Also, people can’t laugh and talk at the same time. Instead of she laughed, write she said, laughing.

** Be sure to use dialogue tags frequently enough so the reader is clear on who is talking.

Style and Language

** Limit adjectives – one is usually stronger than two or three. Sometimes none is the right number.

** Watch for adverbs, especially those ending in “ly”. She angrily and forcefully grabbed the umpire is not as strong as she grabbed the umpire or she grabbed the umpire with great force. Use adverbs sparsely.

**Choose a strong, specific noun or verb instead of several weaker ones. Consider the difference between the word ran and the words sprinted,dashed, darted, and fled. Make each word count.

** Active voice is usually best.  Watch for passive voice words like was,were, here, there, and that. There were two drunk guys building a pillow fort vs. Two drunk guys built a pillow fort.

** Keep an eye out for words that you tend to overuse. Do a search to find them and weed them out.

** Omit redundancies like screamed out loud or quickly dashed.

**Watch for “weasel” words that are unnecessary. These include words like about, actually, almost, basically, just, here, there, really, practically, simply, suddenly, utterly. Consider the difference between:When they finally arrived there, it was already too late. She had already gotten a tattoo of a unicorn vomiting a rainbow is not as good as When they arrived, it was too late. She had gotten the tattoo of a unicorn vomiting a rainbow.

** Avoid “filter” words that seek only to distance your reader from your character’s experiences. These include words like: see, hear, think, wonder, realize, watch, seem, feel or feel like, decide, sound or sound like. He felt hot and looked down. He realized his underwear was on fire.  Heat burned his face and he looked down. His underwear was on fire.

** Seek and destroy long passages of boring description.

** Don’t overuse the past perfect verb tense, as in would  or had. When writing a paragraph in this tense, begin in the past perfect : Right before his father had become a drag queen in Vegas, Robert would have long talks with him  when they would go to the mall to buy high heels, then switch to past tense – They mainly talked about makeup and glitter instead of continuing in the past perfect: They had talked mainly about makeup and glitter…

** Make each sentence as strong as possible, keeping in mind that the end is the most powerful part. “I’m leaving you for my chemistry professor,” he said as he put down his rapidly melting lab beaker is not as powerful as He put down his rapidly melting lab beaker and said, “I’m leaving you for my chemistry professor.”

**  Avoid overwriting. Trust that the reader is at least as intelligent as you are.  They will be able to figure out what you are trying to say without hitting them over the head with it.

** Reading out loud is the best way to hear the rhythm of the sentences.“The Phelps family sounded like bigoted idiots” might look okay but try saying it out loud. “The Phelps family sounded like ignorant bigots”sounds much better. At any rate, both sentences are true…

Grammar and Punctuation

** Carefully proofreading for typos and grammatical errors should usually be one of the final steps in revision. There’s no sense in spending a long time perfecting a paragraph only to cut the whole thing out later.

** Use a Comma:
– To separate items in a series: She gathered her baseball,her glove, and her dose of steroids.
– With a small conjunction, such as and, but, for, nor, yet, so, to connect two independent clauses, as in She liked the guy, but she kicked him in the head with her cleats.
– For introductory elements, such as Before joining the circus, he worked as a stock broker.
– With parentheticals (a parenthetical could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence) He put on his floppy shoes, which were completely unnecessary, for his prostate exam.
– When both the city and the state name are mentioned together, it is considered a parenthetical element. We saw the Orioles kick some major Yankee posterior in Baltimore, Maryland, last summer.

** Use a Semicolon:
– To separate two main clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction.  Those in glass houses who throw stones don’t need windows; those in stone houses who throw glass do need shoes.
– To separate main clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb, such ashowever, consequently, otherwise, moreover, nevertheless. Many people think it is necessary to go to college; however, it’s not so if your dream is work at Chuck E. Cheese.

** Use a Colon:
– For a summary or a series after a complete main clause: They were a ragtag team of misfits: a circus clown, a stock broker, an angry female baseball player, and a guy from Chuck E. Cheese.

** Use a Dash (–)
– For a short summary after a complete main clause: At the bottom of the backpack was a surprise—used chewing gum.
– In place of a pair of commas to set off words, phrases, or clauses that interrupt a sentence with additional–but not vital–information: Of all the well-known Muppets—Miss Piggy, Scooter, Rowlf, Fozzie—great as they were, Kermit made the most money.

Fine, Have It Your Own Way.

This revision list was compiled from a bunch of different books and websites and I find it helpful for my revisions. If you’ve got a better way that works for you – go for it! Just make sure you rewrite and revise as many times as it takes to make your writing as good as it can be. Otherwise, brush up on your short order cook skills.

-Linda Fausnet

**Writers:

Join my WRITERS email list for Writing Tips and Book Recommendations!

**Readers:

Join my READERS email list to receive just the Book Recommendations!

 

Developing a Thick Skin as a Writer – Have I Finally Done It?

 

th

Writers are continually told that they must develop a thick skin or they’ll never make it. This is true, but it’s far easier said than done. When I first starting writing, I never used to send out my screenplays or novels for any kind of review because it was too scary.

Big mistake.

The biggest, in fact. If I had only one single piece of advice I could give any writer, it would be to always send your writing out for beta reads/ critiques. Seriously. You’ll shave ten years off of how long it will take you become a professional writer. You learn more in with one critique of your work than you will by reading ten writing books. (Read the books, too, though.)

Finally, I started sending out my writing for review and it was very difficult. It’s hard to have your work torn to pieces, but it really is for your own damn good. This is particularly true of self-publishers. If you’re going to publish your work for the world to see, you’re better off having people tear your work apart first, thus giving you a chance to fix it before it goes public!

In the past, I would really stress out over receiving a review. I’d wait, nervously, for days and sometimes weeks for the review to come in. I would freak out just thinking about it. I stopped checking my email after 7pm each night when I knew a review would be forthcoming soon, because if it was bad, I would be too stressed to sleep. I knew I needed time to deal with the review. Time to be upset, deal with the emotions, and finally feel better. The second the review popped up in my inbox, I had to read it. I had to get it over with. I have terrible, awful, no-good luck with timing on this issue. Inevitably, the worse the review, the more people would be around when I got it. I got one such rejection on Christmas Eve and had my entire family around. That was fun, having to pretend my heart hadn’t just been ripped out. Often, my kids are around me, yammering, vying for my attention when I’m just trying to quickly do the “how bad is it” review. Still, I couldn’t “not” look. I just had to know.

Right now I have several chapters of my novel, SINGLES VS. BRIDEZILLAS, out for review with two beta readers. One came back last week with her critique. Just yesterday, I got around to reading it.

Wow.

That surprised me. I knew the review was sitting in my inbox but it took me almost a week to even look at it. It’s not that I don’t care about the review. I do, and it’s still scary to a degree. I guess it’s just that I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve gotten good reviews, awful reviews, mean reviews, glowing reviews. If it’s a great review – wonderful! Bring on the Schnapps. If it’s bad – terrible even – I know I can fix the story. I’ve done it many times before.

The hardest part of getting a review is reading it for the first time. It’s hard to see your work torn apart, your flaws exposed. It gets better when you start actually doing the rewrites. You’ve dealt with whatever emotions you had and you’ve moved on. The best part is stepping back and seeing how much better the writing has become since you’ve fixed all the bad stuff. That “Wow, that IS better!” moment. You can be so much more confident releasing your work to the world since several people have already told you what sucks and how to fix it.

It just seems weird to me that it doesn’t upset me as much. It’s a good thing, just surprising.

Don’t be concerned if you still get upset about bad reviews. I still do, too, it just doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

Remember, your writing is important to you. If you get upset about bad reviews, it means you care.
– Linda Fausnet 

**Writers:

Join my WRITERS email list for Writing Tips and Book Recommendations!

**Readers:

Join my READERS email list to receive just the Book Recommendations!

 

Celebrating a Win, If Just for Today – The Road to Self-Publishing

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation. My author page is www.facebook.com/lindafausnet

 

20 Weeks Until Publication 

 

FreeClipart_Fireworks_01

Well, I’ve just finished yet another FDFN of another novel – my fourth. FDFN stands for Final Draft For Now because I really don’t believe in final drafts.  The “for now” means that you really never stop rewriting a novel until it’s either published and too late to change anything or you decide to shelve the novel forever.  FDFN means the novel has been critiqued by others and rewritten over and over to the point where it is as good as I can possibly make it. The next step is send query letters to literary agents and publishers to see if anyone will bite. Typically, a handful of literary agents will request a few sample chapters. Most of the time, they will reject the novel at that point, though some might request to read the rest of the novel first. If I’m lucky, the agents who ultimately reject the book will give me some kind of critique, some kind of reason why they are passing on the project. That’s where the “for now” part of the final draft comes in. If an agent or publisher gives me some helpful pointers on what they found lacking, I can then open up the novel and do some more rewrites.

Now that I’m starting my own self-publishing business, most of my books don’t have to end at that point. I plan to still run all my books through the traditional publishing route, pile up the rejections, and then go publish the book myself. I know that sound like a negative attitude, but to quote Dr. Phil, “this ain’t my first rodeo”. I know how this story is likely to end, at least with traditional publishers and agents. I’ve been told numerous times, by both movie producers and literary agents, that my writing is good. Very good, in fact. They just don’t think my particular projects will sell. Yeah. That’s code for – we think your work is good, but we don’t think you’re going to be a blockbuster, breakout author, so we’re gonna pass. That’s the way traditional publishing works – there is very little room for midlist authors whose books might sell, but won’t sell as much as J.K. Rowling or Nora Roberts. For most of my books, I’ll go the query route first because I really don’t have much to lose, except for some time and a small amount of postage money. So, I figure, why not query on the off chance that I’ll get an agent this time? Then I’ll just go an publish the book myself.

Not this time, though.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, my current novel is for middle-graders aged 9-12. It would be nearly impossible to market it as a self-published book. Unfortunately, that means that this book’s life will end after the query process if nobody bites.  Which brings me to the point of this article.

It’s very important to me to celebrate the completion of the Final Draft For Now. It’s a big deal, at least to me. There are thousands of people, maybe more, who say they want to write a book but relatively few actually do. I actually do it. I finish what I start, even though it’s not always easy. I write when I feel like it and I write when I don’t. I believe it’s very important to take a little time to celebrate the accomplishment of completing another book before the world steps in and tears it apart. Right now, the book is finished and nobody knows what will happen next. Most likely and despite any praise it might get from agents and publishers, it will be mostly rejection that lies ahead. That’s later. Right now, I finished another book and I believe that it’s good.

That means It’s Time for Peach Schnapps and Drag Queens, my traditional way of celebrating when I complete an FDFN . I learned the hard way not to send a single query letter out before I do my celebrating. In this digital age, it’s possible to get a rejection letter in under five minutes. QUEEN HENRY was rejected a LOT (everybody said the book would not sell because it’s gay-themed) before I got the chance to celebrate the fact that I finished it, and I swore I would never let that happen again. It’s very important to take a couple of hours just to celebrate before the world gets in the way.

So this Friday night you know where I’ll be and what I’ll be drinking.

Cheers!

–          Linda Fausnet

When It’s Time to Permanently Shelve Your Unpublished Novel

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

 

36 Weeks Until Publication 

Though my Friday blogs focus mainly on my preparation for self-publishing this summer, I still haven’t completely given up on the hope of traditional publishing someday. Today, I’d like to talk about what happens when you reach the end of the line on a given project.

For self-publishing, the “end of the line” can be a very happy time. The end – or what you could even call the beginning – is publication. For traditional publishing, the end of the line can be when you’ve queried all the agents you can find and contacted all the publishers who are willing to accept un-agented material, and, quite simply, nobody wants your work.

I think we all know that writing can be a huge risk. If you do it right, it takes an awful lot of time, work, research, rewriting, and editing to complete a project. No matter how good a manuscript might be, the possibility is great that it will always remain unpublished.

I’ve almost reached that stage with the first manuscript I ever wrote – my middle-grade novel called RAIN ON THE WATER. I wrote it first as a screenplay all the way back in 1994, and then years later, in 2009, I turned it into a novel. I’ve written lots of other works in the meantime, and that’s why it’s taken so long to reach the end of my queries for this one. Today, I sent my last agent query for this book. I reached the end of the all the lists I could find. I plan to give it a few more weeks to hear back from the literary agents, and then I plan to query publishers in December. I don’t expect that it will take that long, since I would be surprised if I find a large number of publishers willing to look at unagented work.

There’s almost a sense of relief in letting this novel go. Not worrying about querying for this one means one less thing I have to do. I have another middle grade novel that I plan on querying with  in the next few months ( I won’t consider self-publishing any of my middle grade work, because I can’t imagine how you would market to nine-year-olds online). For that one, I’ve decided I want to wrap up the queries much faster, rather than letting it drag on for years. I hate to sound pessimistic, but twenty years of writing will do that sometimes. I figure I will query the list of agents, then publishers, get rejected by everybody, and then move on to other projects…

Still, it is a little difficult to let this novel go. It was the first story I ever wrote! There are a lot of memories associated with it. I remember exactly where I was when I came up with the idea for the book (college lounge room). I remember the field trip to the Indian burial ground when I was doing research for the story. I remember all the reading I did about Native Americans. The Native music I listened to. All the heart I put into the story and the characters. I remember that day when I lived in Baltimore and we were in the middle of a huge snowstorm in 1996 and I received a phone call from sunny Los Angeles. It was the producer from Mega Films, Inc, telling me she wanted to option my screenplay. I remember years later when another producer, from Runaway Productions, also optioned RAIN ON THE WATER. I remember reading the story to my kids. They really liked it. My kids are very sweet, and they would tell me they loved it no matter what, but I would know if they were lying. My son always insists that he loves my dinner, even when I burn it beyond recognition. I know he’s lying, but I love him for it. I know my kids. I know when they’re bored. They’re not good fakers, and I’m telling you, my daughter was on the edge of her seat when I read her this book.  I was surprised at how much she got into it. I really was. At the time, she didn’t really realize that, since it was a kid’s book, of course everything would turn out okay! She even read the book AGAIN on her own. That really floored me.

I also remember the years and years of rejection. I remember the literary agent from New York City who told me she loved the novel. She told me she wanted to represent it. Then she ignored me for two months, leaving me hanging, only to finally summon the energy to tell me she was “too busy” to represent my novel after all.

I get the rejection thing. I do. But there’s no excuse for the particularly cruel type of disrespect for a writer displayed by that agent. I still don’t know how  she was able to say something like that, all but promising representation, and then walk away without a word for months. I can’t help but hope that one of the publishers DOES say yes. With a deal on a table, it would be easy to get an agent to represent me. I can’t help but wish I could go back to that agent and tell her that if she hadn’t been so heartless, I would have let her have this deal without her even having to do anything!

Okay. Back to reality. That’ s not likely to happen. What is likely to happen is that I will close out my querying for RAIN ON THE WATER by the end of the year. The sun will set on that particular book, and I will start 2014 without that novel being in my life anymore.

Of course, nothing that you’ve written ever really goes away. The lessons you’ve learned and the experiences you have stay with you. I can truly say I gave it my all with this novel, and it’s okay to let it go.

I think it’s almost time.

– Linda Fausnet

A Good Writing Week on the Road to Self-Publishing

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

 

46 Weeks Until Publication

It’s been a fun writing week. I’ve been busy making major revisions to the first chapter of Queen Henry and minor revisions to the rest of it. It’s been nice being able to work on my favorite manuscript without the stress of waiting on a critique. I think the hardest part of the critiques are behind me now, at least for this novel. The reviews of the published book will come later, but that’s a worry for another day. Right now, I just have to finish this edit, send the manuscript to one more editor for another fresh pair of eyes to point out any grammar or spelling mistakes, and then the manuscript is pretty much done.

All told, I’ve worked on this same story, on and off, for about eight years.

And I’ve never gotten sick of it.

This is not the case for anything else I’ve ever written. By the time, I’m done with a manuscript, I usually don’t want to even think about it for a while. With this one, I love the characters and the story as much now as I did in 2005.

Hopefully, that’s a good sign. Maybe readers will like it, too.

We shall see.

Terror at 308 Pages – The Road to Self-Publishing

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

 50 Weeks Until Publication

Forget monsters, zombies and vampires. The only true terror writers face is sending their work out for editing critiques. It is by far the worst, scariest, most awful part of being a writer. And that’s why so many writers simply skip that step. It is absolutely the hardest part of being a writer, but it’s also the most important.

I’ll say that again, people.

Getting your work critiqued is the most important part of being a writer. It is quite simply the difference between possible success and certain failure.

No one can guarantee a successful book because it’s always a crapshoot to figure out what’s going to catch on and be popular. However, I can guarantee your book won’t sell if you don’t bother to have anybody critique before you publish it.

You are always far too close to your own material to be able to judge it accurately.  What’s in your mind and heart does not always translate to the page. You know what you mean to say and how you want your characters to be, but that doesn’t mean your work will necessarily come across that way. In earlier drafts, my main character was coming across as too mean, which is not what I wanted at all. His “tragic flaw” was his homophobia, but other than he was a pretty swell guy. After a critique, I had to soften him up a bit in the first chapter so readers would be able to root for him.

If I had just one piece of advice for all the Wannabes out there, it would be to seek out criticism. It’s not just a cliché to say that you will learn more from failure than you will ever learn from success. You will learn more from having someone knowledgeable look over your work and point out the flaws than you could learn from a million how-to books, blogs, or any other source. It’s the actual DOING of the work and seeing where you went wrong that helps you learn.  I can promise you that if you are willing to take that incredibly difficult step of putting your work out there to be torn apart, thus giving you a chance to fix it before you publish, you will be LEAPS AND BOUNDS above other writers. I am constantly amazed at the self-published work that I see that has such great potential, but clearly was never seen by an editor. There could be a great story there somewhere, but it gets lost in a sea of grammatical errors, too much exposition/backstory, repetitive paragraphs, and stilted dialogue. One self-published writer told me how brave she thought I was for sending my work to literary agents since I was trying to get traditionally published. She told me she would be too scared to ever do that.

But she PUBLISHED her book.

She wouldn’t send her work to be critiqued privately, but instead, she PUBLISHED it for the whole world to see. It was a shame, too, because I truly believe her work had potential. Had she had it edited, it might have sold much better and gotten better reviews. If you publish work that you think is good but no one else has read, the best-case scenario is that you’ll sell a few copies of your work to family, friends, and other writers but you’ll never break out into the general reading public. The worst-case scenario is that you will get public reviews from readers who will tell you the truth about your work. The painful truth that a paid editor would have told you in private.

You MUST go through the difficult process of having your work critiqued if you truly want a chance at success. HEAR IT, LEARN IT, LIVE IT.

It won’t be easy. My motto is – Don’t Be Fearless, Be Brave.  Fearless is the absence of fear. Brave means you’re scared and you do it anyway.

I sent my novel, my baby, my favorite piece of writing that I’ve ever done, to two editors this week. I want them to tell me the truth about what’s wrong with it so I can fix it.

And I’m really scared.

But I’m being brave.

QUEEN HENRY has already gone through a LOT of changes over the years in screenplay form. When I first wrote it, I loved the story. And it was awful. But I didn’t know it. I sent it through Triggerstreet, which was a peer-sharing script site where other writers review your work. It got a bad review. I ignored it. I thought he was wrong. It got another bad review. I thought that one was wrong, too. Then I got a third one. It was bad, too. I’ll never forget it. I had the stomach flu and was horribly queasy and felt terrible, and then in comes this third bad review. I just did not have the physical or emotional strength to cope with it. It was terrible.

That was the most painful moment I’d ever endured as a writer. I’ve never, ever thought about quitting but I very clearly remember thinking, “If I wasn’t a writer, I wouldn’t be in this pain right now.”

In that moment, though, I actually had the maturity and foresight to realize how important these reviews were. It was definitely an Oprah-esque A-HA moment. Prior to this script, I don’t think I’d ever sent anything out for review before. I was like the writers I complain about now. I lived in my own happy world where all my characters and stories were perfect so long as nobody critiqued them. After these reviews, I knew I was at a crossroads. I could give up on this story that I loved but was clearly awful, or I could work harder than I ever had in my life to make it right. I chose the latter. I loved that story. I still love that story. So I fixed it. After LOTS of rewrites, I started getting good reviews and QUEEN HENRY ended up being a finalist in a small but national contest.

There’s no way to describe how amazing that feeling was. Seeing the title QUEEN HENRY in that list of Finalists. It was neat to see my name next it I guess, but seeing the title in print was way cooler.

That never, ever, could have happened without those critiques and the pain I endured. Rejections of this story ALWAYS hurt more because I love it so much. That’s not gonna change now. I’ve fixed so much with this story that I hope it works well in novel form, but I’m leaving nothing to chance. That’s why I’m paying for the opportunity to have my heart broken if these editors tell me it’s awful.

If that happens, then I’ll just have to work as hard as I can to make it right.

I still love this story far too much to do anything less.

 

I Have A Strong Chance of Publication

        After sending out a bunch of query letters to literary agents about my middle-grade novel, Rain on the Water, I received a response from a literary agency in New York City asking for the first three chapters.

        That’s always good news.

        I sent out the three chapters and, after about a month, I received a message from the agency saying they enjoyed the first three chapters and would like to read the rest of the novel.

        That’s very good news.

        I sent them the rest of the novel and waited for a response. I received the following message just a few weeks later:

Dear Linda, 

Our agency has now read your manuscript, Rain on the Water, which we enjoyed immensely. [Agent name] has asked me to let you know that the agency is considering taking it on. 

We do not seem to have received a comprehensive bio from you and would greatly appreciate if you would attach one in a reply to this email.

We look forward to hearing from you. 

        Whoa.

        That’s extraordinarily good news. Amazing news. That’s like THE NEWS. It was..almost….THE PHONE CALL or THE EMAIL that means you’ve gotten your big break. However, as Dr. Phil is fond of saying, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” I had no intention of counting any pre-hatched poultry. I’ve been a Wannabe for a long time and I am no stranger to close calls. The ALMOST big break has happened to me several times. Still, I am very much a the-glass-is-half-full-of-delicious-Sweet Tea-flavored-vodka. No matter how you slice it, this was good news. They said they were considering taking it on. They obviously thought my novel was good enough to get published. I knew this was a victory, so I downed my celebratory shot of Peach Schnapps and told just a handful of friends and family what was going on. I also told them that this could fall through at any moment and nothing was written in stone.

        I responded to their request for a bio of my writing background. I was sure to include the fact that the screenplay version of this very same novel was optioned twice by production companies in Los Angeles. My bio is still not super-impressive; after all I’m unpublished, but I’m pretty sure they knew that already.

        I waited a week, and then followed up to make sure they got the bio. No response.

        Not a good sign.

        I waited another MONTH, and then followed up again. No response.

        Really, really not a good sign.

        I was sad about it, but really I knew better than to get my hopes up so I really hadn’t counted on officially getting an agent this time around. Still, I was kind of angry at them. I kept thinking WHY would you say something like “we’re considering taking it on” and then just walk away? I’m a big girl and I’m no stranger to rejection. I was fully expecting one of the usual brushoffs “We decided your work does not meet our development needs at this time” or “We’re not sure we can sell your novel” or “Our bad. We meant to send you the ‘we hated it’ letter instead of the ‘enjoyed it immensely’ one.” To say nothing at all just seemed cruel.

        Finally, after two months of radio silence, I received this message:

Dear Linda:

We are very sorry for the delay in responding to your email. We have been working with a number of other projects which are likely to go through to the new year. Unfortunately this means that we will not be able to look at your book, Rain on the Water, for at least another six months. We still feel that your book is a very strong candidate for publication and therefore suggest that you do not give up hope and instead look for another agent with time to represent you currently.

Once again, we apologize for the delayed response and wish you success in your literary endeavors.

        “In other words, FU,” was my husband’s response when I read him the letter. He wasn’t being mean, but was instead sympathizing with me. However, I didn’t see the situation that way at all. I believe this was the agency telling me – honestly – that while they really did like my novel and were interested in representing it, they knew they would not have time to deal with it for at least six months. I couldn’t help but cling to the part that read “We still feel that your book is a very strong candidate for publication and therefore suggest that you do not give up hope and instead look for another agent with time to represent you currently.”  I don’t wanna brag, but I’m seasoned veteran when it comes to rejection. I know it when I see it and this didn’t feel like a rejection. I thought it was actually quite kind. They could easily have asked for an exclusive for six months to a year, thus tying my hands and preventing me from shopping it elsewhere while I waited for them to have the time to work with me. Instead, they were telling me that they thought the book was good enough for publication and I should look for an agent who had time to work with me NOW instead of waiting for them to have time.

            Seems like a win to me, especially when I had pretty much given up on ever hearing from them again.

        Believe me, it’s not every day that a writer is told that her book is a “very strong candidate for publication”.  Some people never get to hear those words about their work. So I say it’s time to swig a nice half-full glass of Peach Schnapps and/or Sweet Tea vodka and start sending out some more queries.

       I’ve got a book that’s ready to go.