Last week, I invited readers to ask questions.
I answered most in the comments, but one caught my eye from blog reader Alexa. She asked:
If you believe in your book, but you've gotten a lot of rejections, at what point do you say, "It's not them, it's me" and revise or scrap the manuscript?
I told her I needed to mull it over, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Mulling. Did you know mulling involves copious amounts of Sauvignon Blanc?
After a full week of careful contemplation, here’s my answer:
Don’t you hate that? And don’t you hate that I feel compelled to constantly remind you “every author’s journey is different, and you can’t judge yourself by someone else’s experience.”
Now that we got that out of the way, I’ll tell you my experience. And I’ll tell you the two things that can help you figure out the answer to that question for yourself.
In the last eight years, I’ve written nine full manuscripts and six partials. With every single one, I believed I had a shot at publication.
But the first thing that helps me determine if I’m right or I’m delusional is perspective – that is, input from people who are not emotionally tied to the story.
I get that from my two critique partners (writers themselves) and three beta readers (masters at spotting “issues”).
When I finished writing MAKING WAVES two years ago, I thought it was pretty solid. Then I handed it off to those guys.
They trashed it.
I thought my heroine was quirky. They thought she was immature and weird.
When I reread it, I had to admit they had a point. I revised the hell out of the story, adding scenes, tweaking descriptions, and working to make the heroine more sympathetic. The book eventually sold as part of my three-book deal with Sourcebooks, and it’s scheduled as my debut next August.
But that’s only half the story
Because recently, I opened MAKING WAVES for the first time in over a year. It’s due on my editor’s desk soon, and I wanted to do some final polishing.
And that’s when I got the second thing on my list – perspective. (For a writer, I suck at coming up with new words.)
But now I’m talking about the perspective you get when you take a break from your own work. When you set it aside, ignore it for awhile, and write a new manuscript or two.
This time around, I realized I hadn’t gone far enough rehabbing my heroine. Despite my critique partners’ feedback that first time, deep down I thought, “they just don’t get her.”
But with two years of distance between my brain and the original writing, I was able to separate myself from what I meant to write and what I actually wrote. I made new tweaks, added 5,000 words to the story, and am preparing to send it to my editor.
I’m sure she’ll have changes of her own. It’s possible she’ll insist my heroine would be more compelling with a third arm (in which case I will politely ask if she prefers it to protrude from her forehead or her stomach).
Does that answer your question? Not totally, right? Because it comes from the obnoxious, happily-ever-after perspective of an author who sold the novel.
So let me confess something:
While I adore MAKING WAVES with every fiber of my being, and I’m thrilled it’s being published, it’s not my favorite book I’ve written.
That honor belongs to a book I wrote in 2006 – the one that originally snagged offers of representation from four agents. Two of those agents shopped it to editors, and maybe a dozen of those editors professed to love it.
But the book never sold.
Was it me? Was it them? Was it aliens?
I honestly don’t know.
I still believe in that book. So does my brilliant and talented agent, Michelle Wolfson.
But we’ve both come to accept that the time isn't right for it.
You can work hard to get the perspective of others and the perspective of distance. That’s a crucial part of figuring out if your manuscript has problems.
But sadly, that’s not always enough.
And as gut-wrenching as it is, a smart writer learns how to move on, write something new, and set the beloved project on the back burner with the heat on low.
Have I depressed you all now? I feel like I should tell a penis joke to lighten the mood. Anyone know a good one?