Thursday, July 11, 2013

Step Number Five

I can’t remember where I read it, but someone wrote about the steps between querying and book deal. Here they are for the most part:

1. Silence 
 2. Form Rejection 
3. Page requests
4. Partial requests
5. Rejection with helpful feedback
6. Full request
7. Revise and resubmit
8. Representation offer
9. Editor Rejection
10. Editor Rejection with Feedback
11. Editor Revise and Resubmit
12. Book Deal

When I read the steps, I was just starting to query my first novel, and this list crushed my heart. The person who wrote the article said that you could skip steps, or get to step 7 with one book and only land at step 2 for the next. The article said you could skip right to step 6, or get stuck in the trap at step 5. It said you could bypass steps 1 through 8 and go right to small presses.

In writing people talk about coping with silence, form rejections, and even quite a few people talk about revise and resubmit (and boy howdy there are plenty of people who talk about representation, book deals and being on submission). I don’t see a lot of people talking about number five up there. I think this is probably because all the advice says to keep this stuff off your blog etc. etc.

I’m a rule breaker.

My first novel stalled out at page requests. I hoped my second novel would do better, and it did: partials! Yay! But still not representation.

I kept reading all the blogs that talked about querying their first novel and getting full requests and book deals in a couple of days. It made me feel defective. I kept ready blogs about the querying process, and they all said: pay attention to the personalized feedback you get; it’s golden. Except I’d never had personalized feedback. I thought it was a myth.

Until I got some. Buckets, actually. I got so much feedback I didn’t know what to do with it (none of it agreed).

If you’ve been here, I feel for you. All around me people congratulated me for moving up in the world. “Personalized feedback is a huge step!” they would say. Inside I felt like I’d burned all my bridges and ruined my chances by putting out substandard work (never mind that I’d polished and polished and polished that manuscript).

So if you’re in that boat: breathe deep. It’s hard. I don’t know if it ever gets easier to hear that you’re not there yet. Once the immediateness of failure began to fade, and I could try to figure out if I was going to try to fix my novel, I realized something: None of the feedback was in agreement. One agent said one thing, another something completely different.

What’s a girl to do?

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s really frustrating. You feel like you’re destroying your novel with every change, and if you don’t really understand what the feedback meant, it can really feel like you’re swimming through a murky pool of poo. So here’s what to keep in mind.

When someone says there’s a problem with your novel, they are correct. When they tell you that they know what it is, well, take that part with a grain of salt. People can see a problem a lot faster than they can actually see what that problem is.

So, if you’re sitting on some conflicting advice on what to fix, instead of thinking about how to fix everything mentioned in the feedback, look at style changes. Are you heavy on description? Light on description? Do you use lazy words to convey your action? At some point, you might find something in there you can fix. And it might just work to sort out your seemingly conflicting feedback.

So, if your feedback is “This is too fast,” followed by someone else saying “This is too slow” you know there’s something wrong with your pacing. It could be there’s someone out there for whom your novel will feel like the Goldilocks key (“Juuuuuuust right!”), but it’s also possible that your description is too thin to ground person one, and too lugubrious for person number two. The fix, make your description work for you, not just take up space on the page. That means agonizing over exactly which word to use in a sentence (no, it isn’t easy to do this, but it is essential).

Of course, that’s not going to work for everyone. And sometimes it really is just personal, but if you’re getting lots of feedback, it’s time to look at your writing and see if it really is your best (and really, there’s probably something you could clean up now that you’ve had your novel on the market for a little while).


  1. Feedback is great, but I agree, when it disagrees it's hard to know what the problem is, or indeed if there is a real problem.

    1. Yes, the knowing if there is a real problem is one of the hardest parts. And what's worse, we usually desperately want there to not be a problem.

  2. I've been hearing a lot lately about conflicting advice - but you're right, not in open blogs, just through one-on-one contact. Your advice to step back, realize there is something wrong, and then go with what feels right to you is perfect advice. You'll never ever please everyone, but you do need to get it over the hump of the acquisitions editors.

    And congrats on persevering and making it to the most frustrating step!

    1. I don't know if it's the most frustrating. It drove me nuts when I was stuck in form rejection land because I couldn't figure out what was wrong.

  3. I've gotten full requests followed by rejection. I've also gotten full requests followed by suggested revisions followed by rejection.
    I've run into similar disparity in feedback via contests. It comes down to no one being objective. The most consistent comment I've gotten is that the historical era I write (Tudor) doesn't sell. Of course, I would rush to the store to buy a Tudor book. I eventually took the advice to heart and wrote something non-Tudor. We'll see how that goes.
    In the meantime, keep on trekking, right?

    1. Yes, definitely keep on trucking. I didn't know that Tudor era books were doomed. I've been told that a number of my concepts were unpublishable. And then my crit partners threaten me on pain of death if I don't find a way to publish them.

  4. I always find it helpful to stay away from my novel for a bit before I start revisions. Sometimes they are hard to accept. But if I give myself a break from my work it's usually easier to see which critiques to implement and which to ignore. Most of the time the advice is useful even if you don't follow it to the extent they want. The point is, that it can grow and get better and that's a good thing cause that means we're growing and getting better too!

    1. Yes, putting away the novel for a while is great. I usually put them away for about six months before I come back to them, so that hasn't been my problem exactly.


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