Friday, May 1, 2015
Back to the Drawing Board...Maybe
As you know, Dear Blog Readers, I am an optimist by nature and tend to use this platform as a place of encouragement and support. While my view of the publishing industry may seem overly sunny at times, it's because my six years of working in NYC exposed me to many of the smart, well-intentioned, passionate people who work in the industry. Everyone I've ever met who works in publishing is crazy about books and getting good manuscripts into the hands of readers. I like to mention this as often as I can because it pains me to hear these people being repeatedly maligned by those who have little understanding of what really goes on in Big Publishing.
That being said, things can and do go wrong--and I would be remiss to gloss over the bad times. If I'm here to share my experience of the writing life, then I have to be honest when things get tough. Since we writers can be competitive and a little bit protective of our reputations, I think there's a tendency for us to avoid talking about failure. Maybe we don't want to appear vulnerable. Still, we do each other a disservice when pretend we everything is rosy all the time.
As I wrote in a previous post ("The Summer of Crazy"), last May I turned in my first draft of a novel I've been working on in fits and starts since my twins were born ten years ago. At the time, it felt terrific to finally complete something after being out of the publishing world for so long. I was sure it was my strongest work to date and was thrilled to finally show it to my agent. Unfortunately, my agent didn't share my enthusiasm. I cried for two days.
When we discussed the story at length, he raved about the writing but thought the plot needed some work. His comments were insightful and on the money. I felt better--energized and ready to get back to work. I did a round of revisions, pretty sure that I fixed all his points of concern.
I was wrong.
We had another discussion and this time I felt a little fuzzier about what I was supposed to aim for. I did a second round of revisions. I took an ax to the manuscript. It still fell short.
Third round of revisions. This time I felt like I was completely in the dark. I was losing confidence and interest. I was beginning to go against my own instincts. We both knew this was bad news. In the end, my agent's verdict was the same: it wasn't coming together the way he would like. Time to put it aside. Did I have any other stories to develop?
This was really tough news to hear. How could I possibly toss away something I've spent so much time and effort on, especially when I felt this was my best work and that maybe, just maybe he was wrong? I cried--though much less than the first time around--thinking about all the time I'd lost and how the manuscript wasn't any closer to publication. I went to war with myself, considering my options:
1) Throw in the towel? Every author has a book or two in their closet that had to be scrapped. This will be mine.
But I can't imagine giving up on this story. This is some of the best stuff I've ever written. My gut tells me that one way or another, something from this manuscript will be published.
2) Cannibalize the story? I could chop the novel up into separate short stories or use a character for something new so it wouldn't feel like a complete waste of time.
This is a realistic solution, but something I'd like to avoid having to do.
3) Step away from it for a while? Maybe if I put it aside for at least six months I could gain a little clarity and figure out on my own what needed to be fixed.
Aside from losing more time, this is a good plan.
4) Get a second opinion? Share it with a few trusted readers to get their take on it. If they feel the same way my agent does, then I'll have to really do some soul-searching.
Yes! Other opinions are exactly what I need right now. It can help me make an informed decision about what to do next.
5) Get a new agent? Maybe it's time to find someone else who can better articulate what the story needs or whose vision is closer to mine.
Something to consider, but not something I'm inclined to do. Aside from this hiccup, we have a good relationship and I trust him. Plus, he's a top agent. Trying to find another agent is a big risk on many levels.
So, after thinking it over a bit, my plan was to set it aside for a while and come back to it in six months with fresh eyes.
Then, an interesting thing happened: I met with my writing group. I had been giving them a few scenes at a time to get their opinions and the response was overwhelmingly positive. They seemed to love the characters and were very invested in the story. They couldn't wait to read the rest and wanted me to send all of it at once instead of in dribs and drabs. I couldn't believe it....and I was more confused than ever.
Suddenly, I found myself unable to put the story aside. I contacted a friend of mine who is a novelist and he offered to take a look. I'll be interested in hearing his point of view. I have a feeling he'll be a 'tiebreaker' of sorts and his feedback will give me a better sense of how to proceed.
In the meantime, I'm polishing an old short story I've been wanting to finish and hope to send it around in a few weeks. It will be nice to have something else to think about for a while.
Have you encountered a big setback in your writing career? How did you move forward?