Many of us dream of sharing our stories but the road to publication is a rocky one, filled with the lows of criticism and rejection, and the highs of a finished book and glowing reviews. It takes courage to start the journey, to give over a manuscript that you’ve worked on for months if not years, to a trusted friend, an editor or agent. It gets easier, but the very first time I sent Thirst off, my finger hovered over the send button for a long time!
Some of that fear comes from not knowing what kind of reception your work will receive. The good news is that most people who agree to critique early drafts will try to be kind and offer real direction on how your work can be improved. But it also means that for many writers, their first real encounter with rejection comes at the hands of agents, and that was true for me.
I queried agents and received too many rejection letters to count, although none of them offered any explanation except the occasional “not a good fit”. I moved onto pitching in person, which was far more helpful but also more painful. One agent I spoke to made me feel as though my writing didn’t deserve her time, that Thirst would never be published. I was lucky that day that eight other agents asked me to send them a full manuscript, enough to take away the sting of that rejection. Yet somehow, that single rejection still carried more weight than all of those positive encounters.
But over time I’ve come to realize that just like the rest of us, agents are biased towards certain writing styles, certain story-lines, and many of them are searching for specific manuscripts that fit the current trends. Think back to the explosion of stories about religious relics or vampires triggered by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. Agents were on the hunt for novels with similar themes, and if you pitched one, good or bad, it grabbed their attention.
That was an aha moment for me, discovering that even a terrific novel might never find an agent or publisher because it didn’t follow the crowd. It helped me understand that rejection didn’t mean that Thirst wasn’t well written or that it wasn’t a good story – it just needed a publisher willing to take a risk.
There are publishers who do just that, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Gillian Glynn’s Gone Girl are examples of their success stories. I’d like to think that these successes push publishers to be more open to debut authors, but they’re only going to take that chance on a well-written, polished manuscript.
It means soliciting feedback and lots of it! If you’re in the early stages of your writing career, it’s tempting to ask family and friends to read your novel, but they often don’t provide valuable feedback because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Take a deep breath and push beyond your comfort zone to seek out opportunities with a writing or critique group, writing competitions or blue-pencil sessions. It won’t be easy because a true critique pokes and prods every scene, dissecting dialogue, analyzing sentences and testing pacing. Not only can this part of the road be very painful, it can also be confusing.
This was an important lesson I learned after submitting Thirst to a writing competition. Two of the three judges loved it while the third barely gave me a passing grade. I sifted through the feedback only to find that while one would say that my settings were great, another would say those same settings needed work, leaving me wondering exactly what needed to change! It’s a little like reaching a fork in the road and wondering just where to turn.
I’ve taken some wrong turns and adjusted scenes until they felt foreign to me, as though they were written by someone else. Since then, I’ve learned to read feedback and let it settle before I react. I then skim the comments for an overall trend, for example too many/too few adjectives or not enough character detail in a particular scene. Only then do I weigh each comment and decide whether a change is needed and how I’ll do that and stay true to my writing style.
No matter how much feedback you solicit, there comes a time when an editor is invaluable because they provide a single consistent viewpoint. It can take time to find one who is in sync with your writing style, but it’s worth the effort.
I finally found an editor for my Alex Graham series and she is without a doubt my biggest supporter. She cheers me on when I write terrific sentences and compelling scenes, and she pushes me to do better when she reads something that she doesn’t think is quite good enough. She’s not always gentle, but I trust her feedback and she keeps me on the right road.
If you’re driven to write stories, then you’ll be doing for a lifetime, so it has to feel comfortable and that will never happen if you try to write like someone else, or blindly follow feedback. For the same reason, I suggest that you don’t try to chase the trends, to write stories that are selling right now. Instead write the stories you want to tell – be the one that sets the next trend with something amazing.
Be brave. Be bold. And remember that the road to publication smooths out the further you travel!
Posted on Long Island Dreams