Writing update: I just finished my current WIP (wahoo) and am now going to let it percolate for at least three weeks while I work on the next WIP.
Hi all. I know it’s been a long time since I posted, but I’ve been super busy writing and learning about the publishing/agenting business. I thought I’d share some of my knowledge. Today’s blog posts discusses what happens to your manuscript after you sign with the agent until it’s pitched to an editor.
Your agent will provide you with an editorial letter which is a page or more describing the overall issues with your story. It can be anything from adding more depth to your characters or pacing issues. From there you will either agree or disagree about making the changes. (For the most part authors agree because they realize that the changes are improving the story. Of course there are some exceptions on both sides and for good reasons but we aren’t going to discuss those today.)
Once you agree to what you will change, you then go back to your manuscript and rewrite, cut more scenes, or add more scenes. Whatever is needed. Then your lucky agent rereads your manuscript and if s/he thinks it’s perfect then you are on to the next step. HOWEVER, you could receive another editorial letter detailing additional changes, which will require you to once again edit. This might even happen a third time until the manuscript is just right. Remember your agent isn’t trying to torture you, they want the manuscript to showcase your best work and best story.
After you’ve finished editing, your agent writes a pitch letter. A pitch letter is like a query letter and oftentimes the agent will pick things out of your letter to use. (That’s why those dang things are so important.) In essence, the pitch letter entices an editor(s) to read the now polished manuscript. Now it’s your agent’s turn to wait to hear back and sometimes that can take f-o-r-e-v-e-r! If the editor(s) doesn’t love it, the agent will pitch to another small handful of editors. And so on, until hopefully one of the editors falls in love with the manuscript.
What happens after that is another blog for another day!
The intern job I applied for required a test to gauge my abilities. The agent sent me four query letters with the first ten pages of the manuscript and a full manuscript. (For confidentiality purposes, the names were redacted.) My “job” was to read the query letters and the accompanying pages. Then I needed to write a few sentences on whether I would ask for more pages or pass and why. As for the manuscript, I had to write a report detailing the plot summary, discuss strengths and weaknesses, and make a recommendation.
Here’s what I learned:
Query Letters & 1st ten pages
- Too many names in query letters and the first ten pages make it difficult to read or follow along with the story line.
- Too much back story is distracting to the reader and disconnects them from the story.
- The query letter needs to clearly state the GOAL, MOTIVATION, and CONFLICT of the main character because the first ten pages cannot convey all that.
- If you start with too much action, it loses the reader and distances them from the story.
- One query letter didn’t even talk about the main character or the plot. The author only extolled the virtues of his/her writing.
- Don’t rush to submit your book. If you’re sick of writing the same manuscript, set it aside and let it rest for a while. The MS I read was beautifully written, but the plot fell apart a third of the way into it. It required extensive editing and was too much time for the agent to take it on.
- Ask your critique partners about the story’s timeline. Does it feel too hazy? Most of the time I couldn’t tell when the story moved on to a different day or the time of the day. It made me feel as if I were reading while drunk.
- Make sure your character’s motivations are clear. If your main character’s aunt is suffering a mental breakdown and the mc is worried about her, but goes outside to weed the garden, explain why that’s more important. Otherwise, it pulls the reader out of the story and the character loses its creditability.
I hope you found these insights as helpful as I did. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more in the future.
Just when I thought I was done, I’m not!
I’ve decided that I need to make a few huge character changes. I’d left my main character’s ethnicity unrevealed. I wanted the reader to decide for themselves, but after revising the book a few times, I think I should reveal it. And she’s different from what I first envisioned. I’d made her a Caucasian woman married to an African-American man. But she keeps screaming to me that she is NOT white.
If you don’t know me and are judging my ability to make this change by my picture, know this, my husband is African-American. He doesn’t look like it. His skin is whiter than mine but that is due to the fact that his father is Norwegian and his mother is Creole. If you’re not from New Orleans, you might not know what that heritage means. His maternal grandfather is a mixture of Cuban, French and African-American. Whereas, his maternal grandmother is African-American. All of this means that my in-laws are a rainbow of colors and great fodder to use for my character.
So, it’s back to the manuscript to make all of those important changes.
A while back I received valuable feedback that my main character was a little too prickly and unlikable. Since the advice, I’ve tried to highlight some of her warmer attributes. Today there’s a great article in Writer’s Digest, written by the author who wrote The Emotion Thesaurus, that discusses this very thing. Wish I had it last year when I began this WIP.
I received more feedback on my current WIP that was helpful but made me want to rail against the world, shout obscenities, and bang my head repeatedly against the wall. However, deep down inside I knew the criticism was right. So, I wiped my tears and went back to work. Because what else am I going to do? Quit?
Nope. Not a chance.
First lines are right up there with query letters. There is so much pressure on them to deliver the tone of your book, the voice of your character, and the overall feeling of your story. And because of those expectations, I hate them and dread them, just like I do query letters. For whatever reason, I just can’t seem to nail my first sentences and I’ve rewritten my current one so many times I’ve lost count.
Whenever I struggle with some aspect of writing, I search to find the answers either in books, blogs, or articles. This time I struck gold with one of my favorite new blogs. Last week, The Debutante Ball spent a whole week discussing first sentences and my favorite advice came from a guest post by author Kathryn Craft. Kathryn was quoting developmental editor Lisa Rector-Maass, who said, “A great first line does at least three things: shows movement, evokes emotion, and raises a question.” She quite succinctly showed the answer to the problem. Now all I have to do is revise again. Hopefully, this time I’ll get it right.
If you read my blog regularly, you must know by now, that I’ve rewritten my first chapter a good six times and I’m still not sure if it’s “right”. Partially because I’m flummoxed by my first sentence and I can’t seem to nail it. While researching for help on writing first chapters, I stumbled across a great Writer’s Digest article that discusses seven ways to write your opening sentence. I think it’s helpful and insightful, but I’m sure mine doesn’t fit into one of the categories. I guess that means back to the drawing board for me.
I wish I could say I’m a plotter. It would save me tons of time and pages of rewrites. But I am not. No matter how hard I try to plan the next hundred pages, or following four chapters, it dries up the creative well and I can’t fathom what my character will do next. What challenge she’ll encounter. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t plan my next scene or next chapter, because I do. I’m great at inventing a couple of pages ahead, but any more than that and I’m hopeless.
I’ve tried everything. I’ve read books on plotting. Taken online courses. And even attended a few classes on the subject at writer’s conferences. Nothing has worked and so day after day, I park my butt in the chair and wait to see what action will take place as I type. One of the members in my Guppy group (a subgroup of SinC members) said, “The first draft for a pantster is their outline.” Unfortunately, I’m afraid this ms has that problem. I’ve rewritten the entire thing three times and now on the fourth try, have deleted over 61k words.
As you can tell, it’s a painful way to write. If you were a pantster and now are a plotter, I’d love to hear how you made the switch.
An excellent post by Janet Fitch on when to use dialogue and how. My favorite advice from her is: “Dialogue is only for conflict.”