Lots of interesting stuff going on in the blogosphere today, including two posts which I think are related. First, Allison Brennan blogs over at Murder She Writes about the first book she ever wrote. Not the debut novel that just hit the NYT, but the first novel she ever completed. (In fact, the theme at MSW this week is first novels.)
Hot Latte. My heroine was a virgin. My hero was an alpha cop. (Please, please, shoot me now.)My hero, Mark Travis, moves into the apartment below my heroine, a computer security expert. They get off on the wrong foot (mistaken identity–she thinks he’s an intruder. Can we get anymore cliche?)
Oh my, I so identify. My first novel was an 800 page medieval romance that I originally called DANCE OF THE SWORD (oh, ick! Worse, was I so dumb I couldn’t see the potential for burlesque commentary? Fraid so.). I quickly changed that to KNIGHT OF DREAMS (flushing with shame here, though in truth it’s a highly marketable title). My final title I really liked: LORD OF THE MARCH. Since E. L. Doctorow won a PEN/Faulkner award (and was nominated for a National Book Award) with the title THE MARCH, I’ll just feel smugly prescient. ::snort::
I did do a couple of things right though. First, I finished that novel. Second, I learned how to trim the beast, shaving 800 pages down to 600 when requested to do so by an agent. What I did wrong could fill a dump truck. 🙂 Leaving aside the fact I was desperate because I hated my job and thought life would be rosy if I could quit and write full time, I wrote a novel that didn’t stand a chance. It was cliche ridden, from the big bad Alpha medieval dude with amazing sexual prowess to the misunderstood-fabulously-beautiful-but-unloved-by-her-father heroine. Toss in a scheming mistress, a vow of revenge, a vow to never love again, two royal courts, a forced marriage, an impending war, and the Seventh Crusade and you’ve got yourself a doozy of a sprawling plot that relies too much on been there, done that territory.
Do I regret it? Nope, not a word. It taught me a lot. What I regret is how I let the discouragement of not selling it get to me, how I quit trying to write novels for a long time because I thought I just didn’t have what it takes. Good grief. It took me a year to write that book, a year to do the research before that. When I thought it was good and polished, I began the agent query process. The first agent I sent it to, a big name agent, requested the full. I was dumb enough to let that process go for 9 months while I waited for her to get back to me. She called and told me what was wrong. I was too heartbroken to listen. She also said she’d look again if I rewrote it.
Oh the stupidity! I didn’t know rewrite meant REWRITE. I cut the aforementioned 200 pages, but didn’t change the plot or motivations or any of the cliches. She sent me a very nice rejection letter. I wasted one year trying to get one agent. I then sent out the blanket queries, got some partial requests, but ultimately got rejected. I can’t remember how many (it was a few years–cough, sputter–ago) but it wasn’t a lot. Same with editors. A senior editor at Pocket even took time to CRITIQUE my partial. MY GOD! Was I stupid or something?
In fact, I didn’t get it because I’d wrapped my whole concept of self-worth into the words I’d written. I didn’t know I could change them significantly and that rejecting them wasn’t a rejection of me or of what was important to me. Dumb-di-dumb-dumb.
Which leads to the next topic: rejection. Here’s a sample of Allison’s rejection letter for Hot Latte: “She sent back the cover letter three weeks later with one word: SUPERFICIAL (double-underlined, in case I missed the point.)” Ouch.
Diana Peterfreund had a great post about rejection today. You really MUST go read it.
I think a lot of aspiring writers get very caught up in their rejections. Earlier in my career, I did the same thing. I think it’s mostly a waste of time to pore (another contest entry fuckup, for those of you following along fro the last post. I said “pore over paperwork” and the stupid idiot contest judge said “pour”) over your rejection letters, trying to divine some meaning from them. Do I think that the agency that said they didn’t handle my type of project REALLY thought I’d sent them a cookbook instead of a romance? Were they trying to tell me something about my romance? Come on… I truly believe that sometimes, even when they are trying to give a reason for their “no,” they’re full of shit. I see a lot of writers trying to figure out what an editor means, what is the secret code behind “just didn’t love it enough” or “not right for our list.” They spend HOURS trying to figure this out. They enlist the help of everyone in their writing group. You’re never going to get an answer, buddy. They’re just not that into you.
Sometimes those rejections aren’t as crystal clear as we’d like them to be. When someone at St. Martin’s told me that my story just wasn’t right for them at this time, but please send something else, I wanted to know WHY it wasn’t right (when I should have been focusing on the send something else part of the letter). Well, I know why now, but it’s taken years and distance to figure it out. It wasn’t right because it wasn’t fresh or new. The writing was good, I believe, but the concept was hackneyed.
Sometimes the rejection really is just a matter of someone not being enthusiastic about your work. Sometimes your work needs help. That’s what can be hard to figure out.
There are those who say you should never give up on a book. This editor doesn’t like it, try another one, and so on. I agree with that to a point. You can honest to God spend too much time with one novel. I spent about 4 years with LOTM (I even considered revising it as little as 2 years ago, but fortunately sanity prevailed). I know people who have spent over 5 years on one novel, never writing another one, just polishing and fixing the same one.
Sometimes you have to just get over it. Sometimes you have to WRITE A NEW NOVEL. Write, submit, keep writing. It’s the only way to achieve the dream.