FALLING AT THE FINAL HURDLES
In a previous post, I cited how I felt uninformed about the publishing industry in my teens. I was ignorant and hungry to succeed–or more so, to have a book traditionally published! A restless excitement trails the want to see your name and novel showcased in shops. It’s a dream that feels just that sometimes–fantastical—but one I still strive to manifest. Thankfully, I’ve mellowed and developed since then. Now, I’m just immensely critical—a perfectionist to a fault, and I intend not to fall at the same hurdles again. Particularly the editing hurdle!
Don’t get me wrong, even in my novice days, I knew that a manuscript (especially those intended for agency submissions) needed editing. But I didn’t fully understand the complexities and assumed that grammatical fixes, smoother sentence structure and the addition of some poetic prose would suffice. Oh, how wrong I was! If only I’d been more informed and done the research! Understanding the mechanics of your craft and its broader scope is imperative!
So there I was at sixteen with an overlooked autism spectrum disorder, a mind strained by anxiety and the newest Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook under my arm. I submitted my (dreadful) novel to any agencies seeking young adult paranormal romance, packaged with an (appalling) query letter, a one-page synopsis, and the first three chapters of my book, or whatever was in the guidelines for the agent in question.
And I got rejected. Again. And again. And again. And I understood why: I hadn’t done the work, I hadn’t put in the hours and proved myself for the writer I was and could be. I hadn’t chopped away those unnecessary words/scenes nor shaped the arc with the highs and lows it desperately required. Sure, there were obstacles in the protagonist’s way, but it all read too orchestrated, too step-by-step. Having a plan is good, but you must remember to breathe life into your world and your words!
In hindsight, I knew that the novel wasn’t strong. It was plot-driven with minor character development; the protagonist and her rivals were merely puppets, poorly imitating others’ lives. I hadn’t developed any emotional attachment to them, only to the idea of success. Still, one only comes with the fruition of the other, so how would anyone care if I didn’t? I was stupid enough to think an agent would love the premise, offer representation and fix any problems for me. HAHA! No, Kara. That’s not how it works. At all!
So I tried again, this time with the novel I’d spent six months planning and another six writing. There was a vast difference between the two manuscripts.
This time, there were plenty of themes to which a reader could relate, an abundance of backstory that shaped the characters and supported their actions and decisions; their dystopian world implemented its own rules and regulations, and each chapter started with a high or low and ended with the opposite. As a result, the story was much more fluid. It was something people could read. Might read. And all because my editing had been much more involved. I’d chopped some chapters and added others. Some characters had been removed, and others reworked to suit the novel’s mood. But what I hadn’t done was shape the story to its full potential; I hadn’t found the correct rhythm or hit the notes right, so words and sentences snagged in places because they weren’t true to the story’s essence. But again, I tricked myself into thinking it was submission-ready and fired The City of Bones / Divergent mash-up into agents’ inboxes.
And it was better received. There were positive responses, but sadly, no one invested enough to say yes. Because again, I repeat: I hadn’t done the work. And slowly, I fell out of love with it, realising it was too similar to those that had inspired the concept and too far from the book it could be. So, without a passion for continuing, I shelved it and began work on another.
Nowadays, I realise that revisions can mean a total reshape of a manuscript, that each word has to matter and pack a punch. Words must move the story forward but not bog it down. They must show the story in all its glory, be emotional and gripping, and blur the seams between action and character. These mechanisms are not separate from one another but fused.
It’s okay and sometimes necessary to scrap large chunks of the story and rewrite them to craft what you envisioned. But, you must be willing to show up and do the work. Not give up. Not jump the gun. And know in the deepest depths of your soul when it’s suitable to submit. You’ll know the feeling. If there’s even a slither of doubt in your bones or a little voice saying that more could be done, listen to it. Don’t squander your opportunities with submissions. Your story (usually) only has one chance to make an impact on an agent, and you want it to be a good one!
If I ever reach the stage where I have a draft to revise again, I’ll be sure to document every step for future reference. We live and learn.
But for now, planning continues, and I’ll share my current process for that nightmare another time.
In the meantime, find out about the various types of edits that could help your manuscript over at AmyEdits: https://amyedits.co.uk/pricing-services