A Time to Rewrite
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 20 2010
I wrote a manuscript and I think it’s done. I’ve gotten some interest, and also some rejections. One agent who read the partial said she couldn’t get interested in my story. Another said she found it boring.
That said, nothing is perfect, and everything will need revision. I will keep trying. (Of course, I love my story, but then what else is new? **grins**)
But, if I get a few more negative comments, should I revise my manuscript before I send out the next batch of queries?
One of the goals I have for 2010 is to encourage all writers, published and unpublished, to trust their guts. Yes, I would think that if you’re continually getting the same or similar feedback from agents then it’s definitely time to rewrite. That being said, all agents are different and all feedback is subjective. I would only recommend authors rewrite if they feel that the feedback they are getting hits the mark. In other words, if everyone says your book is boring, but you don’t think it’s boring, you will not be able to rewrite the book and make it work. Quite frankly, you don’t know how if you don’t see it.
My advice, keep submitting/querying and continue working on your next book. If, somewhere down the line, you suddenly have a lightbulb moment and know how to fix your book, go ahead and do it.
Thank you for saying we can't fix what we can't see. I received the same piece of advice from a few people about one particular novel I wrote a long time ago (and which I didn't try submitting) but I kept thinking, "They don't understand what I was doing" and tried to tweak it in order to make it work.
I went on to write a ton of other stuff, and when I came back to the other novel to rewrite it, I realized exactly what they'd been saying because in the other work, I'd developed the tools (in this case, tight control over the mood of the piece) which I simply didn't have back then. Fixing the mood swings would never have worked; I needed to eliminate them. But I'd only developed those skills by working on other pieces.
I've seen the same in the writers I've tutored or edited, that either there's a lightbulb moment when they "get" the problem, or else they resist and make well-intentioned but ineffective corrections because they don't understand yet why something is not working.
Pacing is something that's really hard to learn yet so important to take a boring story and bring it to life. One thing I've learned is, after setting a story aside long enough to get a less biased view of it, to try opening the story at the second or third chapter. Sometimes it just takes us those first chapters to get rolling, as we get to know our characters and their world. Returning to a manuscript and opening the story at the point where the action takes off can sometimes make a world of difference. Then you can go back, pull out the details from your original opening and scatter them throughout the later chapters.
Great advice. After putting everything you have into a novel (Fitzgerald called it "his seed") it's so tempting to want to get it out there for the world to see. I have since learned that the writing was the fun part (didn't always feel that way during the process)and everything that comes after that is the really tough stuff. Excellent reply to the question.
If two agents have said it's boring, I'd try to find another writer who will read it and give a critique before sending out more queries. It could be the story just needs a bit of a tweak to get rolling.
The story in the author's head may be awesome. The challenge is getting that story down on paper so others can feel that awesomeness too. That can be hard because the story is with us always and it's very hard to seperate ourselves from it and look at as others see it.
Get thee to an excellent critique group for some priceless, essential feedback. I always recommend
Trust your gut with your story, but also take very seriously when two or more people (regardless of who they are) share the same opinion of your story.
I've learned there's nothing like a roaring head-cold to make me absolutely ruthless about revisions. However, shelving a story for a week or so works pretty well too. And you won't need to buy Nyquil.
I recently received comments from agents on my samples pages (those who sent personalize rejections, that is). They just couldn't connect with it or felt the voice was awkward. Only problem was, I didn't know how to fix it.
One of my writer friends pointed out that she really liked my YA chick lit voice on my last novel, which landed tons of requests. To her, that was my natural voice. She was right! I just didn't realize it until she told me.
I absolutely agree with everyone who suggested a critique partner or group. Part of writing is understanding that, even though you might be doing it for yourself, if your goal is to get published, you're also doing it for everyone else. Stay open minded and find people you trust to give you feedback.
In my experience, once you have an agent, you'll probably revise again before submission. And an editor will definitely want revisions before pulication, so revisions are your friend. That said, I also agree with Jessica. Don't make any revisions that don't feel right just because someone (even your agent or editor) suggested it.
Trusting your gut is important, but also one of the most difficult things to do. Especially when the person suggesting the change has an opinion you've come to value.
I think the real problem is getting people to be totally honest and tell us if it stinks. My family think my book is great and they're my biggest supporters. I haven't yet received enough rejections to make me think 're-write' but I'm falling into doubt about my ability. I think I might be getting caught in the comparison trap.
Since my target audience is children my next plan is to actually give a copy of the book to some children and get their feedback. I hope they'll be brutally honest.
The thing I love most about blogs is that a lot of agents have them now. (And you can often find interviews with those who don't.)
I now an get a better idea of the subtle side of the tastes of various agents, which not only helps me know who to submit to, but also helps me interpret any feedback I might get.
This is great, straight-forward advice :). It's so true that until we can see the problems others see, we won't be able to correct them.
I definitely agree the commenters who said if 2 or more people make the same suggestion, to listen closely to what they say. Otherwise, opinions vary. It's important to be able to trust ourselves.
Stina–I've been in the same situation where I've received feedback, but wasn't sure how to apply the reader's advice. It wasn't until I was reading another novel for leisure that I had my eureka moment and saw my work from a different viewpoint–as that of a reader. Sometimes all we need is a different perspective.
Trusting the gut definitely works. Especially if you are an avid reader – which as a writer, you should be. When I read books, I know what's good and what's not. I may or may not like the story, but I know good writing when I see it. Of course, it's harder to be that objective about one's own work, but even so, when I go back and read my stories, I do get a feeling when they do not meet my reader's standards.
OK, I'm the person who wrote today's question.
I have an update.
Since I sent this question in, another agent, after reading the partial, asked for the full.
So, she wasn't bored, which may not mean anything, but I think I'll send out a few more queries.
Thanks to everyone for your comments.
Or, maybe I should say, she isn't bored yet! **grins**
Hey, OP, sounds like you have a compelling premise if you're getting requests. I wouldn't do any rewriting at this point if I were you. If that agent happens to come back with some personalized feedback that's similar to what you've heard from the other two agents–then it's probably time to revisit the manuscript.
True, if a dozen people give you similar feedback, you maybe should listen, but trusting your gut is crucial. There will always be some people who just hate whatever your write. I hate many bestsellers.
I've written stuff that dozens of people read, loved, and didn't sell. I've sold stuff I simply sent out because it felt right without getting any feedback. The older I get, the less I care about feedback and critique groups.
This is tough, though, because if agents just give you a "this is boring" reject, without being specific — the dialogue, the plot, the characters — then how do you change anything?
There's nothing worse than trying to change a bunch of stuff off of vague notes like that.
That, by far is the very best piece of advice I've seen in a long while.
Trust your gut. And if you don't see it's boring when others are telling you it is, you're not going to be able to fix it, because you don't see it.
If you don't see it, you can't fix it. The best test reader comments I get on my writing point out things I was already concerned about. Things people say that I didn't see, either resonate with you or don't. And if they don't, you have to let it go, 'cause there's no way you'll be able to fix it unless you understand the problem.
Another thought on the "this is boring" comment: If you have lots of agents read it and they all respond with a bored response, there are two other things that could be the problem other than the story itself.
One is that your query may be misleading. Maybe, in your efforts to write a killer query, you punched it up to the point where it sounds more "high-concept" than it is. (This happens a lot when writers critique each other's queries – if they don't like the idea, they push the writer to change the query.)
The other is that you may have written a story that has a narrow audience. Which not a happy conclusion, because you can't always "fix" that with rewriting. Persistence may find you the right agent, but she will also have trouble placing it.
If an agent or editor mentioned a specific thing like "I can't see any conflict" or "The character has no motivation" then I'd rewrite. If they just said it was boring I'd run to my critique partners and ask their opinion and beg them to be brutally honest.
It's definitely an emotionally difficult situation for a writer to be in, especially if agent feedback comments are screened through the "if I change this as she said, maybe she'll sign me!" lens.
However, if we sell our souls for an agent and publication, we damage our hard work AND the dream.
By the same token, it's important to remain open to feedback. If two or three agents or critters point out the same issues in a ms, another look at the ms is definitely warranted.
Also, a writer has to keep in mind that agents know the market and what editors are looking for at any given moment. Some agents will ask for revisions or a rewrite in order to fit the market, and not just because of issues with the ms or writing.
In those cases, once again, a writer needs to confer with her gut.
(Just a big shout-out to the kind and generous agents who give feedback when they see the spark of potential in a writer.)
I wish agents who read my work would give me this kind of feedback. Most replies I get are very generic and don't provide much direction. Then again, maybe that's a good thing. Maybe the story just isn't the right fit, maybe there's nothing glaringly wrong with it.
Oh my. Should you rewrite? If several agents gave you the same feedback, I'd give it serious consideration. I received four rejection letters late last year, all saying that the prose didn't live up to the query letter (go figure) and that they really didn't understand the conflict. It was so clear to me!! I took my first section to several members of my critique group. And lo and behold. They had the same criticism. So, I wrote and rewrote the opening chapters and now have an agent (one who rejected me before the holidays) ready to take a second look. I do NOT intend to blow it.
Well…no one has said it's boring. Just a lot of "it's not for me, good luck elsewhere."
Ah well. I'll just keep chugging away at other works then!