Monday, December 7

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, December 07, 2009 7 comments
Ah, holiday parties, when well-meaning friends inevitably ask, "how's the book coming?" and I have to admit I'm revising AGAIN.

"But I thought you were trying to find an agent."

"Well, that wasn't working out too well, so I'm doing more revisions."

"Huh. So how did you know you needed to revise more?"

How did I know? It's a great question. There's abundant advice online about how many agents one should query, and it's a very high number. I went back to the editing room after just a dozen rejections, one of which came after a request for a full. Why? Some would argue I should plow ahead and query like crazy.

Call me a cautious, hedge-your-bets kind of gal, but I didn't want to exhaust every possibility for representation when I didn't know with deep certainty that it's NOT me and my manuscript that's the problem. There are a number of reasons I didn't feel certain, which I'll explain.

1. I can't yet "elevator pitch" the story (give a pithy description in under 30 seconds). If I don't have a clearly articulated description of my own story in my mind yet, an agent isn't going to be able to pitch it to publishers, either. It suggests I have work to do still, and possibly deep flaws in the plot.

2. Writing a synopsis was unparalleled torture. Pre-epidural back labor was less painful. This tells me the most pivotal plot points aren't yet clear. It also suggests plot flaws and pacing issues. This was probably my biggest red flag.

3. I'm not happy with the comparison authors I chose to cite in my query. This tells me I need to read more widely yet. In so doing, I should gain a better idea of how to niche my work, which will affect the voice of my query and which incidents I highlight in the synopsis.

4. I discovered, after the fact, that I'd broken a genre "rule" on word count. Sure, tons of books for teens exceed 75K words, but they generally aren't first books by an unpublished author, or they're a subgenre like fantasy, where the norm is higher word counts.

5. My critique group hadn't taken a crack at the manuscript. I had 14 people read and give critiques on the first draft back in 2008, but most weren't themselves writers. I also had niggling fears that I hadn't adequately addressed some of the problems those first readers identified.

6. I'm all kinds of impatient about all kinds of things. My instinct on timing is thus suspect!

How do you approach the "Is it them or is it me?" question with some of your rejections? How do you (or will you) know when your manuscript is ready--really, truly, verily and forsooth ready?


  1. Having read and reread the first part of your story, I have to say I love the way the revisions are shaping up. Thanks for not dismissing my often ham-fisted commentary out of hand!

    I can't say whether the original manuscript might have been agented the way it was, not being familiar with the YA genre. But I do think every tightening rewrite you do is bringing the MS that much closer to a sure thing. Keep at it, good lady!

  2. Oh god, I can't "elevator pitch" my story either. My standard answer now is "I haven't worked out the short answer to this yet" (and I never ever will) or "It's full of adventure and romance" or I "accidentally" knock over every wine glass on the table. Then I change the subject damn quick! Synopses are the bane of my existence and will always sound dull when compared to the actual book. I don't think it has to be fabulously entertaining, so maybe this doesn't matter so much. And I wouldn't worry about the wordcount at all. 75k really isn't that much. If it was 100k, then you might have cause to worry. (I on the other hand worried that 60k was far too short, but it turned out ok.)

  3. Hi Rhiannon and welcome (kewl Welsh name!). My synposis problem was not being able to ID what the pivotal scenes were, and realizing I had quite a few go-nowhere, do-nothing scenes in the middle. As I've begun to repair the plot, I have a better idea of how to "elevator pitch." Here's hoping synposis writing after this revision won't feel like reliving childbirth all over again. :-)

    I'm waaaaay over the 75K work upper limit for YA--my first draft weighed in at a hefty 102K, my third draft that got test marketed was like 88-89K. Every source I've read says running too long makes me a riskier prospect and is usually a sign one hasn't edited enough. Being under the limits is far less of a problem. Until fairly recently, most YA maxed out at like 50K words. We have heroes of the genre like Rowling to thank for longer books being acceptable.

  4. I think you did exactly the right thing. Query rejections might be a query problem. But after a request for a full, you think it just might be the ms. Never hurts to revise again!

  5. Hi Laurel! I think this is probably the smartest thing you can do. Not that I didn't get plenty more than a dozen rejections, but patience is always a virtue in this industry! Revisiting your ms is usually beneficial, especially after a little bit of time away from it when you can see more clearly (even if that time away is only a week or two..).

    The biggest tell is that YOU think there might be flaws in the plot and word count. Taking the time to clean it up so you feel really, really secure about it is time well worth spending. You don't want to query every agent now, and then clean it up. Most won't want to hear from you about the same book again.

    I don't know how I knew mine was ready. I had six wonderful writers read it and critique it, and their encouragement over the orginal and rewrites helped me feel comfortable with where it was.

    As for the query/elevator pitch/synopsis... the more complicated your plot, the more difficult it is to simplify. I had trouble initially narrowing down what my most important character and plotline was. I wrote a dozen different queries and pitches with different emphasis, and realized they were all true of the book. I picked the one I thought would most likely snag someone's attention.

    You sound like you are heading in exactly the right direction. The publishing industry, and books and readers, will still be around whenever you finish. :)

  6. Hi Heidi, thanks for stopping by and writing such a detailed, helpful comment! It's assuring to hear from someone who's been through the whole process that I'm doing the right thing here.

    At first I thought I just had a query problem. But after running my sample chapters past my new critique group, I realized I had seeds of the plot I wasn't allowing to flower. I'm excited by how the middle of the book is becoming much more gripping than it was in the draft I'd test marketed.

  7. I think I'm always amazed at how much stronger my books are when I've revised... even if I did it kicking and screaming! :)

    Thanks for letting me ramble so much! I don't usually write so much! (Okay, maybe I do...)