Thursday, 24 July 2008

Whoops - I Wrote The Wrong Book

The backstory in brief: queried agents last autumn, most asked for a partial, none asked for a full. Got grant, sent MS to The Literary Consultancy. Their critique arrived this morning. I read it and felt miserable. Then I had to go and do a funeral, which cheered me up, but then I'm funny like that.

I can't quote the critique because TLC hold the copyright, but I can tell you the basics. Essentially, their reader's view is that the premise of my book has commercial potential, and my writing shows promise, but if the book is to be marketable it needs a complete rewrite, with major changes to style, plot, characters, and structure. Also, in the process, I need to pick a genre to work within - or, at the very least, a well-known author to emulate - so I can describe myself as, say, 'a chick lit writer' or 'the new J K Rowling' (yeah, right!). Agents, publishers and booksellers all, apparently, demand this. (I had described it as 'contemporary women's fiction', which sometimes counts as a genre, but evidently not in the view of TLC.) (Also, for any of you considering using TLC, the reader of my novel is not one of the readers listed on their website, which is interesting as they give the impression that the readers make up their 'team'; I can't find anything on their site that says a novel could be read by someone from outside that group.)

Looks like ChrisH's recent experience, about needing to raise the stakes if any of us aspiring novelists are ever going to get published - see post below if you haven't caught up with that - is not an isolated event. TLC's critique offers a lot of helpful, specific, practical advice on how I could approach such a rewrite. But the question it raises is, can I be arsed? Yes, it's enough to make a Zinnia swear!

I've been working on the book in its current version for over three years. None of this has been wasted time; I've learned a huge amount. At this point, I think my choices are:

1. Do the rewrite as suggested by TLC
2. Go back to plan A, which was to write a non-fiction book about doing funerals (except then I might have to leave the Novel Racers...)
3. Start a completely new novel (not that I have any ideas - but I'm sure I could generate some)
4. Work on a different non-fiction idea (er, actually I've already started on this one - well, I needed something to do while I waited to hear from TLC)
5. Two of the above - one fiction, one non-fiction
6. All of the above (oh don't be ridiculous, Zinnia)
7. Something else I haven't thought of yet

I'd be very grateful for any thoughts, suggestions, wisdom, advice you may have. Hugs, chocolate and big glasses of wine would also be welcome. Thank goodness for the Novel Racers!


ChrisH said...

Big, big hugs, Zinnia - I hope my bad luck didn't rub off on you. I'm a bit short on ideas at the moment having just got back from the boat which is now back on the mooring . Not without incident.

If my experience is anything to go by your mind will be buzzing whilst you try to reconfig your writing aims after receving the report from TLC (ha! another misnomer, not much tender loving care there it would seem).

I'm just letting everything percolate for a couple of days whilst I build up some energy (and a few layers of skin) for the next round of agents. So my advice, for what it's worth, is to take a few days out (but don't go to sea in a sieve like I did). Hopefully you will have a better idea of what to do when some of the soreness has eased. Love CX

Anonymous said...

Much as I enjoy writing cross-genre fiction, as I suspect many of us "racers" do, I can understand why a single genre is important for marketing purposes. It's a business after all. On the subject of genre, I was given to understand that "chick-lit" is just a colloquialism for "contemporary women's fiction". Is that not the case?

I can't comment much on TLC, nor any other services that provide critique. I've simply not experienced them myself. Yet. One thing to bear in mind though, is that they too are a business and want to make a profit. Sorry if I'm preaching to the converted here, but I thought I'd spell it out.

If I were in your shoes (I'd probably have smaller feet), I'd consider re-writing or at least re-working the novel. However, it may be worth getting a second opinion before dutifully following everything that TLC recommend. Do you have an agent you can consult? Or perhaps another critique service?

I would also start as many new projects as you feel you want to. Admittedly I'm probably not the best person to recommend this, having eight or more current projects and none finished!

Whatever you decide to do, have some {{hugs}}, chocolate and wine, while you think about it :o)

liz fenwick said...

First hugs, choclate,wine and maybe some good music......

having had several 'professional critques now I know how much they can hit you over the head. Put it away for a few days is the first thing I would suggest. The make a copy and with several different highlighters go through using a different colour for things that are positive, negatives you accept, negatives you don't, things you think are good suggestions and so on......then puyt it away for another day. Finally - look at it again and then leave the work and report asside for a month. Finally remember it is only one person's oppinion. They may be experienced and they may know the market but they don't know everything.

In the meantime - work on new ideas. Read the write up of the report I did on Kate H's talk about Botox for writers. There was some brilliant stuff in there about touchstone type stuff that can trigger ideas or new ways forward.

What do you really want to write? Fiction, non-fiction???? What does your heart and your gut say. I think Chrish is correct - the entry bar is high and it's bloody hard work. I have had my dark moments of the soul lately and wondered if it was all worth it but then I realized I had too many stories in head needing to be written so I stuffed giving up and am plowing on.

Whatever you decided the novel racers are behing you......


Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Awww you're all lovely. ChrisH, don't worry, I'll be staying firmly on dry land - so glad you're back safe (BTW are you the owl or the pussycat?) Kevin - size 9 since you ask - I think 'chick lit' is a subset of 'women's fiction' which also includes romance (contemporary or historical), Aga sagas, etc, as well as less categorisable books like 'When We Were Bad' by Charlotte Mendelson. (But please don't treat this as the last word on the subject, I'm no expert.) Liz, thanks for the reminder, I want to read ALL those RNA write-ups but will pay special attention to that one.

Flowerpot said...

Yes I'd leave it for a while but I'm writing Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas which is all about raising the stakes of your novel. It might help...?? I know JUST how you feel - but time does help. Keep at it! Big hugs and a large glass of wine!

K.Imaginelli said...

I would second the great advice liz, chrish, and capt black have given above. I'd follow Liz's advice and see if you can distance yourself enough to determine whether the suggestions will help you tell the story YOU want to tell (or if TLC just doesn't get what you want to do with this story). Work on the suggestions that help you tell YOUR story and then start querying agents. I've always heard that agents are willing to work with writers who have a great story (even if the writing or structure, etc isn't perfect. Then they ask you to do a rewrite and resubmit). That might be a bit naieve but I think if the story is compelling enough everything else will eventually fall into place. Hugs!

Graeme K Talboys said...

I commented earlier, but it didn't save for some reason.

Huge hugs and a vodka and orange from the fridge.

What they said, really, plus, you could have a look round to see if there is anything similar to your work in print and approach that publisher. Some are still more interested in a good book than the pigeon hole into which it might fit.

L-Plate Author said...

Hi Zinnia, there's lots of good advice up above and I've probably done everything mentioned. The best thing I find is to give your mind time to work out what you want to do. It usually only takes me a couple of reads of a report, a day or so when I'm miffed about the negatives and then I wake up with all the negatives turned around and off I go on the next rewrite.

That said I'm just about to blog this weekend about letting my first book go now and concentrating on book two and that genre...

Good luck with whatever you decide, honey xx

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Flowerpot, thanks for that; I think the Donald Maas book will be in my next online order. K and Graeme, good points; I'll do my best. Mel, I'll check your post with a view to absorbing some wisdom!

B said...

Zinnia, I want to point out this that I read the other day and that seems more timely than ever.
'From an author’s point of view it’s always a “dreadful time for fiction writers to enter the marketplace.” I’ve never, in my 15 years in publishing, heard people talk about what a great time it is for beginning authors to launch their careers.'

What they seem to be saying is that it will be a difficult book to sell. But nothing is impossible. How many people did JK Rowling submit to before she was accepted?

Also read this.

I'm not saying you won't need to do a rewrite. And I'm not saying TLC don't know their stuff (even though when you talk about TLC I want to start singing 'waterfalls'). But all they can do is give you an idea of what you might face. If you really believe in your book, stick with it.

And good luck :)

Fiona said...

Really feel for you honey but you have some definite ways forward.

How about, you write proposal and first three chapters of the non fiction. You are an expert and it is a fascinating subject. Sub that, get it published and then it may be easier to get an agent.

Leatherdykeuk said...

Sorry - I had a day away from the PC so I'm late.

Rewrite, Zinnia. Your book deserves it, and I really, really want to see you on the shelves, or failing that, your book. *hugs* and *cake*

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

b, thanks for those excellent links (go read them, everyone). Fiona: I think I might. Rachel: I probably will, although maybe not straight away.

Feeling much more optimistic this morning - I've even done some writing - and enjoyed it!

Kate said...

Oh, Zinnia, what a frustrating message – so near, yet so far. But to abuse another truism, I do think the Hollywood maxim applies to publishing too, i.e. ‘nobody knows anything.’ Critiques ARE very useful – I got two at different stages of my first novel, from TLC and another one (my website has details if anyone wants to follow it up), and they were useful in different ways. I was told in one report that, ultimately, the market for women’s fiction was very difficult and my book would probably have got a deal two years ago (from the date of the critique) but probably not now. So I started a new one, with a slightly different twist.

And then I won a competition and the book was published anyway…. So, it CAN still happen, even if the market is struggling.

Having said that, in my short five year experience of the industry, this is the toughest time I can remember. What’s happened to ChrisH (and sorry I didn’t contribute then, have been on holiday, but many commiserations there) Lists are being cut back, rather than expanded, which means both new writers and established authors are being assessed on what they contribute to the bottom line. I don’t object to profits on principle, in the way some people do – publishing is a business after all – but it has the unfortunate effect of making publishers risk-averse. That’s almost certainly why they’re advising you to try to fit a genre (though chick lit/contemp women’s fic are both unhelpfully generic descriptions in a way, encompassing everything from Jodi Picoult to Sophie Kinsella). But as we’re seeing, the fluffier end of ‘chick lit’ isn’t performing that well either.

I didn’t mean to do a ‘state of the nation’ post but everything people are saying here matches my experience of a very hard market. Having said that, new authors are in a better position in some ways than us mid-listers, in that you have no disappointing track record – just potential. And editors still get very excited when they find a book they love.

If I were you, I’d do what others suggest and take time away from this MS, and begin something new, and see how you feel about the first book in a month or so (nothing happens in publishing in August anyhow). If you want to write fiction, publishers will want more than one novel. The next one may be completely different and may help you see what your ‘true voice’ is. Being published with book 1 and then finding you want to write in a completely different way after that is a very difficult situation – unless you’re very lucky, effectively you will have to start over with finding a publisher etc. Time spent finding your voice and niche is never wasted.

Kate x

CC Devine said...

Wine is the way forward, Zinnia. I think that the sound advice offered by Liz, Chrish and Kate is fantastic. I've found that leaving things a day/week or so is worth it because you come back with renewed vigor or at the very least a bit more of an objective view about a) the report and it's comments and b) your feelings about the quality of your writing and the story itself.

I'd recommend giving yourself a break for a few days and then going back to your m/s and re-reading it. If you're not struck with new ideas about where to take it or overcome with frustration at the glaringly obvious weak bits that you failed to notice before and excitement about how to fix them then perhaps you need to put it away for a longer period and get those creative juices flowing on something else.

Try not to think about any of this over the weekend and I promise you that by next week you'll feel a bit clearer about what you want to do. Best of luck!

Debs said...

Hugs to you, I would love to add to all the advice but don't think there's anything left for me to say. I know how you feel and am waiting for my report on my m/s from RNA NWS at the moment and will no doubt have to read it, leave it to sink in, wait, read it again and after a while will go back and make whatever amendments I think it needs.

I like Fiona's suggestion, as she said, you are an expert on a fascinating subject so maybe that's the way to go for now. Dx

KAREN said...

I'm a bit late here, and there's already plenty of fantastic advice, but I'm a great believer in second opinions for what it's worth. It might help to give a more 'balanced' view of your work and allow you to see which bits you really do need to work on.

I ended up having 3 professional critiques with my first novel (the RNA were fantastic) and they all said different things but agreed my main character wasn't 'well-rounded' enough so that was clearly something that needed fixing. Having said that, like Kate, by the time I'd re-written it things had moved on and I was told that the sub-plot was 'tired.' So was I by then!

Best of luck, whatever you decide to do :o)

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Kate, thank you for your insightful comment. I suspect I shall do what you, and others, have suggested, and work on something else for a while.
CC: I didn't think about it over the weekend (much) and I am beginning to feel clearer. And less depressed!
Debs: thank you - I'm still pondering, but I'm writing bits and pieces of things too. I hope your report is more positive than mine was.
Karen: that's an interesting idea, and I know other people have had more than one critique on the same book. However, I think I'd want to do some more work on it before I shelled out for another critique. I'll let it sit for a while longer before I make any firm decisions.

And everyone, thanks so much for all your support on this, I have appreciated it enormously.

wordtryst said...

Lots of good advice here, so I won't give my two cents; I'll just be repeating what has already been said.

Whatever you do, just don't give up. Once your story is marketable then it'll get sold - if you persist.

Hugs, wine and chocolates winging your way north. Some local rum, too, in case you feel the need for stronger stuff...

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Thanks, Liane. Ooh, proper golden rum - I love that stuff, how did you know? I feel MUCH better now!

PI said...

What do they know?
Give yourself time to get over the disappointment, regroup and decide if you want to persevere(see JK Rowling Sheriff etc) or change tack, or follow their advice.
Don't be down hearted. Rome wasn't built in a day.xoxoxox

Debi said...

Oh bum. Bit late but thought I'd add my thoughts for what they're worth:
editing suggestions should be divided into 3 groups:
1) the things you can see make a definite improvement and wonder why you didn't spot them yourself,
2) the things you definitely reject but should think about to ensure you can justify your decision,
3) things you'd like to talk about more.

Critiquing is, of course, an entirely subjective process (though there are some definite no-nos when it comes to writing, like POV shifts etc). For example, contemporary women's fiction would be a perfectly acceptable genre IMO - I disagree that everyone in the biz demands more than that.

I would have loved to see the report. Actually I would have loved to DO the report. I'm surprised you've been told you need to do a complete rewrite as I'm convinced from what I know that your book was much further along than that would suggest.

I'm suspicious of any report that would make you feel miserable as opposed to energised and motivated ...

How many rejections did you get? The current received wisdom is that you need at least 30 before you can safely assume there's something fundamentally wrong with the book itself.

Let me know if you want more on this!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Pat: you're right; thank you.
Debi: thanks - I may well email you...

Guyana-Gyal said...

Zin, I know this comment is late, I only started blogging again the other's a comment I left for Pat on my blog, re: writing...

"Now...about writing and editing and finding lit. agents / publishers...

First, I took a cold, hard look at what I'd written. I thought about what I was trying to say, asked myself, is this the best way, am I rambling here? Should I rearrange this? Should I delete? Etc, etc.

To keep me going, I read a lot of stuff [online] about now famous books that were once rejected...oh gleeful glee, those publishers have lived to regret...check out this link:

My mother told me she'd read somewhere, a now well-established writer said that every time he got a manuscript rejected, he'd think of it as 'a period of refinement.'

I love that. A period of refinement.

An aunt told me that rejection is all part of the process.

Now hear this joke...the writer of a book that won awards allowed a new writer to 'borrow' his prize-winning work. The new writer submitted the work with his name to the SAME publishing house that had published the famous book. They REJECTED the book. Not knowing it was one of THEIRS. hahaha. I shouldn't laugh. In case some very famous publishing house is reading my blog, ha, as if.

Oh, an author said that what makes a writer successful is sheer will power, not giving up, obstinacy, get my drift...?"