Manuscript Rejection Feedback: 3 Critiques to Heed (and 2 to Ignore)

We’ve all had to deal with rejections, whether you are an author or not. They are unwanted, ugly and sometimes leave you scratching your head wondering where it all went wrong. Caroline takes some of the guess work out of interpreting those awful emails we receive from agents and editors. It won’t take away the sting, but her advice may help you build a stronger manuscript.

If your head is spinning from the manuscript rejection feedback you’re receiving while on submission, you’re not alone. Let us help you translate it.

Source: Manuscript Rejection Feedback: 3 Critiques to Heed (and 2 to Ignore)

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

images-8Well, not always. I broke up with a lot of guys over the years and it never hit me as hard as the one time someone broke up with me. That someone turned out to be my husband and we didn’t stay apart very long! 😉 Nor have we ever parted since.

But there were times when a guy and I just parted; one day we both suddenly realized the feelings weren’t there any more. Or maybe they never were and we never bothered to look deep enough. And we broke up without broken hearts. We just went our separate ways and there were no hard feelings. I wouldn’t even call them my ‘ex’ because that just gave the wrong impression. They were more like ‘that guy I used to hang out with’.

My publisher for Six Days and I just broke up. It was over a year ago when I signed the contract and being a first time author I was super pumped about landing a book deal so early in my career. I had been warned that the publishing process takes time, to be patient. And I was. Then I heard rumors and rumblings but I held fast, knowing this was the right place for my book. But just as in any relationship, things change. The publishing house went through some structural changes, redefining their lines and shifting the books under them. They were growing, becoming something more. And it was exciting for them.

But there wasn’t a place for me and Six Days. It just didn’t fit anymore. So last month we took a long hard look at each other, the publisher and I, and we decided it was time to part ways. And it was civil and nice and there were no hard feelings. I get my rights back immediately without having to wait months before resubmitting it to other publishers.

Sure, I was let down and disappointed, because honestly, what writer out there doesn’t want a traditional publisher for their first book ever?  But after about 17 minutes of pity-party and with massive amounts of support from family and friends, I got over it. There are so many options out there and the world just opened up for my book. I will find the right relationship with another house that will help the book be it’s best.

And that other publishing house? Eh, they’re just a pub house I used to hang out with. 😉

Quieting the Voices

I talk to myself. A lot. But only when I’m alone at home. I’m not that person muttering to no one in particular while walking down the street or the lady fussing at cans of soup in the grocery store. But my husband has been working from home lately and he’s definitely noticed it. I’m not sure why I do it but talking out loud helps me think. It really started when I began writing. Someone told me to read your script out loud to sort out flow, dialogue, etc. And it works for me. But that’s not what I mean by ‘quieting the voices’.

I’ve taken the last week off social media. No Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and only Tumblr once a day (because that site inspires me to write like no other!). I moved all those apps that used to be on the main screen on my iPhone to a folder on another page. I turned off notifications for everything except texts. It’s been quiet.

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I thought I would go through withdrawals but I haven’t. There have been no urges to check in, post, update or tweet. Before, it was too easy for me to get caught up in it all and my head was filled with noise. Now, I don’t hear Amy Author’s voice saying she completed a novel in one night or Riley Rights screaming about injustice in Timbuktu. I don’t see photos of Patty Perfect’s totally-happy-we’re-all-smiling-if-it-kills-us Holiday in Key West. There are no cute videos of heroic people doing amazing things while I’m just sitting watching on YouTube. There has been none of that. It’s been quiet.

And my mind has slowed down enough to focus on other things. When I sit to write it is easier because I’m not thinking about who is doing what and where and why. I’ve missed keeping up with friends though and when the next week is up I’ll go back. But I will only check in once a day or two and I’ll manage notifications with lists. Because I’ve quieted all the other voices and now the only one I hear is mine. And that’s important when you’re trying to do anything well, but especially when you’re writing.

Taking Chances

Have you ever been so excited and so scared about something? Where you are ready for the change, living for it, working towards it, but at the same time your feet don’t want to move? Where your heart flutters in anticipation of taking the next step and thuds with dread at the mere thought of doing so?

I have never been shy about taking chances. I’m a ‘why not’ kind of girl with a ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ motto. When most high school seniors were firmly entrenched in their cliques and clubs, I was moving to a school where I knew absolutely no one. By choice. So I could experience something different.

When my husband and I married, I needed a change of scenery from the east coast so we pulled out a map of the United States, closed our eyes and let our finger find our next address. A couple of months later we packed up our two cars, complete with Mr. Fish in his tank buckled in beside me, and drove cross country to Idaho. Without jobs. Without a place to live. We ended up staying there only 3 weeks and limped across the upper mid-west to family in Minnesota, but we still tell stories about those 3 weeks. And discovered that no matter how poor we were or how bad it seemed, we were in it together.

Many years and several moves later (more calculated than the first) we are getting ready to make a new change and for the first time in my life, I have hesitation. I’ve never paused before in doubt. Looking back, I have some regrets, but when I was making decisions I never had doubt. Now I’ve got a tiny one, flickering inside me. I think it’s because I’m older, expected to ‘plan for the future’ and ‘what about your retirement’. I don’t have the luxury of youth anymore, the freedom to live my dreams with abandon. But I want to. Inside my forty-something year old body is the ‘why not’ girl screaming out ‘what’s the worst that could happen’.

And so I’m trying my best to listen to her because I know that if I don’t at least try, I will have regrets. And if you don’t take chances how will you ever know the possibilities?

I Don’t Read Anymore

I mean, I do read. But when I read a book now (since becoming serious about this writing and publishing thing) I find myself not just reading. I’m analyzing. Dissecting. Questioning. I look at the author’s use of point of view, the story structure, how smaller subplots are weaved throughout. If a line of dialogue or description speaks to me I’ll highlight it or write it down in a notebook I keep for such things. Not that I’m going to use it in my own work, but other words simply inspire my own.

I just finished Jodi Picoult’s novel Change of Heart. This is only the second time I’ve read her work. I usually avoid it because of the amount of tears they invoke. It can get awkward crying like a baby while sitting in carpool with teenagers walking by staring. Yeah, daughter #1 loves to have those kind of things spread around her high school campus. But I picked up Change of Heart yesterday at the library (yes, yesterday. I read it less than a day. What of it?) and devoured it. Not for the plot or well written chapters. To be honest they shifted abruptly and I found the points of view not consistent in length. One character’s POV was short; the next, pages long. Not for character development either, because I could have cared less about most of them except for Lucius, an inmate sharing death row with our main character. He was intriguing, but not the reason I kept reading.

I kept reading because my author’s brain was looking for something. Something that I usually find in every other book I have ever read. When I realized that Jodi Picoult had left it out in this book I was floored. I had to share it with somebody and my best friend is on a cruise so here I am, sharing it with you. The thing Picoult left out of her book Change of the Heart is … are you ready? She left out the main characters point of view.   O.o   Seriously. Shay Bourne, the man in prison for murder, doesn’t have a voice in the entire book! And yet, through her other character’s points of view we know Shay.  Mind blown.  I was halfway through the book before I realized it.

Maybe there are tons of books out there with this kind of structure, but I honestly don’t remember reading them. Of course, back then I was just reading for entertainment. Now I read with a different eye. What are your thoughts? Have you read this book or any other book that does this? Am I late to the party without a clue? Let me know.

Updates

Last month I was offered a contract on my first novel Six Days! Beyond my wildest dreams – didn’t think my first attempt at writing would ever get this far. For someone who switches ‘careers’ like Jay Z changes clothes, I’m pretty proud of myself for not only finishing the book, but shopping it around. 

I finished Six Days in July of 2013 and had neighbor Jennifer Bateman, a contract editor for Penguin, look it over. She was the first person I let see my words on paper, the first person to tell me I should pursue this. Without her encouragement I never would have finished! Everyone needs cheerleaders in their corner and she was waving her pom poms for publishing like crazy! 

In August of 2013, Savvy Authors hosted a symposium and signed up immediately. They offered workshops, pitching practice, synopsis helps and the reason I joined: the Pitch Room! Editors and agents from different publishing houses accepted pitches from authors, trying to get their manuscripts in front of them. I submitted to seven publishing houses and one agent. I got two instant rejections and four requests for first three chapters. I was ecstatic at the response and encouraged to keep going. In September I submitted to four more houses and two more agents. Some of the editors gave me great feedback and recommendations. I edited based on some of the advice and resubmitted to them. By October I had two editors seriously interested. After some back and fourths I was offered a contract in March of 2014! 

It seems like it took forever from August until today to get where I am (contract expected to arrive early May, 2014) but from what I am learning the publishing world moves slower than I thought. But it’s all good and I’m already working on more novels, excited to keep my momentum going in the direction of selling and sailing. Husband and I have 7 years until we plan to sail away. Publishing more novels will help us sail longer so that is a strong motivation for me.

I’ll announce details when the contract is signed and the champagne is flowing! 🙂  

My Yearly Motto

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New Year’s resolutions are all fine and good for some, but I usually find them too difficult to remember or by March they are no longer relevant. So instead, I do yearly mottos. Last year was DARE YOURSELF. Yes, I got it from the swimsuit issue of a Roxy catalogue and I’m pretty sure they weren’t talking about improving your reading list. But, it can be applied to so much. And for me it meant completing something. 

I love new things and get easily distracted by ideas. During my home interior design phase I changed the wall color of my kitchen so often my husband said we were losing square footage from the thickness of the paint alone. I once started a home-based business and as soon as it started growing and flourishing, I no longer had the desire so I shut it down. Acrylics and canvases are packed away in storage after I swore I wanted to sell art. I have a history of jumping from one thing to the next. So when I decided I was going to write a novel, I saw the Roxy cover and it clicked. “Wendi,” I said to myself, “I dare you to finish a novel!” It worked and I even managed to learn the publishing process and submit it to editors near and far. Two are very interested and I hope to have a contract next month. Not bad for my first attempt at writing and publishing! 

So, this year my motto is LIVE OUTSIDE THE BOX. See that picture up there? That is Gee Atherton during his downhill mountain bike race run at RedBull Rampage in Utah a few years ago. He and his family have made a living out of doing what the love. They get to travel all over the world and get paid to ride bikes. Down mountains. They love what they do and they’ve turned it into a career. Not many of us are programmed to do that. Or maybe we are and we’ve just been reprogrammed to do the whole 9 – 5 thing for 50 years and then retire. 

I admire people that live a life less ordinary. My husband and I are preparing to do that: buy a boat and sail the world. We have a few years, but this year is all about getting into that mentality to live outside the box.  

 

To kill or not to kill

When I first met Jason I really wanted to kill him. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was a good guy and all. Musical, smart, beautiful, and Southern. There was A LOT to like about the guy and everyone who met him loved him. I did, too. But I just thought it would be better if he died so I shot him one rainy evening. He tried to hold on a bit longer but the bullet had done its damage. He suffered but finally died in the arms of his love. It was tragic and beautiful. But then my editor said I could absolutely NOT kill my male main character. *Pout* So I re-wrote the ending to my first novel and she’s right, Jason had to live and I’m glad he did. The world does need more good guys out there, right? Especially since Jason stumbled upon a government cover-up. Think Eric Snowden but with more of a plan and handsomer. Here is a picture of Jason:

jason2 henry_cavillYes, I know. His real name is Henry Cavill. AKA Superman. But I found him before all that. He was my Jason long before he donned that red cape. Having a picture of my main characters helps make them real, helps me write, helps me figure out where they are going next. So, yeah, looking at that dimple now, I see that killing him would have been a shame.

But sometimes the endings aren’t Happily Ever After. Nicolas Sparks obviously has stock in Kleenex. Jodi Picoult, the author of My Sister’s Keeper, can create tears from others with less than five words.  The popularity of their books leads me to believe that sometimes killing is okay, even necessary. Sometimes a death brings about a much needed change in another character, something that spurs the story on, even changing it’s direction. I do understand that people read to escape reality, to have a happily ever after in their dreams. But sometimes, just sometimes, don’t you want a little tragedy, too?

Dead Man Down? Have you seen this Colin Farrell movie? OMG – again, support Mr. Sparks and get those tissues! Broke my heart into a million pieces. Crying and runny nose with my husband glancing over making sure I was going to be okay. It was sad but you know what? I freakin’ LOVE that movie! Yes, the acting was amazing, the story line was riveting and there was a good amount of gun handling of which husband approved. But the tragic ending made it memorable, something I won’t soon forget. Does that make me a masochist? No, just a writer that likes variety, something more than the fairytale endings so many are used to watching or reading.

If you haven’t heard about Game of Thrones and you like your HEAs please crawl back under your rock. There is so much uncertainty about the longevity of it’s main cast the actors have to check in with security every morning to see if they are still wanted on the set. There is even a parody on YouTube:

 

So what about you? Do you like it when a character is killed off or do you want to see that Happily Ever After?

Standing Out and Out Standing

So. How ya doing? It’s been a while…summer vacations, house falling down, zoo needing care. You know, it’s been busy. But really, I am at a loss as to what to write. I know, I know. “You write books, for cryin’ out loud!” I hear you and writing 90,000 words for a novel comes easy for me. Status updates, tweets, texts – got those covered, too. I can spit those out easier than I can, well, spit.

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)But this beast I’ve created here? It just stares at me, daring me to post some drivel that it will consume and then spit back out with a laugh. I have no idea what I’m doing here. I’m not an authority on fashion unless jeans and a t-shirt are suddenly couture. I can’t even begin to comprehend the ins and outs of politics nor do I want to debate that here. I can talk a little about a lot. Unless it’s my neurotic dog. I’m a pro at dealing with him. And if you need advice on how to burn a pot of rice, well I’m your girl!

I’m supposed to be creating an ‘online presence’ for publishers and agents to look and see. Kind of like a litmus test for how popular I am, thus indicating how popular my books will be in the future. It’s like high school all over again. Word.

I understand that the publishing world is inundated with ‘wanna be’ authors and you have to stand out above the rest. You need to be different yet relevant; relateable yet edgy. Lady GaGa is a perfect example. People who don’t even listen to her music know who she is just by the absurd and bizarre things she does. Her bacon dress was brilliant. It was different, never heard of anyone doing that before. And it was relevant – talk about the ultimate recycling of materials. She could wear a dress and then go home and cook it.

So, while I won’t wrap bacon around my next manuscript, I need to find a way to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of ‘wanna bees’ out there. The wanna bees that write beautiful novels, descriptive and passionate, full of amazing story telling. There are thousands of those on slush piles on agents’ desks all across the world. Just to be seen by the agent’s two eyes is pure luck of the draw. Standing out after that is crucial. That’s where I’m at – creating something worth seeing. And right now I’m just feeling like her: brideFrankenstein3