Tuesday, April 27, 2010

W for WiP

I shared the first full-length story I ever wrote with half a dozen people, and heard back from four.
The first told me she liked my character development (though she absolutely disliked my main character), and thought I used dialogue very effectively. But, she informed me, the story flagged in parts and I would have to ruthlessly re-write huge chunks of it to keep the momentum going. Never one to shirk from hard work, I saved a new version of the manuscript on which I could start editing, when I heard from the second reader.
She loved the story. The voice, the characters, the way the story was pulled on through dialogue, and the sheer chickiness of the whole thing. She pointed out a couple of places where I had to do a bit of re-writing, but those were weak points that I had identified even on my own. Since I wanted to believe her, I did one round of revisions, and sent off queries to three publishers.
A couple of weeks after that, I heard back from a third reader. She liked what she read, but from a purely marketing viewpoint, felt I should focus on one of the four characters, instead of having four that are equally important. She suggested I start with a conflict, maybe flashback a little, but keep the focus on one character, with the rest of them being important supporting characters. Given the number of re-writes this particular writer has gone through for a book I thought was better than many published works even in the first draft, I was ready for a long haul.
But even before I completely digested the review, a fourth reader got back to me. She likes the book as it is, and her only suggestion was that I delete entirely a chapter which would have worked if it were a tale of one woman, but which only distracted from the main plot since I had four parallel stories.

The good news is that all four readers like the tone of the story, because that is the one thing most difficult to change. The bad news is that while two of them recommend making minor changes, and two others say it needs total overhauling. If I have to rewrite completely, I am more than happy to do so, but the opinion is divided 50:50 on whether or not the book needs it. Readers 1 and 4 are from India, the other two are not, so it is not a geographical thing. Readers 1 and 4 are exactly my age, the other till a little older, so it is not an age thing. All four read a lot, and all except 1 have written more novels than I have. Each of them is qualified to pass judgment, and I trust all of them to be impartial.
Then how this disconnect?

Reader 3 (Hart Johnson) perhaps nailed it with her comment “I LOVE sort of nebulous books that are about lives that connect but that don't acutely focus (like A Suitable Boy), but I KNOW . . . you can't sell anything that is too diffuse. I think it would help you to be a little less subtle as to who is the primary protagonist . . . focusing on one story as primary will help you sell it.”

Readers 2 and 4 looked at it as a story of four interconnected lives, while 1 and 3 looked in vain for a primary protagonist. It was upto me to decide what I wanted it to be, and re-write accordingly.
It was written as a story of four characters, and I would hate to dilute that by picking one primary character. I don’t have writerly aspirations of the magnitude of a Vikram Seth, but even chick-lit has examples of multiple protagonists *cough Candace Bushnell cough*.
I had to take a decision, and I did. I will go with my gut and send off queries to the other publishers on my list. If I don’t hear back from them, I can demolish and rebuild the entire structure, and re-submit to the same publishers under another name. To me, that sounds like the most sensible thing to do.

Update - Hours after posting this, I heard back from the publisher I thought would be the one most likely to take the bait- "this doesn't fit in with the immediately publishing plans". One down, five to go (yes, that is how many publishers we have in India). The good thing is that I can always do a total overhaul and re-submit next year.


Anonymous said...

I wish you the best of luck with your book. :o)))

slommler said...

Ahhh! Decisions...decisions!! I can see this was a tough call on your part. Good luck on getting your book accepted. Sounds like you have every good chance of that happening.

Al said...

Good luck!

I was lucky all my readers had pretty much the same view.


Good luck with your book you deserve a break.
Enjoyed the post very much.


Mason Canyon said...

Always go with your gut instinct. Besides, if for some unknown reason that plot doesn't work then you haven't failed but only overcome one more hurdle to the finished project. Good luck.

Thoughts in Progress

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Best of luck! Sometimes you have to go with your gut.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jaydee Morgan said...

I agree, go with your gut and your vision for your novel. If all your readers point out the same thing, then you have a problem. If it's a 50-50 split (or less), it's really your call. Good luck!!

dipali said...

Follow your heart, and see what the next few publishers have to say.

Gregg said...

The hard part of your decision may be changing your vision in order to hope to be commerical.

Karen Walker said...

Hi Rayna,
Sorry it took me so long to get your blog up on my blogroll so that I can connect with you regularly. What you write about here is so difficult for a writer. I think you came to exactly the right place. YOu need to evaluate the feedback you receive and then check in with your gut to see what your inner wisdom tells you. I had a similar experience with a singing concert Sunday. Some loved it, some not so much. You will find the right publisher for your work. Good luck!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Alice Walker usually has multiple story lines going on in the same book too and she's done okay in the literary world. Good luck with the publishers!

Ellie said...

I like the idea of the intertwined stories!
It is a tough call, I do think it is always wise
to go with your gut! Try, try again! Interesting split on the opinions, I can see this
would cause a dilemma. Just an idea, is there
any way you could tie that into the storyline.
Four people witness something and there is a 50/50 split, a difference of opinion. It was just a thought, I don't know the story, so it isn't fair to say. Good luck! It sounds intriguing~

R. M. Iyer said...

@ Niki - thank you. One rejection, five publishers to go!

@ SueAnn - Thanks. The good thing is that, I decided to go with my gut this time, but if I face only rejections, nothing is stopping me from focussing on one character, and resubmitting it as a totally different story.

@ Al - thanks. Oh that life were so simple for me!

@ Yvonne - thank you.

@ Mason - yes, that is exactly how I saw it. Easy enough to change the storyline to incorporate the other set of suggestions later.

@ Elizabeth - thank you. And yes, I am going with my gut on this one. Though the gut has been known to fail.

@ Jaydee - had it been even 75:25, I would have done the re-write. But they are so evenly split, and not along geography or age, so I may as well go with my gut.

@ Dipali - yes, keeping my fingers crossed on that. Our mutual friend has the most terrible experience with two of them, and I am not sure if I should expect better, but.....

@ Gregg - luckily, I don't see that as a problem. I know that what I have written is what I would like to read. But if there is no perceived market for it, I am quite okay with changing it. If I feel it is worth it.

@ Karen - thank you for taking all that trouble to put me on your blog roll. I guess in all creative pursuits, there is so much room for subjectivity that there is no one right answer. At this point of time, I am going with my gut, but if it doesn't work I am okay with doing what needs to be done to make it more palatable.
That there are so few publishers in India would actually make it easier, I guess. I will get a feedback from the entire market in one shot, so need never indulge in what ifs.

@ Debra - no, Alice Walker didn't do too badly. Nor Amy Tan. August company, and not one I am comfortable with putting myself in !!!

Saumya said...

I just found your blog and am so happy I did! I'm also an aspiring India author. Best of luck with your rewrites; I'm working on mine as we speak!! Your post slightly reminded me of the Hindi Bindi club. Have you read it?

Saumya said...

P.S. Hope it's okay that I'm following you now!

Anonymous said...

Rayna - I'm going to go out on a limb here and say - why does a writer (an inspired writer, following her Muse) have to cowtow to the received wisdom (possibly perceived ignorance) of the world's largest publishing industry (US), when you are playing to a market in the Subcontinent which may have a more enlightened/ethnic approach to readership? Your four-way parallel lives are what MAKES the MS sing. Your dialogue-led crises are emotional, very chick, very contemporary, hugely supportive of Indian women. I am willing to bet there's one of the Big Five ready to take a chance on you - just because your portrayals are emancipated India, and because they know the background and what it took for women to get there. Fingers crossed. Expect Miracles.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Keep chugging along and go with your gut. Ulitimately with all the rereading and marketing you'll have to do...it helps to like your book.

arlee bird said...

Whew! If only it could be easy, but then it might not really be worth it. Good luck with the remaining publishers. It would be nice to move on to something new.

Look forward to your May 3rd Reflections post and hope you will consider our special music Favorites post on May 17.

May 3rd A to Z Challenge Reflections Mega Post

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Time to find reader #5 and break the tie!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Always, always go with your gut. Here's hoping one of the remaining four loves your book! :-)

Watery Tart said...

Natasha--that is ABSOLUTELY what you have to do with conflicting advice--go with your gut--if you hear the same exact thing from multiple people and no real conflict, then you should probably listen. When you are getting conflicting advice, it is YOUR story.

And not writing chick-lit, and trying to sell in the US, I probably (though I think I was clear) fell too heavily on stuff I'd been hearing myself... I don't KNOW how chick lit or India markets change all those factors, and either alone may be PLENTY to tip in your favor. I do love the chapters I read.

Faith Pray said...

Good work, Rayna! May the submission process be easy sailing for you!
I like L. Diane's idea to add a fifth reader too, if you decide to have a look over things again.

Joanne said...

The writing journey is such a learning process. I agree with the others to follow your heart, keeping all the recommendations in mind. On each round of edits and submissions, we learn, learn and learn more. With careful finetuning and thought, you will get to that place where you know the story is just right.

Jemi Fraser said...

It's so hard to see our own work sometimes - and to see what others see. It's not easy to decide what to do. Follow your heart! Good luck with it!

Marjorie said...

Natasha no matter what you decide I know it will be great. Good luck in getting successfully published.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's so hard to pull together varied comments and choose which suggestions are good and which don't work for your story. I belong to a critique group and listen to 5 other voices, 2 of them men. You can imagine the number of disagreements among them as they read and critique the same chapter. Even after a rewrite, it's still possible to get more and different reactions from agents and editors. It's enough to make us pull our hair out by the roots...before we go back and revise one more time.

VR Barkowski said...

Rayna, in the end it has to be your decision, but seek as many readers as you can. I had a similar experience with POV in my first book. Three different agents gave me three different suggestions as to how the two POVs should be executed. In the end, I followed the advice of the agent who agreed with me. :) Trust yourself.

My fingers are crossed for the remaining four publishers!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Saumya - no I haven't read that book, though it is one I have heard only good things about. With some books, the time has to be right for you to read them! And all the best to you too.

@ Marian - THANK YOU!!! You are one person who has totally got what I was trying to say. But of my two Indian readers, one wants me to make huge changes too, so I am not sure....
But I guess one could always self-publish. That may well be the most sensible thing to do in any case.

@ Raquel - you have a point, a very very big point!!!

@ Arlee - I guess it is best to go with what you believe.

@ Diane - I am planning to do just that. And this person I have asked is a published author who is quite disgruntled with the publishing industry, so I should get a balanced view

@ Shannon - thank you. And I hope so too.

@ Tami - Oh yes, I totally got what you were trying to say. What I love most about Confluence is the multiple viewpoints, but that masterpiece is still struggling to get past the query stage.

@ Faith - thank you

@ Joanne - so true. I already know the dozen things that I need to do to make the book better. A lot of the book is self indulgent and would be better off edited out

@ Jemi - thank you. It is hard to decide what to do when advice is so conflicting

@ Marjorie - thank you.

@ Patricia - it is a long and often frustrating process, isn't it? And to think there was a time when we were naive enough to believe that all you really had to do was to write the damn book!!!

@ VR - thank you. And it is nice to know someone else had exactly the same issue, and on how they resoloved the problem.


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