WRITING AS WORK: REVISING, EDITING, REWRITING
[Before I even begin I’d like to give another shout out to my client, Christian Picciolini. Go buy his important, powerful book, “Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.” (NOW BEING RE-RELEASED DEC 26, 2017 AS WHITE AMERICAN YOUTH: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement—and How I Got Out) Available on his website (www.christianpicciolini.com), Amazon, and bookstores around the country. The true tale of one of the first neo-Nazis in America who got out young—after operating major N. American skinhead cells—changed his life, and became an advocate for love, peace, non-violence, and tolerance. He formed the non-profit, “Life After Hate,” which helps extremists disentangle from their organizations and get out, to start their lives over again and become helpful, moral members of society. He is a huge chunk of the solution, people! Buy his book and please: review it on Amazon. The foreword is by Joan Jett (the famous rock musician). Christian has been on the Glen Beck TV Program, Adam Carolla show (listen to the podcast, it’s from May 3, and skip to 53:00 minutes), and has done countless local and otherwise interviews about his life and the book. Make sure to pick up a copy. You won’t regret it. I promise.]
You know, becoming and remaining a writer, in today’s world—or at any time, really—is freaking hard. I’ve been writing, in one form or another, my whole life. It started as a kid, writing apology letters back and forth with my mom, after getting in arguments. It was our best form of communication.
Since I began really putting the coal in the fire, so to speak, it has been a long, hard road. Lots of rejection. Lots. Rejections for stories, rejections for agent representation for my novel, rejection for query letters, cover letters, etc. The word ‘unfortunately’ still drives a quiver down my spine. Even now, just writing about, it creeps me out. I wish they could find a less condescending way to pass on your work. But, alas: It is what it is. Makes those acceptances even better, right?
Along the way I have received publication for about 15 different stories in small lit journals and magazines, which is great. I should be grateful, and I am. But I feel ready, now, for the next thing in my early career as a writer. I want that agent. I have thus far written five full-length novels, all first drafts minus my current one, a suspense novel that has been rejected by half the agents in New York City. (My last submission was about nine months ago.)
So, finally, eight months back, I decided to hire a seasoned editor myself (I am a freelance pro book editor and former literary agent’s assistant) to take a look at the first portion of the book and point out to me what’s going on. Actually, I hired two different editors to have a look. I wanted to get some different perspective.
This actually marks a new level of professional maturity re my career as a writer. I have received positive and negative feedback from professionals on many sides about the book. I have rewritten, revised, edited, etc, and I thought it was tight, solid, firm. But, clearly, based on the number and nature of the rejections I was receiving…something was off. Several agents commented on the fact that they had a hard time ‘connecting with the voice.’
I know it’s hard—as sensitive writers—to take and hear criticism. But I have learned that the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to not be married to your material. Be teachable. Be open to critical, respectful feedback. Besides, no editor or agent is ever going to want to work with you or look at your book if you’re so sensitive that you won’t take feedback, that you won’t listen. Try to let down those defenses. Everything you write cannot be your ‘precious baby.’ Not if you want to go commercial and sell your work to publishers, and have a working relationship with an agent.
For me, it was hard to slow down and face the fact that, no, I wasn’t ‘there yet.’ I still had some more work to do around tightening this manuscript. Yes, I thought it was ready, yes it had changed professional hands to an extent, yes other writers had read it and given me the thumbs up. But that doesn’t always mean it is ready. What it does mean is that, after I’d put it out there and tried for a while, it was time to let go of control and impatience and do the next right thing. In this case, that meant hiring an editor (or two) and having them look at my Achilles Heels’. And then I have to be willing to do the work on rewriting, etc.
As a book editor, I tell my clients all the time that they need to work more on the setting, or cut down on dialogue, strengthen their POV, get in closer on a certain character or back off on another one, show us the stakes, create more tension, describe more or less, use action and concrete details and the five senses to place the reader in the scene, etc. And all the time, I get antsy (especially self-publishing authors because they can release their work whenever they want) amateur writers who are very hard-working but also impatient to get their work out there. And that’s a red flag. I tell them that.
Whether self-pub or traditional, it’s always smarter to take your time as much as you are able, slow down, and write the best book you can. There is no excuse for sloppy writing, just like there is no excuse for bad editing. Write your book to the best of your ability and then, you know: Do the business [un-fun] part that I’m doing with my own book currently.
And just for the record, I have done all the rewriting and am now about to resubmit my novel again for agent representation. It’s been worked on extensively, rewritten, etc, has a new title, and is in a new genre entirely. Wish me luck!
And good luck!
“You said it. Let’s edit.”
*** I am a freelance developmental book editor. I work on memoir and fiction. Right now I am booked until August but I can add you into a slot for that time. Interested in a test edit? Email me at: email@example.com. I look forward to reading your work.
Find my fiction online at Alfie Dog Press. My stories are 66 cents each!
Find me on Twitter at @Michael_Editor