Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Good Push

You know, I think this is what working with a publishing pro is about...

What do I mean by that? Well lemme e'splain...



Step One: You Write the Book

And it is good. You love your book. You plan (or not) and you write and then you revise and you make it PERFECT for how you think the story reaches its conclusion in the best possible way. And you give it to peer readers and many of them have REALLY great feedback... but it is... you know... basic... 'your villain needs to be fleshed out better', 'your hero is shallow, maybe give him a REASON', 'the killer is too obvious'. But none of these are GRAND changes...

Sometimes you decide on your OWN to do something wacky... like say... Point of View change...


The Pros

And then you send it out to somebody who has more control of THE GATE. And they have a BIG idea... and you feel... erm... defensive... because they aren't giving you small tweaky suggestions... they are saying 'I will only pass you on if you change this BIG thing.' But they COULD pass you on, you see? So you argue and complain... INTERNALLY... but ya know... Ya GOTTA do it... it's your CHANCE!



Lo and Behold... they KNOW Something...

After you are DONE arguing with nobody (because you KNOW you're gunna do it, ne?) you get to work... and it pushes you to rethink rationale... it tests your creativity... it pushes that story OUT of its nice linear logical line into the INTERESTING...


So how do I know all this?


BECAUSE IT'S HAPPENING!!!

I sent Kahlotus to my agent when it became a semi-finalist at ABNA. I knew it wasn't done, but I wondered if some RANDOM agent might spot it and like it and before that happened, I wanted to give Signature Literary first read... Ellen doesn't do YA, so she passed it to her partner Amy... who LIKED IT...

But the changes she wanted were NOT insubstantial.

I had three points of view, she wanted ONE.
I needed more fleshed bad guys.
The plot needs some tightening...

But the BIGGIE... is...

My ghost can only be seen by a handful of people. And I'd thought fairly carefully about WHO could see GHOSTS... but I'd written it so all the main likeable characters could see her... (only 4, but yeah, okay...). My agent said it was too much... the teacher, fine... the schizophrenic, fine... but I needed to PICK between Serena (the #2 important character) and Daniel (an open-minded boy)...PLUS... I needed to make one of the BAD GUYS see her.... DOH!

But, but, but... my conception of open-mindedness... doesn't GO with bad guys... erm... (that might reflect my politics, but hey...).


And I was all set to cut Daniel out of view when it occurred to me...

How BIG would it be to develop a close friendship with somebody you COULDN'T actually see and hear? The watcher... the protector... may or may not BE there... they have to communicate THROUGH people... who are slowly disappearing from their shared space... but they still NEED each other...

I sort of fell in love with this challenge... with how much more interesting and unexpected the final product would be...

But I never would have gotten there, had I not been PUSHED...

So there.

Anybody else have a transformative experience with a pro?

28 comments:

Andrew said...

This was a helpful entry....
I hate the pros.

Christine Murray said...

It might be hard to hear, but if you honestly think that a professional helped you improve your book then that's awesome.

Cold As Heaven said...

Seams like I'll never get passed Step One. Doesn't matter. I just enjoy the process of writing >:)

Cold As Heaven

L'Aussie said...

I love your reference to THE GATE. You hear stories about months of revisions being demanded then still no contract.Scary. Moving from 3 POVs to 1 is a big ask. I wonder why? Most of my fave authors use multiple POVs. I'll be interested in hearing more of your journey. Alas, I haven't edited enough to reach the query stage yet.

Denise

Old Kitty said...

Yay!! Good for being pushed to be more NAKED!!!! Love it!!

Good luck with your re-writes and may you develop even more bigger and NAKEDer ideas!! Take care
x

Creepy Query Girl said...

wow, it's so great when feedback not only speaks to you but gets you excited about the project again as though it's the first time! That's awesome!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

At least you're excited about it!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I love it when I have a light bulb moment that's generated by an editor or agent! Sounds like that's happened for you. I always keep a copy of the old draft, but the new one always seems to be better...

Hart Johnson said...

Andrew-teehee--because they hurt, or are you avoiding them?

Christine-definitely!

CaH-you WILL. I know you will!

Denise-I like multiples, too (serial--not omniscient), but I think in YA, the single is far more common. One of the PoVs, too, was an adult, so that wasn't flying.

Jenny-thank you!

Katie-yup--very excited! Though I confess this one has never fallen out of grace.

Alex-I AM!

Elizabeth-I keep all my drafts! At the end of a project i burn 'em to a CD and only the latest stays on the computer... erm... or that's the plan, if anything ever is DONE DONE... I have had visions of a publishing editor saying 'you know, I'd like one of these other PoVs too...) *snort* It's happened more than once at work... take it out, put it in... but I am pretty sure this is right.

Deb said...

You are inspired again! That is the wonderful part of the story. Good luck with it.

Stephen M. Swartz said...

I edited my perfect ABNA entry (out at the pitch stage) back and forth following suggestions of excerpt readers until it was a mere shadow of its original self: passionless, wasted, stripped of color and flavor, plain boring, boiled down to a "deviant sex fantasy" and thus barely more than a crude outline, a sun-baked skeleton burned beyond all recognition, devoid of everything that makes a good novel...and still it did not please anyone!

erica and christy said...

I only read your ABNA excerpt, but well, um......I didn't think the teacher pov worked, either. Sorry. Glad you're happy with the changes! (and I always like to think I look like Sigourney Weaver. You know, I'm tall, brunette, (that's where it ends, unofortunately)).

VR Barkowski said...

Actually, no. Most of the pro advice I've received has been to make my work "more marketable." In other words, soften it up and add formulaic elements. Have I heeded the advice? Absolutely. But if I were ever to self-publish, all the emotion and dark stuff that makes readers feel something would get added back in. Just sayin'...

Dawn Ius said...

Sounds like a great experience!

Michael Offutt, Author said...

That kind of feedback is awesome to get. I guess maybe the real issue is falling in love with your novel and then someone points out the flaws and it's hard.

Hart Johnson said...

Deb-absolutely!

Stephen-ACK! I actually think I did that to my first book because of 'writerly advice' i ran across... I also had to cut a ton of words and ended up cutting a lot of personality.

Erica-AHA! I think part of that is it was my first YA and it totally didn't cross my mind an adult didn't work.

VR-so interesting! I wonder if that is because you are writing mystery... though... Harry Dolan, as a best seller, breaks all the genre rules. I just know mystery is tighter for the most part.

Dawn-it is!

Michael-it's true... it's like YOU can know your baby looks like a little old man, but you want OTHER people to think he's cute! I have lots of practice, though, because of my day job.

Clarissa Draper said...

I have some really wonderful critique partners who push me. I think it's so important to challenge yourself. That's why I don't like just my family reading my work, they don't challenge me enough.

Alison said...

Ooh, interesting concept of friendship - congratulations! I just love, love, love the amazing things people come up with while they are creating - and sometimes we do need that push to get there ...

Jan Morrison said...

uh...I so long for this. I want to be miffed and have my nose out of joint and then get back at it and give them what they want. I do. And I'll get there some day and then I'll probably bemoan my fate. Not that you do, you absolutely don't! I just want to be pushed by someone other than my own conscience. yep. I do.

vbtremper said...

How awesome! You know I loved the Kahlotus ABNA excerpt, so I'm excited to see it get closer and closer to...ya know...being out there for real.

I had feedback from an agent inspire some pretty major changes that I think worked out great. Unfortunately, the agent didn't agree and didn't accept the revisions. Oh well. I still think it's a better ms for having gone through that experience.

-Vicki

Hart Johnson said...

Clarissa-definitely agree that other writers are FAR superior to friends and family who love us, and so by extension love pretty much anything we do.

Alison-thank you! And yes--like somebody helping you stretch, eh? It hurts a little, but you can get farther!

Jan-You will find it! And we can all do it for each other, some, too, eh?

Vicki-thank you! And while it's disappointing if they don't accept it after the changes were for THEM, if the MS is better, it is worth it anyway.

SweetMarie83 said...

Apologizing in advance for a really long comment.....
I love it when you post on my blog because your comments are always so genuine and I know you actually READ my post. Makes my day! I can't wait to read your books if they're what I'm looking for...I'd read them even if they weren't just coz you're awesome lol. And I thought that might be the case with series from the library...also, I check my library's website frequently to reserve books and a lot of them say 'lost' or 'claimed returned' and one day when I asked about it, the librarian told me that for some reason anything supernatural tends to gets stolen or people say they've lost or returned them and probably just end up keeping them. Sad, since the library has such limited funding. I guess we both luck out though with a great lending system - my library does inter-library loans with all the libraries in my province, so if there's something I really, really want, chances are I can get it eventually!
As for this post, I love that the challenge inspired you and made you think and turned into a good thing rather than a negative. I know that as writers, we want feedback but then tend to go on the offensive about it..people always say 'it's your work that's being criticized, not you', but my work is so much a part of me that I can't help but feel like it IS me who's being criticized. I guess it shows that I'm maturing that I take people's suggestions, might stew about them for a bit, but then given time, I realize they're often right and that their suggestions will just make my work better, and that's what we want, right? Some of my best ideas have come from suggestions that I've taken, tweaked a bit and then fleshed out.

RaShelle said...

Hart - That's exciting. No, I haven't worked with an agent... yet. It sounds like your experience has been amazing.

You go girl!!

Helena said...

You love the challenge? Now there's the mark of a true writer!
The suggestions for Kahlotus sounded viable, but I can tell you that I loved the excerpt I read.
All the suggestions reminds me of how Pat Conroy's editor once thought he should change the whole narration of his manuscript from something like third person to first. He did it. Then she apologized and said it was better his way. From what I hear, he's still friends with the editor. (It was a BIG manuscript)

Hart Johnson said...

Marie-I LOVE long comments! And I do think taking the criticism takes practice. Thankfully, I started the peer review process in grad school and get editor and reviewer stuff in the day job, so I quit taking stuff personally before it was creative stuff. (I think had this come first, it might have been harder)

RaShelle-you'll get a chance, I'm sure--it's been pretty great.

Helena-Too funny on Pat Conroy. I do keep all the drafts just in case, because even if the agent likes the change, the editor may say "But I want to know this person better' and ask me to add... I think though, I love the problem solving process.

Will Burke said...

I've heard enough about the tough love of editors from Mur at I Should Be Writing (podcast) that I hope that I can take criticism like a rown-up, but we'll see. I think I'll sulk in my beer for a night, then trust the pros.

Arlee Bird said...

It can be a good thing when others make us see things from another point of view.


Lee
Tossing It Out

taio said...

great experience