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My Novel, Writing

Why am I doing this again?

Edit StickersI only talk about my own writing on this blog when I reach a significant point. A year ago, I wrote about how it felt to finish my first novel. In the summer something unrelated prompted me to reflect on my early experience of rejection. This time the milestone was when I decided to stop submitting, get a professional edit and embark on a major re-structuring of the manuscript. I’m happy to share my experience, but that’s all it is.

One of the strongest messages to come from the numerous writer events I’ve attended is that agents and publishers no longer have time to work extensively with authors on their manuscripts. A submission should be the absolute best the writer is capable of and extremely polished. I worked hard on my novel and accepted a lot of feedback at every stage which helped to raise my game. By the time I started submitting to agents I genuinely thought the manuscript was ready.

Is this the part where I wail about how embarrassed I am to have ever sent it out? Well actually, no. I can’t pretend that nine months of rejections was anything but hard, but it had its moments. I believe this is known as ‘feasting on crumbs’, but for what it’s worth (and I appreciated it) many of the agents I approached said nice things about my writing and in fact some of the most positive comments came from those who read the whole thing but just didn’t love it (and I understand now just how important it is that the agent does love it). One, who I’d met briefly, told me she liked me more than the book (!) and another had such a strange emotional response to the story that my husband got quite angry, saying ‘Who are these people?’

In an attempt to hang onto my sanity I started work on a new novel and reached 30,000 words before I knew it, but the very fact it was going well made me feel uneasy about the first one (never underestimate a writer’s capacity to beat themselves up). When people started to say, ‘Maybe this will be the one that’ll get you an agent’, I suspected they might be right. So why didn’t I just throw the first one in a drawer and mark it down to experience? Plenty of writers do.

I saw several reasons not to do that. I felt I’d been taken seriously by agents and had been in with a real chance. By this point quite a few other people had read the novel and connected with it. The main characters Jackie and Kath have become incredibly real to me, and not just to me. I’ve had the thrill of hearing others discuss them as if they are real and I still want the chance to tell their story. To give up now would be like locking two friends in a cupboard.

There is one other small matter. I remember watching an American film years ago where a guy barks at some poor loser ‘Your best is not good enough!’ My problem isn’t that my best wasn’t good enough (that might be next), it’s that it wasn’t my best. It wasn’t good enough either and I can see that now. ‘Polished’ doesn’t mean elbow grease and a can of Mr Sheen; it means French polished like a dining table at Versailles. A lot of what you hear at publishing events for new writers is pretty unpalatable (You’re more likely to win Wimbledon, etc) but one constructive piece of advice kept cropping up over and over again – Get a professional edit. Your manuscript is competing against plenty which have.

I decided to call in Debi Alper, who I have followed on Twitter for ages. In September I attended her excellent half day Self-Editing Workshop at the York Festival of Writing and could immediately tell her standards are sky high. When the report arrived, she told me to take lots of deep breaths before reading it. I was so terrified I could hardly bring myself to open the document, but I wasn’t all that fazed by it in the end. I knew she’d be tough on me, but that’s what I needed – unbiased, honest critical input. The verdict? Debi did an amazing job and I am very grateful to her. It’s obvious that she read my manuscript very attentively and spent a long time on it. She really ‘got’ the novel and addressed both the fine detail and the way it functioned as a whole. I was given credit for the things I’d done well, and given my own taste in reading I was really pleased that Debi felt the language and challenging structure made it more literary than I’d seen it myself. That’s very motivating. I was less delighted to be told that the ending was veering towards chick lit but like most of the things she picked me up on, it’s true (and deep down I knew it).

Annotated MSThe main story is about two very different women who meet in London and become close friends in rather odd circumstances. Each of them has a back story which is gradually revealed in flashbacks closely linked to the main action. On the whole it works but there are key places I haven’t pulled it off. Now it’s been pointed out, I can see that I’ve made some common mistakes such as revealing plot developments in dialogue or by skating over them in passing rather than having them take place ‘on screen’, which lets the reader experience them with the character rather than at a remove. I’ve also withheld details of the American character’s past from the reader for far too long, and when I fix this, the reader will feel more invested in her throughout the story.

The bad news is, to do that I’ve got to take the whole manuscript to pieces and put it back together in a different way. I’ve just spent three very intense days going through it working out what needs doing and it’s been surprisingly enjoyable, although it’s going to be a huge challenge to keep the synergy between the back stories and the main narrative. The other big issue in the manuscript is improving the use of Psychic Distance. I thought I was already writing the two 3rd person narratives from deep inside the characters’ heads, but I don’t go far enough. This too will greatly increase the emotional power of the book if I can get it right. I’ve gained huge respect for the skills of the professional editor which are very different to those of a writer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf I could do one thing differently, I would commission the editorial report before submitting to agents and no future book I write will go out without being professionally edited. For many published authors, that proved to be the turning point but I know there’s no guarantee of that and it would be foolish to think so. I’m doing this because I love writing. I believe in my story and I just want to write the best book I can.

Maybe this time I really will.

Writers, have you taken the step of getting a professional edit or would you consider it? I’d be fascinated to hear what readers make of all this….


Debi reminded me of Emma Darwin’s fantastic blog This Itch of Writing, a huge source of useful information for writers on topics such as Psychic Distance, mentioned above.

Fellow debut novelist Anthony Madigan is devoting an entire new blog to his own re-write and it promises to be a very interesting one to follow.

About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


45 thoughts on “Why am I doing this again?

  1. We’ve spoken before about our experiences of novel writing running pretty much parallel, so I’m glad you wrote this post.

    Although we finished our first manuscripts and began to submit them about the same time, I made the difficult decision to shelve mine last year. I got a lot of rejections and a couple of positive rejections that said they didn’t want that manuscript but would like me to send them my next completed project.

    I shelved it not because I thought it was rubbish, but because it required a complete restructure, and I just felt like I was not in the right frame of mind to be able to pull it apart like that. I worked on it for years, like you I was totally attached to my characters and it was about something so close to my heart. I knew that any drastic redraft would not be drastic enough.

    So I decided to work on something new. I started it for NaNoWriMo, and I can already tell it’s significantly better than anything I’ve done before. I will definitely get a professional edit done after reading this post (I had already been considering it as one of my lecturers from university offers a great service) and I’d really like to submit it at some point this year.

    I fully intend to go back to my original MS, but when I am able to be more ruthless, and perhaps even write it again from scratch. I think that’s the only way it will be good enough.

    Good luck, you’re so determined I’m sure you will get the MS to a place you’re happy with.

    Posted by cariadmartin | January 25, 2013, 10:52
    • Thanks Cariad. I think that choosing to continue work on a different project is often the sensible option (and quite a common one from the comments) but it didn’t feel right to me with this manuscript. I couldn’t see what the problems were and now I feel I have a real chance of making it a much better book. Good luck with both of yours – I predict great things for you!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 25, 2013, 19:21
  2. Great post, Isabel. I’m currently working with Debi Alper on the Self-Editing Your Novel course and she really is insightful, tough and encouraging all at the same time. I feel like I have learnt loads from her in the past 3 weeks (and excitingly there is still another 3 weeks to go!) and I’m also facing up to the fact that I have a lot of work and major restructuring ahead. My plan was to submit for an editorial report after doing the redrafting but reading this, I think I should do it before.

    Having read your first novel I think you are very nearly there so putting in this extra work could well be the turning point for you too. Stick at it as it’s a great story with some strong characters that I found myself caring about, even though it’s not your best yet.

    Posted by Amanda Saint (@saintlywriter) | January 25, 2013, 11:18
    • Thanks Amanda. Glad to hear your course is going so well. The task is daunting, isn’t it? But I’m sure our editing and re-writing efforts will be worthwhile, if only for our own satisfaction. I really appreciate your belief in my book having read it. You’re one of the important people who make me feel it’s worth persevering with this one!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 25, 2013, 19:24
  3. Very interesting to hear your take on the same situation I’ve got with my first (rejected so far) novel. I had a professional edit done just before York in September, and wanted to finish my second before I did that terrifying ‘take it apart and put it back together again’ thing. I’m going to get me some of them there coloured stickers and join you! Good luck x

    Posted by isabelrogers | January 25, 2013, 11:35
    • Oh good – any re-writing buddies are particularly welcome at this time! Look forward to having a good chat about this. I also need to recruit some new readers for when it’s done and am in the market for swapsies if you’re interested…

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 25, 2013, 19:26
      • Hi Isabel, your post really resonated…. happy to be a reader, and will be looking for readers myself soon, too, so maybe….? Voula

        Posted by voulagrand | January 27, 2013, 16:59
  4. What a great post Isabel, I’m so glad I follow your blog.

    I can relate to everything you say here. I had my WIP critiqued almost a year ago, and I’m so glad I did. It triggered some important edits, and around the same time I was fortunate enough to get an agent, who also gave me feedback and editorial advice. I think most writers need this sort of input, as we can develop blind spots where our writing is concerned and we need others to point out the parts that aren’t working. I too will always get any future novels critiqued, before I send to my agent and/or editor. It’s a wise investment and I’ll save up to pay for the critique if I need to.

    I’m now working on a second WIP which is actually the first novel I attempted, and then shelved. It’s coming to life again in a new and improved form, I hope 🙂

    I think with a submission, you need to demonstrate an ability to tell a story and to write well. Mine certainly wasn’t polished enough when I sent it off to agents. It was too short, and has since undergone several edits and structural changes. Sometimes I feel it will never be finished! I think I got an agent on the strength of the potential in the novel, rather than the quality of the submission itself. I submitted professionally, of course, my presentation was spotless I hope. I double checked spellings and typos and so on, and I did my best to write as well as I can. But it certainly wasn’t a polished, near-perfect submission. It was just the best I could muster at that time.

    I’ve worked with Debi and Emma on the Writers Workshop Self-editing course, they are great writers and teachers and taught me so much about editing my work 🙂

    Wishing you so much luck Isabel with your writing, belief in your novel is very important and it sounds as though you have that, so full steam ahead 🙂

    Posted by Louise | January 25, 2013, 11:39
    • Thank you, I’m so glad you follow my blog too! Thanks for sharing your own experiences as a ‘to be published’ author (fanfare!) I was quite surprised, as a friend in the business told me that in the past writers were taken on due to the potential they showed but far less often these days. You’re very lucky to have come across such a far-sighted agent – and also no doubt extremely talented! Great to hear that the first WIP is being reincarnated – a hopeful sign for everyone with a ms in a dusty drawer.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 25, 2013, 19:31
  5. Wonderful blog, Isabel. I can’t tell you how delighted I am to know that my feedback resonated with you. It’s been a huge pleasure working with you on your novel and I’m excited about the next stages. (Waving hello at other friends here too.)

    I just wanted to pick up on something Amanda said: ‘My plan was to submit for an editorial report after doing the redrafting but reading this, I think I should do it before.’ My strong advice would be to get your novel to the best you possibly can yourself before submitting it for a professional edit. That gives you the best value for your money IMO as there’s no point in the editor using a large chunk of the report pointing out things you were aware of yourself.

    Good luck to you all! I hope to see signed copies of your novels on my shelves one day in the not-too-distant future.

    Posted by Debi | January 25, 2013, 12:27
  6. Great to hear you’ve found the motivation and energy to make your ms as good as it can be as I know how hard it is to keep revising over a long period of time.. All the best with the fresh take on your novel and fingers crossed that all your hard work will pay off in the end. 🙂

    Posted by helenmackinven | January 25, 2013, 14:57
    • Thanks Helen. We’ve been through a lot of similar experiences. I read your post yesterday and I can understand that something you’ve submitted for an academic qualification could easily lose its lifeblood. Glad you’ve decided to move on and enjoy writing something new. I’m still really excited about my new novel, and just trying to decide if I can work on the two together – maybe alternate weeks? The re-write is far more of a structural challenge than actual ‘writing’, so it might work. Time will tell.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 25, 2013, 19:38
  7. Hi Isabel, and thanks so much for the link. Great blog – and good to know that the business of being rejected (which hurts soooooo much) wasn’t wholly negative. Often it isn’t. And I think that the whole business of “deep down I knew it” is crucial. When you’re writing a novel there are always reasons why you do it how you do it. It often takes someone else to say, “Yes, okay, but it doesn’t work because…”

    Would it be all right to post a link to a blogpost of mine about what to look for in an editorial report? And how to cope with it when it arrives? If so, it’s at http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/how-to-get-the-best-out-of-an-editorial-service.html

    And very, very best of luck with the re-write!

    Posted by Emma Darwin | January 25, 2013, 21:52
    • What a valuable learning experience,and I am sure you will get there. What I do not get is where does all the utter dross come from and how on earth does it get published..what do I know anyway? From a photographers perspective,the bar is set impossibly high as well and to sell or get published is very difficult…again you have to constantly learn,improve,work with mentors etc….Well anyhoo(as my Dad would say), it keeps us out of trouble.
      Ness. You have a wonderful network btw.

      Posted by nessguide | January 26, 2013, 00:24
      • Hi Ness, so lovely to hear from you (I owe you an email and feel very bad about that!) and thanks for your support as another of my early readers. I should imagine it’s even worse for photographers now everyone thinks they are one. Re your pithy dross comment…. I couldn’t say that of course but I’m glad someone else did! I couldn’t care less about dross being published (presumably there’s a market for it?) but what bothers me is that so many really good writers are not managing to get their work out there for people to read. I have several friends really struggling to get anywhere and in my opinion their manuscripts are at least as good as some published novels. As they say in the States (maybe you do too) – You can’t fight City Hall

        Posted by Isabel Costello | January 26, 2013, 20:13
    • Thanks for your comment and encouragement Emma, and also for making so much fantastic material available to everyone on your blog. I think it’s obligatory reading for any writer! The post on getting an editorial report is great – I’ll add it to the post more prominently tomorrow.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 26, 2013, 20:06
  8. Great post and very relevant to my own experiences too. I’ve been convincing myself for a year or so that my ms is only a couple of weeks’ worth of revision away from being submitted to agents only to reluctantly concede that it’s not quite the best I could come up with. In fact, it’s a blessing in disguise that the ms is a little on the long side as that’s the main reason I haven’t succumbed to impatience and sent it out already. (A few agents have seen the opening — for example at 1-1s at York FOW — and said they’d be interested in reading more. I was upfront about the ms not being ready but still a little disappointed they didn’t say they loved what they read sooo much that they needed it NOW!)

    The revision process has seemed to daunting at times, particularly as it involves discarding a lot of existing material, and has taken so long that I’ve also wondered whether to stick the ms in the drawer and start a new novel to implement all the lessons I’ve learned over the three years of writing the current one. But I had exactly the same reaction as you describe — my characters are so real to me that it would be like imprisoning them. It’s like they’re children — you feel you have to do your best for them before they set out into the world.

    It’s encouraging when other people discuss your characters — showing that the intensity of your relationship with them must be evident on the page, possibly one of the mysterious facets of writing that can’t be edited or taught — unlike aspects like plot, structure, etc. I’ve workshopped my novel on various courses and with writing groups and I occasionally become a little piqued when people argue about my characters tell me that ‘he/she wouldn’t do/say/think that’ — but it must be positive overall as it shows they’ve come alive.

    Perhaps like you, I’m also a bit bloody minded about having gone so far with something that I want to see it finished properly — and I can see that this sort of perseverance might potentially be double-edged but it’s probably a reflection of commitment to what you’ve created and, as people say, if you don’t have a fierce belief in the value of your work, that may be evident on the page to an agent or editor. However, if you’ve considered shelving the novel and have decided against it, then you’ve probably made the right decision, especially if that option is the more difficult one to take.

    There probably comes a point of diminishing returns with revising a ms too much but, because everything in publishing (except sales) is so subjective, it’s difficult to know where that is — one person’s French polishing might be someone else’s quick flick of a duster. I’ve heard agents tell prospective clients not to sweat too much of the small stuff on the basis that the novel will be copy and line edited by a publisher and that, beyond a certain level of competence of writing, it’s usually the concept that sells a novel. On the other hand, I asked an agent this week if I should submit a ms that I knew they’d probably want to slim down a little on the basis that the agent might help select the material to be culled. She looked at me as if I had two heads.

    When I first read the post I was curious as to what was involved with the edit that Debi did for you (I’m sure it was excellent, I’m just wondering what the balance was between detailed ‘in the weeds’ attention to the text and the more holistic aspects of the novel). A couple of other comments, such as Emma Darwin’s, suggest it was a critique or editorial report. I had something similar done with my novel about nine months ago. I was aware that all my MA course mates and other writing group friends had followed the progress of the novel as it had changed and developed and that no-one could comment on it fresh and as a piece of stand-alone work. Mine was from a lecturer on the City University certificate in novel writing (now called the Novel Studio) that I’d taken about eighteen months before — but she’d only taken my year as maternity cover for a few weeks at the end of the year and so had little familiarity with my work. Although the ms was a bit rough in places, the report I received was very useful and identified elements like unnecessary and indulgent sub-plots and the need to do more work on one of the supporting characters. It was quite tough in parts — but overall it was much more supporting and encouraging than I feared. However, I’ve still yet to fully implement all the recommended changes.

    In my case, the novel has possibly changed enough since I received the critique that I’m wondering if I ought to get another one done to critique the changes I made in response to the critique. And there’s a danger that could turn into something of an infinite feedback loop. And I guess that comes back to the point of the original post – how do you know when to stop.

    Posted by Mike Clarke | January 26, 2013, 01:14
    • Just jumping in here, to say I don’t think we do know where to stop! That’s where editors come in … once you have a publisher, the whole process becomes collaborative and the decision on when to stop won’t be yours alone. It must be a lot more difficult if you self-publish, so critiques must be even more useful in those circumstances?

      Posted by Louise | January 26, 2013, 08:39
    • Hi Mike
      Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences – I was really interested in what you had to say. I’ll reply to a couple of your points:

      Yes, what Debi did for me was an editorial report (so I didn’t get the ms back). I haven’t had a chance to analyse the breakdown of fine detail and bigger issues in the report but it seemed just right. In fact, it way exceeded my expectations as I wasn’t expecting that level of attention to detail at all. When I went through the ms this week I was pleasantly surprised to realise how much she’s done for me as I agree with most of it and even where I don’t (or not entirely), it’s made me think very hard about what I’m doing.

      The question you asked of an agent made me laugh! I’ve been to more agent talks than any normal person should (I don’t go to them any more) and that’s exactly the reaction I would have predicted…

      Glad I’m not the only one who feels that way about their characters and not being able to shelve the book. I did wonder if that would come across as slightly weird, but evidently not.

      Personally I wouldn’t have another critique of the same manuscript. I feel very clear about what needs doing now and how to go about it. I will of course get a few people to read it however to check that it flows as I’m mucking around with the sequencing and pacing so much.

      If it’s true the concept matters more than anything, I’m probably wasting my time altogether. Who knows? I’m going to give it my best shot.

      All the very best with yours. You sound very committed to it and that makes a difference.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 26, 2013, 20:27
      • btw, which were the agent events you used to go to — and did you stop going for a reason? I quite often go to the London Writers’ Club events, which are nice and sociable, and are a good way to get an idea of what the agent is like as a person. (Apparently, Jaq from the LWC told my friend that they ‘only invite the nice ones’.) They’re obviously the agents who are building their lists and so receptive to submissions — but they also tend to tour writing groups and creative writing courses and so must get plenty of submissions to consider. However, from things like York FOW and LWC I do have quite a good idea of which agents might be best for me to seriously approach first — and I’m sure I’ll be totally wrong.

        Posted by Mike Clarke | January 27, 2013, 21:26
  9. Wonderful, insightful post, Isabel. It’s great that you wrote of your own experience here – it is very instructive to us writers who are trying to make our way through the publishing maze. I have to say my own view on having a professional edit has changed in the last few years, and completely turned around after my attendance at the 2012 York Festival of Writing. I will definitely be going the professional edit route in the future, and Debi Alper is at the top of my list. Thanks again for sharing your insights.

    Posted by Kristin | January 26, 2013, 09:23
    • Thanks Kristin – and especially for all you’ve already done to help me with this novel and for supporting me through the torment of submissions! That was an afternoon well spent at York in the Editing workshop wasn’t it? I would never have thought I’d feel compelled to get a professional edit either, but as you can tell, I’m so glad I did. What worries me is that this is becoming the norm and there are going to be people out there who just can’t afford it. As I’ve learned from experience, a raw ms doesn’t stand much of a chance alongside others that have had serious professional input.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 26, 2013, 20:31
  10. Lovely, honest post and I can relate to so much of this. My first novel was rejected many, many times and like you I moved onto another. However, I couldn’t quite let go of the first one. I knew it wasn’t right and re-wrote the whole thing from scratch. Looking back, an editor would have been useful. Often we have an instinct about our own writing and just need someone to agree and confirm when something needs changing. I managed to rescue my manuscript and have been very lucky to get a publisher. Going back to a manuscript is an enlightening process and I have learnt so much along the way. Wishing you lots of luck with yours, Isabel.

    Posted by Michelle Flatley | January 26, 2013, 12:05
    • Thanks Michelle and what a very heartening tale. Perseverance and belief really do play such a major part in all this. I know lots of writers and I can’t think of a single one who had an easy time getting published. Congratulations for getting there!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 26, 2013, 20:33
  11. Great post, Isabel. I love your ‘French polishing’ analogy and I can definitely relate to the problems with psychic distance. Debi pointed out where I had problems with it during my one-to-one at York. I’ve heard both Debi and Emma talk about how to tackle it, and I understand the concept, but I think it’s still one of the biggest problems in my manuscript. I’m very interested in how other writers handle it.

    Posted by ginandbooks | January 26, 2013, 12:24
    • Thanks Anouska. Gosh, it turns out half the world was at the York Festival! The psychic distance thing is fascinating. For me it’ll be a challenge to try and go deeper into the characters’ heads without too much naming of emotions, which is something I’m not at all keen on as a reader (seems more common with first person narratives – luckily mine’s third person). I have a tendency to underwrite which sometimes leaves the motivation unclear. Emma’s post is excellent and I must get the Gardner book. Good luck with yours.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 26, 2013, 20:37
  12. I feel your frustration, Isabel, and you are right – the emphasis is on the writer these days to submit a perfect script. I think if you write from your heart the words will flow and agents such as the one who ‘liked you more than your book’ will see this sparkle in your work. We are in such a subjective business here, but my feeling is that for you, it’s only a matter of time. Lovely to hear that your second is progressing so well too 🙂

    Posted by Jane Isaac | January 26, 2013, 19:42
    • That is such a lovely thing to say Jane and I really appreciate it. Hope your second novel is nearly there and that you come up with the perfect title (saw your post today!) It’s so great to hear from people who’ve made it.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 26, 2013, 20:41
  13. This post has really touched a chord for me Isabel, as it clearly has for many writers, I echo so much of what has been said here. I am currently waiting to get my ms back from a professional edit, with both excitement and trepidation….
    I’m also struck by the degree of persistence and doggedness it takes to get a book completed…. In my work as a psychologist, I do a lot of work with resilience, where the kind of persistence we all need as writers is defined as a variety of courage: the courage to keep going against external and internal obstacles and setbacks.
    Couldn’t be truer could it, than for the lone writer (I often think of Andy Murray in this context also) having to hold on to their self belief without a team of like minded others to carry them through?

    Posted by voulagrand | January 27, 2013, 17:08
    • Good luck Voula and I really hope you find your report as constructive as I did mine. If you haven’t read the post Emma Darwin shared in her comment on handling an edit, I do recommend it. Your comments from a psychologist’s POV are very interesting, and I agree, we writers need a unique blend of toughness and sensitivity that’s a very tall order. Lucky we do have such a supportive community!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 28, 2013, 11:18
  14. Great post! I can see how useful it would be to get a professional edit. I was really lucky with my first novel in that I had 3 agents interested in it – though each of them gave different feedback as to how to do a second draft, which left me very, very confused. In the end, we couldn’t find a publisher and I always wonder whether it might have been a different story if I’d done a better job with the rewrite, as there must have been something there so have got those agents interested. I can see how working with just one person and getting really detailed feedback can be effective. Good luck with your process – it sounds like you’ve really taken the feedback on board, which is the main thing, even if the task ahead looks daunting!

    Posted by gabrielablandy | January 28, 2013, 17:25
    • Thanks Gabriela. It comes as no surprise to me that you had agent interest but they way it played out must have been a disappointment. I loved your post today about avoiding trickery and patronising the reader – I wish more people shared that view. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I changed the opening of my novel to that effect (altho to be fair, it does work). I hope you achieve publication of a novel before long.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 29, 2013, 19:45
      • If it works then good for you! No need to be embarrassed about that ;-). It’s funny because when I wrote that post I didn’t realise where it was going. When I saw your tweet I thought: gulp, have I challenged something here? Though I felt very grateful that you had spotted something, which I do feel in my heart – thank you. As for my journey with my novel, it’s beginning again, but I know I’ll get there – even if that’s only based on the fact that I know I wont give up. It may take some time yet, but I’m enjoying myself still, which is the main thing. I hope yours gets there – this is the tough time, when you’re waiting while it’s read. Good luck – keep us posted 😉

        Posted by gabrielablandy | January 29, 2013, 20:02
  15. Loved this post. I’m doing the same thing right now. After my novel got rejected by a publisher last week, my agent and I had a long talk on Friday about how I could change my manuscript to make it a better book. Needless to say I was quite down after the rejection, but bouncing ideas around has been very inspiring. To give you an example of what I’m changing, I write crime fiction, and my agent’s suggestion was to turn one of the strands in the book on its head, so that the reader knows early on who the murderer is. I’m really excited about this and have worked all weekend on the next version of the manuscript. I feel really fortunate to have an agent who works with me through these structural issues!

    I just wish I was better at spotting these problems myself. At the moment I’m thinking; OMG, I thought the previous version was good enough? This works so much better.

    As I read the other comments, I was struck by how the same issues come up time and time again: well-written scenes but not necessarily in the right order! Whenever I’ve been in a Creative Writing group or class, the focus has always been on scenes or on individual chapters. I’ve never been in a class where we looked at the structure of a novel and which bit should go where.

    Good luck with your re-write. I think this is my favourite part of the creative process, when I have done almost all the writing and am moving pieces around to make the book more interesting for the reader.

    Posted by Anja de Jager | January 28, 2013, 22:12
    • That sounds very exciting Anja! It’s also how I feel having worked out how to improve the opening and telling of Kath’s story. Like you, I don’t think I could have got to that place on my own. Your agent sounds amazing… Thanks for commenting and glad you enjoyed my post.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 29, 2013, 19:48
  16. I really appreciated the honesty of this post, and your refusal to delude yourself – it seems to all come down to sound judgement and a brave heart (in addition to the hours of work) and I will take your lead in editors. I would say for myself the only thing that holds me back from that is the financial constraint as some of them are quite costly, as they should be given the huge amount of work involved! Will save my pennies and pounds 🙂

    Posted by fiona | January 29, 2013, 18:51
    • You’re right, although it is of course a significant sum for a writer to come up with, it must take days to produce a report, on top of reading the book with the utmost attention. I did it because it was time to stop deluding myself that I was ever going to get published on my own ‘best’ effort! Thanks for your kind words.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 29, 2013, 19:52
  17. I have been holding back from commenting because if you don’t know me this could look very much like sour grapes or I’m a rubbish writer or both, but if what you mean by an editorial report is the same as what I mean by a critique or appraisal, I’ve actually had a few over the years(mostly of opening chapters), and it’s often been a case of two steps forward one step back (or even vice versa). I’m trying to gather my thoughts for a post on my own blog on this but I think, once you’ve passed the basics, it’s very hard for someone to advise you if they don’t know how your mind works. I think you were sensible Isabel to go to someone you already knew and respected, so you had some sense of where she was coming from in her opinions, but if you go to one of the big agencies while the staff may all be very experienced in reviewing you may not recognise any of the names (some agencies don’t publish the names or give you a choice they do). While a professional might dig a little deeper than a peer reviewer, and not shy away from the uncomfortable bits, I’m not sure that their opinions on how to make my novels more publishable are any more reliable than those of a fellow aspiring novelist.

    Posted by Annecdotist | March 4, 2013, 16:10
    • Hi Anne – Thanks for commenting, I’m really glad you did because I’m always interested to hear people’s views and experiences whatever they are. (I don’t think it sounds like either of the things you feared by the way.) Yes, we are talking about the same thing – a full ms critique – and although it didn’t occur to me to mention it in the post, I have actually experienced something similar myself. When I originally ‘finished’ the novel, one outfit (who shall remain nameless) relieved me of a large sum in exchange for a really rushed, ill-considered and terribly presented critique of my (then) opening chapters. So it was ‘once bitten…’ when it came to getting a full report done. Personally I wouldn’t commission an edit without knowledge of the individual doing it although many reputable agencies do operate that way. I think an element of luck is involved however you do it. I’ve certainly been lucky in that my editor contributed the kind of structural advice and organic overview of the novel which I hadn’t received from fellow novelists even though I also valued their input greatly. Good luck with your writing.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | March 4, 2013, 19:58


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