That said, when should you realistically give up on your first novel if it appears to be going nowhere?
Let’s say you finished your novel. It absorbed three years of your life. You hired a freelance editor to make sure it’s ready. You expanded it, edited it and revised it again—and again. You tested it with multiple readers, a retired English teacher, and a few journalists. You analyzed it, dreamed about it, and virtually memorized it. Finally, you submit it (or at least the first three chapters) to an agent—make that 25 agents. They all reject it. Now what? Is it time to give up on your novel and move on?
Yes and no. The above may happen to you. It did happen to me. How did I respond? First, I did what every self-respecting first-time novelist does; I moped around the house for a week. When I got tired of that, I reread all of my rejection slips looking for a silver lining. I was encouraged by what I found.
Several agents gave me insightful feedback that I didn’t recognize at first blush because I was too emotionally invested in the work. Agents normally wouldn’t take the time for this if they didn’t believe the writing was sound. Many e-mailed me a few times to stay in touch and offer a few words of encouragement. And yes, some sent a standard brush-off letter. One agent e-mailed me a rejection letter that started with “Dear _______ .” Even the space to drop in my name was blank. A close friend affectionately refers to this as my “Dear Blank” rejection letter. Is there a better way to make a writer feel totally obscure? I felt like the poster boy for rejected newbie novelists.
I clung to all of the encouragement I could find in those rejection letters. Next, I followed the advice of the one agent who cared enough to bring hope. As stated in my blog entry entitled, “A Novel Experience” (See June archive at right), I converted the entire novel from first person to third person omniscient narrator, refashioned the first chapter, expanded the story by ten chapters to develop the characters and enhance the transformation of the main character, and layered in multiple subplots to an otherwise linear story.
When I finished I had a new novel ready for new agents. This time I sent it to just a few. During the revision process, I developed more patience with my writing and I abandoned my time limit for success. How did these agents respond to the new novel? Rejection. No “Dear Blank” letters, a lot of encouragement, but rejection just the same.
Discouraged, I wrote to the freelance editor that helped me reshape the book. Her advice struck gold!
“It’s unusual to write just one book and have it sell,” she said. “You often need to get the hang of crafting a novel by writing several before you write anything that nears being publishable.”
Then came the nuggets that still ring in my ears.
“Most authors make the mistake of clinging too tightly to their first novel without continuing to write more. Publishers will want to see that you have a certain velocity to your writing and can consistently come up with plot concepts and craft them into manuscripts, before they decide to invest in your first novel.”
Have I made the mistake of clinging too tightly to my first novel? Have you? I need to develop velocity to my writing.
So, what will I do with the first novel? Give up on it? No, but I will give it a rest. In the meantime, I will write one or two more knowing that my second or third novel may be my first published. Then, I will return to my first novel and see if it’s worthy of publication as my second book, or if, upon reflection, it’s worthy of a rejection letter addressed to “Dear Blank.”
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- Where Am I Going, Where Have I Been? (parkinglotconfessional.com)