So I naively thought I was DONE editing my third novel Between Thoughts of You. Lets just say today was humbling and frustrating. On a happy note, a publisher in the UK agreed to read 10,000 words. Yay! Right?
My freshest version of the manuscript was saved via pdf. The publisher didn’t want to receive a pdf format or my entire novel. That caused a little anxiety. See, after editing my novel four times and sending it to beta readers, I had saved the final version in pdf form back in February before going to a writers conference. I think I edited the word docs of each chapter so many times that I actually have 3 of every chapter saved. Don’t ask me why, but that’s how it turned out. I like to have the option of seeing and re-visiting they way the longer chapters feel, so I keep earlier, longer drafts. To give the UK editor what she wanted, I had to highlight the first three chapters within my pdf version and then copy and paste it onto a fresh word doc. Sounds easy right?
But then the editor in me, couldn’t let it go. I read the three chapters upon pasting them and realized there were formatting issues. AND a few words were missing. To add to my mounting anxiety, I found one tense that didn’t quite work. Of course, I decided at the last minute, that one entire sentence of the final paragraph of Chapter 1 had to go. Then I decided, what the Hell, I really need to re-visit the ENTIRE manuscript.
Why? WHY? WHY am I like this? Seriously?
Two mocha’s later (which I had given up last month) I’m in a complete caffeine panic. I’m thinking: “No wonder one of the agents at the conference passed on my book! She saw the tense problem. She didn’t like the last paragraph of my first chapter either.”
Dread entered my heart and anchored my ass to the chair. I had to fix this.
“Wait!” I screamed out loud in my empty house. It dawned on me that I had sent the exact same three chapters to two other agents—my top choices—before making the changes I made today. That was bad. Really bad.
I need a rewind button.
A mild version of PTSD crept into my veins. I couldn’t breathe. And I’m a damn yoga and meditation teacher. So I started deep yoga breathing and mentally repeated “This isn’t 2015, chill out.”
In 2015 a friend who has written 10+ novels introduced me to her agent. This agent, who works at one of the largest agencies in the world, loved the synopsis and first chapter of my 2nd novel Uriel’s Mask. But I had made the rookie mistake of thinking my novel was ready for a major agent to read in its entirety, before I had edited it many, many times, and with only a few friends as beta readers. This agent had me sign a contract that I wouldn’t submit to anyone else for six months. I was beyond ecstatic. And then seven months later, she passed. It was too long. The word count needs to be under 90,000 words for first time writers. Why didn’t anyone tell me that? And, it had too many characters. Uriel’s Mask is a southern, semi-historic family saga. First time authors today need short books, with short chapters and with few characters. Again, that wasn’t told to me in my MFA program, and my favorite authors often have long, deliciously complex novels. Sigh.
When I was getting my MFA in New York, it was a completely different publishing landscape. My first novel, Lucifer’s Laughter, a psychological murder mystery inspired by my days as a newspaper crime reporter, had been my MFA thesis. And it got accepted by the first agent I pitched after sending only a few chapters. That agent was the amazing Anita Diamant Berke, who had rep’d VC Andrews, author of the Flowers in the Attic series. A few weeks after she signed me, she died of a heart attack and her entire agency went into a tail spin. I was broke and owed more than $40,000, so took a job as a magazine editor in Atlanta, met my husband the first week there, and then life got lifey with kids, editing jobs, etc.
Enter today. I’ve returned to writing fiction. But in 2015, I had the mentality of someone submitting to agencies in 1996—thinking my work didn’t have to be perfect before going to an agent. It does. Today’s submissions need to be ready for publication. And first time authors should be warned that agents like to pitch short novels with character-driven, not-too-complicated plots. They are easier to sell to publishing houses who don’t want to invest and lose too much on first time authors. It makes sense. But I didn’t completely understand that in 2014/2015. I do today and am grateful to the handful of agents who let me know.
My third novel is shorter and with two main characters. It has tight, easy-to-read chapters. I paid attention to the agents’ advice. So today’s discovery of a few missing words, a wrong tense and a lengthy sentence, sent me into a complete panic. Sigh.
I have to let go. I will not re-send up-dated chapters to the two agents now considering the work. That might send a red flag. Or be confusing. But maybe I should?
The kids are in bed and I feel the urge for another mocha and an all night editing binge.