Too Many Notes – Some Ramblings on Feedback

As a competitive classical pianist, one of my favorite movies is Amadeus. Yes, it’s not exactly historically accurate, but on the whole it’s a great film. Here’s one of the more memorable scenes:

Feedback. We all want it. We all strive to be better at whatever it is we do. Having worked in a creative industry for fifteen years now, and writing for more than that, I’ve learned quite a lot about how to process feedback over the eons that I’d like to share.

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The Long And Winding Road

The long and winding road.

I finished up a new novel yesterday. That makes the second one I’ve written this year.

“Wait, second one? What are you talking about? What happened to that thing with the creepy Japanese ghosts and the riddles and stuff?”

RYOJI went on submission last spring. While it was out, I started hammering away on RYOJI 2. I’d finally found my groove, gotten about halfway through it, when we got a pretty decent Revise And Resubmit request from a major publisher. WINNING, right?

So I halted all work on RYOJI 2. I read the letter from the editor over and over, sleeping on it, deconstructing it, coming to the realization that this guy really understood RYOJI, really got the essence of the book, the setting–and his ideas on what needed to be fixed rang true. I had no idea how I could do any of the things he suggested at first, until I realized that I couldn’t–at least, not with the words on the page. I’d have to rewrite it to make it really sing true and not look like some sort of Frankenstein’s monster. Daunting. Scary. But this editor understood RYOJI, and this was my shot to really see if I could write, if I could edit with the pros, and if I could finally land a deal.

I spent July and part of August tearing RYOJI apart. I rebuilt it–better, faster, stronger. I have tasted the joy of working with an editor, and I can confirm that it’s a horrifyingly enriching experience.

I rewrote all but a fraction of the novel from scratch. The feel is still there, as are the characters (but for many their fates are radically different!), but the story is a new one with the same heart. No, that’s not quite true–with more heart, I think. And with nearly 30k fewer words. What I pitched originally as an 80k word novel was now a 55k sleek storytelling machine.

And so back out on submission we went.

Now here’s a part of the submission process a lot of people may not be familiar with. If an editor wants to buy your book, that’s GREAT! You should celebrate that. Go out and find a wine cannon or a pool of chocolate–whatever floats your boat. You have accomplished something amazing.

BUT KNOW THIS: just because the editor wants to make an offer doesn’t mean the publisher will agree.

The long and winding road, indeed.

So now I’ve written another book. Still fantasy (I’ve put contemporary on hold for a while–someday!), more for an older teenage audience (staunchly YA–legendary creatures, gore, and polygonal webs of romance). I’ve sent it out to some Elite Beta Readers while I take a break to do some beta reads (and catch up on my TBR pile!) of my own. I’ll edit toward the end of the month/beginning of the year, and then it’s off to the hands of Most Illustrious Agent.

It’s kind of like this, but with more teenage love and angst.

It’s surprisingly common for agented authors to not sell the first book they go out on submissions with.

I guess if I had one point to make sure you walked away with here, it’s that everyone’s journey is different. It’s impossible to compare another author to yourself, to figure out how far along the road you are, because the road is a lie. There is no road. Just a field full of landmarks for us to visit in whatever order the winds of chaos blow us. All we can do is deal with the hand we’re given, one step at a time.

ONWARD!