The Path to Publication – Part 3 – Listening to Others

Never become married to a concept. To do so can kill you. It can bury your work so deeply it will never see the light of day, let alone a publishing house.

It might be argued I am not the one to discourse authoritatively on such matters, never having been published… to date. Still, I have been on this path for several years and I am rapidly approaching the million word mark: the minimum number many allege one must write to polish one’s craft sufficiently. Agents are beginning to pay my work serious attention and provide encouraging feedback—not the rejections I used to receive. And I am learning to listen, both to those in the industry who have read what I’ve written, as well as to my gut.

When I attended the PNWA Summer Conference in Bellevue, Washington last summer (The Path to Publication – Part 2, BIWP August 2011 posts), I pitched my thriller, The Messenger, in which the protagonist is visited by an angel. Genre bender, I thought. I’ll bridge two markets: readers of the paranormal and thriller enthusiasts. It turns out I was wrong. While agents and editors alike were excited about the book’s political component, they were without exception turned off by the angel. One editor gave my writing high praise, but said, “I am going to ask you to do one thing and you’re going to hate me for it.” I thought a moment, then replied, “Get rid of the paranormal.” “Yes!” she exclaimed. “Do that and you’ve written a tight, compelling political thriller.”

Guess what? I am much of the way through a massive rewrite and the book is far stronger than I had originally envisioned. When I told one agent what I was doing —someone who loved my writing but confessed she could not think to whom she could sell the paranormal aspect—she asked to review the manuscript once it was finished, as did another.

On top of these encouraging requests, I’ve shed some tension. Nowadays, every commercial success demands a sequel. Anticipating eventual publication—I can dream, can’t I?—I had been working on one. While the core, political concept was coming along nicely, I could find no way to reintroduce the angel. My protagonist had performed the task she had assigned him. What then?

But once I had decided to eighty-six her, why, piece of cake. Endless story concepts began to emerge. Should I ever be so fortunate to find my way into print, I have years of writing ahead stemming from a sound, original, well-received concept. All I have to do now is produce the book the story deserves.

To be continued.


11 responses to “The Path to Publication – Part 3 – Listening to Others

  1. Raymond, with an attitude like yours, I see nothing but good things coming your way.

    Good luck!

  2. Funny how changing up one thing can really open a story up. 😀

  3. The more comfortable you get with “killing your darlings” – be they plot threads, characters or particularly juicy sentences that fall through the cracks – the better off you’ll be in the long run. It’s hard the first few times, but it does get easier.

    Okay. I’m lying.

    But you do get more accustomed to the pain. 😉

    • I still cringe when I get a rejection slip in the mail, even though I’m aware a number of successful writers received many more than I have. Jack London received more than 600 before Call of the Wild was published. He papered his house with them. Talk about being in your face!

  4. Spending most of my time belaboring the screenplay, I am quite used to making changes, large and small, at the whim of the producer and later the director. The rule I have learned and live by, is if it moves the story forward, or makes the story better, or improves the story’s salability… GO FOR IT!!! You can mourn all the good stuff you cut out on your way to the bank! I know this sounds a bit cynical, but good scotch whiskey is expensive. 🙂


  5. It’s hard to kill off characters we love whom we’ve breathed life into, but I do find it helps to shake things up – eliminating a character or creating a new one can jump start a storyline (most of time).


    • On a different note, killing a character can enhance the feeling of danger. I love building a character the reader will love, then finding a particularly nasty way to bump him or her off. In certain books—thrillers and epic fantasies to name two—if nothing serious ever happens, the book becomes a sleep walk.

      On a more relevant note, after the rewrite I’m spending my time gutting unnecessary text. Then, I’ll put it away for a month or more, hopefully returning with fresher eyes for one last edit before sending it out.

  6. Ray, you are learning the secrets to good writing. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said, “Take out the boring parts” — which in a thriller is probably more challenging, because I don’t imagine you have much of that. I’m discovering in my revision that my writing is getting tighter and clearer. And most of all I don’t have to explain everything. Reader’s get it.
    Good luck!

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