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It Takes a Village to Write a Book

April 9, 2013 by Kiersi

The Night Circus

As I move into the critique stage of my current novel, and my August book release finishes up with the editor over at Rain Town, it has become clearer and clearer to me that no single person is responsible for the great books we read and love.

Today I read a fabulous post, “On Writing and Publishing Paths,” by Erin Morgenstern–author of the seriously delightful, magical, spectacle of a novel The Night Circus. And the takeaway is one that I hope every aspiring writer takes to heart: a manuscript rarely emerges from a writer’s mind a finished product.

I’ve been on the receiving end of query rejections, form letters and personalized responses alike. “They don’t get it,” is something we’re tempted to think. “They’re blind to my potential.”

As Erin writes:

…I got my manuscript to the point where I didn’t know what else it needed and it seemed like the right point to start sending it out. I did. It got requests because I had a query letter that made it sound like it had a plot when it really didn’t. It also got a lot of rejections.

I didn’t know what else it needed.

Every author has been there. You reach a point with a piece of writing where you just cannot fathom what else to do with it. Agents don’t want it, editors turn it away, and we are forced to wonder what else we can possibly do when we’ve done everything we possibly can.

The moral of Erin’s story?

And then my messy, plotless manuscript reached people who politely informed me that it was messy and plotless and needed a lot of work. But they also said they would be interested if I worked on it more and basically completely rewrote it.

I could have decided they were wrong and not listened and turned around and self-published the manuscript I had because at that point I was in a bit of denial about the whole messy plotless thing.

I’m really, really glad I listened.

Erin Morgenstern

Getting a book published is stupid hard. Even if you dodge agenting, like I did (I’m still headed that way–but my path has zig-zagged, as many authors’ paths do) you still have to go on submission, wait for editors to decide if they like it (oh, you mean, like querying agents all over again? Yep), and then perform whatever series of edits they request of you, even after you sign the contract.

And that part is no walk in the park, either. Getting professional feedback from a professional editor is like watching someone take a sculpture you were really proud of, mash it up in a few places, and then point at you and say, “Now fix it.”

Except that the thing you make after that? It’s so much better.

True story: I gave up on my manuscript once. It was last January, when I was getting rejections from agents and sweating to death in a second-floor apartment in Buenos Aires. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote the same chapter over and over, hoping that some revision somewhere would please an agent enough to at least request a partial. I ran it into the ground, and then promptly hurled my computer across the room.

Then I think I went downstairs and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and argued with a waitress in Spanish but that’s besides the point. I literally gave up. I shelved the manuscript and started writing a new one. And when I had thought that I hated writing it turned out that I could love it again if I just let myself breathe in a new world, and meet new characters, and spin a new fairy tale.

I got an email two weeks later from RainTown Press saying they had decided to pick up my book and we were set to sign a contract. And let me tell you, that was only the start of the journey.

I’m so proud of that book now. Those first professional edits were scary and at the same time, exactly what I needed. She told me everything that my book was missing, all my characters that needed merging and missing plot that needed buffing that would really make the book shine.

Don’t be ashamed or afraid of letting others help, and don’t turn away their advice on what your manuscript needs. Like children or pets, we become blind to our manuscripts’ flaws in our total love for them.

A book takes a village.


15 Comments »

  1. Ruth Feiertag says:

    Kiersi,

    One of the saddest things I think we teach our children is the “do your own work” mantra. It comes to mean that if we ask for assistance we are inadequate, weak, and somehow cheaters. It’s not that we shouldn’t learn to think for ourselves, but that shouldn’t mean we must not value the opinions and support of others.

    Did I ever send you this link?

    http://stevelaube.com/the-stages-of-editorial-grief/

    It’s a fairly amusing description of what happens after the edits arrive.

    Thanks for another intriguing and enjoyable post,

    Ruth

  2. Jon says:

    You’re baaaaack! (Congrats)

  3. Icompletely agree. SIGHTLESS isn’t finished, but I wouldn’t have gotten this far w/o the many MANY people who have lent a helping hand (which includes you!).

    Also, I *loved* THE NIGHT CIRCUS. And I mean….LOVED!!!!!!

  4. Great post! It really does take a village. I admire people who self-publish, but I don’t think I could do it. I need a team behind me to make my books the best they can be.

  5. Kristen Proctor says:

    I can’t imagine how hard it must be to expose your precious book to the harsh eyes off the rest of the world. Good luck with the rest of the editing process.I look forward to reading your book in print.

    • Kiersi says:

      Thanks, Kristen! So glad you stopped by. It was rough at first, but I think I survived and it’s easier now. Phew.

  6. Writerlious says:

    This is well-timed advice for me. Thank you!!! 🙂

    • Kiersi says:

      Oh, Erin! Let me know if you ever want a second pair of eyes.

      • Writerlious says:

        Wow –just saw this! I would be happy to burden you with a few chapters sometime. LOL. But seriously, I’d be happy to swap partial MS’s or something. 🙂 Shoot me an email at erinbradypike(at)live(dot)com sometime if so. I am horrible about checking my gmail b/c it gets gunked up with blog mail.

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