When that New Agent Smell Wears off

Over the September 24th weekend, I presented for the second year in a row at the Aiken Book Festival. Lovingly organized by author Steve Gordy, the event is a celebration of Indie authors and included my publisher, Alexa Bigwarfe, as the keynote.

It’s fun to be in fellowship with other authors. Raegan Teller, Lis Anna-Langston, Rex Hurst, Katherine Blake, Cat Fitzgerald, Bonnie Stanard, and my personal favorite Dana Ridenour, were all there.

My talk was on rewriting the novel you think is done. Like so done you queried it and landed an agent with it. And then that agent sent it to a developmental editor and it turns out that novel ain’t done.

My Salvia Vampires series begins with Being Blue, a novel about my first person GenX narrator, Blue, navigating his first few EOs as a vampire. It’s got love (sex), family (betrayal), and time travel (because why not?).

What it didn’t have was a plot. But I’ve fixed that. Mostly.

In my talk, I used a slide titled, “When that New Agent Smell Wears Off” which got a giggle from some of the authors in the room.

See, as writers, we think getting an agent is the PEAK of authorship. Until we realize they’re sales people and they need a good product to sell and it’s on us to produce said product. So make it good, fool. Here are the topics from that slide and my efforts to meet Amy Collins’ expectations:

Where does a rewrite begin?

Take a break. Accept the manuscript needs a rewrite. Then figure out your “why.” Why are you writing this novel? What are you trying to say? Do? The why is what readers connect with, so getting it right is critical. I got that advice from the #AmWriting podcast and spent three pages just writing out my “why.” I’m on version 9 of this book, so the fact I’m just not working out the “why” is a little bit backwards. I definitely should have done this a long time ago.

Read the manuscript and make notes in the margins. Where is it boring? Confusion? Repetitive? Be honest with yourself. You’ve got some distance now. Think of it as someone else’s work. You’ll have fun rediscovering those things you did really well. But you also have to be brutal about the places that just don’t work. List the story’s major problems (um… no plot?) and prioritize them for the fix.

How do you know you’re on the right track?

You don’t. Sucks but it’s true. So make a separate file for this rewrite in case you fuck it all up and have to go back. Write a scene map. Review each scene and ask what the purpose for the scene is. Then make sure it fulfills that purpose. You don’t have to chuck everything, some things just need to be rewritten. You should take new revisions to your writers group and get their input. If for no other reason than having to do so will force you to do the work to meet that group’s meeting deadline.

Does “rewrite” mean “do over”?

Yes. And no. Which is a shit answer, admittedly. But here’s the thing, the rewrite should corrode or discard the stuff you do really well. In my case, the developmental editor who delivered that stinging “there’s no plot” critique was quick to point out that he loved the characters, loved the prose, and loved the concept. So yay! Now I just need a plot.

At the end of the day, a rewrite is meant to strengthen the book for acceptance. The publisher will have edits/revisions of their own. Get the book where it needs to be to make the next stage. Rewrites aren’t the end of the world but they’re also not the end of the process.

2 thoughts on “When that New Agent Smell Wears off”

  1. Last round of revising my new one, I figured out a good process. I thought the book out in my head, making point by point notes on a word doc. That showed clear paths for all the arcs. Then I went chapter by chapter of the ms and I cut each one and pasted it in a new word doc. Then, if the word doc advanced the plot point I needed it to, I hyperlinked it to the list a that point. In the end, I found a bunch of chapters that did not advance the plot, and I found a few plot points that were bigger in my mind than they were on the page, so I knew I needed to build those up. The superfluous chapters did not all have to be cut, but many of them did need to be rewritten to fit better. Thanks for the post. Good food for thought.

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