Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rejections, Revisions

We’ve all read about successful authors who racked up 100, 200, or more rejections before they were published. Some of those rejected books went on to become best sellers or even win prizes. What I’ve wondered is how different the book the first five agents rejected is from the version that finally sold. How much revision do you do, and when?

If you send ten query letters without a bite, what do you do? Revise your query? That makes sense if no one has even seen the first chapter of your manuscript. But if you’ve sent a few pages or chapters and there’s still no interest, how many rejections does it take before you take another look at the opening pages? How many before you begin major revisions to the plot? Maybe raise the stakes for the protagonist?

If you come across an agent’s or editor’s advice that strikes home, usually concerning things to avoid, do you immediately go back to your manuscript and search for those little sins? I call that tweaking. My manuscripts can always be improved—I’ve never picked one up that I haven’t found something I now think could be said better. But at what point do you say Enough? If no one is interested, when do you put it on the shelf and begin querying the next one? Or do you ever give up entirely on it?


VR Barkowski said...

I spent the last year querying, so this is very fresh in my mind. I changed my query letter at least a dozen times, probably more but never made a substantial change to my manuscript. Yes, I occasionally tweaked it, because like you, each time I read it through I'd find some minor thing I could have said better. But I truly believed, and still believe, the book was the best I could make it.

My query letter, on the other hand, I've never been happy with. Despite endless edits, I still don't think it reflects what's unique about my story.

Ellis Vidler said...

I agree with you. I've rewritten my query letter more times than I can count, but it still doesn't sound like the book or show what I'd like about it. I considered revising the book, but I still feel the story I wanted to tell is there.

VR Barkowski said...

Yes, this is exactly how I feel! The problem with query letters is the assumption that in telling what happens, you will reveal what the story is about, and that's not always the case.

Polly said...

I've never told the story in a query letter. Just enough of a tease to make the agent/editor want to read more. As far as manuscripts, I'm a constant tweaker. Like both of you, I don't change the story, but I always find a line I know I can write better. Sometimes I wonder why I never saw those lines before or how I could have written them in the first place.

Ellis Vidler said...

I don't try to tell the story, but I'd like to capture something that shows the heart of the story--and make it sound intriguing. I find that difficult.