So, a friend of mine, Tricia, recently wrote a book. She’s written screenplays and movie scripts (both produced) and despite writing being her hobby, she has a keen knack for storytelling, drama and pace.
(She’s also one of my favorite editors, able to zero in on flaws with ruthless and confident precision. She has
red-marked, nay, red-slashed many a written page of mine. And I love her for this.) 🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻
At the 2016 SDSU Writer’s Conference, Tricia’s book was voted best new work by not one, but both of the agents that read it. Must to the chagrin of the second agent, the first agent immediately asked for exclusive rights and is now her agent. This is the stuff writer fantasies are made of, amirite?
And they lived happily every after… However…
Of course we all know, like, logically, that writing a book is not the hard part. Publishing a book is the real work. We know, we know. We just don’t reeeeeally believe it.
And here is where my tale begins.
Tricia’s agent has her book in the hands of top editors in the industry, matchmaking to the best of her ability. And love has not yet struck. The fact is, finding the right publisher can be
shitty miserable humiliating frustrating.
Many editors that “pass” on your manuscript have “constructive” advice for the betterment of your art. Tricia has had to grapple with this kind of advice from big wig editors, suggestions to alter her book in almost unrecognizable ways.
Ah, you think. There’s the chink in the armor! It can’t be that good. If you’re in this camp, just Google “Best Rejection Letters” and fall into that rabbit hole. The Color Purple, The Grapes of Wrath, Lolita, Lord of the Rings; they all have kitschy little stories about their criticizing rejection letters. And they’re pretty darn good. Haha. Good one. It’s all SO laughable now.
Now, many writers see this rejection letter parable as an excuse to reject criticism.
“My novel is a masterpiece, misunderstood, ahead of its time.” And this is hopefully true… but not always. And not where I’m going with this.
I heard from Tricia yesterday and one of the top editors in the industry deemed her PTSD character “melodramatic”. 🤔 As soon as she told me this, I was aghast, shaking my head into the phone, waiting for my turn to speak so I could protest!
You see, I’d had the great joy of editing Tricia’s book and could not disagree with this editor more. The character was, if anything, repressing his emotions for most of the novel, true to a marine suffering from PTSD. This editor must not be aware that 22 military vets attempt suicide EVERY DAY. Every. Day. Not melodramatic. 😡
Tricia’s gut said not to change her manuscript to fit this feedback but she’s not a disillusioned writer, winnowed by her own hubris.
She did what any reasonable person would do and gave it serious thought. In response, she asked two marines to read the manuscript and weigh in on whether the character was true, believable.
And here is the beauty…
One of Tricia’s marine readers called immediately. He couldn’t put the book down. The characters felt like people he knew! After reading the entire manuscript, he finally admitted to himself that he needed help. He’d known he had PTSD, but was resistant to medication and therapy. Like many vets, he thought he could just “get over it.” But after reading Tricia’s manuscript, this man acknowledged his PTSD and checked himself in for treatment. Tricia’s book might have saved his life.
May we all have such purpose!
Writers write for many reasons and it’s rarely the 🤑🤑🤑. Surely, we’d go into sales or medicine or law or some other less demoralizing career if our goal were to make a buck. It’s been said that a true writer writes because they cannot NOT write.
Let’s glean some tidbits from this tale… for the belabored writer’s soul:
- Accept Criticism. Even the best writer is never too good for good advice.
- That being said… know when to stick to your guns and trust your gut. Instinct is what writerly stuff is made of.
- That being said… test your manuscript in the right audience. And retest if you must.
- And a little consolation for rejection-battered writers… if your book touches one life, changes one life, maybe even saves one life, then all your grueling late nights, debilitating self-doubt and bipolar relationship with your art will be worth it.
Namaste. Shalom. Amen brother!