A few days ago I heard back from the agent who has shown interest in Cherry Bomb (my novel). She and her staff had finished reading the fourth major revision, which I sent her on October 1. I was hoping to hear that the novel was ready to be shopped out for publication. Instead, I read these words (this is an excerpt from her email):
We have really enjoyed reading your story, Susan. You have done a wonderful job reworking the characters and the pacing of the story. We believe your book has once again improved after the revision, and it is close to being ready.
However, we still had a few concerns, particularly in the beginning chapters. We now feel that the beginning chapters have too much backstory and need to be better structured, to really pull the readers into the story.
As you have reworked the beginning a few times, our professional suggestion would be to have an overview/assessment done again of your book to point out all the aspects that need to be developed. Your book is very close to being ready, and as we are not professional editors, we cannot provide as much detailed feedback as an editor could. Also, having someone read your book with fresh eyes may be just the push it needs to finish it.
We really enjoy your writing style, Susan….
My heart fell. I put my frustration into an email back to the agent, expressing my confusion. I had done what the editor requested—including removing most of the flashbacks and putting the novel in chronological order. But in the process, I evidently overloaded the front of the novel with too much backstory. And so now I come to another crossroads.
I say “crossroads” because while I was waiting to hear from the agent, I checked out the contest deadlines in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. I was so tempted to send Cherry Bomb in for The Lee Smith Novel Prize, which awards the winner with $1000 and publication in Carolina Wren Press. Or to send it out to several small presses, which doesn’t require an agent. But then I looked at this agent’s web site again and was reminded of her international marketing savvy and the deals she gets her clients with the major publishing houses, and I decided to dig in and do another revision.
A couple of days ago Susan Marquez—a writer friend with whom I had shared my news—sent me a Facebook post by another writer—Kaya McLaren—who had experienced my same frustration. Here’s part of that post:
If I hit the best seller list with The De Vine Winery and Goat Ranch, I want you to know I had this moment fourteen months after I first turned it in where I learned more revision is needed and I just wanted to cry, crawl in a hole or a cave, and give up. And I also want you to know that the reason I hit the best seller list was because my editor was committed to making it the very best book it could be, and because I listened to her and I picked myself back up and tried again—even when I didn’t think I could stand to do it one more time.
I’ve never met Kaya, but her words encouraged me to also pick myself back up and try again. It will probably be a few weeks before I hear back from the editor with her new overview, but I’ll be ready to get back to work on what I hope will be the last major revision!
Meanwhile, there are several contests listed in P&W that might be good opportunities for Plaques and Tangles, the essay collection I’m putting together about my mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s. Hmmm……