by Jo Wyton
Notes from the Slushpile attempts to make some sense out of the mad scramble for a publishing deal. As the newest slushpile guinea pig, I'm going to attempt to take you all with me... This is the third in new series Surviving the Slushpile, where we'll highlight some of the highs and lows of the slushpile journey.
Today, it's the turn of the feedback helter-skelter..
The editing process is one of the trickiest things to learn. I think it is, anyway. You have to figure out how to stand back, remove those rose-tinted glasses you didn’t realise you were wearing and see your novel for what it really is. It’s a skill, and experience teaches you what you need to know.
You get the knack of it, and all is good in the world until...
Until you start getting other people’s feedback. Oh lord above, what to do now? Tom says he likes chapter one but doesn’t think chapter two is necessary. Dick thinks chapter one is redundant and the story should start with chapter two. (Harry isn’t impressed with any of it. You casually buy him a beer and hope he'll change his mind.)
You sit, and you stew. Different versions of your novel clutter your brain. It feels more like trying to play Giant Jenga than writing.
In the end, you delete chapter one, and start with chapter two instead. Hmm. Dick was right; it is a punchier beginning. And look – the main character seems more real already. Unfortunately it does mean that you’ll have to slot that lost information from chapter one in somewhere else, but that shouldn’t take too long, right?
Two and a half months later, you’ve finished your new draft. Punchy opening? Check. Lost information placed elsewhere? Absolutely. You even remembered to fix that bit in chapter fourteen that relied on chapter one living long enough to see the light on the other side.
You put your beloved manuscript to one side and start writing your covering letter and synopsis.
Oh, FOR GOODNESS SAKES. Your synopsis isn’t working. This isn’t the novel you wanted to write at all. The novel needs chapter one. No, it won’t do. You’ll have to start again.
It only takes a few attempts to find the old version. Ah, hello again chapter one. Long time, no see. Now then – what was it Tom said? Ah, that’s right – chapter two isn’t necessary. Well, maybe he’s right. Your finger hovers over the delete button for a mere twenty minutes before you finally hit it. Chapter two vanishes. OK, so now you just have to drop the bit about the pig into chapter eight and the drop about the time Bruce spent breeding crickets into chapter four.
You put it to one side again, and get on with that synopsis.
Argh! It still doesn’t work. Why can’t you just get it right? And what exactly IS the book you wanted to write again?
There’s one last person who hasn’t read it yet. Maybe they’ll know what’s wrong with it...
And so you continue, until any idea you had of what book you were trying to write fled a long time ago. You’re left with a jigsaw-puzzle of forced-together ideas that you know nobody will ever enjoy reading. It doesn’t even feel like it’s yours anymore.
Maybe you should send it out anyway. Maybe someone will take pity on you and publish it. After all, you can always keep editing whilst you’re waiting for the rejections to come through.
That’s pretty much the process I went through with my first attempt at a novel. Constantly trying to take everyone’s suggestions and opinions on board. Some of the suggestions may have been exactly what the book needed, and some of them may have done more harm than good, but truth is I’ll never know! Because I used just about all of them.
I’m at the same stage right now with my current attempt. Different people suggesting different things. But it feels a little easier this time. This time I have a better idea of what I’m aiming for, and what I want the story to be about. Just for a change, before I launched into editing, I wrote a synopsis. It helped me see which suggestions allowed my idea to come through better, and which changed the idea itself. (Which coincidentally gave me an idea for a shiny new novel!)
It’s still a struggle, separating advice that will change the book from advice that will make it better, but I guess I’m the only one who knows what book I want to write, and what story I want to tell. Taking the bits of advice from Tom, Dick and Harry that I think make the book more like the one I was aiming for all along, and leaving the rest behind, sounds good to me. I love getting friends to read my writing, and love getting their feedback. Some of the feedback has done amazing things. But it's important to know what is right for you and your book. because it is, after all, Your Book.
A friend gave me a great piece of advice the other day. ‘If you had each version of your book in front of you, which one would you want your name on?’
Think I’ll have to remember that one for next time.