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Disheartened by my virtually complete, multiply re-edited novel?

(27 Posts)
Mumchance Mon 22-May-17 20:01:01

Hi all,
I was on here before years (and several name changes) ago, but lapsed. I'd be interested in the advice of the more experienced among you on my current situation.

I've been writing and rewriting this novel for several years. A couple of years ago, an earlier version of it was longlisted in one prestigious first novel contest and shortlisted in another, and part of the prize was a discounted editorial full read. Which was complimentary but also felt it needed a radical structural rethink and major cutting as it was very baggy. I set about doing that, but eventually realised it wouldn't do, so did a complete rewrite, starting from a blank document.

I cut a narrator, switched it to first person, moved the timeline -- essentially it's an entirely different, much shorter, novel about the same set of people -- and even the people are characterised differently. I now think it's a much stronger novel. However, just as an experiment, I entered the beginning of the new version into one of the competitions I was longlisted in two years ago, and it didn't make the longlist.

I'm now no longer trusting my judgement that I've written a better, tighter novel. A bit of me thinks this means only that this set of readers didn't like it as much as other competing novels, but another bit of me thinks it's actually a really bad sign, and that I've dispensed with whatever good qualities the original version had which got it noticed out of over 1000 novels first time around. It still needs a second-last chapter, and then I was planning to send it to a friend to read, but I honestly don't know quite what to do now, as I feel it's possible this is actually a worse novel than it was two years ago, and I've lost faith in it, rather.

Any thoughts? Should I consider another editorial read?The friend is an excellent reader, and has offered, but it might be a very difficult position to put her in, especially as she knows how hard I've worked on it.

Rather than reworking your first novel again, how would you feel about starting a new project?

Your first book has done its job - it's proved to you that you can write, and it's got you two great credits to save under agents' noses in future. And that's great. Don't underestimate what you've achieved, because lots of people don't get anywhere like that far. But maybe it's taken you as far as it can and it's time to start something new?

Mumchance Mon 22-May-17 20:38:19

Oh, I definitely want to move on to a completely different, without any of the problematic bloody structural issues new project, which I'm already planning. But, while being aware of the sunk cost fallacy, it still seems to me that I should do something with this one in the meantime, even while remaining alive to the possibility I may have spent two years revising my novel into a worse piece of work? grin

Which I suppose suggests I'm not entirely ready to shelve this one just yet. Hmm. Move on is good advice, so I suppose what I'm asking is how you know whether something just isn't worth proceeding with, before going ahead with a different project?

Has anyone edited a novel into an objectively worse piece of writing? I can see in theory that it's entirely possible.

Dontrocktheboat Mon 22-May-17 22:17:18

Why are you just sending to competitions? If you have reworked it and think it is better why not send to agents?

I think competitions can be disheartening as just reflect the particular preferences of whoever is judging, and success will also be influenced by the strength of competition that year.

Pollaidh Mon 22-May-17 22:28:46

Sunk cost - would you consider self-publishing an e-book? You can do that relatively cheaply though you'd want to get a line edit first. You never know, if it's a bit niche you might get some sales, and having done most of the hard work already, at least you'd have the satisfaction of getting it out there.

Self-published novels on Kindle etc can still get picked up by agents, and can often still be entered into competitions.

Mumchance Mon 22-May-17 22:50:24

Dont, the competition this time was a pure whim, to be honest. An email got through my spam filter a couple of days before the closing date. My plan was to finish, get my friend to read it and/or have another editorial read, before sending it out. Now my belief is a bit dented it didn't do something the old version did.

schmalex Tue 23-May-17 12:15:58

Why not send it out to 4 or 5 agents and see what happens?

Trenzalor Tue 23-May-17 12:20:17

Send it out and begin on something new.

sunshinesupermum Tue 23-May-17 12:20:57

Hi Mumchance - I've been in a similar situation and even after sending out my m/s to agents and getting some good responses, no-one took me up. I decided to leave Novel No 1 alone and start Novel No 2 having realised as I am writing it how much I learnt by writing No 1.

I agree with Schmalex don't worry about comps - research some agents of writers in your genre and send Novel No 1 out to them.

Self publishing is very time consuming and you need to be extremely vigilant at all stages of the process.

GetAHaircutCarl Tue 23-May-17 13:40:48

Definitely sub it and start something new.

I know people who have been tinkering with the same baby for several years and it's still no nearer to getting published.

It sounds as if this project has already had its fair share of TLC. It needs to be released into the wild for good or ill.

HarrietVane99 Tue 23-May-17 14:01:44

I agree, move on to something new. When you've developed your skills more on a new project, and have some distance from this one, you may come back to it with a clearer eye and be able to see better what's good and bad about it. Don't think of it as being abandoned, just set aside for a time.

I also think you need to begin to trust your own judgement, and not rely too heavily on others' opinions.

Self publishing on Kindle is quite straightforward, but one book on its own will probably sink without trace, unless there's something particularly notable or eye catching about it. You'll probably need to have several books out to begin to attract readers. If you decide to go down that route, you need to have a long term plan, and be thinking about your next book, and the one after that.

Mumchance Tue 23-May-17 20:25:54

Thanks, everyone. I don't think I can fully move on to something new unless I feel I've done everything I can with this one -- which in my mind translates into 'get it into the best state I feel it can be in, and send it to some agents.' I don't want to self-publish.

I have generally always trusted my own judgement, only this competition has shaken that trust a bit, and is making me want to revisit the beginning of the novel to see whether the narrative stakes are high enough (it's character driven and based on the lives of real people, so not wildly plotty). And then I think 'Stop bloody tinkering!'

However, this thread has made me look out a series of notes from some years ago for another novel...

Mumchance Tue 23-May-17 20:35:13

Also, on the 'trusting one's own judgement' thing, isn't the reader key here, though? Someone like the sculptor Phyllida Barlow, who was 'discovered' in her 70s after a lifetime of making art, said she had had no idea how to sell her work for decades, she just liked making it. She used to erect stuff on the street or in parks, or give little exhibitions in local schools, and a lot of it didn't survive etc -- I think it's different for novelists, though. A novel doesn't really exist without a readership, it seems to me, in a way that's different to someone looking at a sculpture and not being that interested...

But this may be my discouragement talking... grin

ParmaViolets17 Wed 24-May-17 01:33:45

Hi OP

Just wanted to say that I entered a LOT of writing competitions with my first chapter / first three chapters etc, and never got anywhere.

When I submitted to agents, I had several offers, and the same when it came to finding a publisher. My first book came out 8 months ago and is doing really really well.
So don't be disheartened smile Good luck!

Mumchance Wed 24-May-17 08:22:42

How encouraging, Parma! What genre do you write?

GetAHaircutCarl Wed 24-May-17 09:00:14

I've always found it hard to make an objective judgement on my own work. I'm too close to it usually.

This is especially true for the big picture stuff: does this piece work as a novel/script on the whole? The nuts and bolts are easy enough to assess- does this image work? Is this dialogue credible? But looking at something in the round is much harder.

I tend to just get it to the best place I can and send it to my agent. Because that's his job. To see it as a whole project and assess if it works i.e. Can he sell it ( bottom line).

That's what I'd say to just sub it OP. Agents are far better placed than anyone else to answer the million dolllar question; is there a market for this piece? Which is not the same question 'as is this any good?' But possibly a more pressing one.

Dontrocktheboat Wed 24-May-17 10:37:52

Just to add to that I also entered a couple of competitions and didn't get anywhere. I subsequently had a couple of agents request my full manuscript and have now got representation.

Just occurs to me I am not sure how many successful authors get their first break through a competition - I think going through agents is the usual route.

MoominFlaps Wed 24-May-17 10:44:40

Leave it alone for a few months and then come back to it.

I intend to follow that advice myself but the problem is I do that halfway through a novel and then end up never finishing it blush

Mumchance Wed 24-May-17 10:59:09

Agreed entirely on the 'big picture' stuff -- I'm fine at the level of the sentence/image/scene but my problem is that I'm trying to get an agent, rather than already having one I can rely on for objective advice. One agent was on the judging panel for the award where the previous version got to the final five and said to send it to him once I'd done whatever the editorial read recommended -- only it's now an entirely different novel...

Dont I entered those two competitions more or less out of curiosity a couple of years ago, but did feel very encouraged that it was listed in both (mostly because the filter readers had liked it enough to want to see more of it, to be honest, than out of any sense that it was a 'useful' thing to do as regards getting an agent...)

Moomin, the thing is that I've done that before, and I have reread it after a few months, said 'This doesn't really work' and subsequently rewritten it. I honestly don't want to go back into that cycle again!

Thanks to everyone who responded. I'm going to write the missing chapter, see if I can raise the stakes at the beginning, and send it out, I think.

HarrietVane99 Wed 24-May-17 11:07:37

Also, on the 'trusting one's own judgement' thing, isn't the reader key here, though?

But a novel, when published, will (one hopes) have many readers. You can't possibly hope to please all of them. Each of them will bring her own likes, dislikes, experience, knowledge, prejudices etc etc. What one reader will like, another won't. A hint or a clue that one reader thinks is too obvious, will be too subtle for another.

Take on board technical advice about structure and so on, but ultimately you need to develop your own style and voice. That's what will bring readers to you.

It may be that in this book you haven't quite found your voice yet.

Whether you submit it or don't submit it, I think the only way you will grow as a writer is to move on to something new.

Mumchance Wed 24-May-17 11:35:15

You're right, Harriet (personally I don't share your taste for that parrot-profiled cricketing blonde grin). Honestly, I'm not normally this gloomy. It's a combination of marking exam scripts and too much novel tinkering. Which clearly has to stop on a number of grounds.

GetAHaircutCarl Wed 24-May-17 12:00:04

It's tough in the early stages of a writing career, isn't it?

You need the sounding board of an agent/editor etc at the very time you're trying to secure one!

Dontrocktheboat Wed 24-May-17 12:57:51

Out of interest mumchance, did you send it back to that agent who suggested it (even in revised format?)

Being shortlisted in competitions is v useful for a cover letter - it will ensure any agent takes you seriously!

GetAHaircutCarl Wed 24-May-17 13:00:55

Good point dontrock I would have certainly sent it too them with a 'you asked me to send the revised version' covering email.

Mumchance Wed 24-May-17 13:14:09

Not yet, dontrock. I got the full editorial read, digested it, started to act on its recommendations, then realised that simplifying the structure coudn't be done with the novel written the way it was, so I rewrote it from scratch after a fairly radical rethink. I'm only finishing that now. I will send it to him.

GetA, yes! I'm envying my very successful friend her very strong relationship with her agent and editor. She's just sent them the beginning of something highly experimental she wasn't sure about, and their feedback sent her off in a direction that wouldn't have occurred to her otherwise.

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