My editor hated my second manuscript.
There, I said it.
I was so ahead of schedule, I was almost done with my third manuscript when I got the phone call.
It’s a phone call no author ever wants to get.
I won’t go into the particulars, and I won’t even go into the feelings I experienced as a result of said particulars (we’re talking all 5 stages of grief here) but I will say that I’ve been trying to keep it all positive on social media because nobody wants to hear about the tough stuff, right? It’s all roses and sunshine, right?
I respectfully disagree.
Before I became a writer, I was a reader. A voracious one. I still am. I’ve always been fascinated by authors – even more so now that I am one – and I find that any time an author is willing to put a piece of their truth out there, I’m impressed. It’s brave and bold, to borrow a term from Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us.
It was actually the mass hysteria over Colleen Hoover that got me thinking about this. The whole world has their eyes on that woman, the Times wrote a poignant piece on her meteoric rise to fame, and her books are holding multiple spots on the New York Times Bestseller list simultaneously. So, I decided to pick up the most popular one and read it. I wanted to understand the hype. And, now that I’ve finished it, I get it. That book, while still fiction, is still deeply personal to Colleen. It’s about pain and love and impossible decisions. And, it’s about truth.
Now, to be clear, I’m not about to launch into a diatribe where I compare my writing journey – or my personal life – with Colleen Hoover’s. But I’ll share my own small piece of truth, which is that my second manuscript was rejected by my editor.
I was caught off guard when I got the phone call, to say the least – especially because we had already gone through title testing. I pushed back on a title change and my editor spent a good amount of time and effort to work with me to find a title we could both be happy with. I appreciated the opportunity for compromise and collaboration.
So, I just kind of assumed that she’d already read the book.
I was told that I could rewrite it, if I created a new love interest, changed the setting, and made it more “bookish” (a term I thought I understood, but apparently I was wrong). As a sequel to my first book, I amplified characters who were already established. I thought it was funny, and so did my agent. Sure, I expected notes. I just didn’t expect a complete rewrite, especially since we’d already established a title for it.
I thought about the feedback for about a week. I had two choices: I could either rewrite the story, abandoning arcs for characters who’d been with me for several manuscripts, characters I’d really grown to love – or I could just start from scratch.
Only, I’d have to make the new manuscript match the title that we already agreed upon. The last thing I wanted to do was disrespect the process of re-titling the work or waste my editor’s valuable time.
Usually, you write the book first under a working title, and then you fix the title afterwards. But, in this case, I’d be backing a whole new story into an already-established title.
I’ve frequently said that I’m choosing to see this journey as an education – I’m privileged to have this opportunity to learn from seasoned industry professionals about how bookmaking works, and the gratitude I have for that is unparalleled. So, I figured this would be a real chance to level up my writing. Instead of seeing it as an insult, I chose to see this as the chance to push myself as a writer. I was signed for a three book deal because my publisher believed I was worth the investment, so this was just a chance to prove them right.
I crafted a pitch for a brand new story with the same title, and submitted it to my editor. She approved it, and we set a new deadline, and now I’m off to the races writing this new story.
I’ve read lots of articles online about sophomore novels needing lots of work, and about the stress of writing a sophomore novel. Since I write books about writers, I decided to plague my new leading man with this exact issue. After an off-the-charts successful debut, he blows up, so he finds himself empty and chock full of impostor syndrome when he approaches his second novel.
It’s been helpful to write my way through his struggle. In doing so, I’ve been able to mirror it to my own journey. Back when I was in my MFA program (from 2019-2021) I worked hard to develop confidence in my writing. I had a mentor who believed in me, and that helped me to believe in myself. This enabled me to persevere through the awful, gut-wrenching process of finding an agent, and gave me the courage to believe that my work would find a home when we went out on submission with it. To be honest, a lot of that confidence was shattered when I got the phone call from my editor that Friday afternoon, and now I’m struggling to rebuild it – on a deadline. I’m questioning my jokes, wondering if my voice is clever enough, if the story is relatable enough, if the antics are believable, all of it. I feel very much the same way that I did when I was a rookie in my MFA program.
Interestingly enough, that’s what the new manuscript is about: a girl who enters an MFA program on the quest to become a published author. She writes commercially viable work, and is confronted with literary naysayers who make her feel very small. She questions her ability. The further along I get in the manuscript, the more brave and bold she becomes.
Just like me.
Pieces of me are explored in both the protagonist and the love interest. I write in dual POV, so with every new chapter, I get the opportunity to wrestle with a side of my own personality. I fight myself to deliver humor at the line level, explore failure and mark it with redemption, take a deep dive into self-esteem and figure out how to rebuild it when it’s torn down.
I’m at about 35,000 words now, and I’m thankful for NaNoWriMo being on the horizon, because my deadline is January 1st, and I want my agent to have a chance to read the finished product before I submit it to my editor.
Sometimes, some of the best stories are borne from the space where truth and fiction collide. I’m hoping that’s what will happen here.
I’ll keep you posted.