Maybe this book is the biggest pile of badly-written, steaming dung that's ever dropped into their inbox...
Over-editing, worse, perhaps, than the writer’s other well-fed demon: keeping hold of your ‘darlings’ and not editing enough.
On the days when confidence is low, it’s tempting to decide your work isn’t good enough. Perhaps if you just tweak ‘this’ or ‘that’ – or, in my case yesterday, move and rewrite a huge chunk from the middle of your novel and make it the opening three chapters.
Why? Because I’d decided the opening three chapters must be a problem.
To put this in context, I’ll backtrack a bit. I’m at the final stages of editing my second novel. I have an offer from my publisher in place but have been searching for an agent – not only for The Pursuit of Ordinary, but to explore film and TV rights for my debut, Beat The Rain, as well.
Feedback on The Pursuit of Ordinary so far has been humbling. My publisher said:
‘This packs a punch right from the get go and I think it looks even stronger than Beat the Rain [my debut, their bestselling title last year].’
Author Jane Lythell (The Lie of You, After The Storm, Woman of the Hour, Behind Her Back) was kind enough to read the manuscript and endorse it, saying:
‘This novel has a very striking premise which Nigel Cooper executes with great skill. He gets under the skin of his characters and gradually reveals the psychological wheels within wheels of his two main characters Daniel and Natalie. A fascinating read.’
All splendid, right? Well, not quite. We’re sensitive beasts, us writers. Despite the above, the agent-hunting has sent me into a minor crisis of confidence. I’ve been very selective in terms of agents, handpicking five I really want to work with – and whose lists I think The Pursuit of Ordinary would fit. So far, three have rejected me and I haven’t heard from the other two.
Now, intellectually, I get it – agents are business people. If they have gaps in their lists, they are generally looking for something specific, something they know publishers are looking for. Or, they simply may not like my novel. None of this means it’s not a good novel, I get that. At least my brain does – but there’s a disconnect between that and my emotional, self-denigrating self.
So, of course, the demons whisper in my ear. Maybe this book is the biggest pile of badly-written, steaming dung that’s ever dropped into their inbox. It’s the opening three chapters – they don’t work. Maybe the entire premise is too much? What if I switch narrators? What if another character entirely opens the novel instead of the main protagonist?
Normally, I can quiet such voices. I’m lucky enough to have a few advance readers who offer me really honest and detailed feedback. Along with my publisher’s comments and author endorsements – I should trust my novel. Yet this week, I found myself rewriting and redrafting swathes of the book, ‘improving’ it.
Then I woke at 2.30am this morning, more widely awake than I remember being in a long time, and everything was clear. The novel works. All of the changes I’d been making were actually chipping away at it, destroying it, piece by piece. I took a deep breath and resolved to revert to the previous draft – and to simply trust myself, my publisher and my readers.
I don’t know what the moral of this blog post is – perhaps I’m simply writing this cathartically. But to all you writers out there looking for agents of publishers – trust yourself. Rejections don’t mean your work isn’t good enough – it just hasn’t landed on the right person’s desk yet.
Learn more about The Pursuit of Ordinary here.
Beat The Rain was my debut novel and became my publisher’s bestselling title of 2016. It was also a semifinalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Debut Author.
It is available in paperback and ebook.