Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Can't Please Everyone

I think I'm in danger of becoming a milquetoast editor of my own writing.

This is distressing.

I've arrived at the crossroads of being able to see the POV of whomever criticizes my manuscripts. But rather than enlightening me, this awareness is my latest source of confusion as I try to revise my MG mermaid novel a final time before I send it out into the world.

And nowhere is my latest revision bothering me more than the all-important first scene. I agonize over it. I need to capture the reader's attention. I need to make that all-important promise to the reader. I need to start the journey in my hero's world. I need to provide an opportunity for the reader to get to know my MC. And now...I need to reconcile totally different opinions on how I should do this.

What do you do when you get contradictory advice and you see both POV's?

My critique group loved my opening. "OMG, Kim! This is so good! I'm totally hooked. YOU NAILED IT!" they told me in our last critique session. I left the meeting elated and psyched about my chances with the agent who was coming to the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference. The agent that I paid to get a critique from. Maybe she'd love it too, and would either ask to see my book or tell me it wasn't something she was interested in, but that it was a great start. She'd tell me that some other agent would love it.

But that's not what happened at all. She hated it. She ripped it apart and said my MC's "interiority" was merely a mask for me to tell and not show.

Oh no. After I picked myself off the floor and dragged a friend to the bar to down a much-needed drink, I fixated on the critique. "Yes," I told my friend. "I see what she's saying. I'm going to start the story at school and hammer home my point by showing how my MC goes to great pains to keep any friends from ever going to her house."

And the next day that's exactly what I did. I rewrote the first scene entirely and much of the next two chapters as well. I brought my revisions with me to a writing workshop I attended with The Swaggers the following week. "I want to read to you my revised first two chapters. I got this great advice from an agent and I took it and here's the result." I read the new opening to them, expecting congratulations on churning out an even better product.

But that didn't happen. They thought it was a very average opening. "Read us the opening the agent hated," they told me. So I did. They loved it. LOVED IT!

Then they spent the next twenty minutes trying to convince me to go back to it.

One agent versus eleven writers. I respect all of their opinions. But I guess I gotta go with the majority. Like one of the writers told me, maybe the agent had a bad day. Maybe she'd just read a bunch of crappy manuscripts before she picked up mine. Or maybe she was wrong. She's only human too, and just as capable of making mistakes as the rest of us.

I hope that the agents and editors who read it next agree with my writer friends. Fingers crossed. But I also need to take a stand. I like the opening the agent hated. I'm going to stick with it. Even if I hear back, "Why don't you change that opening..."

Instead, I'll address the agent's criticisms another way. I'll flesh out scenes for maximum impact and review my manuscript to make sure it's showing plenty of action. So does that still make me a milquetoast?

Kim Van Sickler


  1. Or maybe that agent just wasn't "the one" for you! Agents are very subjective too, ya know!

    I mean, even as I was signing my agent contract, I was still getting some form rejections from other agents! Not to say that you shouldn't listen to the advice, but the one vs. eleven is valid!

    I say test more of the query waters with other agents. See what "the majority" have to say!

    Oh KIM, what a blah experience. :-((( But I like the new digs around here.

    Good luck to you and your blog mates (and welcome to the world of blogging--we are a "kind" bunch)!

  2. Christina,

    You have always been a true friend. Thanks for all the support and great advice!

  3. Would be interesting to see if the agent preferred your new opening, did this paid assassin give you her email address or any contact info for a possible follow up? shoot her both openings and ask her to tick a box...

    new opening? or the absolute, hooked em, make em read it, best opening?

  4. Unfortunately, I firmly believe she's not interested in that story --no matter which opening I start with. I think I'll just leave her alone.

  5. I think your stories keep getting better and better. And this blog is pretty cool. Keep up the good work...

  6. I agree with Bob, your stories do keep getting better and better! When do I get to read the mermaid story?! I bet it's great!

  7. Karen & Bob,

    Thanks for your support. Remember to tell this to me if I'm wallowing in rejection letters after I send out Beached. Karen, if you're willing I can send you Beached next week. I'm trying to shorten it. You can tell me what parts you think I can drop.