I'M A SURVIVOR: Revisions & Submissions
Alright, so this blog post is WAY overdue, but today I'm going to talk about: What to expect during agent revisions and entering into your first round of submissions.
After signing with Jim McCarthy at the end of September, I knew we were going to go through a revision round together before sending TOUCHED BY FIRE out on submission, and I was more than excited to get started.
If you read my previous blog post, then you'll know that TBF had passed through a couple CP hands, but I knew there were still issues within the story that I couldn't see clearly enough to fix. And I really wanted to work with someone who was willing to at least give fresh eyes and be semi-hand's on with editing, so having fresh eyes from someone of Jim's caliber was a dream come true.
I was finally one step closer.
While waiting for Jim to turn around his edit notes that came in about a month later, I started fleshing out a new YA fantasy idea (#ProjectSwords) to keep myself busy/active and distracted (more on this in another blog post). His notes came through a months later and I remember sitting in an Airbnb with my #Wattpad4 girls and almost SCREAMING when his name popped up on my phone.
This was the start of our first real steps into client/agent relationship. A major milestone. Yes, I got emotional, scrolling through his very thorough - and very LONG email - where he covered everything from big picture concerns (character arc, geography, time line) down to the tiniest detail (i.e.: I missed a hyphen in a chapter heading). He went through a comb fine enough to catch every snag and kink. Some I'd suspected were possible issues, and others were entirely new to me and had gone unnoticed.
This was it. I was determined to dive in like a champ and slay my edits. We agreed on a rough deadline of one month (November 22nd) for me to return my revised MS. I spent the rest of the weekend enjoying my time with my girls while they were in town for a writing conference, then I returned home, plunked down in front of my computer.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I was struck with performance anxiety that led to a bit of self sabotaging which completely killed my creative subconscious. Everything stalled and bottomed out. I had no ideas, no drive, nothing. I put it off for a day, then two, and before I knew it I blinked and a week had blazed by with no progress.
I couldn't understand what happened until I entered into the second week after cranking through a painful couple of day of forcing myself to start chipping away at the block of ice that was my MS. Then it clicked: I was terrified. Impostor syndrome had finally reared it's ugly head to laugh in my face, fingers pointing and eyes wild with insane glee.
What if I made this book a horrible mess? What if I sent this horrible mess back to Jim and he hated it? What if Jim hated it so much he then decided he no longer wanted to work with me?
I was completely and utterly paralyzed by this fear of failing and letting him down, that it almost defeated me. Until I had a moment of clarity - where I saw my inability to think or focus on edits for what it was - to recognize this fear and its root cause. With the encouragement from a couple of friends who promised all kinds of bodily harm if I didn't Woman Up, I faced that smiling beast of self-loathing and shame with a smile of my own.
And spent the next 16 days doing what I should've done from day one. Destroying my edits.
Now, I was lucky in the fact that while my edit letter was a whooping 9 pages long (once I lifted it out of the email and pasted it into a Word Doc). Only half of that was big picture, so I started with the smaller and less intimidating items. The missed Hyphen. Correcting misused or incorrect words. With each successfully completed item, I deleted it from the word doc of the edit letter, and as it shrunk smaller, my confidence grew.
It was like watching the Impostor Syndrome monster shrink and vanish before my eyes.
The big picture stuff wasn't easy, and I spent many long hours staring at the screen - lost in a haze of 'what to do?' - writing, rewriting, deleting and rewriting.
Chapter 13-15 made me want to burn my book into ash, then burn it again until the ashes were ashes. We shall never speak of those dark days.
I was also lucky in the sense that Jim's notes were not about removing or cutting out scenes. If anything, he wanted more. More angst. More emotion. More depth. There was a particularly sad moment between my MC and her girlfriend--the one she fights to get to during the entire book, only to have to make a difficult choice. Jim said, "This hurts, but I want to be gutted."
So, I gutted.
And my word count did explode from 106k to 120k, which led to a whole new kind of paralyzing concern of OMG WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST DO TO THIS BOOK? But after a couple of days I realized, these words weren't gratuitous or unnecessary. They had developed emotional layers, depth and clarity where all of those things were needed to carry the characters through the story.
TBF has 3 main POVs and 2 minor, plus it covers a massive scope of the world as the main character Schen is dragged through it on a quest to find an ancient source of magic that will turn her into a weapon of fire to kill a tyrant queen.
120k started to make a lot more sense.
The hardest part was hitting send to my agent - because again, fear and anxiety are entirely irrational and beyond our control most of the time. But they only win if you allow them to interfere with you moving forward. I wasn't going to let that happen. So I hit send, and then dove back into #ProjectSwords to keep my mind focused and distracted.
This was the weekend of US Thanksgiving, so Jim confirmed he'd received and would dive in the following week.
Five days later - yes five - I got a response from Jim that started with: YYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!
And at the end of an excited burst of OMG YOU'VE DONE IT - was a list of publishing houses/imprints he wanted to send TBF to ASAP.
I cried. Not even going to pretend otherwise.
Not only was he happy with the revised changes to the book, but I'd finally reached the next hurdle, a new milestone and one I had started to doubt I would ever reach after the messy 'agent divorce' I went through in May 2017.
I was going on submission.
And the list of editors were enough to set my head spinning. Some of the names I'd recognized, the others I immediately google stalked and then died a little more when I realized the caliber of editors Jim thought TBF was worthy of being presented to.
But as exciting as this stage is, I knew I was in for a bit of a waiting game. I know we all hear about those flash in the pan successes where the book is sent on sub and snatched up within 24 hrs or a handful of weeks. As amazing as that sounds, I knew the reality is almost always much closer to several months, if not a year.
But I was okay with that because I am in this for the long haul. I want this to be my life and publishing is a slow rolling machine that at times feels like its not even moving - it's THAT slow. Worse then waiting at the passport office or the DMV, watching the screen with flashing numbers and waiting for yours to pop up.
OK, so after reading all that what can I tell you about tackling agent revisions?
1) Don't listen to the voice of Impostor Syndrome - I know it's easier said then done. Build a support network, reach out to your friends and vent your anxiety. Let them talk you down, build you up - all the things that a support system is supposed to do. And be sure to do the same for them when they need help getting off that emotional ledge.
2) Trust yourself, and trust you book - it's soooooo easy to get sucked into THIS BOOK IS TERRIBLE AND I AM THE WORST. Especially when you have spent months or years reworking the story, character, plot, etc.
3) Break your edit letter/notes into manageable chunks - Once I did that, it became less overwhelming then reading through a long, blocked out chunk of HERE'S EVERYTHING WRONG NOW FIX IT. Sort out the big picture items from the smaller nits and create a plan of attack. Give yourself small daily goals to accomplish and do your best to meet those goals. Consider this deadline with your agent as practice for the real world expectations that will be coming your way once the book sells in the near and not too distant future.
4) Having said that, if you need more time don't be afraid to say so - when I realized I was nearing D-day, I told Jim I was going to need at least another 48 hours to just give it another final sweep to make sure I'd tied up all loose ends. Not going to lie, I was terrified about being late on my first actual deadline. He responded with - Of course! This is entirely flexible, so take as much time as you need. Even though I was determined to finish on time or as close to it as possible, it really took a lot of subconscious stress of knowing that he was going to support me, regardless.
5) Allow yourself time to breathe - I know when you're under the gun it feels like you always need to keep your head down and push, but if you're brain is melting out of your ears then you're not going to be productive. Take a night off to binge your fave show, or do what I do and go out dancing. Do whatever you need to do to decompress and blow off that built up steam. And then come back fresh.
OK, YOU'RE ON SUB. WHAT NOW?
DISTRACT YOURSELF. Start a new WIP. I'd drafted an outline for #ProjectSwords during October while waiting on my edits notes (if you haven't already, check out TOMI ADEYAMI'S PAGE TURNING PLOT COURSE - best money you'll ever spend), so now I was ready to dive in to a new world, new characters and a new adventure.
Writing kept me distracted long enough that I didn't notice the days passing, and also - it helped me to think that if TBF doesn't sell, then I will soon have a new book, a book I was desperately excited about and falling madly in love with, to share with the world.
But what if you're not ready to start something new or you don't have any new plot bunnies bouncing around in your head?
READ! Use this time to tackle your TBR pile that has grown from a hill into a mountain while you were lost in the editing cave. Start replenishing that tapped out well with ALL THE WORDS.
START WORKING OUT - or taking a class for something you've always wanted to try (I have my eye on fencing and archery at the moment). Exercise or diving into a new hobby can really open up your writing and help with relieving anxiety/tension.
TRAVEL - When better to take time off from life and go away on that trip you always wanted to take? Visit somewhere new and immerse yourself in culture, history, architecture and food. Who knows, you might find the seeds for a new story that will have you itching to jump behind the computer again.
And if things don't go as planned remember this:
You are brilliant, your book is brilliant. Publishing is subjective as hell, and even the best of the literary world heard 'NO' at some point. Don't compare yourselves to others, and not let all the deal announcements weigh you down.
I believe in you.
Well, that's all for now. I have to dive back into edits for the first draft of #ProjectSwords which I will share more with you about in my next blog post.