Of Sand & Silk - A New Process

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with literary agent Elizabeth Kracht about my novel Of Sand & Silk.  Elizabeth is with Kimberley Cameron and Associates out of California.  I queried her back in February and in March got a reply back requesting the next three chapters and synopsis of the story - those are good e-mails to get.  I then met her in person at the University of New Mexico's Annual writer's conference in April and had an official pitch session with her.  She is a great agent.

She read the first 100 pages of the manuscript and gave me her feedback via a scheduled phone conversation.  Though she was passing on the story, which was a bummer, she gave me insightful, direct input and advice on what needed to be changed to make the story salable for a debut novel from a debut novelist.  I took diligent notes.

The 103,000 word story needs to be cut down to 85,000.  First three chapters need to be condensed into two or three paragraphs.  The book needs to be in full swing by chapter two - characters should be clarified and known clearly, plot underway, setting in place, all workings of the world need to be laid out and understood by the reader, less abstraction overall...  

For the remainder of the day after the conversation I fell into hermit mode - kinda shut down shop; I had let myself get over-excited about the prospect of representation.  But after I got over it - I began to really consider her comments and suggestions as a professional in the industry.  And realized she was right.

I realized I had to play the game.

When someone walks into a book store, goes online, or browses their e-reader for a new book to purchase- the name along the spine of the book is what sells 99% of the time.  Robert McCammon, Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, Dean Koontz...for the most part a reader knows what they like to read, knows who they like to read, and that is what they buy.  If, by chance, a reader picks up a book by an author they have never read or never heard of, they pick up the book and read the back cover.  If it holds their interest they might open it up and read the first few lines of prose - maybe the first few paragraphs even.  If they aren't hooked in the first 20-40 seconds, they put it down.   

After talking with Elizabeth, I realized I had to make my story fit into the mold of what a debut novel is supposed to look like.  I have to play the game if I want to get my foot in the door with the publishing world.

I wrestled with it a bit - still.  I understand pulling the reader in as quick as you can - it simply is the publishing industry.  My approach to story, at least for Of Sand & Silk, had to be changed.  I like to tiptoe into story - keep things hidden and not reveal everything to the reader right away.  It is how I like to read story, and how I have always written.  But my abstract prose and description gets the ax for this one.

The good news is Elizabeth said she would give it another read once I reworked it.  

So - I have a new process in this step of editing, because it is entirely different.  Usually I sit in my writing room and edit for overall story - making sure plot is working, that I'm following the rules I set in place, or it is an all grammar and spelling edit.  But as I sat down to rearrange and cut chunks of the story, the gears in my brain refused to churn properly.  I couldn't sit at the computer and rework the entire story, it just wasn't working.  This editing was complete 9-5 work.  There is no romance, no allure of story, no characters taking me places - this was work.  

After taking a week off from writing, which I haven't done in a very long time  ( I keep going to bed feeling like I've forgotten something ) my new process is me at the kitchen table with the physical manuscript and a pen; slashing away chunks of prose, crossing out adverbs and anything deemed unnecessary.  It is different, for sure, but I'm not afraid to make the manuscript bleed.  She isn't my "baby".  It is a novel.  Sure, a novel I like very much and am proud to have written.  But the goal is to sell these stories I spend so much time toiling with.  

Plus, I still have the original 103,000 word manuscript that can be published years from now when I'm an established author.  Duh.  

Thanks for reading.
Stay alive,

-M.P. Callender