Category Archives: fiction

Revision Requests

The road to publication is long, arduous, and wrought with gray areas. Who’s advice do you follow? How many changes can you make without losing your story and voice? Imagine receiving personal advice from an editor. It’s exciting, and nerve-wracking! It means your novel has gained enough interest to warrant their attention, but it’s in no way a guarantee of publication. Today Anne Mateer shares her revise and resub story. I hope you’ll find it informative and encouraging.

Making Requested Revisions BEFORE a Contract is Offered by Anne Mateer

I sat across the table from a Bethany House editor, the two of us alone in a room while most other conference attendees sat listening to the keynote speaker. A month earlier, I’d sent the full manuscript of my novel, which she requested after seeing the beginning of it in the finals of the Genesis contest. My heart pounded and my hands twisted in my lap. A simple rejection would be done via email, not face to face—right?

We chatted. She set me at ease, telling me how much she enjoyed the story, the characters. My heart thumped harder. Was this the moment I’d been waiting for my whole life long?

She slid a stapled set of papers toward me. She and a couple of other editors had read through the book. And while they liked many things about it, they didn’t feel it quite ready yet. My heart sank into my stomach, then seemed to slither onto the floor in a puddle. A rejection after all.

And yet—not.

The pages she handed me contained a run down of things they like about the book and things they felt weren’t quite up to par. Could I revise it and resubmit? She asked. Of course there are no guarantees, she continued.

I worked to keep my excitement in check, reminding myself this did not mean if I did the work I’d receive a contract. But I quickly realized the amazing opportunity that had been handed to me. Some of the best editors of historical fiction in the business had given me feedback on my book. Not just on a few opening pages, on the entire story! Whether or not my revision resulted in a contract, they were essentially offering me the chance of a lifetime—an advanced class in publishable historical fiction.

Holding tightly to this idea, I plunged into my manuscript, working on the issues they’d identified. More than anything, I wanted to grow as a writer, not to squander this opportunity to learn. With that as my goal, I finished the revision and resubmitted. No, it didn’t result in a contract. At least not at that moment. There were more tweaks before they felt it ready to go to pub board. At times I despaired that it would ever meet their mark, but I persevered, determined to strengthen my writing muscles. After a grueling six months of work, the editor called and offered a two book contract.

I could have opted out of the initial opportunity. But if I had insisted that I wouldn’t do the revisions without a contract (or at least the promise of one), I would have missed out on some amazing things—like understanding how to work with an editor, learning how to shore up problem areas of the story and honing my craft for its own sake. And while the contract itself was an awesome reward at the end of the process, the experience of revision and resubmission beforehand was a priceless gift from the Lord that I will always treasure.

Anne Mateer worked over ten years on the craft of fiction before seeing her debut novel, Wings of a Dream, in publication. Her second book, At Every Turn, releases in September of 2012. Anne and her husband of 25 years live in Texas. They are the parents of three young adults. Visit her online at AnneMateer.com, follow her on Twitter, or connect via Facebook.

Wings of a Dream:

Rebekah Hendricks dreams of a life far beyond her family’s farm in Oklahoma, and when dashing aviator Arthur Samson promised adventure in the big city, she is quick to believe he’s the man she’s meant to marry. While she waits for the Great War to end and Arthur to return to her so they can pursue all their plans, her mother’s sister falls ill. Rebekah seizes the opportunity to travel to Texas to care for Aunt Adabelle, seeing this chance to be closer to Arthur’s training camp as God’s approval of her plans.

But the Spanish flu epidemic changes everything. Faced with her aunt’s death, Arthur’s indecisiveness, and four children who have no one else to care for them, Rebekah is torn between the desire to escape the type of life she’s always led and the unexpected love that just might change the dream of her heart.

Buy it now.

We’d love to hear from you. Do you have any revision stories you can share? Any feedback from editors, agents, or crit partners you found especially helpful? What about when you receive conflicting advice? How do you sift through all the suggestions competing for your attention?

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With Proper Perspective

Last week I watched an interview on Gina Holmes, best-selling author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain. In the interview, she shared her long, discouraging journey to publication. For her, it took ten years. For others it may take twenty. We could and should work hard, set goals, and pursue excellence as we follow God’s call, but ultimately, the results of our efforts rest in God’s hands. Knowing this, trusting in God’s faithful and sovereign nature, enables us to enjoy the journey. To remember that it is a journey–of learning, of growing, of being transformed in thought and character. Today Jennifer Hallmark shares her thoughts on rejection–something none of us enjoy but all of us need. No truly, we do. 🙂

Here’s why:

So Much Good from a Rejection by Jennifer Hallmark

My prayer started like this: God, I want to be a writer. After writing for our church newsletter, God reminded me I was a writer. I rephrased my prayer: God, I want to be a published writer. Several free article websites and blogs later, God reminded me that I was a published writer. Next prayer: God, I’d like to be a paid published writer…Maybe I wasn’t being specific enough. Or maybe God just has a better sense of humor than I give Him credit for.

We are interested in seeing your proposal for Journey of Grace: a New Beginning. After my heart returned to its regular rhythm, my emotions ranged from thrilled to scared to amazed. My first novel had gained a publisher’s interest after only a few submissions. The new indie publisher, Written World Communications actually read my query and wanted to see more.

Their imprint Harpstrings’ editor at the time, Rowena Kuo, gave my information and three chapters a good edit and returned it with a cartridge’s worth of red ink. She suggested several ways to improve my manuscript like more showing and active verbs. Ms. Kuo then offered to review my entire manuscript after I made the corrections.

I worked at fever pitch to rework whole sections of my manuscript. Along the way, I met a freelance editor through the ACFW who helped me with the edits, easing my job and teaching me much along the way. Two months later, I delivered my newly worked “baby” to Ms. Kuo where it received a good review at the publication board before ultimately being rejected.

Ouch. I took time to recover after the entire process, sifting out the good from the disappointment. I’d made new friends with the freelance editor and Ms. Kuo, besides improving my manuscript ten-fold. I had also met deadlines and received much practice with edits and rewrites.

Ms. Kuo also expressed an interest in seeing any short stories I’d written for their magazine, Harpstring. After several email conversations, my first short story, The Black and White Arm was published in the summer 2011 issue. In December, the winter 2011-12 issue of Harpstring ran my second short story, Finally Home.

Another editor at Written World Communications, Chris Richards, is now considering my third story for a different magazine, Timeless. I’m a paid, published writer. Maybe it’s time to pray a paid, published novelist…

The moral to this story? God has his own way, timing, and plan that far exceeds anything my finite mind can imagine. He’s called me to this dance, but only if He leads. When I follow him, He takes me to places unknown, meeting people, and experiencing life and wonder as never before. So much good from a rejection.

Jennifer Hallmark is an author and women’s ministry consultant. She has a website, http://www.jenniferhallmark.com, and blog, jenlhall63.blogspot.com. Her first novel, Journey of Grace: A New Beginning, is currently searching for a good home. Jennifer resides with her husband Danny in Alabama and loves her family, her dog Max, and coffee shops, in no particular order. 


When dealing with rejection:

1) Don’t take it personally. There are countless reasons why a publisher or editor turns down a novel or piece. Perhaps they’ve recently published something similar. Maybe it doesn’t quite fit their style or mission. Or perhaps you’re just not ready. Think of it as a marathon. Don’t expect to cross that finish line if you haven’t logged the miles.

2) Use it as a learning opportunity. It’s easy to justify our writing, to find reasons to discount feedback we’ve received, but justification leads to stagnation. Honest, informed evaluation leads to improvement.

3) Draw near to God and seek His guidance. If you’re on the wrong path, writing a story that’s not quite right for you He’ll redirect you. If you’re following His lead, He’ll encourage you. Either way, He knows exactly where He wants to take you and when and how you’ll get their.

4) Read and gain encouragement from stories of how other authors found publication. Most often, you’ll find it was the result of years of sweat, insecurity, and tears.

5) JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP. As iron sharpens iron, right?

6) Stay in community.

What about you? Do you have a rejection story you can share? One that stung initially, but later turned out to be a blessing? We’d love to  hear it!


The Power of an Unanswered Question

Last night I finished a book I enjoyed despite long pages of tedium and an abundance of flashbacks. Halfway through, with numerous other books waiting on my Kindle, I asked myself why I kept reading. I skimmed over large sections, sometimes whole pages, (all totaled, maybe half the book) and yet, continued to the end. Rare for me, as I don’t have the patience to waste time on mediocre novels.

The reason I kept reading despite the my page-skimming? The author planted a driving question I needed resolved.

I was pretty certain I knew the answer. I’ve read enough predictable novels to expect predictability, but I was pleasurably surprised. In the end, the novelist not only answered my question, but in a way I’d never suspected.

As you work on your novels, remember to plant questions in your readers’ minds. More importantly, make sure all those questions—those unknowns anchored at the end of scenes and chapters—point to a larger question, a driving question. It may make the difference between a sludge-pile novel and a best seller.

As a side note, if a reader can skim over anything and still catch the story, delete. It’ll save a tree. 🙂

Five Tips For Stronger Writing

As an editor-for-hire working under Tiffany Colter, I see a lot of writing—good writing, beginning writing, and all stages in between. I’ve learned, most often, strong books and stories are but a few tweaks away. Today I’ll offer a few freebies—some snippets I share with paying clients—on how to take your writing from good to great.

1. Give your reader credit.

As writers, we want to make sure our reader understands what we’re trying to say, catches the foreshadowing, correctly reads the intended emotion, so we slam them with an abundance of colorless words. Then we repeat the idea again. And again. And again. There’s nothing worse than reading something numerous times, even if it’s presented in a new way. Give your readers credit and expect them to pick up on your message the first time. Most of them will catch the frown, the shift, the narrowed eyes, the chill breeze, and will feel quite proud at having done so.

For non-fiction, keep similar ideas lumped together and present them in a concise and clear manner. After each chapter, ask yourself: “What information or idea does this paragraph provide and have I already presented that in a previous chapter or section? If so, delete. (Starting with an outline is imperative!) When writing chapter summaries, remember you’ve already sufficiently expanded on the idea. Now’s not the time to rephrase everything, but instead, to breifly recap key points.

2. Be original.

This applies to big-picture content as well as words and phrases. Avoid clichés and find unique ways to phrase things instead. I’ve read about enough stomach flutters and racing pulses to give me a migraine. The occasional stomach upset is okay, but skilled writers go beyond the common descriptions, perusing psychological sites and body language books to find other equally telling, less clichéd physiological responses.

Speaking of originality, take the time to add unexpected twists to your books or novels. Scan your local newspaper, stalk your neighbors—whatever you need to do to move out of the Sunday School classroom into an area not yet explored. And keep me guessing. If I know what you’re going to say or how the conflict will resolve before I finish the book, why do I need to finish it? This can be difficult for novel writers. When crafting a novel, the writer needs to move the story toward an emotionally satisfying ending. But you still need to keep the reader guessing. As your hero and heroine move toward happily-ever-after, throw a few obstacles in their way. Create a reader expectation, then flip things. Give them a reason to turn that next page…otherwise they won’t. 

3. Address a felt need.

This is true for novel and non-fiction writing. If you want people to talk about your books, articles, and blog posts (i.e., if you want to generate a book-selling buzz), you need to hit readers where it counts—at their heart. What do people long for and how can you bring that into your writing? For fiction, it’s often best to have one of your main characters struggle with that need. For example, your hero could be nearing a mid-life crisis. What does he need? Purpose? A dream to believe in? Something to live for? Or perhaps your heroine is lonely, or lugging around baggage and longing for freedom.

But again, don’t slam your reader over the head with this. “Jane longed for freedom from the emotional scars plaguing her….” Gag! Instead, weave hints throughout your novel, perhaps a glance toward a fun-loving couple, a tear after reading an emotive poem, a sifting through old mementoes. And remember, you’ve got an entire novel to introduce your characters to your readers. By itself, each clue may seem insignificant, but over the course of a story, they paint a vivid picture. Be creative and contemplative, asking yourself what events, scenes, or objects can convey whatever emotion or need you’re trying to express.

For non-fiction writing, there are two ways to address a felt need. You can either tell your story, including your struggles and lessons learned along the way, or you can create a point-by-point informative book that presents a problem (loneliness, fear, anxiety, depression) then provides step-by-step solutions or aids. Regardless, the information presented needs to have value *to the reader*. It needs to move beyond a personal life history essay, because honestly, unless your Steven Curtis Chapman or Michael Jordan, no one cares.

4. Connect the dots for your reader.

You’ve got a story to tell, one you believe can inspire and encourage others, one with significant meaning to you. Unless you find ways to connect your readers, to show them how your story relates to their life, your account will be little more than a “What I did last summer” essay. Boring! This points back to that *felt need* and requires a bit of work—of knowing your audience.

5. Make sure every word packs a punch.

The best writing is clear and concise. Why take two paragraphs to state something that can be said in one? Why use ten words when five will do? For example, spoke softly can become whispered. Nodded her head simply nodded. Do we need to know a smile “graced her lips”? Where else would a smile appear? On her foot?

Speaking of clarity, whenever possible, use words that evoke images or stir emotions. For example, don’t tell us he sat in the shade of the tree. Name the tree so we can see it. Don’t tell us her perfume smelled sweet. Describe the scent so we can smell it. The young child you describe resting in his mother’s arms, is he a toddler or an infant?

In a nutshell, great writing takes work, knowledge, and perseverance. Select each word, each plot or idea, carefully, and take the time to get to know your reader. Address a felt need and do so with creativity, immersing your reader in your book and giving them every reason to turn that next page. Doing so will add punch and emotive value to your work which in turn will create a loyal readership.

**Let me help you. Because I’m in the Christmas spirit, I’m offering free one chapter critiques. To claim your *gift*, simply leave a comment or subscribe to this blog.