I have received some extremely valuable feedback from a literary agent I know, who very kindly read my entire Allyria manuscript and e-mailed me six pages of suggestions. All I can say is, “Wow.” I have spent the last ten days digesting the feedback and thinking about the main comments she had and how to fix them, and I’m just about ready to dive back into the manuscript. Here are the major pieces of advice she gave:
Show, don’t tell. Her biggest concern was the many places in the manuscript where it was “all tell, no show.” Everyone knows this one, right? And yet still I made this mistake. She provided me with numerous examples where I’ve done this. I had already identified this as a problem as I read other books in YA (see previous posts) and the specific examples she provided will help me immensely as I re-read and edit on this next round. Now that this has been pointed out to me, I am fully confident that I can fix this trait in my writing. (25 years of writing and rewriting for business will help me here.)
Provide closure to the ending , even if it’s an ongoing series. Another concern which she mentioned was the unsatisfying ending. “Even if you are [planning a sequel/series], there needs to be more closure – most books won’t sell unless they can stand alone.” I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I can make this more satisfying and bring a little more closure. Yes, this is just Book I, so I can’t resolve everything at the end of this book, but I can totally bring some of what happens at the beginning of Book II and put it in Book I. At least some more of the questions will be answered, and that will also satisfy the directive of “show, don’t tell.”
No vivid details. Another suggestion was the lack of vivid details to bring the fantasy setting to life. Again, lots of examples that will be so helpful. Here’s one example she gave. ” ‘The setting for this stage of our journey couldn’t have been more beautiful. The desert was dazzling’ can be cut, because the next sentences show us the desert’s beauty.” Wow. I was so worried about word count that I didn’t stop to consider whether one uninspired sentence of generic description could be replaced with two or three sentences that told how the setting impacted my narrator’s senses. This will be a fun challenge for me to fix, as I struggle to bring the Allyria in my head to the page.
Plot inconsistencies. The category that I appreciated the most, because it was so surprising and eye-opening for me, was the plot inconsistencies that she identified. The first one made me laugh out loud, because I had never even considered it. It involved a character knowing something really important, but dying and leaving only a cryptic message about it that took the MC the rest of the book to decipher. Her point was, if this character knew this information, why didn’t she send a message to someone as soon as she learned it? Why indeed? This and another comment are leading me to restructure this part of the story. More mystery, more agony, less certainty. No one is going to know everything, and only Lex will be able to put the pieces together. Even the advice about those inconsistencies I thought I had fixed was valuable, because perception is reality when it comes to the reader.
There were a variety of other comments, all of which I agree with and will take seriously. The funny thing is, she didn’t mention as problems the things I was most worried about in my previous rounds of editing — pacing, cutting backstory, and word count (although she did identify a few places where I told too much and took too many words to do it). I guess that’s good news that my previous editing apparently fixed some of these glaring problems. Now I can move forward with the next round of edits and make the story better.
She also mentioned two strengths that really warmed my heart — she liked my strong but flawed fantasy heroine, and she liked the romance between the heroine and hero. These are the parts of my story I liked the best too, so I’m a happy camper.
I realize I am very lucky to have someone so knowledgeable take time to read the manuscript and give me such great advice. Now it’s time to act on it! As I write this, I am growing excited to dive back in and tackle the manuscript again. I’m going in!
Wow, things really progressed this weekend with editing Book I. Once I got rolling, I was really able to make use of what I had learned.
Only problem was, I thought there was more “dead wood” in that stretch of manuscript than there was. My pacing, as I read through it, was better than I feared. That sounds like a good thing but, in this instance, it isn’t. The reason? I was deprived of some of the more obvious ways to make it a little shorter.
Time to ‘fess up. My manuscript is too long. Pre-edit, it stood at 120K. I am fully aware that it is too long, so no need for lectures. The edits I’ve done so far — eliminating non-essential characters, cutting scenes that don’t move the plot along, cutting out backstory — are all on paper still, so I don’t know what their impact will be. They will certainly shave some of that off, but not 15K. For that I am going to have to shorten the characters’ journey, or eliminate scenes that do advance the plot but not enough, or change the plot in some other way. I’m sure I can make it better and shorter at the same time; haven’t we all read books and been left wanting more? That’s the feeling I’m striving for from my readers. Rather than the opposite feeling — is she ever going to get to the point? But without reading the whole thing in one night, how will I ever know exactly what to cut from here?
In short, after I finish these edits, it may be time to have someone else read it and give me their opinion.
Here’s my question — I’ve heard many of you talk about critical reading groups. How do I find one that will appreciate my story and be willing to read something in the YA romance/fantasy genre? (I don’t want to waste time with a reviewer who really hates fantasy, for example.) What do I have to do for them in return – do I agree to read their work? What about copyright concerns when I send someone my manuscript? Are these real or virtual groups? Is there a forum somewhere where people can post their needs? Someone please enlighten me on this process. So far I have had only two people read the manuscript, and both of them read a hard copy. And neither of them had a single suggestion to make it shorter!
Your help in guiding me through this scary but necessary phase of editing would be much appreciated.