Thursday, December 07, 2017

R&R and R&R and R&R I need an R&offer! (with update 12/20/17)

I know you’ve covered R&Rs a lot recently, but I thought I’d reach out because the discussions left me feeling more alone. R&Rs were often referred to as “rare,” but I keep getting them…and I can’t seem to get over the R&R hurdle.

Over the last two years, I’ve queried two novels. (About 40 queries each.) Both resulted in 15+ fulls/partials…with no offers of rep. I mainly received R&Rs, which also didn’t work out. Either the advice didn’t resonate with me or the revision didn’t resonate with the agent, though the agents often said the revisions were really good, which…*confused* (Once, I received a R&R on a R&R.) I’m super grateful for the R&Rs, but I’m now jumping into a third novel to try again. Though I’ve learned a lot from R&Rs, I can’t help but feel like I’m stuck on repeat.

I have beta readers (new and old), I attend conferences, and I have previous publications. I expect revisions at every stage, but many of my writing friends received offers before revisions (even heavy revisions).

Is there something else I can do? 

There's something wrong with your manuscript and no one is willing to engage in the conversation that will tell you.

I certainly don't with passes on fulls, even those with requested revisions. I say exactly what you heard: this is good, but not quite there yet.

I think you need a bloodthirsty outside editor, preferably someone who worked at a major publishing house, and knows what it takes for a manuscript to get to that final level. You're going to need to shell out some cash for this, cause they need to read the whole thing.

You've got one question and one question only for this editor: what's not working.  And beg them for brutal honesty. PROMISE you will not hurl invectives at them even if they tell you your manuscript stinks. (I'm sure it doesn't.)

If I had to guess without having heard anything about the manuscript or read a single line, I'd bet it's just not fresh and new enough. That's really hard to quantify, and I hate telling writers that because there's no way to help them fix it.

I also think I'm right because all the feedback you've gotten is writing based, not sales based. And "not fresh and new" is a measure of marketability, not your writing.

This is very frustrating place to be. Time for a stiff drink, a break from all this insanity during the holidays to gather your wits, then start looking for an editor in January. They'll all need money then cause they need to pay their taxes in April.

Good luck!

Update from the OP:
I'm in the midst of this, thanks to your advice dear Madame Shark. While it is not a blissful experience, it is exactly what I needed.  
One thought to others who may want to try this: interview the editor! I talked to three, all equally qualified, and one stood out because of natural chemistry. She was not the cheapest. We are halfway through and I can already say the money was well spent.  
My motto - listen to the shark!


Cheyenne said...

OP: I feel you. I've been in a similar place for awhile, and Janet's advice is probably what I need to take on board for myself. I hope you find a fantastic, sharp, quick, thorough editor who can help you on your way. I've looked in the past and always end up in a mire of uncertainty over what price is too much and how to know if the editor is solid.

I might start that search in the next few weeks myself. Dozens of form rejections on fulls and partials, and those that *might* be personalised offer no consistent feedback, nothing applicable or practical. So deep down I fear it's a problem of marketability and what's "hot" and not right now. Despite weight that possibility, I still believe in my stories as much as ever. You clearly do, too. Get that drink, and have that break!

Best of luck to you!!

Kitty said...

The good news, OP, is you must be a talented writer to receive 15+ fulls/partials.

Lennon Faris said...

Not disagreeing with Janet, but still, 15+ requests on 40 isn't bad at all. If you yourself are really happy with the story, maybe query more widely as well?

Good luck, OP. Even if it's frustrating right now, it sounds like you have a great chance of eventually getting there.

Colin Smith said...

Before you go splashing out on an editor (which may be beneficial anyway), I wonder if it's not so much the story but the way the story's told. Yeah, I'm talking about voice. Book stores are loaded with retellings, and stories with similar plots. What often makes the difference is not so much the story, but the way it's told. Unless you're already getting praise for your voice, Opie, maybe think about how changing the voice might help. Perhaps even change the POV. If it's third person, rewrite a chapter in first. Of it's in first, maybe change the POV character. See if that helps. Maybe you've already tried that, in which case perhaps it is time to call in an editorial professional.

Just a thought. Now for some tea... :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, I know. Often said but always true- writing is not for wimps. I get what Janet is saying because I often put down books I am reading because they are same old same old. And these are published books. Some are bestsellers. Writing is hard enough, but that publishing hurdle is so damn subjective.

Good luck. Keep writing. You will clear that hurdle.

RachelErin said...

Three quick things (blogger ate my first comment).
1. 40+ is pretty low on the query number. I usually 60-100. I know this depends, but food for thought.
2. To help with finding freshness, try Janet's classic advice to read 100 books in your category/genre. This helped me immensely - by book 20 I completely reworked subplots because my first ones were Boring. Also helped me understand feedback better, b/c I had more story examples in my head.
3. I found Donald Maass's book The Emotional Craft of Fiction incredibly helpful. It focuses on finding authentic, and often fresh emotions in the story you are telling, which can be add a layer of newness to a well-trod tale. As in, I recognize it's a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but I love it because the story has never made me FEEL this way before. An interesting angle to consider in the 'fresh' department - it can be the emotions that are new, not only the plot/premise.

And good luck! I've frequently read 4 as the average number of MSs authors write before finding and agent, and it sounds like you're already doing well.

Karen McCoy said...

Pawing through THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION like my life depends on it, and I'm already revisiting some gems. Story opening and Hemingway (and out-of-body experiences).

Also, I can attest to hiring an editor who used to work for the Big 5--immense story insight. There are also a few authors who look at query letters, submission packages, and fulls. As an example, this is one site I've found useful.

Good luck, Opie!

The Noise In Space said...

For what it's worth, I bet a lot of us here would be willing to lend you some fresh eyes and give you an honest perspective (I certainly would). I know it's not as good as an editor, but perhaps we might be a little more sharkly than your average beta.

Claire AB. said...

OP, I feel your pain and have suffered through a version of this myself. It's is a hard place to be -- so frustrating! But I'm also sure you're close if you've gotten that many R&Rs!. Janet, your advice makes so much sense. Maybe it's what I need to consider myself...

That said, I agree with The Noise in Space that some of the reef dwellers might be able to beta read if you still need that. I'm not on a list here, but you can email me (I hope I'm not bound for Carkoon for breaking a rule here!) at clairebellewriter on gmail.

Best of luck, OP and thank you, Janet!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I can attest to the value of forking over the cash for a professional edit. Several years ago I set aside writing nonfiction to try my hand at women's fiction. After completing my ms, and doing all the rereading/revising/beta-readers due diligence, I sent the entire thing off for a full critique. I learned much; it was absolutely worth it. I'll add, there are many people offering this service. Do your research and check references.

From Rainer Marie Rilke: “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And . . . if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity.”

Craig F said...

I don't know enough to pass judgement but my gut feeling is the opposite of Colin's. I think there is too much voice and an insipid plot. Might be magic that appears from nowhere or opening a drawer to find the way to find that device that saves the world. A plot should build to a climax, the climax should not materialize out of a fog.

Professor Snoe: I replied to your comment on yesterday's post.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I'm going to disagree with Colin and say your voice is spot on and your book has other fundamental flaws.

Voice is the first thing agents ping onto. It's obvious on page one. If they're reading enough to request an R&R, your voice isn't the problem. You can't fix voice with an R&R. Other things you can, which is why they request this.

I do support the idea of a good developmental edit. Find a pro to take your puppy apart.

The good news is your issue is fixable. Bad news is you can't fix it until you deeply know what it is.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Congrats to OP - 15 fulls/partials is really impressive! I wonder if the issue might be that the story is just a little too generic, and all the R&Rs have made it worse - one agent makes it more specific to his taste, another agent makes it more specific to hers, and in the end the novel is stuck back in the middle.

It might be time to make sure that, with all the revisions, you didn't accidentally edit out the heart of the story. Whatever you do, good luck OP!

(Also - hi everyone! This year has been hot hell with health issues for me and my family. But now I'm writing again, so voila! I return! Sometimes it's a victory just to pick up the pen, and it's been that kind of year for me.)

The Noise In Space said...

After reading Claire's comment, I realize I didn't put my email. It's my username at gmail.

Sorry for posting twice for such a small point! *smacks forehead*

Liz Penney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Mills said...

If it is the "new and fresh" issue, I feel ya OP! I haven't started querying yet, mainly because I'm bogged down in self-rejection land. Each book I write is better, but then I think, "It needs a higher concept, it needs to stand out!" and I shelve it and try again. For my last couple, of course I happily wrapped them up and then saw very similar concepts on the SFF awards lists (different execution of course, but who wants to look like they're riffing on last year's Hugo winner?).

But hey, that means I'm catching up to the edge of that envelope! I just have to push it a bit more so *I'm* doing the next thing, right??

JEN Garrett said...

I recently had a champagne rejection on my picture book. Basically, "The writing is great, but I can't sell this so I'm going to have to pass. It's too bad, because I really like it."

I hit PAUSE on my querying to mull this rejection over. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn't hitting that target market (ages 5-8) with this manuscript. So, was it my writing or the marketability of my manuscript?

Back to revising.

Steve Stubbs said...

I suspect Ms. Reid is right (as usual.) Reading this I found myself wondering if this is Yet Another Werewolf Novel (also called YAWN). There are interesting things you can do with this. I saw an old Abbott and Costello movie in which Lon Chaney says, "Every month at the full moon I turn into a wolf." And Costello says, "Yeah, you and about forty million other guys."

But most YAWNs are just that. They're YAWNs.

There are several ways to get around this. One is to think in abstract terms. On a concrete level a werewolf is some weird dude who grows facial hair and fangs once a month. On an abstract level he is someone who seems normal but who has a dark side. A very dark side. No, I don't mean Donald Trump. If he has a normal side he keeps it hidden.

Drop the facial hair and the fangs and you have Stevenson's classic, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. That is a werewolf story, but it is not a YAWN.

Or write about a predator who got to be a billionaire by destroying other people. Now he pretends to be a philanthropist. Heh, heh, heh.

Another is to reverse the cliche. Think of the old song by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. ("Big bad wolf can sure be good.")

Another is to introduce a twist. The werewolf can only be killed by a silver bullet. He laughs at the police. He scorns NRA supporters. But then along comes The Lone Ranger. Owww, where did that silver bullet come from?

Anne said...

Begs the question: Where do you find a good editor with publishing experience, even if you're willing to pay? I've searched sites for months now. There is little to give you confidence that you're making a good investment.

Sherry Howard said...

Just popping in to say this is a fascinating discussion today! Last night I participated in a video webinar with an instructor/writer/professor kidlit and an editor with many years of experience. It was a follow-up to a middle-grade writing class. We talked about this very topic. And JR’s comments are so spot on—we need truly professional eyes on our work sometimes. AND, the comments here are rich in truth too. I seldom write long comments, so I might be forgiven for a long post today.

Find great critique partners, super beta readers, (insert $$ editor if you can afford it), query widely, then let it rest if you have too. But never stop working on multiple projects.

I LOVE this gang here.

Sherry Howard said...

I will not delete a comment with a typo: too instead of to because this page makes me identify too many cars and road signs before I can post!

Anonymous said...

Not disagreeing with Janet's advice -- a professional editor can be an amazing resource -- but it might also help to read not *just* the best books in your genre, which I assume you're doing already, but also read some of the worst you can find. I can't even tell you how much I've learned from reading poorly executed books. It's so easy to see what they've done wrong (whereas identifying what is done right can be difficult). And then I have to reflect and be brutally honest with myself: am I doing the same thing(s)?

As for finding an editor: writers often thank agents, editors, beta readers, etc in the acknowledgments. I always read the acknowledgements. Sometimes writers (esp self-pub) will mention editors on twitter or FB. Pay attention to writers in your genre and you'll notice when they do. Every time I find a mention, I make a note or bookmark a freelance editor's website. I have an entire bookmark folder just for editors.

I also agree with others who have said that the first several stories you write most likely won't ever be published. And thank all the gods for that. "Practice makes perfect" is a cliché for a reason. Sometimes the best thing is to stop revising and write something new, which you're doing. Smart move. Best of luck to you, OP.

Anonymous said...

Anne - get a sample edit and ask for references. I've been an editor and I've worked with a couple, and I've usually been very happy with the editors I hired.

I wrote an article a while ago about finding and working with a pro editor, that you might find useful - - and you might check the Editorial Freelancers Association for a rate chart and browse-able editor profiles. If you've been to a class or a conference, try contacting the teacher for recommendations. And if you write in a particular genre, there's probably at least one Facebook group for authors of that genre, and the members will have recommendations on editors they've worked with.

Ashes said...

I did a MS exchange with an author who had the problem Janet describes, and I can confirm it is really hard to tell them.

It was actually a MG book, and they wanted me to read it to my daughter. I had to tell the author it didn't hold her interest. She had already self-pubbed it, so I wasn't sure what to say. She asked what I thought but it seemed like more of a time for a review than a critique. She certainly wasn't going to rewrite it. It was a hard place to be in.

I ended up telling her the writing was beautiful (it was!). But the descriptions were a little flowery for my kid. And that it was a lovely classically written children's story that reminded me of books I'd read growing up, but didn't peak the interest of my child. All true. But what I wanted to say, was: this book is too old-school and would appeal to kids 20 years ago, you need to read some modern MG books to see what's in style now. Kiddo's books are generally more straightforward with an emphasis on humor than the stories I read as a child. I don't think there's a market for this.

Julie Weathers said...

Late to the party.

Fifteen fulls and partials out of forty queries is very good, so at least you know your queries and first pages are getting notice. You probably have a unique and compelling voice, but the story falls apart somehow. That's what happened with Far Rider as the last agent pointed out to me. Praise God I finally got someone who took the time, to tell me what wasn't working. It's the reason several agents said, "Remember me when for your next work."

I'm not sure 40 rejections is the place to give up when you're getting so many requests. However, if you're getting R&Rs and it's still not working, something is wrong. A good editor would probably be a sound idea because you're most likely committing the same error whatever that may be.