Someone Read My Novel And She Said…

We’ll get to that.  But first, let me tell you what’s been going on the past month and a half.  First, I haven’t looked at my novel, and I’m proud of that.  Gotta take a step back.  Then other things happened:

My Deadline Passed

The date January 14, 2014 came and went.  When I first started this blog, that was the deadline I gave myself to finish a first draft.  When I hit it early, I changed the goal to finishing editing by that time.  So that’s where my novel is at at the moment, in the best state I could make it without outside feedback.

I Paid for Professional Feedback

Yup, I paid a million dollars to have the project reviewed by Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Developmental Editing Service.  Basically, they read your entire manuscript and provide a 12-15 page report that includes a synopsis of your novel, an emotional response chart, detailed comments on dialogue, characters, plot, writing skills, and concept.  They also provide ratings on all of those items and tell you whether they would recommend, consider or pass on the project.

I was very happy with the results.  They accepted a revised version a few days after I sent the document, agreed to my request for a female editor, and got back to me in about two weeks (she read a whole novel and prepared a report in that time!). Good service.

And the Editor Liked It!

champagne 2

(Photo by Marcus Hansson)

She liked it, she really liked it.  Forgive me, while I bask in this glory.  After all of this time trudging along, I am allowing myself to enjoy a positive response.  Seeing my “grades,” ranging from good to excellent was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time!  It really meant a lot that, as I read through her comments,  it was clear that she understood what I was trying to do/say.  Successfully conveying the ideas I was trying to present was one of my biggest goals, and I love that she got where I was coming from.

In terms of genre, she labeled it a drama/love story. Finally! I know what it is! It’s pretty low on comedy (according to her emotional response chart), which I think means it can’t be chick lit? (Yes, I’m still trying to figure that all out).

But her most important contribution was definitely her suggestions, which she thankfully made in a way that came across as useful and didn’t hurt my feelings (which I was prepared for).  She gave me  insightful ideas that I would not have come up with on my own, and I really think that if I incorporate them, I can bring my novel to the next level.

Here are some comments I would like to share:

  • Lessons from Robin Logline: “Francesca and John seem as though they’re meant to be together, but when they break up and get back together, they must decide whether love is enough when they want such different things.”
    • That’s pretty accurate.  One of the themes of my novel is definitely the question of whether love is enough.  I still wonder—can love be enough if both parties are sufficiently committed?  Or is a relationship doomed if people have vastly different goals?
    • Btw, according to Wikipedia, a logline is “a brief summary of a television program, film, or motion picture [or novel!!] often providing both a synopsis of the program’s plot, and an emotional “hook” to stimulate interest.”
  • On concept: “While the story operates on a low-concept premise, following the break-up, reunion, and break-up of two intelligent but fundamentally different people’s relationship, the themes and motifs present throughout the story make it so much more than a simple drama or love story.  The prose style is often simple and straightforward, and this manuscript provides an easy and fun, fast read, but the content really makes a reader think and reflect quite often.”
    • Yes!! That is EXACTLY what I was going for! An easy read for a smart person. 🙂
  • On plot: “Lessons from Robin is not a plot-heavy story, but the way in which the author reveals pieces of information at specific moments when they will be most significant or surprising makes the structure work well.”
    • This was very interesting to me, because the entire time I believed my story was plot-driven rather than character-driven.  Often when people say they are writing a character-driven novel, my reaction is “who wants to read a book where nothing happens?!”  But I guess that’s not what it means because stuff definitely happens in my novel—I promise!  I’ll have to think about this more later.

Anyway, like I said, she certainly shared some criticisms, but this is my blog so that’s all I’m going to say about that for now. 😉  And for the record, I know for a fact that the service does not simply tell everyone their novel is great because 1) I read a scathing review of the service (that was later taken down) by someone upset that the editor basically told him his story didn’t make sense and 2) this service is not only for people who finished their manuscript, but also for people who keep getting rejected by agents.  What good would it do to just tell someone their story is great in that scenario?

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Jennifer Weiner: The Ombudsman of Publishing-World Sexism

We all know that I love Jennifer Weiner. And that, while I enjoy her books, it’s really her perceptiveness of the publishing industry and her willingness to call people out on their ish that makes me a real fan. She questions the institution and the way things have always been done and I really believe that her role as the “ombudsman of publishing-world sexism” is opening the doors for me and female fiction writers everywhere.

The New Yorker wrote a profile on JW and her “quest for literary respect” this week. When women write about an emotional journey they are often marginalized—dismissed as something that is not literature despite containing dark themes or vivid descriptions.  Their work is devalued by places like, well, The New Yorker. The decision for that publication to profile JW is interesting in itself—The New Yorker is one of the few magazines that publishes fiction, but usally written by men. It’s basically part of the uppity institution that JW’s known for criticizing.  I guess profiling her was the magazine’s response to criticism?

But in true New Yorker style, the article was extremely well written and I felt a fair depiction of her. I learned about JW and her career and I admire her even more now. The piece notes that author Jonathan Frazen described JW’s fight against the publishing industry as “self-promotion.” I think he’s right. And I like that. JW seems to have this complete and utter trust in her abilities and instincts. First, she confidently writes about people like herself in a style tone that enjoys to read and then, she advocates for herself when it feels like no one else will. The result? Millions of books sold and the elevation to cultural spokeswoman. The reality is that modesty is not always such a virtue when it comes to your career. It’s those who self promote who get noticed and heard. So, whatevs Franzen.

Slate also reacted (in not quite as friendly a way) to this idea of JW’s literary quest as a means of self-promotion.

Anyway below are some highlights from the profile that I found interesting:

  • JW has never been reviewed by the New York Times despite having sold millions of books and been on the best seller list for months. This is interesting because “un-literary” but successful male authors such as Dan Brown have been reviewed several times.
  • The New York Times has made some changes to its Book Review, including hiring Pamela Paul—who cares about gender issues—as the new editor. Recently they introduced a new column called “The Shortlist” that features a capsule of reviews grouped by genre.  JW’s response? “Maybe they are doing focus groups, and lots of people are, like, ‘Could you please not write all the time about whatever Presidential biography you are reviewing for the second time?’”
  • On JW’s separation from her husband: “We expected that things would proceed one way—he’d be the primary breadwinner, a successful attorney, and I’d make less money, stay home with the kids, with fiction essentially a lucrative hobby…When it didn’t work out that way, I think we both had a hard time rewriting the contract of the marriage.”
  • This quote from Adelle Waldman’s novel “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P”: “Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. . . . It’s meritocracy applied to personal life, but there’s no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact. . . . But who cares, right? It’s just girl stuff.”

One More Thing About Women’s Fiction and Ethnic Fiction…

Holy ish. I cannot believe the response I received on my last post. I feel a little bad for Nicky Sparks—I wasn’t trying to make him a symbol of the institutional problems of the publishing industry, I just expected him to have a better stock answer to the question “would your career have been different if your name had been Nicole Sparks?”

I’m realizing that the issue of how novels are categorized and the meaning of the various genres is one that a lot of writers think about.  I mean my blog and Twitter blew up with opinions on the topic!  Yes, that may have been because Jodi Picoult retweeted my post (teehee)—but I don’t think it’s just that. I was retweeted once before by someone with a lot of followers, and my hits spiked to 250; however, when Jodi Picoult retweeted me, I got over 2,000 hits in a single day! I mean, damn. This tells me that this is an issue that really impassions and infuriates a lot of people. In fact, the more I read about this, the more I find articles about writers trying to disassociate themselves from a specific genre–even Danielle Steel denies being a Romance author!

At first the whole thing just confused me, but now I’m beginning to better understand authors’ frustrations. For example, just the other day I was in the airport and found this:

women's fiction airport

I didn’t capture the whole section—the bottom rows have Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts books.  Basically everyone in the “women’s fiction” section is a Romance novelist. Now, I have periodically claimed to be writing a women’s fiction novel; however, if I saw this, I might want to take that claim back. Not because I have anything against Romance writers—it’s just those books tend to have a different formula/focus than the one I’m writing. It would feel inaccurate.

But it gets worse.  Then I went to the Ethnic section:

ethnic fiction airport
Ok, yes I love Terry McMillan, I’m down with that. And let me not knock Eric Jerome Dickey or any of the authors on here—but is this really the best they could do? What about Taiye Selasi or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Ayana Mathis? Yes, I understand it’s an airport and so people are looking for beach reads, but other parts of that bookstore had more than just beach reads.

It just makes me feel like this is why sometimes “ethnic” genres or “womens” genres get such bad raps—because bookstores like these make it seem like the novels in these pictures are all the new fiction books out there that could be described as “ethnic” or “women’s fiction.”
Oh, and I didn’t even get to the Latino part of the “ethnic” section:

Spanish fiction airport

I just don’t have enough time to comment on the problems with this section.

Anyway, it’s all just all so weird. Til next time—adios!