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Sunday, March 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Photo: Green Chameleon 

Several months ago, one of my picture book manuscripts received a rejection.  The good news is the agent said that she'd take another look—if I revised the piece.  This is common practice when an agent sees some potential in a manuscript.

Despite her generous offer, I was miffed.  The agent wanted a significant revision.  No other details.  So, I didn't know if she had a problem with the plot of the story, the main character, or the lyrical way in which the story had been written.  My gut feeling was she couldn't connect with the lyricism.  And hence, my dilemma.  The story had to be told precisely as it had been written it.  If the lyricism was removed, the voice and emotion of the story would be lost.  I dug my heels in.  I would not revise.  And I would not query her again.

My friend Reggie could relate.  He received a rejection on one of his favorite stories.  But in this case, the rejection came with specific suggestions on how to revise.  Still, this did not make him happy.  He felt that the story was perfect as written.

Something overcomes writers when we are asked to revise.  Some of us take it personally.  We get defensive about our work.  We have created masterpieces and no one is going to make us change a single word.

As several months passed, more agents passed on my manuscript.  I began to think about revising it.  Maybe there was a way to stay true to the voice and make the story better.  But I was unsure.  So, I put a question to Twitter.  I asked the writing community what they would do if they had encountered an agent who wanted a revision on a manuscript.

Here's a sampling of the responses:

A. Amit says revision is about "asking if the world the story has created encapsulates my vision in the best way possible. Rechecking that the characters are the best fit for that world—not good/bad, just right for the world."

L. Rogalsky says, "To me, revision is often the heart of making the story more of a story.  It's where you go to refocus, rearrange, and re-envision your story."

S. Hendricks replied with an emoji: 😬 which I interpreted as grit teeth and tighten up the story.

Overall, most people tweeted that they would do the revision.

When writers are given the opportunity to do a revision, they have three choices to make.
  • They can choose not to revise and continue to submit the manuscript as originally written.  
  • They can revise the manuscript and submit the new version to other agents.  
  • They can revise the manuscript and re-submit the new version to the agent who had offered to take a second look.  
Reggie chose not to revise his work.  He felt the story worked well as written and he was going to submit it to other agents without changing it.  That's his choice.  Time will tell if another agent will like his story.  I felt differently about revision.  Even though I was skeptical about changing my manuscript, I decided reworking the piece might be a good thing to do.

I began by modifying the structure of the story.  That meant keeping the plot and the main character, but striping away the rhythmical format.  Weeks later as the story evolved, a minor character emerged along with a new setting, and these two developments led to more conflict and foreshadowing.  The best part was, I was able to weave in some rhyme and repetition.

I believe in this story, especially because it carries a strong message:  how we all, even the very young, have the power to spread kindness.  Though there is no guarantee, I am hoping that the message and the voice of the story will capture the heart of the agent.

Doing a revision ended up being a great writing exercise—taking the bones of a story and guiding it in another direction.  A better direction.   I love what this manuscript became.  The story is powerful and it has the potential to touch people's hearts.  Make people aware.  Show them how simple it is to care.  And to think, none of this would have been possible if I had stubbornly resisted revision.

✌ and 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo: Toa Heftiba

It's a mystery to me.  Some writers ask for editorial help and then ignore the very help they seek.

I've noticed this behavior in one-to-one meetings, on Twitter, and at RLM Editorial.  Writers contact me to get help with various parts of the publication process.  Some want advice on writing a query letter.  Others want a manuscript critique or line editing.  Then, I never hear back.  Maybe they are put off because I ask them to supply important elements of the story:    
  • A description of the main character
  • The main character's want
  • The obstacle(s) that get in the way of the want
  • What's at stake (why the reader should care) and what will happen if the character fails 
  • The theme of the story
Why is this required?  The reason is, I want to bring awareness to the essentials of a story.  I want to find out if a manuscript has been well-thought out.  Filling me in on the story gives me an idea how much time would be needed to work on a project.    

I'm not the only one who feels that these points are important.  

Former literary agent and editorial consultant Mary Kole says, "Make me care.  A lot of queries don’t tell me what’s important to the character, what’s at stake, how things go from bad to worse for them.  People read to bond with people.  Even if you’ve got a blockbuster plot, the character is still important because they’re what will pull me into the other elements of your story." 

Award-winning and internationally published author K.M. Weiland says, "Character motivations drive your story. The protagonist’s motivation is what informs his goal, which is what creates the plot.  And motivation always comes down to your story’s stakes.  What’s at stake for your characters?"
               Photo: Helloquence 

Best-selling children's author Debbie Dadey says, "Something important must be at stake in the story to make us care.  And the more heart-breaking important it is to our character, the more we care.  Look at your story to see what is at stake."

Addressing theme is equally important.  Soheila Battaglia, a published and award-winning author and filmmaker, defines theme as not a summary of a piece of literature; it is a universal statement, moral lesson, message or idea that addresses the experience of being human.

Mary Kole believes the theme or Big Idea is what you want to say about your book.  She says, "that she's high on book themes these days. You, as the writer have one responsibility: you have to as Ursula Nordstrom says, 'dig deep and tell the truth' about the world as you see it. That plays directly into the why of your story, as in, why are you as a person telling this story to the world now?" 

As these top-notch writers indicate, knowing the stakes and the theme are necessary in crafting a story.  And yet, the very thought of identifying the stakes and theme may scare off some potential clients.  

But who really knows?  There could be a multitude of reasons why I never hear back.  And there's no point in trying to analyze why they ignore the help they've asked for.  I am not offended.  It's their choice.  In all sincerity, I really do wish them the best.  They must figure out if they actually need help.  It's not an easy decision for some.  But they should know that many writers sought out the advice at some point in their careers.  They didn't ask for help and then ignore it.  They asked for help and followed though.  

✌ and 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Mattia Ascenzo

For the life of me, I can't understand why some folks have a hard time saying no.      

I noticed this practice as I reached out to people in my hometown Lexington, Kentucky to see if they would be interested in my first book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell 
I sent emails, letters, school visit packets, and press releases. I asked:

  • librarians (one of them was an acquaintance) if they would schedule storytime presentations
  • teachers if they would set-up author visits 
  • journalists if they would write an article about the inspiration for the book—a dying dog that was rescued from a country road in Kentucky and nursed back to health 
But none of them responded. 

This behavior shocked me.  I assumed that the people in my community would have been supportive.  At the very least, I thought they would have had the courtesy to say no. 

Then I found out that this behavior is common. 
According to Hank Davis, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Guelph in Canada, this situation is common.  He calls it a 'passive no.'  He says, "It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re face-to-face, talking to them on the phone, texting, or emailing them—they are far more comfortable having your request die of old age than actually refusing it. They’ll leave it for you to figure out that whatever it was you wanted just ain’t gonna happen."  

Davis states, "One benefit it provides is that everybody gets to save face and, most of all, everyone is saved from the dreaded “C word”—Conflict."  

Conflict likely came into play when Davis asked an acquaintance if he'd be interested in joining his men's group.  Davis didn't receive a reply and says, "I disrespect the man who chose not to say “no” to our group. He avoided ruffling feathers, but at what cost? Personal integrity? Cowardice? Disrespect? Do those sound like admirable qualities? Sometimes “no” is the most honorable and respectful thing you can say to someone."

Victor Lipman, author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World, is on the same page as Davis.  Like Davis, Lipman says people are kind of lazy and they’d rather avoid the hard stuff. 

"This may account for why increasing numbers of my harder-edged, shall we say, business messages go unanswered. Conflict is unpleasant, as is the notion someone might not be doing something all that well. So, if there’s not a clear expectation that a definite answer is required (and sometimes even if there is) it’s easier and less stressful to ignore and forget it," says Lipman.

There are more reasons besides avoiding conflict as to why people brush aside a request.  Lipman says, "Between texts, tweets, Facebook messages, LinkedIn emails, traditional emails, voicemails, and others, it’s easy for any single message to get lost in the shuffle.  People are too busy.  Everybody’s rushing and multi-tasking, zipping from one activity to another with mobile devices glued to their ears and fingers—and in a generally frenetic environment it’s easy to have small things like messages slip through the cracks."  

Photo: Jon Tyson 
Despite the reasons, organizational psychologist and best-selling author Tasha Eurich believes we should be more cordial.  

Eurich encourages us to say no when you need to and states, "If someone asks you for something that you can’t or won’t do, for goodness sake, just tell them.  Believing that no response is the new no is passive aggressive, cowardly and rude. Even if a stranger sends you an email, give them the professional courtesy of a reply that says, 'Thank you so much for your request. I’m sorry that I can't help you.'  It will take you less than 15 seconds and they’ll be out of limbo. As aptly noted in The New York Times, 'Most of us can handle rejection. We can’t handle not knowing.'"

I completely agree.  Not hearing back from fellow Lexingtonians made me anxious, sad, and discouraged.

There could be many reasons why I never heard back.  It's possible that they didn't want to hurt my feelings.  That they thought I was too fragile to handle a rejection.  But they would be wrong.  What they didn't know is I'm a tough cookie.  If they are not interested in arranging a storytime at the library, having an author visit at school, or writing an article for the paper—I can take it.  Writers are used to rejection.  To the ones I reached out to, I would say show a girl a little respect.  A little kindness.

And for the love of God, just tell me no.