Monday, 19 August 2013

Making it Bigger and Better

"Don't be in too much of a rush to send your work out there. Make sure it's ready first." Like every debut novelist, I've heard that advice many times.

Well, I've been writing Gorgito's Ice-Rink for seven years now. That's hardly a rush, is it? I completed the first draft last autumn and finished redrafting/editing in January. Surely that was enough; it had to be ready, didn't it?

So I started sending it out to agents. I've had a handful of rejections accompanied by polite, encouraging notes - one of which was even hand-written - and a few submissions that were met with total silence.
I'll take that as a 'no', shall I?
In June, I attended the Winchester Writers' Conference, which gave me the opportunity for six one-to-one meetings with agents and authors. These were all pleasant experiences (despite some of the horror stories I'd heard from previous attendees) with some very useful feedback, which can be summed up in the words of one agent: my novel is competent but not outstanding! And to be noticed in today's crowded marketplace, outstanding is the new OK.
As some of you may have noticed from the barrage of postings last week, I've just returned from the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. It was another great week, my seventh and their 65th. One of the sessions was Edit Your Manuscript by Literary Agent Meg Davis. She talked about the first draft and the second draft. Right, I thought, now we'll hear about the submissions process. But not at all. Meg went on the talk about drafts three and four - by which time the work should be in a good enough shape to go to beta-readers or agents - and then further drafts after that.
Meg gave us questions to ask ourselves: how can I make this bigger and better? does every scene drive the plot forward? is every character needed? does the plot work?
So, the conclusion from all this advice and my reflection on it: I'm going back to the drawing board (or should that be the keyboard) to get rewriting. It's got to be bigger and better before it can be outstanding!
In last Thursday's posting, I mentioned starting a piece of prose based on sailing vessels, locations and senses. It grew from a memory of visiting the lovely little island of Kea, just off the Greek coast near Athens. Here' s the piece in its finished form:
Leaving Kea
Everything is grey as we leave the harbour, seen on our way by two taxi drivers, one taverna owner who couldn't sleep - and a lame cat. The cemetery chapel on the hillside is drained of life and the flowers are monochrome. Even on the top deck, we are enveloped in diesel fumes and we lean out over the rails, longing to smell the sea.
It's the clouds we notice first, just a tinge of pink. Then, on the horizon, a golden slit appears; the clouds turn deep rose against a slowly blueing sky.
The slit becomes a crescent, then a globe, that stings our eyes until we blink away the tears. The light embraces the island, flooding it with colour. The flowers in the graveyard turn orange, mauve and scarlet; the chapel sparkles snow-like against the sun.
And on the breeze, we catch a hint of thyme.  


  1. The odds against getting published are incredibly high, aren't they Elizabeth. As you say, the new OK is tb be oustanding And yet there still seems to be some terrible stuff that goes into print. But then some record labels famously truned down The Beatles, and nearly everyone rejected the Harry Potter books because their was no market for that kind of story. What do publishers and agents know!
    Nice blog.

  2. Thanks, Richard. Yes, there is some terrible stuff going into print - and it's not all indie books either, although they have a bad reputation with some people. Some of the traditional works make one wonder how they got published - or is that just envy on my part?

  3. That's the thing with so many indie books I've started - they're competent, not bad, but just not good enough to make me desperate to keep reading, or want to buy another one. It's the same in the field of music, art, photography, anything creative - many are good, but only a few stand out.

    I don't think you can learn it from someone else, either - I think it's something you can only develop yourself. But that's just my opinion!

  4. Very true, Terry. But you can say that about traditional books too, can't you?