Re-writing a manuscript: Stick with it or let it go?

I’ve been writing my Chronicles of Fallhollow trilogy for years.  Yes, I said years.  I started a long time ago, mainly as a passing fancy.  Then, something happened in 2003 and I knew in my heart and soul I had to finish it.

I also knew it would have to be three books; otherwise I would have one, 300,000 word novel.  Big NOT.  I wrote here and there, working on all three novels when the urge hit me, but came to an abrupt halt about a year later.  It wasn’t working.  My writing was lacking that umph.  I needed help.

I began to read young adult books and fantasy books with a passion.  I also began to research the publishing world.  I found out that agents and publishers wanted stand alone books in trilogies or in a series, meaning they had to be complete unto themselves, even though the story continued.  Back to the drawing board.

I continued to write when I could find time between taking care of a family and working full-time.  I joined an online writer’s group out of the UK – and began getting feedback.  With the critiques came praises along with a few slaps in the face.  The slaps in the face were the ones that woke me up to the problems, while the praises kept me motivated.  I have to admit I almost gave up, especially after a critique partner told me I should let the story go to its grave.  “Sometimes,” he said, “it’s better to let it go than continue trying to resurrect the damn thing.”

Let it go?  Was he crazy?  This was my baby…the novel closest to my heart.  I’d written others.  They’re gone now, lost, destroyed.  This wasn’t my first attempt…but it was the first time I felt so passionate about the need to tell this story and get it published.

After I lost my job in 2010, I focused on nothing but my writing.  I set myself a goal, found a few great beta readers, and off I went to finish In the Shadow of the Dragon King. Exactly one year later, almost to the date of setting my goal, I submitted my novel to a publisher.  I knew it wasn’t perfect but I’d polished it the best I could.  With bated breath I waited.  And waited.  Three weeks later I got a response.  The message:  it needs work, but we’d love to see you resubmit if you decide you want to make the enclosed changes.

When I opened my attached manuscript, it was bleeding.  A lot.  I mean, it was mortally wounded.  I got a hold of one of my trusted beta partners and sobbed.  When I got over the pain of being kicked in the gut, she and I went over the comments and changes.  We both realized I had a goldmine in my hand.  A publisher took a lot of time to go through my manuscript, page by page, line by line, and tell me what was wrong with it, what I needed to fix, and if I decided to make the changes, to resubmit.

That was eleven months ago.  Life got in the way during that time, slowing down my momentum to re-write.  I have a month and a half to finish my revisions and send it back by the ‘not exactly a rejection’ anniversary date.  Should I stick with it or let it go?  I’m definitely sticking with it.

Have you ever had a project you almost gave up on only to be glad you didn’t?

Girl Appeal – Does your YA novel have it?

Over the past year, I’ve queried In the Shadow of the Dragon King to six agents and four publishers. I’ve also participated in countless blogs, entered contests and won critiques with agents and publishers to find out ahead of time if my novel has the umph it needs to appeal to my target age group. Up until the last publisher, I received rejections. The main reason, when one was given, was ‘not enough girl appeal’.

I scratched my head, confused to say the least. My novel wasn’t intended for girls. This was strictly a guy thing. War, guns, kick-A mages, evil sorcerers, despicable dragons, wanna-rip-their-hair-out villains. Throw in a few beheadings, my own fantasy creatures – wedras, the shime and sestras – a few sword fights and the boys were eating out of my hand. My teen beta boys loved it and asked for more. (they also gave me great ideas for the remaining two books in the series). I thought I’d done it. I thought I’d appealed to my target age group.

The pros didn’t think so. I needed ‘girl appeal’.

What did that mean? If that’s not my target group, why do I need girl appeal?

The answer is simple and it made complete sense after the most recent publisher requested a full, then returned it with their comments. Basically, it comes down to this…teen girls, not boys, buy books; therefore, YA books must have girl appeal.

My first gut reaction was if there were more books that appealed to boys then perhaps more boys would buy them. What teen guy wants to read a romance book? Not many, and the ones who do would never admit it to their teen friends.

On second glance, I began to evaluate my novel from an unbiased view (which is very hard for an author to do). I had a secondary lead character, Charlotte. She’s the MC’s best friend and works almost like his conscience. She didn’t have a huge role in this novel because the story wasn’t about her, it was about David, a wealthy kid who has everything he could want at his fingertips, then finding himself in a life-threatening situation where none of the luxuries of life are at his disposal. He has to rely on his ingenuity, strength, survival instincts and faith to get him through, things he’s not used to having or using. It is a story of a boy trying to figure out who he is and what is his purpose in life.

Still uncertain how to come at my novel from another angle, I began to read some of the top YA novels to find how the best-selling authors handled this issue. Most had too much ‘girl appeal’ for my story, but I gained a better understanding about what I needed to do with Charlotte.

I received the publishers comments in August 2011 with a request to resubmit should I decide to make the changes. After several months of reading and evaluating their well-thought out comments, I think I have figured out what I need to do. It has taken me some time to fill in the blanks and give Charlotte a much bigger role. She’s quirky, sensitive, independent and loves to speak her mind. I have to admit, the story is much better because of her.

In my search for ways to improve the story, I also improved myself as a writer. I realized I could have a boy story with girl appeal without compromising the masculinity of the story. Charlotte’s all girl but she’s also a tomboy who can tag along and play like the boys. The story is more vibrant, more dimensional, and all it took was for one publisher to point it out, explain it and let me figure out the rest.

The massive re-write of my novel is almost complete, and you better believe I’m popping this sweet baby back over to this amazing publisher. I’ll keep my fingers crossed they love it as much as I do.

So, does your YA novel have girl appeal? If it doesn’t, you know what to do. Don’t be afraid. Go for it. You’ll be glad you did.