Hi all, this is the first post in a while I’ve gotten to host that focuses in on the getting published side of things. I found it interesting and hope you all do too. Enjoy!

The new end is the new beginning

“Too bleak. Pass.” When I started querying agents for By the Feet of Men, my dystopian cli-fi novel, this was the response I received from three different people within the first week. Okay, I thought, it just wasn’t for them. No need to worry. But it wasn’t until the fourth agent emailed me with feedback after requesting the full manuscript that I realised: I was going to have to rewrite the ending. Because it was indeed too bleak. As the agent said, it gave the reader nothing to cling on to, offered them little reward after spending 300+ pages with the characters they had become invested in, and effectively stated that the world I’d created was entirely devoid of hope. I perhaps should have realised that this is not the kind of message—especially in this day and age—anybody wants to walk away with.

The problem was that I was done with the dystopian world I’d created. I was exhausted after having spent two years sketching and erasing and colouring and shading. I didn’t want to go back in there, especially after my definitive (and naïve) gesture of christening the file “Draft 6_final”. Yes, I could have ignored the advice and continued to query. I could’ve taken heart from the stories of writers like Heller, Plath or Vonnegut who ploughed on in the face of rejection and refused to bow to the pressure of rewrites. But once a professional who looks at hundreds of manuscripts a month has taken the time to point out exactly where the flaws are in your story, you’d have to be pretty confident or (more likely) foolish to keep going down that same road. Artistic vision is great and all, but it’s better when other people get to experience your vision, too.

In the end, I thanked the agent, hid myself away and, even though I never wanted to look at it again, reopened the manuscript. Perhaps most surprisingly for me, it didn’t actually take long for a natural conclusion to appear. By the time I was finished, I had ended up adding three new chapters. They were good. They worked. They held up under the weight of the rest of the novel. The next time I submitted it, I received the following feedback: “strong ending with potential for a sequel”. That feedback happened to come from my future publisher. I signed the contract a week later. My new ending signalled the beginning of my career as an actual novelist.

With this in mind, here are my four tips for rewriting the ending of your work-in-progress even though you’ve sworn you’re absolutely, positively done.

 

  1. Listen to the advice you were given.

I touched on this above already, but it bears repeating: never be so unrelenting in your quest for artistic purity that you don’t listen to the advice of those around you. There is a difference between believing in a message that you absolutely want to tell the world and a story with a flabby midsection that requires a nip and tuck. Try not to take it personally, either. If somebody has made the effort to give you feedback, they probably did it because they found something in there that they believe is worth salvaging. Save your indignance for when you sell the thing and then start getting advance reviews from people who take just one sentence to trash your novel. And your dreams. And your belief in the goodness of humanity.

 

  1. Find enough enthusiasm to get it done.

Yep, this one is easier said than done. Enthusiasm doesn’t come in a can (unlike energy, which does). If you’re looking at that icon on your desktop and dreading clicking on it, it’s worth taking the time to think about why you wanted to write the thing in the first place. What compelled you to spend months hammering at your keyboard? What was it that got you believing that it was a story people should read? Writing a novel is like any long-term relationship: sometimes you have to remember how things were at the start to fall in love with the object of your affection all over again. You’ll then be able to see how far you’ve come – and to understand that it would be a damn shame if you threw it all away now.

 

  1. Go somewhere completely different to write it.

This is linked to point number two in that if you need to kickstart the engine that gets your fingers dancing over the keyboard once more, a good idea is to leave your usual haunt and try tackling that rewrite somewhere entirely different. For me, it just so happened that I went to Thailand a week after I received the feedback from the agent. I ended up sitting in a glass studio in the middle of nowhere with no Internet and no distractions, and wrote those three new chapters in just over a week. All inertia was banished thanks to a simple change of scenery. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a different country altogether; it could just be a park or a coffee shop where the barista tells you to wait a few minutes before drinking your beverage so you can “really taste it”.

 

  1. Compromise, but not too much.

The last item on the list may be the most important. Yes, you should accept and listen to feedback, but ultimately your book is your baby and you (hopefully) know what’s best for it. In other words, these rewrites become a balancing act. On the one hand, you may have to compromise on your artistic vision a little bit; after all, there’s a reason your novel hasn’t been picked up yet, and a fresh pair of eyes is much more likely to spot a thread in the tapestry that’s the wrong shade of blue than you are using your colour-blind tunnel vision. On the other hand, not all feedback is equally valuable, and if the response calls for you to rip up half of your manuscript and forget the reason you were writing it in the first place, then it may be worth taking a step back and looking at what you can change for the better while retaining the soul of the piece. If, for example, somebody doesn’t think a character works and they outline exactly why they believe this and their reasoning rings true, then this is a good basis for a rewrite. If, on the other hand, somebody simply doesn’t like a character because of the way they speak or act, this isn’t necessarily an invitation for you to lobotomise that character or do away with them entirely. Ultimately, you’re the boss.

By the Feet of Men cover

Amazon Link

Advertisements