Writing Expertise, aka Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers

By Linda Nagata
(cross-posted from Hahví.net)

Like most writers, it took me a long time and a lot of rejections before my first novel sold. This was a good thing. I am so very, very glad that the first book an agent ever took to market for me never found a buyer. In these modern days I suppose I would have gone ahead and published it myself—and then I would be faced with the fact of its existence ever after. We hate to admit it, but often, a rejection is a good thing.

The second novel of mine that ever went to market was an early version of The Bohr Maker. It was turned down many times, and with the most painfully “almost but not quite” rejections I ever hope to see.

For some reason I was flipping through the file a few months ago and discovered this gem of a rejection, addressed to my agent and later forwarded to me:

“This is the worst situation I can think of: really liking a book, and having to pass on it…The author has a very complicated vision working here, and I’m not sure that it works. There are so many threads, and so many changing viewpoints, that it becomes difficult to see where it all comes together, or how – or why…”

This was written by Laura Anne Gilman, who was then an editor at Berkley—and Laura Anne knows of what she speaks! Because of notes like this one I finally pulled the manuscript from the market and rewrote it from beginning to end. When it went out into the world again, it sold to the first publisher that saw it, and went on to win the Locus award for best first novel.

But it never would have been rewritten if I didn’t have experts in the field like Laura Anne telling me in very clear terms that something was lacking and it needed to be rewritten.

Expert advice is a great thing to have, even if it’s painful in the moment.

Laura Anne and I recently crossed paths again here at Book View Café, and shortly after that I discovered that she works as a freelance editor. This past fall I hired her to edit my soon-to-be-released novel Hepen the Watcher. She gave me a great critique, asking me to explain things, fill in holes, and take advantage of dramatic opportunities that I’d missed on my own, and the book is much stronger for it.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that over the past year, Laura Anne has been writing a weekly post on a wide range of practical aspects of writing and publishing. Those posts are now available in ebook form under the title Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers. If you’re at all interested in writing professionally, I urge you to take advantage of Laura Anne Gilman’s writing and publishing expertise by picking up a copy here at Book View Café. I’ve got mine! At only $2.99, how can you go wrong?

Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book The Dread Hammer, is a fast-paced mythic fantasy of love, war, murder, marriage, and fate.




Writing Expertise, aka Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers — 3 Comments

  1. I wrote about 6 novels before I finally sold one (without an agent — got agent on the strength of that offer). I say “about” because of all the partials and rewrites, and stumbling-about-in-the-dark. Probably, it’s closer to a dozen, all told.

    The one I sold — JAYDIUM — was the first I seriously workshopped. My writers group tore the first version to shreds. I went home and cried. And got mad. And got determined to understand — in words of one syllable if necessary — what I needed to learn. Three drafts and as many critique rounds later, it was ready to send out.

    Then the editorial revisions began.

  2. I wish I’d had someone to critique my early novels! I first sold romance in the early 80’s when I swear editors would buy bubble gum off the street if it had a story and complete sentences, as long as it had sex. I’m still tearing apart and editing books written in the 90s that were edited by lighter standards than today’s. I don’t dare resurrect the earlier ones….