Now what? I get to write it all over again.
In early March I got a great rejection from a literary agent.
Wait – did I say great rejection? Well yes, I did. The agent had requested the full MS of my mystery/crime novel, and after reading it, told me (after politely rejecting it): “While your story has good characters and setting, and you’ve a good voice, I found the pace to be more meditative than I prefer. “
At first I was like: huh?
Then I was like: aaarrrgh!!
But I was not like: stupid.
I immediately thanked her for her consideration and asked if I could resubmit if I rewrote the MS and tightened it up.
She replied that I was welcome to query again provided it was a significant enough revision.
Well, okay! Except now I was faced with trying to figure out what she meant by “meditative”.
One month later
Now it’s the beginning of April. It took me most of that time to figure out what exactly the agent was getting at so that I could get past being pissed off and get on with rewriting. I can be slow that way.
In that month, my self-assigned homework was to read a bunch of mystery/crime books and then think about how they were different from my writing and whether it mattered. On the one hand, my book is my voice. I have no desire to have my stuff sound like any other writer. But on the other hand, the agent had a point to make and I needed to understand what the point was.
I should add here that my writing mentor, author Steve Havill, has gently suggested pretty much the same thing. Well, as gently as someone who used to teach English to eighth graders can be. When he returned what I thought was my final draft, he’d slashed in red through paragraph after paragraph of lovely description. At first he’d write stuff like: This is too wordy. Or: Too much about that old woman. Then he got down to writing: Stop with the travelogue! And: Her again! And finally he just gave up and made a note that I had to cut, cut, cut.
I thought I had cut. I did chop something like 20K words, maybe more, but the MS I sent out with my queries was still 98K.
Writer’s Digest says 80,000 to 89,999 words is a “100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror.” So I was a good 10K words over “100% safe” (and Writer’s Digest says about those additional words that it almost always it means the work wasn’t edited enough).
Did the agent who used the word “meditative” mean wordy? Yes and no. Each genre involves more than just word count, of course. The thing about mysteries and thrillers and the like is that readers want the story to move along. They don’t want to read backstory, they want to read about the now. They don’t want to read descriptions of scenery, they want the characters to chase each other through it. They don’t want to read the character’s meditations on the greater meaning, they want to read about solving the crime and catching the bad guy. Which is not to say that such information shouldn’t be there… just not in so many words. Not if I’m writing a mystery/crime book. Fantasy? Romance? (Have you read my novel of magic & music, Evolution Device?) Different strokes for different folks.
I’m a wordy kind of girl, but you know, I finally got it. Not simply too many words but too many of the wrong kind of words!
Now the trick is to do it.