Ambit Creative
Rachelle Gardner

Rachelle Gardner is an agent with WordServe Literary Group. Her thirteen years in publishing have included positions in editorial as well as sales, marketing, and subsidiary rights. She has been a collaborative writer of eight books and edited more than sixty. Prior to entering the book world, she spent five years at the Fox television network in Los Angeles. Rachelle lives in Colorado with her firefighter husband, two young daughters and a fun-loving yellow lab. Come by her blog, Rants and Ramblings where she dispenses advice as a literary agent.

Back to the Drawing Board

Rachelle Gardner
WordServe Literary

Because I have a blog and I’m active on Twitter, I interact with hundreds of writers (and other agents and publishing professionals) on a daily basis. It helps me stay in touch with the industry, as well as what’s going on in the minds and hearts of the writers out there. One of the situations I come across most often is the difficulty of finding an agent or a publisher and the number of rejections writers receive without any clue as to why they’re being rejected. It’s no secret—this is a tough business! If you’re in this situation, what can you do?

Don’t Be Afraid to Rewrite

As a novelist, one of the best things you can do for yourself is get used to the idea of rewriting, revisions, and even trashing a manuscript and completely starting over when necessary. I know this is painful to contemplate! We’ve all heard the stories of successful novelists who never got their first or second novel published . . . maybe it was that fifth one that finally hit. But this is what I’ve noticed: Most writers think that concept applies to all the other writers. Most of us don’t think it applies to “us.”

When you’ve spent a year or more of your life crafting a novel, the idea that you might have to scrap it and start over can be completely mind-boggling and heartbreaking. But sometimes it needs to happen.

If you’re getting repeated rejections on your novel, consider these steps:

• Partner with several other new writers who are also trying to get their books in front of an agent. Send them each a copy of your manuscript and have them send you theirs. Place an evaluation form (a 1 to10, check-the-box type) after each chapter. Then put a larger form at the end of the book. Include questions about quality of writing, dialogue, characterization, setting, plot, whether the chapter moved them to the next, etc. You’ll begin to notice patterns that will help you fix any fatal flaws the manuscript might have. Give each reader a stamped, self-addressed envelope to send the manuscript back to you.

• Attend a writing clinic at one of the writers’ conferences. Your best choice would be one that involves several days’ worth of workshops with the same teacher, where using your own

manuscript you’ll go in-depth with the plotting, characterization, dialogue, and other issues. This can be one of the most helpful ways to identify how to make your book shine and make you a better writer.

• Hire a professional editor or book doctor to give you either an evaluation or a complete edit. I don’t mean a copyedit. You need a content edit and/or evaluation to determine what’s going on with your writing so that it’s not attracting attention. Each editor has their own expertise, experience, and pricing structure, so ask how many books in your genre he or she has edited, state the length of your work (in words), and ask for a firm price and what you will get for that price. (I have a list of talented editors on my blog if you don’t know of any. Come over HERE)

• Don’t be afraid to set aside a manuscript and start a new one. The most important thing is to keep writing, because if you’re reading books on writing and attending workshops and/or critique groups, your writing should keep getting better. Down the road the market might be more open to that first book; or perhaps months or years later your writing will have improved enough that you’ll have the skills to go back and revise that manuscript so that it attracts editors.

What If You Have an Agent?

All of this is true even when you have an agent who’s been shopping your novel to publishers. If it’s not selling, you’ll need to talk with your agent and together determine why, then figure out a strategy for moving forward. Do you need to hire an editor and revise? Or do you need to set this one aside and write something new? If an agent expressed confidence in you to begin with, be encouraged by that! Let it motivate you to rewrite or start over, whatever’s necessary to move you toward that goal of a published book.

Writing Always Involves Rewriting

If you’re a novelist and you have your heart set on publication, get the idea of “going back to the drawing board” firmly into your head. It’s going to be a necessity—whether this is the first book you’ve written or the tenth one to be published. You are a writer, but what nobody ever tells you is you’re most often a “rewriter.” Try to have fun with it!