On reworking a book with an agent

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I haven’t published a blog post for over a year. Instead I’ve been holed up, avoiding social media, while working on the rewrite of my novel The Tertiary Code.

Last year, I signed with my agent, Julie Crisp.

Before setting up her  own literacy agency, Julie worked as an editor for over fifteen years in publishing houses all over the world, most recently heading up the UK arm of science fiction and fantasy imprint Tor. During that time, she’s worked with an impressive list of bestselling and award-winning authors.

Given her background as an editor, it’s perhaps not surprising that Julie has a keen eye for what’s working – and what isn’t – in a manuscript. And her years of acquiring manuscripts for publication gave me confidence she knew a rough diamond when she spotted one in the slush pile.

When we first spoke on the phone, Julie warned me that for us to work together, I’d need to be prepared to be edited, even pointing me to a blog post showing the volume of mark up on another client’s novel. I’m not sure if she thought I would be scared off by this.

In fact, I was delighted.

People who haven’t worked with an agent or editor often assume that having your work extensively edited is a painful process of protecting your precious, perfect work from criticism. People have advised me ‘don’t let them make you change anything’, and when well-meaning friends ask about progress – and invariably hear that I’m rewriting – they invariably look at me with pity.

But Hemingway’s comment that ‘the only kind of writing is rewriting’ is true: the craft of what we call writing has as much to do with cutting words out, or changing them, as it has to do with getting them down in the first place. And of course, the obverse is true: rewriting is writing. So if writing is what you want to do most in the world, you need to learn to love rewriting.

Rewriting on your own however, uncertain about what’s wrong with your work and how to fix it, can be a lonely and frustrating process. Having a critical friend to collaborate with is a tremendous boost to any writer who wants their work to be as good as it can be.

Julie’s immediate enthusiasm for the novel was gratifying and reinvigorating. We started out by discussing the book in detail, working through the 10 pages of notes Julie sent me, in addition to the comments and questions she’d marked up on the manuscript.

She pointed out where the action flagged, and which of the characters and which of the story-lines weren’t working. She pushed me to clarify certain themes and challenged the way I’d approached them.

Once I had a new plan and rough synopsis in place, I got to work. A fairly gruelling work schedule meant that to get the book rewritten by my (largely self imposed) December deadline, I was setting my alarm for early starts. But I handed in the next draft before Christmas and waited for comments.

Julie then edited this draft, in even more detail than she had the previous one, and even recruited another writer to read and comment on aspects of the book before submission. This was especially helpful to me, as I know some things about this story may be contraversial, and I wanted to make sure my intention was as clear as possible before submitting to publishers.

As of June 2018 (over a year since I first signed with Julie!) the book is now on submission to editors.

It’s already been a rollercoaster ride, so watch this space for news!


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