Back in May, I had the opportunity to pitch my novel, “Mary Bishop”, to two agents at WisRWA’s annual conference in Green Bay. One requested the first five chapters and a short synopsis, but suggested the manuscript be about 10,000 words longer. The second requested the first three chapters and a short synopsis. She also told me something I’d already figured out for myself. The reason I hadn’t sold it yet, despite all the positive comments from editors, was I had been submitting to the wrong market. It’s not historical romance; it’s historical women’s fiction with romantic elements. Yes, there’s a difference. The characters and plot lines are more complicated and need a longer format.
I prefer to do my revisions with red pen on paper; so, that’s how I spent my free time this summer. (What’s free time?) I rewrote dry scenes that merely “told” what was happening, replacing them with scenes that “showed” the story. I expanded some and filled in historical details. I addressed questions raised by one of my beta readers. (Thanks, Mo!) Then I rounded it out by writing an epilogue to tie-up a story line that was once very minor but had grown much more prominent.
In September, I started the long process of typing and polishing those revisions and this week I completed them for an additional 9,200 words, a total of 90,700. These were not the first revisions, and I totally believe they won’t be the last. I have no doubt any agent or publisher who wants to pick it up will request additional changes. If there’s one thing this process has taught me, my words are not all gold and sometimes the ones you like the most are the first ones that need to go.
For example, my opening paragraph was my favorite from day one. It was word for word what my heroine, Mary Bishop, kept saying to me until I wrote it down and launched into telling her story. As far as I was concerned, it was sacrosanct. I had enough trouble changing it from first person to third. A couple weeks ago I attended the first page workshop at the Wisconsin Writers Association annual conference in Neenah and one gentleman suggested I move it to the bottom of the first page. He pointed out the real strength of my opening came from all the paragraphs that followed on page one. He didn’t want me to delete it, just move it. My first reaction, which I kept hidden behind a ‘thank you I’ll think about that’ smile, was the thought that he didn’t know what he was talking about. That was the paragraph that would pull my reader into the story and never let them go. But guess what happened when I started thinking about it. He was right. My opening is much stronger, and nothing had to be deleted in this case.
Now all I have to do is write a two-page synopsis and a cover letter and I’m ready to send the agents their requested chapters. After that, who knows what will happen. Hopefully at least one of them will want to read the full manuscript, will want to sign me, and then will sell my book to a big New York publisher convinced he or she has found the next best selling Great American Novel.
I’ll keep you informed.