On Tenterhooks...

Published by: RichardB on 11th Apr 2017 | View all blogs by RichardB

I'm not good at disappointment. Even though I was, and am, well aware of the odds, I got so disheartened as the flat form rejections trickled in for my last novel that, with my next project stalled, I felt like jacking it in, at least for the time being. At least one person round here has never quite forgiven me for the blog I wrote about this.

 

As a last throw, I bit the bullet and went in for a WW critique on my rejected MS. It might have been cleverer to have done this before submitting, but as it turned out that probably wouldn't have made much difference. The real problem, I was told, was that I'd written the wrong book. Publishers and agents see no market for ghost stories. The introduction to my report contained this:

 

Although the idea of the ‘haunted house’ isn’t exactly original, I admire your story and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  It should be stated right away that I rarely say this.

 

And this was part of the conclusion:

 

If this is your first shot at writing a novel, I’m genuinely impressed.  You are a talented writer and I am absolutely certain that you could turn your skill to writing in other more commercially viable genres.  Personally, I’d like to see more of your work.

 

This was from an editor who told me in an e-mail that her reputation for unsparing criticism was such that Harry Bingham once described her as 'a bit of a bugger.'

 

That report picked me up off the floor, for which I shall always be grateful. I began to reconsider my stalled WIP. Okay, so no more ghost stories, but what if I replaced paranormal creepiness with human evil? A psychological thriller, in other words. Would that work within the framework I already had? Could I write a novel I believed in and could invest myself in on that basis?

 

After two years and a lot of brainstorming, the answer turns out to be yes. I believe that what I now have is not just more commercially viable than my last one, but a better novel. A stronger voice, more psychological depth, more emotional oomph, more mystery, more tension.

 

And this time I've done it the right way round. I've sent it in to WW before submitting.

 

Well, what would you have done, when an editor has said such nice things and told you she'd like to see more of your work? Yes, I asked WW to allocate my MS to the same editor. And my request has been granted.

 

And another thing. Last time I was a bit worried that, as an author whose reputation was for gritty thrillers, she might not 'get' my ghost story. Now I find that she has switched to the same genre that I've turned to, psychological thrillers. And I've tried to heed the advice she gave me about the shortcomings of my last one while writing this one. In theory, then, she ought to love it, if I've done my job properly.

 

But the doubt demon is always there. And I'm not good at disappointment.

 

I'm on tenterhooks.

Comments

49 Comments

  • Barb
    by Barb 2 months ago
    So hope you get the result you want this time. You've done everything to give it the best chance.
  • Hilly
    by Hilly 2 months ago
    Good luck, Richard.
    Whatever she says, she will help you, but I'm hoping she will love it, or at least suggest a few tweaks only.
    The idea of jacking it in always crosses our minds. What could we use all that spare time for? Lunching out? Cocktails in the garden? Making that vivarium we always promised ourselves. From scratch.
    But no. We don't jack it in. We keep on going.
    So very good luck to you. You're an inspiration.
  • OFP
    by OFP 2 months ago
    Impressed with your persistence and your seamless shift of genre. That has worked out for Mickey as well.

    You know I'm a fan of your writing so that goes on. You seem to have rightly recognised the authentication of your talent in the crit.

    You also seem to have a realistic grasp of the publishing industry.

    Very pleased, RB. Hope this is the one.

    Go easy....

    Fat Bloke
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 2 months ago
    Fingers crossed for you, Richard. I enjoyed your ghost story very much so I'm sure your psychological thriller will do well.
  • Pinkbelt75
    by Pinkbelt75 2 months ago
    Ooh good luck. I hope I turns out well. I do love a good thriller. Let us know how you get on.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 2 months ago
    Well done for picking yourself up, dusting yourself down, rolling up your sleeves and getting down to it again.
    More tenacity is required than we think - and all that digging deep takes it out of you. However, we hope that what fills us up again is worth the painful digging out.
    I'm rubbish at disappointments too, and they don't end; but one thing's for certain - you won't' succeed if you don't try.
    So power to your pen, Richard.
  • Sandra
    by Sandra 2 months ago
    Best of luck Richard - I admire your ability to change direction, and am impressed you could please a bit of a bugger of an editor. Please keep us posted.
  • Jenni Belsay
    by Jenni Belsay 2 months ago
    Well done, Richard, and bonne chance!
  • Seagreen
    by Seagreen 2 months ago
    Yep, good luck, Richard, although I'm not sure you need it.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    Ah, the usual outpouring of support and encouragement. I may not have got over the wall yet, like several I could mention in the last couple of years, but one thing is sure: I would never have got as far as this without you lot. Thanks.

    (Hilly, I have a model railway project down in my cellar I decided I was going to get on with when i was considering jacking in the writing. Now that has stalled instead, while I've been obsessed with my WIP...)
  • JD
    by JD 2 months ago
    I have a good feeling about this. :)
  • Jill
    by Jill 2 months ago
    Good luck with this, Richard. I enjoyed reading the ghost story which you posted in a private group on Cloud and, as this one is 'better and has more depth', then you may well be on to a real winner. Know that tenterhooks feeling! While waiting could you perhaps set the cogwheels turning for the third book to take your mind of the second?
  • Scheherazade
    by Scheherazade 2 months ago
    Fingers crossed for you Richard. I hope all the planets are aligned this time. And thanks for the blog - very inspiring
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 2 months ago
    I really enjoyed the ghost story, and that was in spite of not generally going for that sort of thing. I hope that you get all you want from the report and can get this novel out into the big wide world. One thing I'm not 100% clear on - have you revamped the ghost story, or is this a version of the pub one, which I also greatly enjoyed?
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    Seagreen: I take your meaning, and thanks, but we all need a bit of good luck from time to time.

    Bella: it's the pub one (which was originally going to be another ghost story), but considerably revamped from the embryo form you saw, and commented very helpfully on.

    And thanks again to everybody else.
  • Stephen Mark
    by Stephen Mark 2 months ago
    Good fortune, Richard :-)
  • JtF
    by JtF 2 months ago
    All the best Richard. JtF
    PS: I print out "First Draft" 100 page screenplays on the back of my rejection letters !!
  • Catasshe
    by Catasshe 2 months ago
    Ah, Richard, do you have any idea how long you'll have to wait?? Nothing like the agony of waiting for feedback, particularly when one has high hopes for it. I've got everything crossed for you! Hope you let us know how it turns out. xx
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    Well, I believe that WW usually say three to four weeks, but last time this editor had me climbing the walls by taking more like six. Is it because it's so bad she can't be bothered / can't face it, or is it because it's so good she wants to do a really good job on it, or is she just very busy? Obviously I forgave her when the report came through (and she had been busy), not least because it was nearly 6,000 words when WW promise at least 3,000.

    They've had it just over a week now, so... Lucky I'm not in the habit of chewing my nails.

    And of course, this is only the beginning, if I decide to submit. Aargh...
  • Catasshe
    by Catasshe 2 months ago
    Ack... the waiting! All the waiting. And then more waiting. One of the major downsides of writing in my world! Still, hopefully one of these days it will be worth it :-). xx
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 2 months ago
    I hate waiting, too, but actually when one of my WW reports was turned around in only 2 days I was a bit miffed! The mini-report I had done previously was turned round within whatever time frame I was quoted at the time.

    Let's hope the pub translates to published in due course.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 2 months ago
    Never easy, waiting... You've shown what every write needs, Richard - Persistance! And belief in your story. Fingers crossed for you that this is the right story, at the right time, with the right person x
  • Lizzielion
    by Lizzielion 2 months ago
    I'm on tenterhooks, too! Good luck. So impressed by your determination. Please keep us posted.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    I've just been struck by the recurrence in the replies here of the word 'determination,' or similar. Thing is, I don't think I'm a determined person at all: quite the opposite. It's just that this writing thing won't leave me alone.

    It was forty-three years ago I first started writing something I believed might be a novel (though the mere thought of it makes me cringe now). It was about three years later that I first had some inkling that stringing words together might be coming more easily to me than to yer average person. And it was thirty-one years ago that someone whose opinion I respected said to me 'You have a precious gift: don't waste it.' It's taken all the time since to get to what I've been blogging about here. I've lost count of the number of times over the years I've given up in apathy or despair, sometimes for years at a stretch, but sooner or later I always come back to it. It won't let me go.

    If you want real determination, I present the example of the late Catherine Cookson, who dictated her last novel on her deathbed, blind, hardly able to move, hardly able to do anything, but still writing. Hey, maybe it wouldn't leave her alone either.
  • Lizzielion
    by Lizzielion 2 months ago
    Seeing something through, in the face of difficulties and set backs - be it your own apathy or despair - is, to me, being determined. I guess some people's burners are slower than others and sometimes it seems to peter out completely but the fact that it won't let you go says a lot. Other things come along and derail your efforts and interests for a while. Maybe years. And then something happens. Could be anything, even a sunny morning after days of clouds and you're ready to give it another go. What I'm getting at, in my clumsy mixed metaphor way, is,determination doesn't have to be a big, dramatic thing a la Catherine Cookson. Sometimes, it is a quieter force, biding its time. Perhaps now is your time.
    Sorry if this rambles. I've not been awake long!
  • Joyful
    by Joyful 2 months ago
    Dear Richard
    What a comfort you are!! I have suffered huge despair at my procrastination and lack of confidence but reading about you I know I am not the only 'oldie' to be tolerating this expense, waiting and frustrations. I foolishly paid over £2,000 and waited 9 months for an American editor.......... I know, I know, how ridiculous. There's always a mug out there. I had my second novel done via WW, waited only 5 weeks and cost was 1/4 of above. However even after paying all that money I joined WW after offering the same m/s to see if the American had missed anything. Have to report that WW course seems to be much quicker, to the point, and strict. Sometimes I feel they can be pedantic and seem to hate adverbs......... why? Anyway, thrilled to tiny bits and GOOD LUCK, I'm right behind you.
    Joyful
  • Mark
    by Mark 2 months ago
    Hi Richard,
    Really hope this works out for you. I know it can be terribly demoralising submitting to agents, and, of course, understand the itch that won't leave you alone. Best of luck.
  • stephenterry
    by stephenterry 2 months ago
    Hi Richard - probably, you've worked out what she's going to say (in written form). You know inherently what your weaknesses are (as well as your strengths) and I'm sure she'll confirm your views and guide you to success.

    IMO, people are never black and white, but partly grey. And what a good editor/reviewer brings to the table is helping you move the grey into the white zone.

    And as a backstop, your railway stories are superb, so don't over-concern yourself. Don't force it.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    Thanks for the kind comment about my railway stories, Stephen. I write them for the best of reasons - because I like doing them - and publication of them is not on my radar. The subject is already well covered in the existing literature, and I'm not sure that my take on things - showing events from the personal angle of those involved, and an attempt to explain things clearly for those who know little or nothing about railway working - is distinctively different enough to warrant further duplication.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    Okay, for those of you who are holding your breath, the WW editor's verdict:

    As I've already mentioned, she thinks it's 'an incredibly powerful and engaging story that really draws you in.' She also thinks it's quirky and original, that my MC is 'a memorable character and instantly likeable,' and that the DV against men theme is 'timely and compelling.' She does warn me that some readers might find the heavy stuff near the end repellent, but I already knew I was taking a risk with that. She thinks that, subject to some revisions, I should pitch it.

    BUT she finds some aspects of an important character who does some less than attractive things, and whom I was trying to portray as an essentially decent person caught between a rock and a hard place, 'cold and merciless' and even 'dysfunctional.' And she finds the polishing off of the villain by this character rather than the MC unacceptable ('There is no cavalry.'). These two things together damn nearly pull the rug out from under my plot.

    AND apparently I've missed the bandwagon: the market for psychological thrillers is now saturated. However, she goes on to say that she doesn't think it's a psychological thriller after all, though she doesn't say exactly what she does think it is, beyond 'cross-genre.'

    You may be sure I shall be getting back to her.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 2 months ago
    That's interesting Richard - and of course very positive. On the one hand, I can see what she means regarding the 'polishing off', but on the other hand that's something that could be very easily addressed. I thought you had pitched the character well, and while there might be slightly different readings depending on the emphasis different readers give certain aspects, I don't think it would require hugely substantial changes to push them in a slightly more sympathetic direction. As far as I see it, those two issues don't destabilise your plot.

    And isn't the market a holy pain? Not only do you need to write a good book, it needs to be the right book at the right time. That said, whatever genre is eventually decided upon, I'm sure the book will have broad enough appeal to be marketable - it's not nearly as specific as a ghost story, after all.

    Well done, and keep at it!
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 2 months ago
    Market. Gah. Bloody thing. People who like thrillers, er, like thrillers. But I guess she's warning you of a typical agent's excuse.

    I think you can work on the cold, merciless and dysfunctional aspect without losing the essence of what you're doing. The editor does have a point there. As for the killing - hmm. Needs some thought. I don't agree but then you may find a way to tweak it, should you wish to.
  • Monica Handle
    by Monica Handle 2 months ago
    Richard - with apologies if others have made the same or a similar point - I don't think anyone is good at disappointment. It's the nature of the beast. But anyway, you clearly done what's always needed to get over it - try, try again. Good luck.
  • OFP
    by OFP 2 months ago
    What is your first gut reaction?

    Fix it? Break it up for parts of your next one?

    New project?



    We all know you can write. The Railroad stories you blog for us are not just regurgitation of known facts but you actually place us there and manage to build a tension where the conclusion is already known... (not an easy task). Many of us stop what we are doing to read your latest offering.

    I am reminded of a conversation which reprised a classic joke, between Doug'l Watson and Donna, The Ice Queen, one night in the Duck & Dive... after tooings and frowings... Ice Queen remarked that she would only sleep with Doug'l for £1 million .....

    Doug'l replied... 'Now that we know what you are, the rest is just a matter of time and negotiation...'


    Alas, RB, we all know you're a writer... and it's just a matter of time before your writing and the market coincide....

    Personally I want a railroad ghost story out of you....
  • Catasshe
    by Catasshe 2 months ago
    Hey, if she thinks that 'subject to some revision' you should pitch it, then I think that is a green light. A yes rather than a no. Which is so rare in this business. Also, you need to remember this is just one person's opinion. I just had a short story I wrote totally slagged off by a professional writer/editor I'd showed it to: told the plot was contrived, obvious and simply didn't work. Then it got accepted for SfH anthology. So take that, Editor! Maybe if everyone who reads it says the same things are wrong, then you have to consider, but otherwise, if they're admitting it has merit, then maybe it's just not their kind of story. This writing thing just will not let us go, I know that feeling well. But, sounds like it's paying off in your case. Very well done on the novel and your wonderful persistence!
    Oh, and Joy; they hate adverbs because adverbs are hateful, nasty things that will ruin your piece of writing. I speak with the zeal of the converted. :-)
  • Hilly
    by Hilly 2 months ago
    It's an opinion you have to think about. Over more time than you have so far.
    Everyone is different but I know you respected this person's views.
    Can some of the comments be valid enough to work on, if it makes your novel stronger (and marketable)?
    Good luck. It sounds like you do have a winner there.
  • Catasshe
    by Catasshe 2 months ago
    Oh, yeah, re Hilly's comment. I didn't mean to say you should ignore all the comments; adapt accept ignore or whatever it is! But, I just mean you don't need to think it means your novel is a no go. At all. As far as the damn market goes, I don't think you should worry too much: in another 4 or 6 months, by the time you're sending it off and agents are actually getting round to looking at it, the market may have changed again and it could be the prefect time!
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    OFP, my gut reaction is to fix it. What it goes like with this sort of knock-back is: first, you think 'Oh God, have I really got to do this?', then you start thinking furiously, then you buckle down and do it (quite possibly with some tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth), and finally you sit back and realise that yes, you really do have a better book. And it seems that I'm close enough for it to be worth it. Dunno yet quite what I'm going to do about it.

    Actually, it already contains recycled parts from earlier scrappings.

    Catasshe, good point and one that had already occurred to me. Thing is, the character in question is female, and when the same editor critiqued my previous effort she was noticeably more hostile towards my female MC than anyone else who read it. I suspect there may be some personal bias involved. I may conduct a poll among my beta readers. I'm still ready to admit that some adjustments may be in order, though.

    And Prop, I remember reading at quite a tender age about the phantom brakeman of Raton Pass. Apparently the story is still going the rounds. As for trying it myself, Dickens' 'The Signalman' will take some beating.
  • Catasshe
    by Catasshe 2 months ago
    Very interesting re the possible personal bias. That's a key observation that she was more hostile than others before I'd say! Definitely get second opinions. And, re editing, don't do anything hasty. Your subconscious will probably come up with the right solutions over the next week or so...
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 2 months ago
    It sounds positive to me, Richard. Good luck with it.
  • Giselle
    by Giselle 2 months ago
    Richard that's great news (even if it lead to more existential angst)! You've applied what she said and got an even stronger work out of it. As for the railroad stories, I do think there is a market for them out there, as they're not nearly as dry as other railway histories. Yours make us live each and every event as if we're there.
  • Jenni Belsay
    by Jenni Belsay 2 months ago
    The WW feedback sounds great to me, Richard. I'd mull on those key revision suggestions for a while longer before you accept, adapt or reject anything.

    Having said that, re your character whom the editor sees as merciless and dysfunctional, perhaps it's "just" a question of your finding ways of showing her essential decency and the rock and hard place more clearly. Her actions might not have to change much, but if readers are given more insight into her motivations and internal conflict, they might empathise more with her, or at least feel themselves conflicted emotionally too (which could be great!).

    I read a draft of a short story the other day (not written by a Cloudie) in which one of the MCs - a gold digging bitch - ended up bumped off by a guy she had conned, who turned out to be even nastier than her. I was interested to find myself almost rooting for her at the end, despite her lack of redeeming features.

    As for your dysfunctional character polishing off the villain, hmm. I must admit that in my own (languishing) crime WIP one of the things that worries me is that the (female) MC is saved at the end by another (goodie male) character, who finishes off the villain. It seemed the only credible resolution. Beta readers seemed satisfied but would agents be? Usually, the MC is expected to get him or herself out of the jam, I think. But, again, I've just finished reading a bloodthirsty novel in which the strong female MC is saved by a male character whom we all thought was a baddie but turns out to be a (flawed) goodie. It worked for me. So there. Perhaps if you resolved the first issue with your character, her polishing off of the villain would be more acceptable to more readers?

    As Cat says, your subconscious should show you the way in due course.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    You cut to the crux of the problem, Jenni.

    Okay, a little explanation. Her character arc leads up to this moment, as does the climactic scene. She has this awful choice: going along with the villain and letting him do his worst on the the MC (whom she is fond of), which will keep her life on the rails (her driving motive throughout) but mire her deeper in wrongdoing; or killing the villain (it's the only way of stopping him), which will bring her own life down around her ears but salve her conscience and redeem her earlier lapses.

    See what I mean about pulling the rug out from under the plot? I wanted my readers to feel her pain, to root for her.

    I should add that the MC hasn't been passive: he's engineered this situation by playing the two off against each other, by revealing how the villain (whom she trusted) has been deceiving and betraying her.

    And I'm mulling, I'm mulling, believe me.
  • Jenni Belsay
    by Jenni Belsay 2 months ago
    So, bottom line, you need to work harder, early & throughout the story, at getting your readers to feel her pain and root for her. Which wouldn't derail(ha!) your plot?

    Also, does your character take the rap for killing him at the end, or does she get away with it? If she gets away with it, could an option be that the MC helps her at the end (they've both been deceived, after all) and "dysfunctional" character sacrifices herself by taking the rap alone, and covers for the MC. Might not work for the story and might be too cheesy, but...?

    It's certainly intriguing me, at any rate :-)
  • JtF
    by JtF 2 months ago
    Dear RB, the key part of the crit for me is "BUT she finds some aspects of an important character who does some less than attractive things, and whom I was trying to portray as an essentially decent person caught between a rock and a hard place, 'cold and merciless' and even 'dysfunctional.' "
    which suggests to me that YOU know exactly what that means but you have been too subtle in showing it. Just sprinkle ina few pointers as to the same (not great neon signs - just pointers) and look carefully at the scene arcs to show same.
    V Interesting that your reviewer doesn't like the girl foil so then of course she's gonna have a problem with this character jumping up a status level to start disposing of those who need to be removed.
    Yes take advice but this is your project. Put it under a fine glass and retweek as required. Maybe give yourself a short break to give your mind's eye distance (and your subconscious time to delve beneath the detail?) Best regards JtF
  • stephenterry
    by stephenterry 2 months ago
    Hmm. Not easy, RB. It seems to me that you should experiment by writing the 'killing the villain' climax from another POV, 'see it through their eyes' and compare. I understand your editor's point - readers don't like to feel cheated, as in 'they didn't ride off in the sunset together'. She's definitely 'old school'.

    I also thinks she accepts that her opinion could be challenged by other agents, and that she suggests you pitch it (after some revisions) to see what, if any, feedback you get. It's clearly close to being accepted, so feel very pleased.

    As am I.
  • Bric
    by Bric 2 months ago
    This sounds really positive. It is so easy to focus on the tiny negative and loose sight of the overwhelming positive vote of confidence that this tough editor has given. If she says revise and pitch, then you should revise and pitch! She can tell you where something is not working, she cant tell you how to put it right (you have had a lot of good advice here).
    Just one thing about personal bias. It is hard for women to write as men and men to write as women convincingly. It is hard for adults to write as children. Even when you consciously avoid stereotyping it is not always easy to get the right order of reaction or nuance of emotion into the interior dialogue. What we observe in others is the tip of the iceberg of feeling. So just for a moment, assume that she is right. If so, what do you do to fix it?
    I haven't read your railway stories, but they sound right up my street. Where do I find them?
  • OFP
    by OFP 2 months ago
    ST and Bric hit on and expand a great idea about writing critical scenes from alternative points of view and even gender in order to check continuity of the original scene

    This was my favourite and most eye opening drill during the SE course.

    Could be a good idea, RB.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 2 months ago
    Jenni: yes, she does take the rap. 'I've made too many mistakes... Now I have to pay for them.'

    Bric: my railway stories were posted as blogs, so they can be found on my profile page. They're the ones with place names in the titles.

    Other stuff: I'm still mulling.
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