Now that I’m embarking on yet another rewrite of my novel on submission, I thought it might be a good time to share parts of the process. Parts of my process, that is. Everyone’s is different, of course.

But maybe we can find some common ground on certain issues.

Let’s talk about rejection letters for a minute. Anyone who’s been writing and pursuing publication for a while has gotten some. We all hate rejection. It’s depressing when The Publishing Powers That Be dismiss something we worked months or even years on with a hastily-folded form letter or a few electronic keystrokes.

It’s a smidgeon less depressing, though, when an agent or editor actually takes the time to offer some pertinent feedback. Are agents and editors always right? Of course not. But if several industry pros are telling you the same thing, then it’s wise to perk up and listen. It’s a gift, really, because the editors who take a little time to give you some useful feedback could just as easily have said, “Not for us,” and left it at that. So let’s be thankful for those little snippets of wisdom, even though they come in the form of rejection.

I recently received rejections (through my agent) from four editors at four major publishing houses, and they all said or implied pretty much the same thing: the ending is rushed. I need to flesh out the plot and characters, add more detail, slow down and let the story unfold...

I hadn’t read the manuscript for several months, since I sent it to my agent, but a quick review told me those editors are absolutely right. Maybe I needed that distance, those few months, to look at the book more objectively (there’s a lesson for those of you who type THE END one day and start submitting the next. Let that baby ferment in a drawer for a while and then give it at least one more polish...). At any rate, like the Scooby Doo theme song says, we got some work to do now.

First, I found the part of the manuscript where everything starts moving just a bit too fast. You know, like a fire truck moves just a bit too fast. “Fast-paced” is a good thing, right? Well, yeah, but it’s also true that speed kills.

My book’s final sixty pages HAULS ASS. We’re talking Warp-3. I was in such a hurry to get to the end and mail that puppy off to my agent, I unintentionally cheated the readers out of a good portion of Story. Never, ever, ever a good idea.

So now I need to fix it, and that involves adding pages. My agent says twenty, but I’m thinking more like fifty. Piece of cake, eh? Any writer worth his salt should be able to crank out fifty pages in a week or two, right?

Yeah, but I’m adding to something that’s already there, so everything needs to flow organically and seamlessly and nothing can feel tacked on, so it’s a little more involved than just writing fifty new pages. I’m shooting to have the new draft finished by Jan 1. We’ll see how it goes.

Which brings me to the real point of this post: details. While I don’t advocate getting bogged down in minutiae, or writing long adverbly (I just invented that word. Nice, huh?) paragraphs about the weather and the trees and whatnot, I do think readers appreciate strong images, and images can be strengthened and lengthened with details.

So here’s the first draft of brand new paragraph, part of my attempt to slow my novel’s pacing a bit in the last few chapters:

I came out of my self-imposed isolation one day to do some shopping. It was a Wednesday, half-price day at The Salvation Army Thrift Store. The place was packed with little old ladies wearing tremendous applications of little old lady perfume, kids running around and playing with toys that probably harbored more germs than an isolation ward, fat guys with glasses loading up on yesterday’s bestselling sci-fi, women with one in diapers and one on the way trying to stretch their meager budgets to the max...and me, a skinny middle-aged private eye searching for the perfect Lost Soul costume, as if the one I already wore wasn’t quite good enough.

As first-draft paragraphs go, that one’s not too bad I think, but now let’s beef it up with a few details:

I came out of my self-imposed isolation one day to do some shopping. It was a Wednesday, half-price day at The Salvation Army Thrift Store. The place was packed. Little old ladies wearing tremendous applications of little old lady perfume, cruising the bric-a-brac aisles and filling their buggies with sad-faced clowns and silver-plated crucifixes; kids running around coughing and sneezing and playing with plastic dinosaurs that probably harbored more germs than an isolation ward; fat guys with glasses loading up on novels with cigarettes and guns and scantily-dressed femme fatales on the covers; women with one in diapers and one on the way, trying to stretch their meager budgets till payday...

Now we have some images, some pictures to put in our readers’ minds: Sad-faced clowns and silver-plated crucifixes...plastic dinosaurs...novels with cigarettes and guns...

You get the idea.

Every reader will bring his or her own personal experiences to the table, of course, but I think peppering a paragraph with details enriches the reading experience for most.


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If it's any consolation, I also rush the end. By that time, I want to wind up. Besides, the end is frequently the explanation of all the clues and the tying-up of loose ends, something that I detest.

As for the thriftstore detail: I think the stereotypes are fine, as long as something unusual, preferably plot-related, also happens there. In other words, the setting must have a purpose.

Good luck!
Looks like it's pretty common. I also got the "rushed ending" comment from my editor on my latest book. His suggestion was not to expand each scene that was already there, but to add a couple of new scenes. I did that and it worked out pretty well.
I know I have a rushed ending on one of my projects, but in a way, I think it's sort of fitting. It was a sci-fi project where my protagonist winds up controlling the entire android military of a major power. The ending just shows him appearing on their monitors, declaring that he controls their military now, and that the war they've been fighting for five chapters is now officially over. Then I did a sort of split-screen kind of thing where the leader of the empire my protagonist just rendered powerless, and the protagonist's best friend and adviser stare at their respective monitors and say: "Now what?"

I thought it captured the ambiguous nature of the character, and his bad reputation among people who don't really know him.

As for rejection letters, getting them is bad, but what's worse is not getting any answer at all. Nothing is more insulting, or appears more unprofessional, than an agent/publisher who doesn't consider you even worthy of a form letter.
Thanks, IJ. Nice to know it's a common problem.
Thanks, John. I might need to add some new scenes as well.
Hi D.R.,

Yeah, I can see where that would be frustrating.
And it doesn't bode well for the organisation doing it (or not doing it so to speak) either.

I'm a bit of a wonk when it comes to shoddy business practises, probably because it bugs me so much.
I think you're going to do fine--at least you didn't get blocked like I did!
yup that's why big mouth (me) has been off of this site for awhile--took me time to get back into it, but I am now thank God!
Jude, you write very well and those rejections were the best kind of rejections, they gave you information in order for you to do it the way they want.
I like what I read--take all the suggestions on board--relating everything to the plot--to the end.
when I read crime fiction I like for the end to be pulling me along to a dramatic climax--think of the novels you've read that have blown you away. read the last chapters of those novels and analyze what the author did and how it was done.
you'll do it. You're nearly there! go for it!
best of luck, Jude!!!
Good to have you back, Carole!
I.J. thanks so much!
Glad I peeked in!
Congrats on getting unblocked. I've experienced that myself. What was the nature of your block? Was it not knowing what to write or not being able to write, or something else?
all of the above, John!
As I went onto the final draft, I found sections of it that didn't ring right to me--
I was fine and then all of a sudden, I just ran out of steam.
When that happened, I felt depressed! so down--so I got away from it for a while and that seemed to work.
I think the problem was initially that I wrote without a detailed outline. Outlines generally are not something I like--in fact I hate outlining, but I'm not experienced enough novel writing that I shouldn't outline! I should. I think beginners need structure.
Fingers crossed--I'm carrying on!


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