Before I submitted my partial to Rachelle in June of '08, I was reading lots and lots of writing websites. I realized something unsettling.
My first few chapters could use some revision. And those were the chapters I needed to submit to Rachelle!
The problem: I had spent seven years of graduate school reading nineteenth-century novels. They don't read like today's novels. They usually contain a lot of exposition (backstory). Their slower pace suited a more leisurely world in which nights were long, books were expensive, and readers enjoyed their stories too much to want to finish them quickly.
Most of my first novel flowed at the (correct) rapid pace of a twenty-first century story. But I had made the mistake of thinking I could get away with just a paragraph of exposition here and there in the first few chapters.
I figured out through my self-education in writing that I was probably wrong, and some of that stuff needed to go, but I wasn't completely sure of my own judgment. So I contacted a professional editor to ask her advice.
That was the best $250 I ever invested in my writing career.
She told me that yes, I had included too much exposition. She also showed me a few writing tics that were weakening my prose and slowing it down.
I took her valuable advice, cut the exposition, and plowed through the rest of my manuscript trimming and reshaping. My writing was forever changed for the better.
At last, I submitted the improved version to Rachelle.
Three weeks later, I got the call, and Rachelle became my agent.
But that was July '08, you're thinking. What on earth happened between then and now?
Here's what happened. That first novel attracted the interest of one publisher, whom I will call Publisher Primo. Primo liked it, but not enough to buy it.
In retrospect, I'm grateful for that time in '08, which was discouraging but educational.
I'm glad that Publisher Primo saw some potential in the novel. I'm also glad they gave me some constructive criticism explaining why they didn't buy it.
Their criticism lit a FIRE in me to write a second novel so good that no one could resist the plot. I would make it so unified and so compelling that it would be unrejectable.
This goal is impossible. Every novel is rejectable. But aiming for this ideal of unrejectability made my standards very high, and that was a good thing.
The second blessing of that initial rejection was the gift of time.
I had time to learn to craft a novel at a higher level.
I had time to learn which publishers fit my work and which gave me that funny heeby-jeeby feeling. (Note: my heebie-jeebies were proven absolutely correct later, which doesn't surprise me as my intuition has usually served me well. But that's a story I won't be able to tell for a long while!)
By November '08, I had researched and plotted my new novel. I began the first draft.
Next: My Publishing Journey #5: If You Want to Make an Omelet...