Staying true to your book

What would you do?

You’ve finished the book, asked a variety of test readers to give you feedback, and made changes based on their feedback. You love this book, its characters, and its message. You submit the manuscript, as requested, knowing that it will be assigned an editor. You wait and wait and finally the edits arrive in your inbox.

By page two you realize the editor has misread your book, viewing it through the lens of a belief system that is apparently at odds with your message. Of all the things you anticipated, this wasn’t one of them. Not only does the editor object to the way you’ve handled sensitive situations, he wants you to rewrite the book to bring it in line with his passionate viewpoint. It’s almost as if you’re bringing a Jewish perspective to situations, and now you’re expected to rewrite your book from a Catholic perspective. Yikes!

Okay, let’s make it even harder: You’re a brand new author and this is your first book. And you have no option to request another editor.

So, what would you do?

I won’t share all the curses, prayers, foot stomps, phone calls to friends, double-checks with test readers, and obsessive cleaning sprees, but you can imagine how my kitchen shone for the ten days of this editing ordeal!

Here’s what I did in response to the editor’s input:

To begin on a positive note, I separated the edits that were craft-related from those that were ideology-related. I looked at the merits of the craft-related edits and saw that most of them definitely improved the quality of the writing and the effectiveness of the book for my target audience. It felt good to see that in some ways the editor was on my side; I made those changes and took time to reflect on how the tips and techniques would benefit me as I moved forward in my writing career.

Buoyed by that little success, I moved on to the comments that arose from the tricky professional lens the editor wore when he picked up my book. Were any of the comments valid relative to my story? Very few, I thought. I decided to incorporate those few changes by working them into the character arcs of the hero and heroine the best I could. That done, I gave myself a pat on the back for staying true to my book and moved ahead.

Next, I looked at the really troublesome comments that did not fit with the nature or intent of my book. Ultimately I had to ask myself if my characters’ motivations were clear to my reader? How about the hero’s thinking and the heroine’s responses and the villain’s villainy? Did the editor misread them and judge them anathema because of his particular lens or because of my sloppy writing? Probably some of each, I decided.

I did a complete review of the book looking specifically at how I represented motivation through action and dialog. Also, where had I muddied the water or gotten preachy or danced around an issue or failed to connect the dots in a character’s arc? That analysis taught me a lot. I set about clarifying why my characters thought and behaved as they did, particularly in those sensitive situations that the editor dissed. And I made changes accordingly– not to embrace the editor’s view– but to clarify and improve my story.

That done, I adjusted things like the final word count of the manuscript (which had crept past the 80,000 word mark), scrolled through to be sure all the changes and comments had been addressed, spell-checked one more time, saved it, backed it up–twice– and sent it. And I sent a separate letter to the person who had originally bought my book and signed the contract with me; I won’t share that here.

And I love this book. Will my edits be accepted? Will my book be published? I don’t know.

I’m curious what other authors have done or would do in a similar situation. I hope you’ll share your comments.

What inspires romance?

I took an interesting detour the last few weeks to explore a subgenre that I hoped would be a good fit for my romances. My books and stories involve 12-step spirituality as an integral part of the relationship, what I’m calling “higher powered romance”. I don’t see my stories as Christian romances, so they don’t fit well with what is typically called “Inspirational” romance or “inspired romance.” While some contests give a broader definition for “Inspirational,” the titles and blurbs that catch my eye all seem to be Christian in focus.

One subgenre I recently encountered is called “Inspirational with Edge.” Blogger Joy Tamsin David gives a detailed and interesting definition of Edgy Inspirational that is frankly Christian. Several sites explore these ideas, each in their own way. These include: Love Inspired Authors; Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers; Julie Lessman – Passion with a Purpose – Inspirational Romance for the Heart and Soul; Kaye Dachus – Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters; Shawna K. Williams – Author of Grace-Inspired Fiction; Michelle Sutton – Healing Hearts – Fiction making an impact on real lives; and others.

Two “edgy inspirational” authors in particular caught my eye, and I enjoyed their books very much. Author Pamela S. Thibodeaux‘s book The Visionary is an example of a Christian romance that deals sensitively with the impact of abhorrent sexual, physical, and mental abuse on siblings, all in the context of compelling, parallel love stories. Author Carrie Daws writes a series in Crossing, OR, (Crossing Values, Ryan Crossing, and so on) that feature family values, Christian transformation, and romance. Both these authors have firm footing in Christian values and in the transformative power of love between a man and a woman.

After exploring and reading with great interest, however, it’s become clear to me this is not a subgenre that fits my higher-powered romances.

Then I opened the cover (well, okay, clicked to page one!) of the e-book A Year to Remember by Shelly Bell (Soulmate Publishing, Inc.). This funny, fast-moving romance addresses food addiction in the context of 12-step programs. Sex? yes. Christian? no. The heroine is Jewish, looking for a Reformed or Conservative Jew. Resolving the addiction is part of her journey to true love with her soulmate. I think I’m coming home!

Reconciling feedback

I received a wide variety of feedback from the critique session, much of it directly relevant to the edgy inspirational romance books I’m currently writing. Even the non-romance-genre folks in the group had important observations. I was able to do a complete rewrite of the troubled scene as a result of the feedback, and it gave me a better foundation for continuing the book (that is, book two Justin’s Time Out).

While I was rewriting Justin’s Time Out, I also received feedback from the Golden Pen contest I’d entered over the summer with book one (Manda the Brave). The marks were good, I thought, as a new contestant in the field of romance (6, 6, and 7 out of 9, with one recommendation to advance to the next round). Is anyone surprised that some of the feedback from the expert readers was the same as I’d received from the critique group for the troubled scene? :-) The work I did rewriting the troubled scene from book two gave me a good jumping-off-point for a start-to-finish revision of book one. I am making final edits now in preparation for

  1. entering Manda the Brave in the Golden Heart contest in November,
  2. also in November, pitching Manda the Brave to a publisher who will be at a conference run by my writers group. (see Write On! Rochester featuring Write it Forward: Everything the Writer Needs from Craft to Publishing. with Bob Mayer.)

Above all, I’m still having fun with the writing and the characters, setting, etc. I’m very glad I read an article by Claudia Welch in the August 2012 issue of Romance Writers Report (RWA). “Protecting the Girl…”  addresses the stresses and strains that can divert a writer’s energy away from the joy of writing. Being mindful of those distractions has been really helpful!