A popular post from July 2011
by Julie Wright
When my first book was published, I thought I'd arrived. I would never have to submit with fear of rejection ever again, because I now had a PUBLISHER! Having a publisher surely meant that whatever I wrote from then on out would end up in print.
So when I finished my third book, turned it in, and received a rejection letter back from my publisher that was so scathingly cruel, I ended up in a year-long funk of depression, I was surprised. This wasn't the expected turn of events.
I wondered what that meant about me as a writer. Had I really been fooling myself for those first two books? But then I'd read over the rejected manuscript and be completely baffled. It was the best thing I'd written up until that moment.
And then I met someone. Her name was Valerie Holladay. I was at a luncheon for my online writer's group and someone brought her with them. She had once been the head editor of a larger publishing house, but at the time of the luncheon, had recently quit that job.
I was still in the throes of depression when someone introduced me to her. She asked me what I was working on. Well . . . she asked, so I spilled. I spilled all my frustration, all the belief I had in the rejected manuscript, and all the bafflement of a rejection a newer author could muster.
She did something rare, something spectacular, something that changed me forever and made me who I am right now. She offered to read it and give me some advice. With very little hope that she could really help, I boxed the manuscript up and sent it to her.
Bear in mind, I had no idea about second drafts and self editing. My first publisher was a bit relaxed on their editing methods, and I'd received no guidance in that area. So it was with astonishment and tears of gratitude that I received a letter back from Valerie Holladay. It was my very first editorial letter.
In that letter, she taught me how to make a gritty, caustic, bitter character loveable. That was the problem my publisher had with the book. My character wasn't loveable. No one wanted to root for her--they wanted her to die of a drug overdose (which was actually what they said in the rejection letter . . . classy, right?).
I made every change Valerie asked me to make. I treated that editorial letter like a blueprint for an unrelenting building inspector. And when I was done with the book, it was a million times improved. I had written a good book before, but this was something different. This was a whole new level of writing. I'd never known what a difference a SECOND draft could make. I'd never known what people meant when they used the phrase self-editing.
I finished the rewrite, and turned it in to a much larger publisher. They published it. I wrote an acknowledgment to Valerie, and though I thanked her profusely for saving me the way she had, we never really communicated any further.
I'm writing this post for several reasons. The first is that I found yesterday that Valerie Holladay had passed away on the third of July. And it struck me how much I owe her, how grateful I am for that chance meeting that changed a so-so writer into something more. The second is that I hope you all don't make my mistake. I hope you work to make the draft you turn in the very best you can. I hope you don't get cocky or too comfortable with your publisher, because getting a publisher and keeping a publisher are not the same things at all. The third is that I hope you all take editorial advice seriously. Yes, it's your work, and you should only make changes that you are comfortable with, but seriously consider the advice you've been given. If I hadn't taken Valerie's advice seriously, I would not only have wasted her time, I would have wasted my chance to find successful publication for that manuscript.
Good luck to all of you, and to you, Valerie Holladay--thank you for saving me from myself. I know I speak for more than just myself when I say you have impacted many lives for the better.