Monday, May 2, 2016

Lessons Learned

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.

17 comments:

Amber Argyle, author said...

THanks for sharing. I'm glad she was there when you needed her.

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Julie, I hadn't heard about valerie and im so saddened. Val was a great mentor to me as well as both an author and an editor. Val gave me my first freelance jobs at covenant trusting me enough to turn over an entire yorgason book to me as an editor before she left covenant. Thanks for sharing your memories and do you know what happened.

Annette said...

Valerie touched so many lives. I owe her a big chunk of my success, too (posted about that today as well, after hearing the news).

I didn't realize that she'd been a part of that book.

Thank heaven for Valerie and all she did for so many.

Angie said...

Great story, Julie. Thanks for sharing.

Josi said...

I hadn't heard of Valerie's passing either, thank you for letting me know. She also made a significant impact on my writing even though she was never my editor. Instead, she gave me a long rejection for my first book which devastated me until I read it for 'education' and learned how much I didn't know I didn't know. I rewrote per her suggestions and found publication with someone else because I didn't realize her in depth feedback was actually an invitation to resubmit. I was also at that lunch years later--was I the one who introduced you? :-) And got to thank her for her letter which made such a big difference. Just a few months ago, after not talking to her for years, she sent me a note congratulating me on my success. It was great to thank her for the difference she made in my career. AND, like you, she taught me the difference between a first draft and a finished product. She will be missed.

The Damsel in Dis Dress said...

Thanks, Julie! A much needed reminder.

Heather B. Moore said...

This is so sad to me. I still have emails I've saved (not sure why) from Valerie from 2003! I was the Chapter President at LUW and invited her to come and speak (probably at the recommendation of Lu Ann Staheli). She was so helpful and gave me great advice when I was asked to make revisions on a book that would later be accepted by that publisher. Also, you probably won't even believe this, but I was thinking about her over the weekend and I sent her a Facebook "friend" request. It's still pending . . .

Crystal Liechty said...

Beautiful. And inspiring. And the kick in the butt I need since I got YOUR edits! (Though my procrastination is not about being depressed because you were wonderful and RIGHT, but because I've been so busy).
*Setting computer aside and picking up my plotting index cards now*

Peggy Eddleman said...

Aww. This was fabulous! She sounds like she was a really great person, with some wonderful advice.

example business letter said...

I love reading blogs and other useful information that I can use for my future use and I guess this will be a good reference as well.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I'm grateful to Valerie for helping you become the you that I've come to know and love. She sounds like an amazing woman (and YOU are too, you know - you thank her in the way you reach out and inspire struggling novice writers - like me).

Katie Parker said...

I'm sad to hear about Valerie! She was the editor for my book, and was instrumental in getting it picked up by a publisher. She was so selfless in her assistance to so many of us. Thanks, Valerie! We will miss you!

Susan said...

I'm glad you had this experience. I just a devastating rejection last year and it's taken me a year to pull myself up by my bookstraps and get going again. I could have used someone like that. So glad you met her.

Andrew H. said...

A tribute to Valerie from The Association for Mormon Letters, including a review of her literary career, can be found at http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=2670
Please feel free to come by and add your comments.

Debbie Davis said...

Julie this is such a great tribute! Funny thing is that her sister Teresa who happens to be in my ward, flew back and forth for the last year taking care of Valerie. I wish I could have known more about her. She sounds wonderful and in what you say, I get to learn at storymakers more, because of what she taught you when I take your classes! Im grateful for that!

andreaheitzman said...

Again, Thanks for sharing. I needed a jolt. My head is so full of stories. So I tried writing about what I know best, growing old. It is humorous, but I did not realize the book was not edited. I know..stupid. It was never suggested. I am so saddened and embarassed. I feel like burying my head.

YS said...

Hi Ms. Julie:

Well, I think this is a bad place to reply to your kind message that you left in my travel-blog (http://yohanessulaiman.blogspot.com/2008/06/stuck-in-salt-lake-city-for-today.html), but just to let you know that I just read your reply back on Nov 3, 2010, and sorry for not replying, since usually nobody replies and I have not touched that blog for ages. So, I hope you enjoy your visit and my apology for not going back to you that soon.