Keli Gwyn
Reasons for a Rewrite: The Ugly Truth

Last week I was privileged to be a guest on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. In my post, “The Revision Decision,” I shared some questions writers might ask themselves before deciding whether or not to perform revisions requested by an agent, using my experience working with Rachelle the past year as an example.

Here’s the final question I posed, along with the answer.

Was I willing to act upon my agent’s advice?

When I received my revision notes, I was in for a shock. Three-quarters of my story stunk. Not that my considerate agent said it in those words. Hers were far more tactful – she loved my writing and she could see the story in there, but I’d have to work hard to bring it out. The ugly truth was that I’d released the story’s tension at the one-quarter mark, and the only real fix was to delete and rewrite 86,000 words. (Can you say too much of a bad thing?)

A friend sent me a message suggesting I blog about “the ugly truth” and the reasons behind the rewrite. I told her I’d have to think about it because it’s embarrassing to admit that I sent a story in need of so much work to a top-notch agent like Rachelle.

I’ve had time to consider my friend’s suggestion, which isn’t the first. A number of my writer pals have expressed interest in hearing the story behind my sadly lacking story. Only a handful have heard the tale, one I made sure they knew was a secret not to be shared with anyoneeven someone offering a tempting amount of chocolate.

Upon reflection, I realized that none of those I took into confidence laughed at me or even snickered. Instead, they sympathized or, in some cases, even empathized. They found hearing how I could end up with my Dream Agent in spite of sending her a less than perfect story both enlightening and encouraging.

I’m going to let you in on the secret, too. And you don’t even have to offer me chocolate.

The Reason for My Rewrite

Lack of conflict – As noted in the quote above, I released the tension one-fourth of the way into my story. What exactly did I do?

I got the couple together too fast and had no real reason to keep them apart for the rest of the story, other than the heroine’s mistaken belief that the hero didn’t really care for her. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, she persisted in thinking he had no feelings for her. Can you say clueless heroine?

OK, I can’t let my dear heroine take all the blame. She wasn’t solely responsible for her inability to see what was right in front of her. She had help from a clueless writer—me.

In my defense, I lacked the experience of a seasoned writer. Rachelle was the first publishing professional to see the entire manuscript.

While my longtime critique partner, Anne Barton, had pointed out the same weakness, I was overly attached to my story the way it was and wasn’t yet at a point where I could hear the truth. I recall telling Anne that if I took her suggestion, I’d have to rewrite three-quarter’s of the story. How I wish I’d have heeded her wise counsel. But I wasn’t ready.

When Rachelle delivered the same news, I experienced an Ah-ha! moment. Because of her years spent working as an editor, she was able to explain things in such a way that I got it.

My Reaction to the News

I was mortified.

My brand new agent, one highly respected by many, had offered me representation based on a story that needed tonz of work. When Rachelle called to go over the revision notes she’d prepared for me and told me, with a wonderful blend of candor and compassion, that I needed to rewrite the majority of my story, I panicked.

I was sure Rachelle regretted her offer and wanted to withdraw it. Summoning every ounce of courage I possessed, I actually asked her if she still wanted to work with me even though my story needed so much work.

Reassurances and Reality

Rachelle was quick to assure me that she made the offer based upon my potential. She said there are no perfect stories and that even multi-published authors receive revision notes. Some well-known authors have turned in completed books and been told they wouldn’t work and would have to be rewritten.

I’ll let you in on another secret. Rachelle can look at a manuscript and see more than what’s on the page. In the quote I shared above, she added the words, “she loved my writing and she could see the story in there, but I’d have to work hard to bring it out.”

Those words did two things. One, they made me feel good. And two, they prove my point. Agents don’t represent writers who send them perfect stories, and editors don’t buy perfect stories.

My story needed lots of work, but Rachelle believed I had the ability to turn it into one she could send out on submission. Armed with that knowledge, I plowed into my rewrite determined to show her that her belief in me wasn’t misplaced.

* * *

What I hope you take away from my post today is this: We don’t have to be perfect.

Sometimes I think that message is conveyed, albeit unintentionally. We read posts and craft books telling us all the rules we must follow, how tough it is to make it in this business, and not to submit our work until it shines so brightly an agent or editor will have to don sunglasses in order to read it.

The truth is, our stories need to be something special. They won’t garner attention if they’re not. But special isn’t perfect. Special is a unique blend of craft, voice, and the ability to tell a story that will captivate readers, all of which can be learned over time.

One final secret. As many of you know, Rachelle sold the story I rewrote. What you don’t know is how much I had to learn to reach this point. When I showed the first chapter of my first story to a friend who loves to write, she had a hard time reading it because she couldn’t tell when a character was speaking and ever so gently informed me that using quotation marks around dialogue would help. My writing up to that point had all been non-fiction, and I didn’t have clue how to punctuate dialogue. Yup. I had a lot to learn.

* * *

Have you written a story and learned later that it had a weakness you’d been unable to see?

Have you ever felt paralyzed by the pressure to produce stories that are perfect?

photobucket image by xohotpinkx6

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Keli Gwyn
Reality Check: Why We Write

photobucket image by heatherranee

Why do we write?

I’ve seen this question posed on a number of blogs.

Author Jody Hedlund listed four reasons we write in her post “WHY Do Writers Do It?”

  1. There’s always the chance we can make it big.
  2. We long to communicate what’s inside us with others.
  3. Writing feeds our souls.
  4. The love of writing consumes us.


I read the comments on Jody’s post with interest. Based upon the responses, her list could be turned on its head. One word summarized the responses: love.

  1. We love the actual process of writing, the weaving of words to express ourselves.
  2. We love how writing makes us feel, the sense of wholeness it brings.
  3. We love the thought that our writing could bring others enjoyment.
  4. We love the idea of seeing our work published one day.

Almost without exception, the possibility of making it big wasn’t a motivating factor. Although many want to see their name on a book cover or in a byline, monetary gain wasn’t a driving force either. From what I saw, self-fulfillment and realization of a dream were far more important motivations.

Why I Write

I read Jody’s post that day but didn’t leave a comment. I needed time to ponder the question. Why do I write?

My reasons are in keeping with those of the writers who responded to Jody’s question.

  • I love the actual process of putting words on page or screen. My mom remembers me being enamored with writing as early as age seven.
  • I love the way I feel when I’m writing. I experience joy, wholeness, and deep satisfaction. Writing, while work at times, is a labor of love.
  • I love the thought that the stories I write and the characters I’ve created might bring enjoyment to those who read them. While my primary goal is to entertain, I like thinking that the challenges my characters overcome and the lessons they learn might help someone in a similar situation.

Me with my first advance on royalties check

I don’t write because I harbor dreams of getting rich. It’s never been about the money for me. This fact was made clear this past Wednesday when I went to the post office and found a check from Barbour Publishing in my box.

I squealed, startling an older gentleman, the one who was kind enough to snap this photo for me. My joy, though, wasn’t due to the actual amount. While Barbour was generous, the reality is that when I divide the dollar value by the hours I’ve invested in my writing career to this point, I’m making less than the minimum wage I earned as a teen back in the seventies.

Gwynly, aka Supportive Husband and President of the Keli Gwyn Fan Club

The payment made me happy for three reasons:

  • A highly respected publishing house believes in me and is willing to make an investment in me, which is tremendous affirmation.
  • My awesome agent finally received some payment for the hard work she’s done on my behalf.
  • And the most important . . . I was able to hand that check to Gwynly, the dear man who has supported me every step of the way, covering my expenses for five years with not a word of complaint. Knowing I’m finally able to help out makes me happy.

I wrestled with whether or not to mention my advance, but I know there are those who might wonder about the financial aspect of my journey, so I chose to include this step. Another reason I decided to mention the advance is that I’ve already had some non-writer friends make comments about me being rich now, which makes me stifle a laugh. As those of us familiar with the publishing industry know, most writers don’t receive huge advances and fat royalty checks. There’s a reason for the counsel often heard in writing circles: Don’t quit your day job?

* * *

I’d like to hear why you write. Are your reasons similar to those listed above?

Did you know that most, if not all of a debut author’s advance goes to cover expenses and finance her marketing and promotion efforts, which will be true in my case?

Do you have questions about an advance on royalties? If so, feel free to ask. Since I’m under contract, I’m not at liberty to reveal details, but I’ll answer the questions I can.

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Keli Gwyn
Your Story Sold! Next Step: Publishers Marketplace

Imagine you just received The Call.

What? No whooping and hollering?

C’mon, nobody’s looking, so there’s no need to hold back. Happy dance to your heart’s content. Your pets won’t tell tales, I promise. Although they might appear traumatized or shy away from you for a while, they won’t blab.

But you got The Call at work, you say? Time to slip into the break room where you can engage in some silent shouting and fist pumping. Keeping all that euphoria inside could be a health risk, don’t you think? A little release could help you regain some composure.

There. That’s better. Now you’ll be coherent when you call your spouse, parents, and/or critique partners. Of course, your CPs will probably be able to ascertain what’s taken place even if you call and utter nothing but nonsensical mutterings.

Once the calls are made, you’ll want to celebrate. Dinner out works for me. Besides, who can cook at a time like this? Your mind is too full to think about recipes, measurements, and such.

Depending on your situation, you might be able to hold your cyber celebration right away, or you might have to wait until the contract is signed. Waiting can be tough, but it does build the anticipation. When you are finally at liberty to share the news, you’ll be able to experience the thrill all over again.

OK. The party guests who came in droves to share in your excitement have returned to their regularly scheduled activities, and only a few crumbs from the virtual treats remain. What now?

In my case, the next step was the announcement of the deal in Publishers Marketplace.

For those not familiar with this awesome hub of the latest news in the publishing world, it is, as described on their website, the “biggest and best dedicated marketplace for publishing professionals to find critical information and unique databases, find each other, and to do business better electronically.”

One of the many services offered is the New Deals page, where editors and agents report their latest purchases or sales of both fiction and non-fiction books. Only those who subscribe to PM are able to view it, though. Subscriptions are by the month with the current fee being $20. While that might seem like an unjustifiable expense, I’ve learned so much the past year by seeing who is selling what to whom. My PM subscription enables me to keep my finger on the publishing world’s pulse.

I’d dreamed of the day I would click the link to the New Deals page found in the issue of Publishers Lunch I receive in my inbox each weekday and see my name as I scrolled through that day’s deals. Somehow, seeing my sale there made it seem more real.

So, what does a PM announcement look like? The helpful staff at PM  has granted me permission to share a photo of the screen showing my deal  here on my blog. (For those, like me, who’ve reached the age of reading glasses, I’ll add the text of the blurb below.)

January 19, 2011
Fiction: Women’s/Romance
Keli Gwyn’s A BRIDE OPENS SHOP IN EL DORADO, CALIFORNIA, in which a forward-thinking woman is rejected as partner by a mulish mercantile owner, and opens her own shop across the street from his, causing sparks to fly, to Rebecca Germany at Barbour, by Rachelle Gardner at WordServe Literary Group.

A New Title

Yes, my book has a title, a very nice title, if I do say so myself. When Rachelle made The Call, she said the title we’d used in the proposal would change, but until I saw the contract six weeks later, I didn’t know what the new title would be. A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California is the new name, albeit a tentative one as per the contract.

I’d said many times that I was willing to leave the title to the publishing pros because they have the expertise. Barbour couldn’t have picked one that does a better job of saying what my story is aboutor one that would make it any easier to market the book here in the Golden State. Color me happy.

I believe I have the privilege of being one of the writers for Barbour’s new Brides series. My agency mate Erica Vetsch will be one of the first, with her book A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas due to be released September 1, 2011. Her cover, which can already been seen on Amazon, is beautiful.

* * *

Did you know about Publishers Marketplace and the role it plays in the publishing world?

What do you think of the fact that a publisher will ultimately choose your title?

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Keli Gwyn
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