Where We Are….

Last summer, I got an agent for my mystery. Once reason I chose her was because she had good ideas on improving the manuscript. I made those revisions, which were not insubstantial, and in the fall the agent submitted to publishing houses. We didn’t get any bites. We confabbed in January, and she suggested I change the gender of the amateur sleuth to female because that’s what’s popular now, female sleuths.

My first reaction was, You have got to be kidding. I loved my main character; I’d paid an unbiased professional editor to read it; he loved my main character. Changing his gender would kill him off, him and his little neighbor friend. But after a bit, I thought, regardless, I had to go through the manuscript using the feedback we had gotten from publishers. If I had to do that boring work anyway, I might as well give the gender switch a shot.

I did, which required I change not only the main character but several other characters as well. The mystery is told in first person, and the entire voice changed. It was a big rewrite.

When the agent read it, she liked the new characters. That was the good news. The bad news was she thought the main character needed to be 20 years younger. So the character changed…again. And, because of some limitations in the plot, the change in age meant moving the time frame back 12 years. Soโ€”gender change, age change, time period change, voice change, and revisions based on acquisition editor feedback.

That’s not a revision. It’s a total rewrite.

It’s done. The agent read the first new chapter and was fond of the new character and her voice. But that’s just one chapter reviewed. The mystery has a lot of chapters. I expect a lot of tweaking still exists in the future, but I honestly don’t know if I have the energy to do any more rewrites unless there is money on the table. Which may or may not happen. As the agent said when discussing the gender change, selling the manuscript is not guaranteed even if I make the suggested changes.

At this point, it’s hard to remember why I wrote this mystery. The hero(ine) was once homeless. I was hoping that when people read the manuscript their judgment of folks experiencing homelessness would ease. They would like the main character as much as I did and, through the individual, would gain empathy. Maybe if I give up, erase all expectations, dial my hope level down to zero, maybe that will leave room for me to be surprised. We can only dream.

Evangeline is somewhat perplexed by all this meaningless scribbling on paper.

genre writing, How not to write a mystery, working with an agent, writing a mystery

Comments (12)

  • Oh Ellen, what a nightmare. So you have actually written 3 different manuscripts! I had agents look at my manuscripts over time, did numerous rewrites, and finally gave up. I was so sick of my characters and re-writes that I shelved all 4 of my projects. Just did not have the motivation and energy to do it anymore. I admire your persistence! Do not give up!! You are almost there!

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Yes, Emma. 3 manuscripts. Last night, I wondered if I was at the place you describe: do I care enough about this MS to do any more work on it other than tweaking? And I thought, yes, if someone is offering to buy it. I much appreciate your support, encouragement, and hope. And I’d give up on writing, too, if I had your treasure trove of talents to draw from. <3

  • I give you Ring Lardner (again!):
    “writing is easy; all you have to do is sit in front of the typewriter (he lived BC–before computers) and open a vein.”

  • I think you have captured the essence of Lardner’s quip. Writing will bleed you dry, but to mix metaphors, it is in your blood. It is like the arts generally. There are so many talented artists around, but as It says in the King James version of Matthew: “…many are called but few are chosen.” 22:14 That is some people make it into the big time; others, equally talented do not. And some who win fame and fortune are more lucky than talented. Or “life is a crapshoot” (Paul Grobstein) I think art is defined by the engagement of the artist, not by success. There are countless stories of artists who became successful after they died. There is a message here. Do what you are called to and let the results be another matter.
    Don’t stop now. Your stuff is good, really good, and I respect your diligence, your craft and serious purpose, and I love reading what you write. Open another vein.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Thanks for this. I’m keeping at it because I have sunk too much into it to give up right now, but let me say: I am not up to more major revisions designed to make it sellable unless there is actually evidence (ie.e. money on the table) that it is going to sell.

  • Wow. Did it ever feel that you were writing a completely different book? I wonder about such advice sometimes. I probably wouldn’t be a good client. I can imagine myself saying, “Hey, if you want to change the gender, age, etc of my main character, then write your own damn book” … well, maybe I wouldn’t say it exactly that way ๐Ÿ˜‰ Then again, I have had similar suggestions and then they can be spot-on. When you’re so close to your own story, it’s hard to read it fresh and without bias. I wish you the best success with your book!

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Yes, it did feel completely different. I write from my main character, their voice, who they are. So changing that felt like it changed everything, even though the plot stayed the same. I admit your reaction was my first one (with more colorful language ๐Ÿ™‚ ) but I eventually thought, if it won’t sell as is, what the hell do I have to lose? Thank you so much for the best wishes, I feel I can use them.

  • I don’t know what to say, Ellen. all this work and it may not sell? Your pluck and determination are admirable. i would have started a new project and said “enough is enough”.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I have to be honest–I’m working on the far-fetched, highly-improbable, totally-wacko fantasy novel I began online last year. I’m writing what I want with no eye toward commercial viability, and that is what is keeping me sane. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Oh, I hear you! But maybe look at it this way: Now you have a couple of novels. Double the chance of one or the other being the ONE some editor out there falls in love with. Good luck, Ellen! <3

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I love this idea, both novels floating around out there, the Universe choosing which one to tap with a magic wand and bestow publication upon…Thank you!

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