By Maura Weiler, Author of Contrition
Which is worse– an impersonal rejection letter from an agent, or a personalized rejection letter with feedback that would require a massive rewrite of your book with no guarantee that the agent would revisit it? Both. Oh wait... I mean, it all depends.
I entered the submission process for my debut novel, Contrition, with this policy: If two or more agents offered the same feedback, or if one person gave feedback that resonated with me, I would listen to it. If only one person made a particular criticism I didn’t agree with, I would disregard it. My policy seemed sound until I promptly ignored my own advice.
I was very lucky to have a great return rate on my initial submissions. Two of the seven agents I contacted wanted to take Contrition on. A New York agent was ready to send it out with very few changes. A California agent hit a roadblock when the founder of the agency didn’t give her blessing. What that founder did give was two pages of notes on how to improve the story.
I was initially cranky about the rejection, until I realized what a compliment it was for an established agent to give such detailed notes on a book she didn’t want. Sobered, I stopped to appreciate that. Then I got cranky about the notes themselves.
One of her suggestions was to turn the main characters- a journalist and a cloistered nun who clash over the meaning and purpose of art- into sisters raised apart. Oh, how the delicate genius in me gnashed her teeth over that one! Twins raised apart felt like reality-show drama and would entail a major rewrite of a book that another agent was ready to send out. This fancy founder/agent clearly didn’t understand my vision.
But I still wondered if she was right. Her other notes were very insightful and she understood the market. So I told my delicate inner genius to get over herself. Then I told the New York agent I was going to spend a couple of months rewriting some elements of the book, and silly me, I believed it.
It turned out that I needed at least two months to pout and mourn the loss of my original version before I could even fathom cutting it up. I had already written numerous drafts over numerous years– did I really have to rewrite it again? Yes, I did. Because as wonderful as I felt my original version was, I would now always question whether or not it could be better.
In the end, it took me three years to rewrite the book. I made most of the suggested changes, including turning my main characters into twins raised in different homes. The twins’ separate upbringings and freshly minted sibling rivalry brings a great deal of texture and complexity to their relationship. Now readers tell me they can’t imagine the story without the characters being sisters.
By the time I finished, the interested New York agent had left her agency. My subsequent querying didn’t result in a new agent until four years later when an agent discovered Contrition in her old emails and signed me. Three years after that, she sold Contrition to Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Infinite Words. It was all very unexpected and wonderful and I am thrilled to celebrate its publication day today.
If I had known that putting off a committed agent to do a rewrite she hadn’t asked for and I wasn’t sure I agreed with would delay the publication of Contrition by more than a decade, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I’m happy with my choice, because Contrition is a much better book as a result.
What would you do? What’s your policy on agent criticism?
Maura Weiler grew up in Connecticut and earned her BA and MA in English Literature from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, respectively. She is a former columnist for The Connecticut Post and a trash artist whose work has been featured on NBC Television and in galleries and shows across the country. As Director of Development at Blue Tulip Productions, she helped develop the screenplays for such films as Speed, Twister, The Paperboy and The Minority Report. Contrition is her first novel. For more information or book club queries, visit www.mauraweiler.com.
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Simon & Schuster Author Page: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Maura-Weiler/475408214
Maura is kind enough to be giving away her novel, Contrition. Just comment below and one lucky winner will be picked at random. You can comment until Friday, April 24th by midnight. Winner will be contacted by email.