Pet peeves on parade, part III: wait — was that gigantic edifice there a moment ago? Someone signal for help!

Before we begin today, I have some delightful news to announce about a member of the Author! Author! community: Emily Breunig has just signed with fab agent Lindsay Edgecombe of Levine Greenberg! Congratulations, Emily, and welcome to the ranks of agented writers!

Her novel sounds like a hoot, too. Here’s how she described it in her query:

Will does not believe in an afterlife. Unfortunately, the afterlife seems to be fairly preoccupied with him. Shortly after his father’s death, Will moves to Shanghai to leave his old life behind. Two months into his new teaching job, Katherine Turner, his high school classmate, shows up. The only unusual thing is that she’s been dead for five years. She exists in a parallel Shanghai, a way station for wandering ghosts, and she wants Will’s help. He’d be ready to call the whole thing a hallucination, but she is eerily good at giving him accurate information about his family back home. That, and she’s seen his father. With this, Will steps into an alternate world that exists alongside the constantly changing cosmopolitan cacophony that is modern Shanghai. He is desperate to find his father, but ghosts like Katherine don’t allow the living into their space without exacting a price. A GHOST AT THE EDGE OF THE SEA is a portrait of a young expatriate trying to find his feet in a tumultuous city, in spite of his own tumultuous past.

I must admit, she had me at a parallel Shanghai. Well done, Emily, and I’m looking forward to announcing that your new agent has sold your book!

Back to the matter at hand. Have you been enjoying our foray into the niggling little manuscript elements that tend to irritate professional readers? We writing gurus tend to focus upon larger submission problems, the type of thing that might well get requested materials rejected on the spot. However, it doesn’t always take a single big mistake to trigger rejection: a series of tiny missteps can work just as well.

Especially if, like the gaffes I’ve been discussing in this series, they pop up so often in manuscripts that Millicent the agency screener wants to scream. Or at any rate, to read less charitably. Since the faux pas in this series are exceedingly common, the very sight of one of them — or, more commonly, many of them; like wolves, manuscript gaffes often travel in packs — might well be the final straw that sends her reaching for the form-letter rejection and shouting, “Next!”

Seem like an over-reaction? Not if it’s the 30th submission Millicent has seen in the last two hours that missteps within the same footprint. As much as each of us writers likes to think of our prose stylings as unique, certain catchphrases, clichés, and descriptive phrases turn up in almost everybody’s early drafts. So much so that it’s a shame, really, that so few aspiring writers have an opportunity to read other writer’s submissions; there’s nothing like reading the same phrase 75 times in a day to make one never want to read — or write — it again.

Why is that a problem in an otherwise well-written narrative? An over-reliance upon these phrases can water down individual authorial voice until it is practically inaudible.

Don’t believe me? Okay, let’s take another gander at what the pervasive reliance upon clichés and overused actions looks like in action. To render the example even more true to life, I’ll toss in a few other common gaffes as well. See if you can spot them.

“Yeah? I could care less.” Babette snatched the phone from its cradle before the end of the first ring. “Hello?” Rolling her eyes, she held up a finger at him. “Can you hold on a sec? I have to take this call.”

Pablo sighed, but he nodded. What had started out as a two-minute conversation was bidding fair to take up his entire afternoon. His time was valuable; he had things to do, places to go, people to meet.

Five minutes later, he was still tapping his foot impatiently and drumming his fingers on the marble tabletop. He waved his hand at her. “Babs?” he whispered, gesturing toward the clock. “I’ve got to get going.”

She nodded her head absently. Her loyal staff exchanged glances and smiled.

Resigned, he took a seat, shaking his head ruefully. Perhaps his time wasn’t as valuable as he had thought.

Now, there’s nothing technically wrong with any of these sentences, right? Admittedly, nodded her head and waved his hand are logically redundant, as nodding and waving generally involve the use of the head and the hand, respectively, but otherwise, there’s nothing that would necessarily strike an everyday reader as poorly written. It’s clear enough what’s going on, merely predicable and not that exciting.

It takes more than clarity to impress a professional reader, however. As we’ve seen in the last couple of posts, though, the fine folks who read manuscripts for a living — such as our old pals, Millicent the hardworking agency screener, Maury the literature-loving editorial assistant, and Mehitabel, the dedicated volunteer contest judge — read a whole lot more closely than other people. They also tend to make up their minds far more rapidly than other readers about whether a text has merit: if the first line on the page is well-written, they will move on to the second; if the second passes muster, then it’s on to the third. And so forth until either the story draws them in completely or they have already invested so much time in reading the manuscript that they start to look for reasons to accept it, rather than excuses to reject it.

Even if our example above had fallen late in a manuscript, it’s hard to imagine Millicent’s being able to come up with many reasons to be pleased. It’s stuffed to the gills with common actions and hackneyed phrases. None of them sufficient to trigger a “Next!” on its own, perhaps, but cumulatively, they smother the scene.

At minimum, they are distractions. Instead of being able to concentrate on the story or the characters, Millicent’s psyche is busy snapping out annoyed commentary. Let’s eavesdrop on her thoughts.

“Yeah? I could care less.” {She means she couldn’t care less, and this is a cliché.} Babette snatched the phone from its cradle before the end of the first ring. “Hello?” Rolling her eyes {Overused action.}, she held up a finger at him {Whose finger — her maid’s? Albert Einstein’s? A time-traveler from the year 4075? If it’s her finger, why not just say so?}. “Can you hold on a sec? {Stock phrase.} I have to take this call.” {And another.}

Pablo sighed {Overused action.}, but he nodded. {Ditto.} What had started out as a two-minute conversation was bidding fair to take up his entire afternoon. {Not a bad thought, but in the passive voice.}His time was valuable {Cliché.}; he had things to do {Cliché.}, places to go, people to meet. {And the third time’s a charm.}

Five minutes later, he was still tapping his foot impatiently {One of the two standard actions to indicate impatience}, and drumming his fingers {And here’s the other.}, on the marble tabletop. He waved his hand at her. {Overused action — and what would he be waving, other than his hand?}, “Babs?” he whispered, gesturing toward the grandfather clock. {A weak way to indicate that it’s in the room},”I’ve got to get going.” {Stock phrase.},

She nodded her head {As opposed to, say, nodding her Achilles tendon.} absently. Her loyal staff exchanged glances {Overused action.} and smiled. {And another. And heaven forfend that the narrative should not make me guess what the content of the thoughts these completely generic actions conveyed were…}

Resigned, he took a seat {Stock phrasing}, shaking his head {Overused action.} ruefully. Perhaps his time wasn’t as valuable as he had thought. {Kind of clever, but expressed in the passive voice.}

Ouch. Especially that comment in paragraph 3 about gesturing toward the grandfather clock being a weak way to show the reader that such an object is in the room. This is an editor-annoying tactic from way back: much as an inexperienced actor will point to physical objects on the set as he names them, writers new to the game will often depict their characters gesturing toward people or items in mid-dialogue.

Why is that problematic? Well, unless the object or person magically appeared second before the description, it’s seldom the most graceful way to work the information into the narrative. Nor is it particularly realistic. Generally speaking, people notice large objects when they first spot them, not at some undefined point later on.

Yet, as Millicent, Maury, and/or Mehitabel would be only to happy to tell you, scenes are often written as though even the most monumental portions of the scenery came panting up to the characters at the last possible moment, hastily flinging themselves into position just in time for a speaker to notice them. On the page, this phenomenon tends to look a little something like this:

“But Giséle,” Trevor whined, “we can’t turn back now. We’re almost there.”

She tossed her tempestuous red curls. “Where is there?”

He pointed to the Empire State Building, rising up out of the concrete before them. “Right here.”

Whoa — where did that gigantic edifice come from? Did Trevor tap the sidewalk with a magic wand while the reader wasn’t looking? Did he grow it from enchanted public monument beans?

Or — and this is what Millicent, Maury, and Mehitabel will simply assume is the case — did it simply not occur to the writer to show the building to the reader before it was absolutely necessary to the conversation to do so? Like, say, when it would have first come into view from the characters’ perspectives?

What might that look like on the page? Glad you asked. While I’m at it, I’m going to excise all of that long, red hair — buy Millicent a drink sometime and ask her to fill you in on just how high a percentage of novel heroines in submissions are tossing around long red or blonde hair.

Giséle’s four-inch heels were making each block seem like a marathon course. Was that the Empire State Building she saw looming ahead, or was she beginning to hallucinate?

She stopped dead before a seedy sidewalk café. The slanted writing on the chalkboard out front implied that the writer had lost the will to live in the middle of describing the day’s specials. “I have to stop. Let’s have some coffee.”

“But Giséle,” Trevor whined, “we’re almost there.”

See how much more natural that is? Not to mention establishing a better sense of place. In fact, I’m going to state this as a general narrative axiom: if it’s important to the scene that an object is in the general vicinity, why not just show it to the reader directly, rather than refer to it obliquely?

Actually, Millicent and Co. would have a pretty good idea why the writer didn’t choose to do that in the first version: like so many other fledgling writers, Trevor’s creator decided to have a character gesture at something big and obvious as an excuse to add a sentence indicating who was speaking. In today’s original example, if you’ll recall, the writer just went all-out and incorporated the object-identifying action into the tag line.


Five minutes later, he was still tapping his foot impatiently and drumming his fingers on the marble tabletop. He waved his hand at her. “Babs?” he whispered, gesturing toward the clock. “I’ve got to get going.”


If the reader already knows that the clock is in the room, that clumsy gesture becomes completely unnecessary. Actually, so does the tag line.


The gold-faced grandfather clock chimed six times. Fifteen minutes later, when it emitted a single ping, he was still drawing abstract shapes on the marble tabletop with his fingertip. “Babs? I’ve got to get going.”


Makes the point, doesn’t it, and in many fewer lines? This draft also helps establish the opulence of Babette’s home through the use of specific descriptive details: the gold on the clock, the marble on the table.

Relieved that our micro-revision is over? “Whew,” I hear some of you first draft-huggers murmuring, ” that was a whole lot of work for very few lines of dialogue. Still, I’m glad to know what the worst of Millicent, Maury, and Mehitabel’s wrath looks like.”

The worst, you say? Au contraire, revision-eschewers. Our original example above didn’t even come close to hitting the top of Millicent’s annoyance meter.

Just think of how much less she would have liked this excerpt had all of it been written in the passive voice, for instance, or, as is fairly common, if those overused actions had been happening closer together. Because I love you people, I shall spare you the sight of the former, but I can’t resist treating you to a sample of the latter. While I’m at it, I’m going to toss in some gratuitous word repetition and stir.

The phone rang. Babette snatched the phone from its cradle before the end of the first ring. “Hello?” Rolling her eyes and shaking her head, she held up a finger at him. “Can you hold on a sec? I have to take this call. Won’t take a second.”

What had started out as a two-minute conversation was bidding fair to take up his entire afternoon. Pablo sighed, arching an eyebrow at her rudeness, but he nodded, shrugging, to indicate that he was willing to hold on while she took the call.

Five minutes later, he was still tapping his foot impatiently, drumming his fingers on the marble tabletop, glancing repeatedly at his watch, and humming the theme to The Bridge over the River Kwai to pass the time. Still no sign that she was getting off the phone anytime soon.

Sighing, he waved his hand at her. “Babs?” he whispered.

She nodded absently, arching her brows at him. “Yes?”

He resisted an urge to roll his eyes. He glanced at his watch, tapping its face with his finger as he grimaced. “I’ve got to get going.”

Her brow furrowed, but she nodded her head absently and shrugged. Her loyal staff exchanged glances, rolling their eyes at one another as they smiled at his discomfiture.

Resigned, he pulled up a chair, took a seat, and sat down, shaking his head ruefully and rolling his eyes. Perhaps his time wasn’t as valuable as he had thought.

Quite a bit more annoying, if I do say so myself. A good two-thirds of that verbiage could go, with no cost to the reader’s sense of what is going on.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that if any of us saw a real-life Babette or Pablo engage in so much simultaneous eye-rolling, eyebrow-wiggling, head-bouncing, shoulder-shrugging, and glancing pointedly at things, we’d assume that the poor soul was suffering from a severe neurological disorder. In the quotidian world, most people don’t stop their interactions dead while they grimace and gesticulate.

To be fair, infecting the characters with St. Vitus’ dance was probably not the writer’s intent here. Most aspiring writers who depict such nervous-faced and (-torsoed) characters are simply trying to convey emotion non-verbally. But by piling on so many tics and gestures — ones that sometimes replicate the dialogue, rather than adding to it — the seemingly natural actions come across as unnatural levels of activity.

Which is the most serious problem here, right? Over-writing, over-explaining, and word and phrase redundancy are secondary irritants in this version. The primary problem is all of that frenetic movement. This is a scene about waiting, yet it’s hard to imagine more physical activity had all of the dialogue been conveyed with semaphore flags. Or via interpretive dance.

Not seeing the problem — or, more likely, are you so distracted by the hackneyed phrasing and word repetition that it’s hard to focus upon it? Millicent and her ilk would sympathize. Here’s that same passage again, winnowed down to just the actual movements.

The phone rang. Babette snatched the phone. She rolled her eyes. She shook her head. She held up a finger.

Pablo sighed. He arched an eyebrow. He nodded. He shrugged.

He tapped his foot impatiently (and continuously). He drummed his fingers on the table. He glanced repeatedly at his watch. He hummed.

He sighed. He waved. He whispered.

She nodded (immediately before saying, “Yes,” a bit of redundancy bound to annoy our Millie). She arched her brows.

He glanced at his watch. He tapped its face. He grimaced.

She furrowed her brow. She nodded. She shrugged. Her staff exchanged glances. They rolled their eyes. They smiled.

He pulled up a chair. He took a seat. He sat down. He shook his head. He rolled his eyes.

Quite a lot of activity for an ostensibly quiet scene, isn’t it? Most of these actions occur more than once, too. Yet all by themselves, how much of the core conflict of this scene do these actions actually demonstrate?

Not very much. Nor do these actions reveal much about Babette and Pablo’s personalities — as the fact that they both do some of the same things implies, these activities are not unusual. They appear in the text simply because they are things that a real person might do in this situation. Apparently, the writer is laboring under the pervasive misconception that the goal of an interactive scene is to list everything that the characters did, not to limit the narration and dialogue to only what will advance the plot, reveal character, or add conflict.

In fact, I can easily conceive of a version of this scene that contained none of these actions, and yet remained true to the original spirit of the exchange. Perhaps if I imagine it hard enough, it will appear on the screen below.

Babette snatched the phone from its cradle before the end of the first ring. “Hello?” After a moment’s hard listening, she mouthed at Pablo: “Don’t move.”

What had started out as a two-minute conversation was bidding fair to take up his entire afternoon. Irritably, he grabbed a random book from the leather-bound many gracing the glassed-in shelves: Tolstoy. The gold-faced grandfather clock chimed the hour, then the quarter hour.

Still no sign that she was getting off the phone anytime soon. Unless he was planning on finishing War and Peace, he needed to assert himself. “Babs?” he whispered. “I’ve got to get going.”

She tossed him a smile over her shoulder without interrupting her conversation. The parlormaid refilled his teacup, in recompense.

Perhaps his time wasn’t as valuable as he had been accustomed to think. He tried to immerse himself in the tribulations of the Russian nobility.

Gets the job done, doesn’t it? Of course, this is only one of endless possibilities — which only underscores Millicent’s essential objection to hackneyed phrasing and the overuse of a few everyday actions. It’s not merely that seeing the same actions and phrasing over and over again across many, many manuscript pages is rather boring. She’s also likely to be disappointed that the writer is not embracing the opportunity to use that valuable page space to demonstrate how his writing style, eye for telling details, and storytelling skills are different from every other writer’s who might care to submit to her boss.

Seriously, we professional readers are saddened by the sight of an original voice diluted by the mundane. Millicent, Maury, and Mehitabel, genuinely want to fall in love with a new writer’s voice, characters, and story, so when yet another manuscript appears on her desk where the writer’s voice is peppered with stock phrases, the characters do and say things that don’t demonstrate to the reader who they are, and dialogue and activity that appear simply because someone might conceivably say or do those things in that situation.

It’s the writer’s job not only to depict the world of the book believably, but enjoyably for the reader. Surprising the pros with original phrasing, unpredictable dialogue, and an appropriate level of activity for each scene is a far better means of achieving those laudable goals than just envisioning an interaction like a movie and providing a list of each motion, sound, and word the audience might see.

A simple waiting scene doesn’t need to be War and Peace, you know. As Mark Twain pointed out, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Be selective, and show Millicent, Maury, and Mehitabel how your voice and worldview are unique.

They are, aren’t they? Keep up the good work!

13 Replies to “Pet peeves on parade, part III: wait — was that gigantic edifice there a moment ago? Someone signal for help!”

  1. So, based on yesterday’s post, I’d been looking back at my writing and trying to get rid of my characters’ excessive nodding, shrugging, and looking…especially looking.

    I’m having a lot of trouble with the looking.

    I’ve found that I tend to use looking as a cue in the dialogue for whom a particular phrase is targetted; that is, there are four or five characters standing around and if one character says something directed specifically to another (e.g., “Can you fight?”), I have the speaker look at the target first. I’m finding these terribly difficult to get rid of, because without them the conversation makes little sense.

    Any advice on how to handle this? It appears I cycle through, in decreasing frequency: “looked to”, “turned to”, “said to”, and direct address by name. I have a terrible feeling that all of these sound far too repetitive.

    1. This is why I like revision. I tend to scrawl through my first draft just to get the dad-ratted thing down, not paying attention to niceties. Then I can go back and turn a phrase from something like this:

      The heat made his lips dry.

      to this:

      He licked his lips, dry as a mummy’s in the pounding heat.

      Great examples, btw, Anne. I always enjoy them. 🙂

    2. It is a good question, Anne A. and Elizabeth — and a fairly common problem. Rather than fob you off with the usual glib answer (which may be summed up thus: find other things for your characters to do instead of looking), I’m going to write a post on this. Aspiring writers tend to over-rely on looking verbs, anyway — the legacy of TV and movies, no doubt — so there’s quite a bit of good grist for the mill in this topic.

  2. Hi Anne. I have a general question that’s unrelated to this post, but I’m happy to move it if there’s somewhere better to ask!
    Here’s my problem: I’ve had four fulls out to agents now, and the reaction I’ve gotten from three of the four is that they really like the book and think I’m a great writer, but they just don’t love it enough to represent it. One even used phrases like “I really loved this story” and “there’s so much to love here” but still rejected it, leaving me more confused then ever. (The fourth agent offered very specific feedback and said I was welcome to resubmit, which I did about a month ago. I’m still waiting to hear from her.) I’m guessing that the only thing to really do at this point is just keep querying, since I haven’t gotten any consistent feedback of what needs fixing. Am I on the right track? I’m getting a little discouraged…
    Thanks Anne!

    1. The most recent post was a perfect place to post this, Mara. And my first response to your question is to say: YES, you are definitely on the right track. What you are getting is what are known in the biz as rave rejections, and yes, they are discouraging. They are not intended to be so, however.

      For the benefit of those who have not received a rave rejection, it’s a regretful no, accompanied by praise that a writer can’t legitimately use to help promote the book. An agent or editor will take the time to say something nice about the manuscript s/he is rejecting, up to and including that under different circumstances (i.e., if the current literary market favored stories like yours), s/he would have loved to pick up your book. Or that it’s a great book that another agent might well be able to sell, but the rejecter just doesn’t have the connections to do so. Or it isn’t really the type of book s/he represents, but s/he loved it anyway.

      In short, a rave rejection is intended to encourage the writer — it’s a standard means of saying, “Hang in there, kid — you have talent.”

      Which is not, of course, what the writer usually takes from it. To the writer, rejection is rejection, no matter how it is phrased: a rave rejection may feel nice in the moment, but ultimately, it doesn’t get one closer to being represented.

      So you are absolutely right, Mara: the key is to keep querying, rather than to assume that there’s something in the manuscript that needs fixing. (Although it’s exceedingly rare that an agent would list a specific manuscript-based reason for rejecting a manuscript unless s/he wanted you to revise and resubmit.) With this kind of response, you probably just have not yet submitted to the right agent.

      I empathize with your frustration, though; agented writers receive rave rejections from editors all the time, and it’s not a problem that tends to generate much sympathy from other writers. (“That agent/editor/reviewer said she loved your book, and you’re complaining?”) Last fall, I received a delightful, thoughtfully-worded rejection from someone who said that my manuscript was the best book she had read in a year — and she still was going to pass on it. Every published writer I know has received this kind of response from time to time. In fact, Heidi Durrow and I talked about it in our recent video interview. It’s trying, but focusing on the I love your manuscript part honestly is the best way to handle it.

      So hold your head high and keep pushing forward. And when you start to feel blue, remind yourself that only a tiny fraction of a percent of submitters receive rave rejections. In a perverse way, it’s an honor.

      1. Thank you once again for a prompt and encouraging response, Anne! I’ve been telling myself pretty much everything you said for a while now, but it’s always nice to hear it from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. And I love the phrase “rave rejection.”
        On a side note, you’ve mentioned several times in your blog that it’s rare for an agent to give specific feedback unless they want you to resubmit. This is precisely what happened with one of my fulls (the agent referenced specific pages and sentences and even told me how they could be improved, and invited me to resubmit) and I can only hope my changes were up to snuff. At the time I was disheartened and it took me a while to decide to make the changes (not because I didn’t agree with them – they were fairly minor changes and I do think they improved the manuscript – but because I thought that if they had really loved my book, they would have offered me representation anyway) but I’m hoping it was to test me and see if I had it in me to take their advice. Just wondering if you have any thoughts on the subject.

        1. You’re over-thinking this a bit, Mara. Writers often over-think this kind of request, though, assuming — usually wrongly — that agents don’t mean precisely what they say. This isn’t an especially passive-aggressive business, though: yes means yes, no means no, and I’d like you to change these elements means I’d like you to change these elements.

          So the only real question here is why. I understand the if-they-loved-my-voice logic from a writer’s point of view, but that’s not how most agencies work these days, alas. Agents tend to want manuscripts to be completely ready to send to editors before they offer a representation contract. They may well ask for additional changes to a manuscript after the contract is signed, but generally speaking, if a manuscript raises any red flags at all, they will not pick it up. So those requested minor changes may well have been intended to bring your manuscript into line with what the agency typically submits. If that’s the case, you might want to consider implementing those changes not merely for what you send to this agency, but for any other agency that asks to see your manuscript. It may well be that this agent has done you a HUGE favor by pointing out problems that triggered rejection elsewhere.

          It’s also not all that uncommon for an agent to read a promising manuscript, start to think of it as a project for a specific editor, and then to find things in the manuscript that the particular editor might not like. Pet peeves, even. Since a prudent agent will not take on a book project he cannot sell, it would only make sense to find out if the writer is married to the elements that the editor the agent wants to target won’t like.

          It’s exceedingly unlikely, though, that a reputable agent would have wasted your time and her own by asking for changes that she didn’t consider absolutely necessary. Agents are busy people. And love, in the sense of I loved this book, but…, is virtually never blind; for an agent to make a living, she cannot afford to take on books that she knows contain elements that would render them hard to sell.

          So it really isn’t the best use of your energies to try to second-guess whether she really loved your book or not, unless you have other agents interested in it. Be encouraged that this agent thought enough of your manuscript to think carefully about how to improve it, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that a good agent will bend her normal acceptance standards because she likes your book. You wouldn’t want an agent who didn’t pay attention to marketability, would you?

          It might be worth giving some thought, though, to why your initial response to being asked to revise and resubmit was negative. Since it is quite unusual for agents to give unqualified yeses to first-time authors, some form of “Yes, but…” was practically inevitable. Even if this agent had offered to represent you, it probably would have been contingent upon your making these changes. Yes, it’s nice to have the agent-seeking part of one’s career over and settled, but it’s not as though the writer gets to sit back and relax after landing an agent; requested revisions are the norm. Most of the writers I know worked harder in the first 6 months after signing with an agent than at any previous point in their writing lives.

          Why? Because critique is how people in the publishing industry compliment writers. Believe me, if the agent hadn’t thought your work had potential, she wouldn’t have bothered to ask for changes.

          I know — it’s not how writers think about the agent-finding process, but this honestly isn’t just about how much the agent likes your story or your authorial voice. It’s about what she thinks she can sell. So keep your hopes high, be happy that you got feedback that improved the manuscript, and above all, keep sending out queries while this agent is considering the revision. It really is the best use of all of that frenetic energy bouncing around your head while you wait to hear back.

          1. Me, over-think something? That’s crazy!
            Just kidding. Clearly I am obsessing over all of this, driving my husband and sister mad in the process (not to mention myself). I know exactly why I was disappointed by the revise and resubmit – it had happened to me just a couple of months prior, although that agent was far more vague (she asked me to shorten by about ten percent and change a couple of general things). I made the changes and although she agreed that it had improved the book, she still rejected it. I guess that left me a little jaded as to the whole revise and resubmit process. I honestly am not opposed to making changes to my novel; I just didn’t think it would make any difference. But whether or not this agent wants to represent me, I AM happy I made the changes. And in the meantime, I am still querying away, per your earlier suggestion.
            Thanks for reminding me not to read too much into things. I am trying to force myself to concentrate on the next novel and not worry so much about this one, but it’s tough sometimes.
            Thanks Anne! Hope you have a great weekend!

          2. You’re welcome, Mara — but that detail about the length made my editorial antennae perk up. If the original manuscript was longer than the generally-accepted top estimated word count for a first novel (100,000 words/400 pages in Times New Roman, in most fiction categories), it would make a TON of sense that she asked for a revise and resubmit. If the word count on the title page is too high, it would have been much, much harder to get an editor to read it, regardless of how good the premise or even the writing was.

            You might also have fallen prey to what I like to call the what color am I thinking? phenomenon. That’s where the agent or editor has a specific outcome in mind, but gives only general feedback. The writer naturally puts her own spin on the revision, and then the agent or editor is disappointed when the result is not precisely as s/he pictured. It’s happened to the best of us.

          3. It was the first agent who asked me to cut the length down (it was around 103000 words and I cut it down to 90000). I guess in the end that revision was a blessing too, even though it was ultimately a rejection. Thanks for pointing that out! This agent made suggestions regarding specific scenes (mostly to do with drawing out the suspense and creating tension). Here’s hoping I didn’t put too much of my own spin on things!! I will try not to obsess over that now…

  3. Anne – adding my cudo’s to your well spun advice. The info is accuracte and the care is obvious. Thanks and I look forward to exploring more of your site. L

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