Wednesday, February 22, 2012

29 WOW Wednesday: Rachel Harris Gives You Permission to be Stubborn

Today's guest, Rachel Harris, writes YA and Adult Romance, Magical Realism, and Historical fiction. As a teen, she spent her days throwing raging parties that shook her parents’ walls and creating embarrassing fodder for future YA novels, and as an adult, she spends them reading and writing obsessively, rehashing said embarrassing fodder, and dreaming up characters that become her imaginary friends. You can ALWAYS find her on Twitter (@RachelHarrisYA), at her website RachelHarrisWrites.com, or on Goodreads where she loves sharing her reading obsession with others.

Permission to be Stubborn

Hey, I’m a Taurus. On the up side, astrologists describe me as persistent and determined. Great qualities to have as an author to get through the myriad of hurtles, heartbreak, and Haagen-Daz you need to succeed. But on the flip side of my astrological coin, Bulls are also known for being inflexible and obstinate. Now if you spend more than five minutes with me, you’ll learn I have a heavy dose of people-pleasing-itis running through my veins, but I’m human. I think it’s natural to become too adamant about my work. I get so close to the fun plot or my beloved characters that I fail to see the story’s inherent flaws or the honest ways I can improve it.
I am not talking about that.

There is countless advice out there, which I wholeheartedly agree with, telling authors we need to remain open to criticism. We do. We also need to be willing to kill our darlings to make the story tighter, the pace faster. The beautiful story of our heart we’ve slaved over for years without moving forward may have to be set aside so we can better listen to our muse whisper shiny new ideas. While it’s true that in many ways we write for ourselves, my guess is if you’re visiting this site, you’re not trying to write in a vacuum. You want readers, so that means you need to keep an eye on the market as well.

These are not areas to embrace your inner-bull.

What I AM giving you permission to do is hold tight to the story you want to tell. The core of your book. The things that turned you onto the shiny new idea to begin with. About a year ago, I read that author Stephanie Perkins always makes a Love List for her works in progress, and now I do, too. I’m a total plotter, so while I painstakingly map out my story in the beginning I now also make my own Love List.

I record each of those little things that make me smile, that make me giddy, that make me want to get out of bed, sit in front of that computer screen, and type each day. And when other voices and well-meaning advice start crowding my mental space, I pull my Love List out and remember the essential things I will refuse to budge on.

For Maggie Stiefvater, her core thing for SHIVER was the mood. She was willing to change most everything else, was open to suggestions and critique, but she knew the story she wanted to tell, and she tenaciously held tight to that. And we all know how well that worked for her.

For my upcoming debut, MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY, my Love List looked like this:
  • a beautiful boy
  • magic
  • friendship
  • trust
  • fairy tale
  • dresses and balls
  • Renaissance art
  • Italy
I can’t tell you how grateful I was for this list when it came time to query! Really, I was amazingly blessed with my submission process. Just because I love knowing this kind of info, I’ll quickly share my stats: I sent my query out in batches of ten, and ended up querying thirty-five agents. Of those thirty-five, four asked for partials, ten asked for fulls, twelve passed with personalized letters back, and nine closed with no response. Four months to the day that I sent my first query, my agent, Lauren Hammond, emailed saying she received my signed contract and we were diving into revisions.

But what made me choose to work with Lauren is that she understood the story I wanted to tell. I got wonderful feedback from the other agents who read my manuscript, and while some may not have loved it quite enough, or felt it just wasn’t right for their list at this time, I also got two requests for R&Rs—Revise and Resubmit. One of those requests led me to discover a hidden side to my antagonist, which I absolutely freaking adore and completely fits with the mood I was aiming for, but the other completely didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, the ideas were great. The story the agent suggested I tell would’ve been filled with drama and snark and intrigue. It would’ve rocked! It just wasn’t the story I wanted to write. I took out my handy dandy Love List and saw that I would lose almost every single thing that I loved about my kernel idea when I first sat down, the things that inspired me to type furiously for months. It would lose the fun, romantic adventure that I wanted attached to my name. I know there are probably a bazillion writers out there who think I’m crazy for rolling the dice and not making the changes that would’ve obviously told a great story, and for not seizing the opportunity to be represented by a very well established and respected agency.

But I decided to be stubborn.

I held out. I kept my pretty little manuscript the way I wanted it, although I did tweak a few things that I agreed with, suggestions that I liked that also happened to fit within my framework. I chose to believe that someone else would fall in love with the same quirky, romantic fun that I loved. And I was right.

In the next batch of queries I sent out, I got my agent. She loved my story as much as I did and only had me tweak a few things for clarity. A week and a half later, we entered our first round of submissions and ended up getting an offer from Entangled Teen the next month. My editor, Stacy Cantor Abrams, loves my story, the one I always wanted to tell and believed in from the beginning. And MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY will hit shelves this September.

So, see? Sometimes it pays to be a little stubborn.

29 comments:

  1. Awesome post. It's hard to know when to be stubborn and when not to. But it sounds like you figured out what was right for you. Hope I have that moment someday when I have to decide. Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. Thanks Natalie!

    It is tough knowing when you are being smart and when you are just being obstinate LOL, but you have to go with your gut, you know? And for me, I needed to remember what it is I wanted out of this, and why I chose to write in the first place. It wasn't all about being published, with any book. It was about sharing the stories I wanted to tell =)

    Happy Wednesday!
    Rachel
    Rachel Harris Writes

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  3. It sounds like a tough balance to achieve -- and it also ties back to writing the book of your heart, and deciding which aspects you are unwilling to sacrifice as you go to market. I really like the idea of the love list -- it sounds like a great tool when revising my wip.

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    1. I love my Love List! I hope it works for you, too! =) And you're absolutely right, we need to write the book of our heart and at the end of the day be proud of what we put out there. Not obstinate about everything, but being willing to stay strong and hold onto what we love <3

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  4. Great advice! I think it's important to be open to suggestion and not afraid of change, but you're right that you should know what it is that truly makes the story yours and hold on to that

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    1. Thanks Chloe!! And exactly--I was so afraid people would think I was saying not to change anything ever or ignore critique and good advice . . . but there's a difference between being open and also holding onto a few things we really love and believe in =) You get it LOL

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  5. Thanks for the inspiration, Rachel. And you are right; it's good to know in advance what it is that you want your readers to get from the story. I am currently dealing with this on a manuscript that I have been querying for quite a while. It is a middle grade novel set in a funeral home. And I've had several people tell me, "You need to make it scary, then it will sell." Or, "You need to add ghosts, zombies, etc." But one of the take-aways of the story is that a funeral home is NOT a scary place filled with ghosts and zombies. It is a "home" that prepares dead bodies for their final destinations. So even though, it has been suggested several times that I turn this manuscript into a ghost story, I just can't. Because that's not what it is.

    I'm glad your stubbornness worked to your advantage. Maybe someday mine will too.

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    1. Hi Linda! So happy you found something I said inspiring =)

      I love the sound of your story! And that's almost exactly what I was dealing with, suggestions to take a lighter "comedy-of-errors" and make it into a dark, angsty story. I could see where it could work and be fun to write, as I can see the fun in writing about a scary funeral home. But I think there's room--and a need--in the market for happier books, lighter books, stories that can be uplifting or at the very least, not focus on the dark and twisted just because they could for shock value lol. I'll be keeping fingers and toes crossed that your stubbornness works out for you . . . it sounds like a story I'd love to read with my girls <3

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  6. Can't wait for My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century! What a great list to work from!

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    1. Thanks Aubrie! Yeah, just looking at my list makes me smile LOL.

      And I can't wait for it to come out, either =)

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  7. Great to see someone standing by what THEY want to write and staying true to their story. And to do it will still being open to suggestions and being willing to make some changes is a perfect balance. Way to go and congratulations!

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    1. Thanks Michele! It can be a hard balance to strike, which is why I find it helps to write that list before the critiques start (otherwise I could be tempted to throw everything on there LOL). It works for me at least. Thanks for visiting and commenting!!!

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  8. I love the balance you've achieved - right on! And because I'm neck-deep in revisions myself (and going insane) I'm going to make a Love List so I can stay true to the work. Thanks for this!

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    1. Hey Beth! Yay! Not for going insane, but for making a list of your own. I hope it helps-Please let me know if it does =)

      Good Luck!

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  9. Awesome post-so helpful about thinking of a novel in terms of a "Love List" :)

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    1. Thanks Nicefrom9to5 (love that name, btw!)

      I definitely find it helpful, and hope you will, too. Happy Wednesday!

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  10. Great post! I remember reading about Stephanie Perkin's love list a while back too, and made one for my WIP. I need to revisit and keep this in mind as I begin to query. :)

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    1. Oh yay, another list maker! I'd definitely post that baby next to your monitor just so you can keep the happy thoughts there and remember what you love about your story. Even if it has nothing to do with revision suggestions, it just helps to remember what we love about our stories during the sometimes stressful and depressing search for our agents. Good luck, and I'd LOVE to know how it goes!

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  11. I love it! Good for you, for being stubborn--about the right things. I'd never heard of a Love List. But those core things ARE important, and worth hanging onto. Thanks for the illumination! Fun to hear your success story.

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    1. Hi Carol!!! Seeing your avatar on any blog just makes me smile =)

      Thanks for liking my post (lol that sounds odd, huh?) and let me know if you decide to use a love list of your own in the future! Have a great night!

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  12. Great post! I had all the same thoughts about my manuscript. I didn't make a list, but I knew the things I would not budge on. Some critics told me I needed to make my story grittier and my characters needed to have more baggage, but I didn't want to lose the sweetness of my story and I loved my characters. I believed in them and myself, and I stuck with my instincts!

    I was fortunate like you that I found a publisher and an editor who "got" my story and made no major changes to it. I can feel proud now that the book I always dreamed of publishing is the book readers have in their hands :)

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  13. That sounds so familiar. I got so much conflicting feedback. Some agents said too dark; some said too light. I had to dig in again & decide what was the most important to me. Luckily I found an editor who got it. It's such a relief to get to keep my characters who I want them to be.

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  14. Awesome. Definitely a little stubbornness can be an asset. Good luck with your book!!

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  15. Yeah, just because Rachel is so fabulous!! *waves

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  16. This is great advice, Rachel. While it's important to be open to suggestions and make those changes, it's equally as important to remember you know your story and characters better than anyone. Good for you for sticking with the story you wanted to tell. I'm glad you found an agent who shared your vision!

    Have a great weekend!!

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  17. A love lsit. Actually, this is really good idea. It's something I really need to do for my book at the moment, given the stage the revision is at when all I can see are the things I hate!

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  18. Thanks so much. I need a Love List. As a matter of fact, that's the first thing I'll do tonight before I click away at the novel. This novel is my baby and I really want to get published, but sometimes I have bad days where I'm like, "What the heck am I doing this for?" Like when one of my friends decided to remind me that I'm not actually Japanese and I'm trying to write a Japanese-culture based story.

    I do have Asian blood - South Asian.

    So thanks so much for the advice! :)

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