R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson

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Status Report: KNIFE

It's been a long time since I made a public post about the status of my original fantasy novel Knife, and a few of you have expressed curiosity as to how the manuscript has been faring.

First, for those who joined my LJ late in the game, a brief recap of the book's history:

- Knife completed in the spring of 1994 and promptly mailed off to Tor Books, my dream fantasy publisher.
- Editor at Tor likes it. She passes it on to a First Reader.
- First Reader writes a three-page, generally positive report on the book, noting a few weaknesses but stating that "R.J. Anderson can definitely write."
- Editor pitches the book but finds that the "money people" think it's not a good bet. She sends it back with the first reader's report enclosed, adding her best wishes for Knife's success with another publisher and an invitation to try her again with another manuscript.
- Disappointed but undaunted, I turn around and send Knife to DAW Books.
- The book receives a form rejection from DAW. I lose heart and put the book aside for a while.
- Warner Aspect holds a first novel contest. I re-edit Knife with the help of pharnabazus, and submit it. Warner is not interested, however, and once more I give up because I am pathetically lazy too cheap to pay for the toner and postage afraid of failure an idiot.
- Time passes. Civilizations rise and fall. Ramandu becomes visibly younger. Eventually in 2003 I rediscover the first reader's report from Tor and post it in my LJ, lamenting my own stupidity in not pursuing publication more diligently. I also post the first four chapters of the book, inviting comments from my f-list on how it reads and how it might be improved so as to catch an editor's eye.
- An acquaintance from one of the mailing lists I frequent reads the chapters and is interested. Turns out she is an editor with a prestigious young adult publishing house. Would I consider marketing the book as YA instead of adult fantasy?
- Actually, yes, I would -- especially for this publisher. After I get over my initial fit of hysterics, I gather together a crack team of beta-readers and set to work on polishing up the manuscript. In January 2004, I mail off the result.
- July 2004: Editor likes the book, but feels it's not strong enough for her to pitch yet. She sends it back with several pages' worth of observations on the book's weaknesses, unanswered questions it left in her mind, and suggestions of ways to improve it -- that is, if I'm interested.
- Yes, I am interested, and I agree with the criticisms, so I recruit some fresh betas and get cracking on the ms. once again to address the problems she's noted. In June 2005 it goes back out, substantially revised.

Now you're caught up, here's the rest of the story:

In September 2005, the editor wrote to say that in her view the ms. had taken "a strong step forward" and so she'd passed it on to a co-worker whose judgment she respects. I held my breath, though part of me already knew that if she felt the need to seek a second opinion, probably the book was still iffy. A base hit, maybe, but not a home run.

And lo, it came to pass. In April 2006, my meek inquiry as to the book's status was greeted with the editor's regrets but... she just wasn't feeling it, and the other editor agreed. Something was missing, at least in terms of what their publishing house looks for in a novel. The action/mystery aspect was good, and she even admitted that another editor/publisher might like the book just fine as-is, but she was hoping for a stronger underlying theme and a more clearly delineated personal journey for the heroine. So, she said, as the ms. stood she was going to have to pass. Still, she made a generous offer to discuss with me what other editors or publishers might like the book if I wanted to go that route.

At that point something in me curled up in a small unhappy ball and died, but I told myself I needed time to think about the new set of criticisms. Had I perhaps misunderstood the editor's first set of suggestions and taken the book in a different direction from what she had intended? Possibly, but it was too late to change that now. More importantly, was what the editor wanted out of the book the same as what I wanted to put into the book? Or could this just be a simple case of a book/editor mismatch and I should just try a different publisher?

It took me quite a while to work through all this, but a few weeks later I've finally been able to achieve the necessary emotional distance to decide what to do next -- or at least, I hope I have. I was afraid, for a while, that I might try so hard to tailor the book to this particular editor's tastes that I'd end up overworking it and we'd both be unhappy with the result. But I was also afraid of telling myself too blithely that her criticisms were just a matter of opinion, and trying to sell the book to another publisher -- perhaps even succeeding -- while knowing deep down that the story could have been better.

Anyway, after much thought, I've come to the conclusion that another rewrite is in order, perhaps even more extensive than the last one. I do think the editor is on to something, in an objective sense: I do feel that the things she felt were missing from the story are things that I meant to put in there, but just didn't make clear enough. The changes I have in mind should, I hope, bring those aspects more to the forefront. I'm a little afraid of muddling up the plot in the process -- it's already complicated enough, perhaps even a little too complicated -- but now that I'm aware of the problem I won't feel happy until I've done the best I can to fix it.

So that's where things stand at this point. Thanks to everybody who's read the manuscript, helped to edit it, or just expressed an interest in its welfare over the years. I appreciate your continuing faith in my abilities as a writer, and hope to prove worthy of it one day. But right now...

I still have work to do.
Tags: knife, novels, publishers, writing
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