Kristina Elyse Butke
I finished Son of the Siren months ago, back over the summer. It feels so long ago, I don't remember exactly when I finished it anymore. But it's been a while.
During the course of writing, I felt very alone. I was spoiled in graduate school--I had mentors and two critique partners with me every semester to guide me along the way as I drafted. Every month I would get feedback as I wrote, and it helped me through the book.
But if I think about it, I scrapped and rewrote during the process of drafting, so when my thesis was due, I hadn't actually done proper revisions on it. I finished the draft at the last minute and turned it in without sitting on it and coming back to it to revise. Luckily I passed in my first go, but looking back, I realized this is kind of how I've always done it--draft it, fix it while drafting, and then send it out into the world. I wrote my plays and musical this way, where I basically submitted the first full draft as the final product, and then submitted my thesis this way.
This is the first time I've done things differently, and it feels so much more difficult this time around. It will probably build a better book, but so far, the process is agonizing.
I felt like I was writing in an echo chamber during the early drafting, so while I wrote Son of the Siren, I begged people to look at it and give me what was essentially a wellness check on it, despite not being finished. I had family lovingly read the first couple chapters, and a great friend (who is also a professor!) give me detailed notes on what I had so far through a Skype call. I also entered it in a first chapters contest and while it didn't place, I got feedback from one of the editors and it was overwhelmingly positive in addition to making solid points for what needed fixing.
It was what I needed to power through things, but then I felt alone again as I continued on. And I was trying to trust my gut more, and I felt like something wasn't right. At one point, while drafting, I gutted 78 pages of the book and redid everything. Then I cut some major worldbuilding and changed the book from sounding mythic (no more gods!) to sounding more like a fairytale, which is what I was originally going for anyway.
After scrapping 78 pages and completely redoing a major character, the book seemed like it was getting on track. I wrote multiple drafts, but they were all incomplete. I would type a file that would say "version 1" and then when I would make a major change, I'd create an entirely new file with a new number assigned to it and go from there. I made 12 different drafts this way...but again, never produced a full draft until the summer.
I thought, because I had made corrections while I wrote, that this baby was ready. So I submitted it to a developmental editor and to beta readers, and I had an author friend who offered to take a look at it, too.
Each person offered such a wildly different critique, it broke my brain. The compliments were consistent enough, but when it came to the critical aspects, they were quite different from each other. Pacing was either good or too fast. The serious, darker aspects of the novel were either handled with care and well-balanced, or they were disappointing and possibly problematic. The romance was too fast or well-paced. One person said the book was ready to go after a pass from a copy editor, and the others said it needed major work.
I agreed with the people who said the book needed more work, especially after getting so many different opinions on it. I also wanted to listen to my heart--not everything that was said made sense to me, and I felt like disregarding some of the feedback that didn't sit right. But overall, I agreed that Son of the Siren needed revising, and the comments were more helpful than a hindrance.
Now, I've been trying to revise for the past couple months, and it is a train wreck of an experience. I've struggled to discern which critiques I should listen to. I've tried to redo scenes and made some changes that took the book in a different direction, and now I'm having a hard time getting the train back on the tracks.
I was hoping to have this bad boy ready for querying agents by the end of December or early January, but now, I'm not so sure.
It might sound counterintuitive, but I think I need more help. I am stuck on revisions and don't know how to solve the new problems I've created for myself. I've decided, in order to get more help, to apply for the Author Mentor Match program in January. I just don't think the book is ready to be queried in the state that it's in now, and if I could get one last set of eyes on it, I think it would help.
On the other hand, maybe that's a bad idea! Maybe too many cooks have spoiled the soup, and I've messed myself up from too much feedback! I'm not sure. But...there's no harm in applying to AMM because the worst thing that could happen is that I don't get in. The best thing that could happen is I build a new relationship with a professional author, and I get help revising (most mentors will give developmental editing, line editing, and query help). And these mentors are agented authors with published books in the YA field, and I'm submitting to the mentors who also accept fantasy. The people who are there to offer help are certainly well qualified.
In the meantime, I still need to be revising. The requirements for applying to AMM is a completed and polished manuscript, and now that I've made changes, my manuscript has reverted back to being incomplete and definitely no longer polished. But I need to take a break. I've exhausted myself working on this book. Every time I try to take a break, I ruin it by feeling an overwhelming sense of urgency to finish, and then I start working on the book again. So, I need to take a proper rest from it. A month of rest was recommended. but if I rest that long it'll be the deadline for AMM, and I still have some work to do. I'm going to shoot for a two-week break again. I know that's counter to advice, but like I said, it won't give me enough time to finish revisions to enter AMM.
I hope I can get it together on this book soon. I'm hoping the brain break will do me good.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support!