Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How Rejections and Revisions Made Patricia Borroughs a Better Writer

Beguiled AgainThe first time I wrote Jeff and Cecilia's story, she had three boys. Jeff was a lawyer. Jeff spent the entire book chasing her, trying to woo her. The book almost sold but didn't, for which I am forever grateful.

No. Really.

That was the first book I ever wrote and for all of its charm (and it did have charm) it had problems, as well. I'll never forget the telephone call from the editor. The Call. Everyone had told me, a letter is a rejection. A phone call is YES! [This was long before email was on the horizon.]

Of course I would be the exception to the rule. Of course. So I got The Call. The Call where the editor told me she was not going to buy my book. ["Only you," my writer friends said. "Only you."] She'd been struggling to figure out what to do with it She loved so much about it, but it had so many problems. She finally decided she needed to turn it down but would send me a lengthy revision letter if I was interested. I was.

I was so excited. All I could think was--the first place I sent it almost bought it; this book may sell!

It didn't. And again, I am so grateful for several reasons. First, because if it had sold, it would be out there somewhere and I would be cringing every time somebody said they'd found it and bought it. I'd be buying all available copies so that people wouldn't see all the horrible beginning mistakes a baby-writer-pooks could make and did make.

But worse--I would have thought I sold my first book with all its problems because I deserved to. Because I was That Damned Good. And I'm very afraid I would never have learned and grown as a writer. Rejections made me work harder, fight harder, and finally get good enough to sell.  Without that experience, that frustrating, back-breaking, heart-breaking experience, I shudder to think how little my writing would have evolved.

How badly did I need to learn that lesson? So badly that I hadn't even held onto the lengthy revision letter. Oh, I hadn't tossed it with the arrogant assumption I didn't need it. But I hadn't prized it and held onto it and studied it, either. And by the time I needed it, I'd lost it.

Time passed and I eventually sold two books. But Cecilia's story was still in my heart. I pulled it off the shelf and reread it, and this time, I saw all the problems. I still loved her, but I had to rip her story apart.

It has been said, figure out what's the worst thing you can do to a character and then make it happen.
Cecilia with a lawyer? Meh. Boring. But Cecilia with the bouncing checks falling for a CPA?  Cecilia with the chaotic household of kids and pets falling for a guy who never has a hair out of place and is allergic to kids? Suddenly, this was getting interesting.

And then there was the fact that I had three boys, and now that people were actually buying my books, they were going to see that I'd written about three boys, and assume any embarrassing thing in my book was about my boys. Not fair. Time for a sex change. The youngest became a girl.

The plot changed, too, big time.  So when I say I pulled the first book I wrote off the shelf and rewrote it, I am not kidding.

Many years later, here I am, having just done another re-edit of her story. To bring it out in ebook. I just couldn't leave it alone. You might assume that a book that has been edited before, bought and traditionally published, could be left alone. And I tell you, I try to leave them alone, because it's hard to start tweaking without ending up doing something more like a true rewrite, and that is madness. But Cecilia's story had so many pop culture references, I just didn't see a way not to update it.

First, one of the other writers at Book View Café [Jennifer Stevenson] did a beta read of the scanned manuscript. [I no longer had a digital copy.] She gave me notes where the sex terms were dated. Where I probably should mention condoms. [I only mentioned them once. I hope that doesn't annoy people. I am hoping that these are two careful people will mean the reader assumes they continue to be careful. No? Bad choice? Please let me know in comments!

But I especially had to update the music Jeff and Cecilia listened to in high school, the baseball, basketball and soccer players Cecilia and her kids follow. And guess what. For me, it made the book better. This Cecilia grew up in the age of the great divas, so her own music would have been shaped by listening to Mariah, Whitney, Janet and Madonna. I can't begin to imagine her teenaged dreams of stardom.

Then I had two proofreaders who caught things that my beta and I didn't catch.  Details, details, details! 

Thanks to Lauri Weaver and Barb Tarbuck for diving in at the last minute to help me out.

I think this is the last revision for Cecilia.

Maybe I finally got her story right. 

Patricia BurroughsIt took me long enough.

Thank you, Tara, for inviting me to write about my various revision efforts! I love your blog and am honored to be here!

Patricia Burroughs has four backlist romances available as ebooks at Book View Cafe [.epub and .mobi, no DRM] and on Amazon, with one more to come. In Spring 2014, she will be back in printagain with a new book, this one a fantasy, details to be announced soon! You can follow Pooks on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Tara!

    If anybody decides to read Cecil's story, I am having a contest for Amazon reviewers:


  2. as soon as I read it, I'll leave a review--regardless of a contest.