Rewriting, third drafts, feedback, and elevator pitches (in summary)

I decided to give myself the day off consulting work today and tackle the last chapter of the memoir rewrite instead.

73,276 words later I have a full third (or, uh, tenth or thereabouts) draft! I still don’t have a good title, but never mind. The marketing team came up with my hands came away red for my first novel and I loved it. Titles don’t seem to be my forte, and I’m hoping someone out there will be similarly inspired for this book.

That assumes, of course, that this book ever goes to print.

I’ve been reading a lot of writing blogs lately and one thing is for sure, everything is changing fast in the publishing industry with the rise of e-books and the rapid growth of self-publishing. I think I’d still like to go the traditional publishing route if I can get a contract that feels right, but that is by no means a given. It is perhaps even less likely now than it would have been even five years ago.

But that challenge is in the future. For now, I need to run this version past Mike, and then family and a few of the friends who populate the pages, before sending it to my agent. There’s a long way to go yet in this process of figuring out whether this book will ever find a home.

In my efforts to get this book as agent-ready as I could during the last four months I tried something new, hiring a professional to act as an external editor (thanks Amy Lyles Wilson!). It was a useful investment. Amy provided several key pieces of feedback, including that my opening wasn’t as strong as it could be (those all-important first few paragraphs needed to get to some action quicker). I should, she said, consider looking for a cleaner way into the story.

Most importantly, I think, she also recommended that I reconsider my use of letters between Mike and I. Given that some of this memoir tracks the development of Mike’s and my long distance relationship, I was faced with the challenge of how to write about this when we had no communication except via email before we met for the first time in Australia. In the second draft of this book I tackled this problem by crafting entire chapters composed of nothing but our emails.

These letters, Amy essentially told me, contained too many details that were mainly meaningful to Mike and I. They were too long, and it became too hard to track the thread of our story as well as the other themes through these chapters. Some of the issues we discussed in the letters were conversations worth having, but I needed to figure out how to have them in another way.

This feedback wasn’t as surprising or demoralizing as it might have been had I not previously given the manuscript to about ten good friends to read before it went to Amy. Opinion among the friends had been divided on the letters. About 40% of people loved them and 60% told me that they got bogged down or felt too much like voyeurs while reading them. Even before Amy mentioned the letters as an issue I was resigned to the fact that I’d need to re-craft those middle chapters.

It’s not fun pulling something apart  and redrafting yet again, but this is the seesaw process of editing. In the first draft I think I had too little of Mike’s voice in the story. In the second draft I inserted too much. Hopefully this third draft, like the little bear’s porridge, will be just right.

Another useful piece of advice Amy (and several others – thanks Joslyne in particular) gave me was to craft an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a summary of your story that could be delivered during the length of an elevator ride. The main benefit of this exercise, I do believe, is not to hone your pitch so that should you corner an unsuspecting editor in an elevator you can badger them. No, I found it valuable mostly because it forced me to think through how to distill the essence of the book in a way that conveys its themes and also piques interest.

So here’s what I’ve come up with so far as an elevator pitch. This, like everything else, is subject to future editing but it’s a good place to start. And, for me, starting is more than half the battle.

This is the story of an old-fashioned courtship made possible by modern technology – the tale of two people separated by the Pacific Ocean who build a long distance relationship entirely via email. Along the way the narrator – a global nomad who has spent her life as the transient resident of eight different countries – must confront troubling questions about where home really is and what it means to commit to a person, a place, or a career.

Writers, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned while rewriting your own work? Are you working on something now? If you have an elevator pitch, share it in the comments!

16 responses to “Rewriting, third drafts, feedback, and elevator pitches (in summary)

  1. I absolutely love how your story is taking shape and am incredibly excited to read it in full form. A veteran of long-distance, email-fed love myself, I am anxious to hold this book in my hands. Good luck and keep on writing 🙂

  2. I am in the process of editing my book, too, and I hate the process. I’ve discovered that it may be a bit too long and have begun the process of cutting the fat out so it moves quicker. It’s easier said than done, though, since there was a reason I put all that in in the first place.

    I’m still working on the elevator pitch, but I’ve never really been very good at summarizing. Good luck to you as you stick with it!

    • Yeah, it’s a challenge isn’t it, to compress all the info you took maybe 50 pages to convey in, oh, 10 or so? Keep at it. I can almost guarantee that you’ll think it’s better and stronger in the end.

  3. Great takeaways! The feedback you got from y0ur editor could easily be a lesson for the rest of us, too. Can’t wait to read it 🙂

  4. Lis ~ you know I’ll be up for it 😉 Hope it finds a home.

  5. I love your elevator pitch!

  6. Hi Lisa,
    Love your post. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that it’s sometimes tricky, but important, to get the “I” or “me” usage correct.
    For example,
    …”she also recommended that I reconsider my use of letters between Mike and I.”
    Definitely should be Mike and ME.

    ” These letters, Amy essentially told me, contained too many details that were mainly meaningful to Mike and I.”
    Again, this ought to be, Mike and me.
    (Ask yourself, ‘Were the letters meaningful to I? Or were they meaningful to me?’)
    I debated whether to post this but realized that your usual attention to excellence in writing would likely make you happy to allow that even YOU can make mistakes! (I certainly make more than my fair share of them!)
    Thanks again for your work. : )

    • Ha! Yes indeed. You are right. And here is where I cheerfully admit that my grammar is not what it would have been had I, oh, I don’t know, ever studied English grammar in any school I attended anywhere in the world. It’s shocking, really. Mike is regularly appalled at some of my mistakes. Thanks for the reminder on Me and I.

  7. It was a pleasure working on your manuscript, Lisa, and I appreciate the opportunity to read your work. Looking forward to buying a copy one day soon!

  8. Pingback: Writing about people from the past | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

  9. Pingback: Writing about people from the past | LisaMcKayWriting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s