When friendships change

About seven years ago I was friends with a really fun woman. We did everything together…movies, lunchies, gabbing on the phone, whatever. After ten years of friendship, I found my life being pulled in other directions that kept me very busy. We spoke less and less until she finally stopped calling altogether. I had changed, and I couldn’t provide the things she needed to maintain the friendship. I was puzzled, but, oddly, I didn’t mourn the loss. All efforts of introspection failed me and all I could come up with is that I really had changed, and it was time to move on.

And that’s the way I feel about some authors who have queried the same book for so many years to so many people that there’s no one left to query except the toothless guy that hangs out at the pharmacy.

At some point do you ask yourself why?

Now, I’m not suggesting that writers should abandon their friends – but there comes a time when that friendship becomes stale and is no longer providing you with the things you need to maintain the relationship.

There comes a time when you need to ask yourself some hard questions.

Am I putting all my eggs in one basket?

Amy was a girl I knew a girl in high school. She had one real friend, Jill, who was a catty, spiteful thing.  When they had a huge fight and Jill told Amy to go jump off a cliff, Amy was at a total loss because she had put all her energy into that one friend to the exclusion of everyone else. She didn’t know how to start cultivating new friendships. And since Jill was such a gasbag, Amy had no concept of a healthy friendship.

And I see this same thing in authors’ friendships with their manuscripts. Authors stick with the same book for far too long and risk forgetting how to begin a new, healthy friendship. Because, let’s face it, many first manuscripts don’t sell.

Is it possible you’ve put all your faith in this one book, to the point of diminishing returns?

I’m reminded of a lovely writer who pitched the same book to me for four straight years at a writer’s conference where I’m on the faculty. The first year, I made all kinds of suggestions during our private meeting. The second year, I noticed a few changes, but felt the story was still fatally flawed. The third year, I noticed a couple more changes, but it was pretty much window dressing, and the book was still in big trouble.

This past year, I sighed as she sat down at my table. I’d read her same pages and noticed she hadn’t made a single edit. I tried the diplomatic approach. “Do you have another story you’d like to pitch?” She shook her head. This was it.

She’d spent the last four years on this one story. She had pitched it high and low, and everyone had rejected it. She had put her literary eggs were in this one basket, and all she had to show for it was rejection and dejection. I hated myself for suggesting to her that maybe it was time to let this story go. She nodded through her tears that she’d come to the same conclusion.

Am I sticking with it my story too long?

I know why this author had stuck with this friendship; it was her life story, and she simply couldn’t let it go. Like Amy, this was the author’s only friend, even though the relationship was no longer healthy. Maybe there’s more to consider than remaining safe within the arms of a friendship that isn’t benefiting you.

There isn’t a guidebook that stipulates when it’s time to put a book to bed and begin anew. We are the heart and soul of our stories, so how can we turn our backs on them just because they haven’t sold? When do we say goodbye? Why would we say goodbye?

Perhaps you it would be more helpful to ask yourself some different questions:

  • How long have I been pitching this book?
  • How many rejections have I received?
  • Is the feedback consistent?

Belief and faith is all-consuming for our beloved books, but it never hurts to ask yourself why you’ve stuck with this one book for so long if you’ve received solid rejections for so long.

As an editor, it’s really hard to read someone’s manuscript that has crossed my desk numerous times because I keep seeing the same warts and flaws that tell me it’ll never be ready. It’s like my determination to learn to paint china. I used to be a pretty good tole painter back in the day, but those talents didn’t transfer over to the delicate hand it takes to paint china. I sucked. I stuck with it for a couple years until I finally realized china painting wasn’t something I was any good at. I dumped it, and was never happier.

I’m not saying it necessarily feels good to turn your back on your longtime friend, the manuscript, but friendships change, and it’s not a bad idea to periodically analyze whether the friendship is dragging you down and preventing you from growing. Letting something go can be uplifting because you’re finally letting go of the albatross. You’ve already revised and rewritten your friend so many times, she probably went from looking like a sassy thing in a mini skirt and sexy shoes to a dowdy bluehair with wrinkly stockings and loose teeth.

Just like some friendships, manuscripts simply can’t be saved, so you need to consider if you’re sticking around too long because it’s safe and familiar.

One Trick Pony?

As an editor, I am always curious about what other projects authors have going on. If I keep seeing the same faces at the same writer’s conferences, pitching the same manuscripts, I begin to believe they’re like Amy and Jill. Editors delight in authors who have a number of irons in the fire because we are eager to build their readership, which is easier to do with multiple books.

There’s safety in numbers. If you’ve pitched a book for a while with no bites, then you can always bid a fond farewell to that friend and whip out another one. With each new friendship, you grow and learn, and mature, so by the time you’ve written your fourth or fifth story, you feel very confident in your abilities.

This is a particular problem with authors who are writing their memoirs – it’s not like you have an abundance of memoirs, right? So then what? I don’t have any easy answers except to suggest writing something completely different. Fantasy, SF, romance, mainstream fiction, YA, whatever helps you grow and learn about pacing, flow, organization, transitions, syntax, dialog, character development, voice.

The important thing is to not limit your friendships so severely that when they turn on you, you have nowhere left to go. Don’t be an Amy. Broaden your horizons and make lots of friends because at some point, one of them could turn out to be a winner.

10 Responses to When friendships change

  1. Marisa Birns says:

    How amazing that the writer didn’t take your suggestions to heart and edit the book thoroughly. Wonder if that would have made a difference.

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    I find this mystifies me. When I finish a story, I move on to the next story. If some of my books never sell, then so be it. I also start at the top and work down. It mystifies me that new writers are terrified to submit to, say, Analog. Why not? What do you have to lose?

  3. Laura W. says:

    Depressing as this is, it’s good advice. I have no idea why that author didn’t edit her manuscript after your suggestions, though. Maybe another apt metaphor for a manuscript would be the flawed friend no one understands why you still hang out with or make excuses for…

  4. Crowe says:

    I’ve noticed loads of this in various quarters of the Internet – people who’ll happily tell you that they’ve been working on their Great Unpublished Novel for the last 14 years or whatever without anyone biting. I think for some people it becomes a psychological issue – they just cannot move on.

    Me, I’ve written 3 novels in the last 4 years. The first 2 were crap but hey … 😉

  5. This is a question I’ve been asking myself as of late. It took me two years to write my memoir, a year to edit it, and then I spent another year querying it – and while I did get some editing advice (some even from you – thank you), that I might implement in the future, I was pretty much sick of looking at it.

    So I put it aside and am working on a suspense novel instead. But sometimes I wonder if I should have done the edits first, then started working on the novel while I was re-queried the first book. It feels unfinished now. It’s a hard call when to let go.

    I’ve been trying to look at it this way, if I manage to publish my novel, then maybe I’ll have more of a platform for my memoir one day…

  6. It’s hard to guess what the right move should be, Donna. If only that darn crystal ball didn’t run on hamster sweat. Memoirs are particularly tough because so few of them are marketable. Most are so personal and lack a healthy author platform, that they’re impossible to sell. They’re my specialty, and I’m achingly picky.

  7. “If only that darn crystal ball didn’t run on hamster sweat.”

    Very cute. I have three dogs here that would LOVE to play chase with that one of those…

  8. Lev Raphael says:

    Your abundance of memoirs comment made me laugh. I had just published “My Germany” unagented with UWP, then signed with an agent in love with a novel but she said at one point, “Write a memoir! They’re flying out the door!”

    My bird had already flown.

    And it’s still airborne: a second book tour coming in Germany in November, and gigs scheduled into next spring, which will make three years of touring.

    Maybe I should write a memoir about running out of stuff to put in a memoir…..

  9. Lev, when it comes to you, the normal “business as usual” flies right out the window. Good on you! I’m totally jealous of your Germany tour later this year. I went to school in Heidelberg. Sigh…

  10. Lev Raphael says:

    Your blog’s message is very sane: never devote everything to one book. Or one project. It’s always important to be working on different books (or whatever) so that no single one sucks all the air out of your study/library/den.

    Heidelberg! i was there for a few days during OktoberFest. Great food, great fun, and a reading at the German-American Institute or whatever it’s called.

    Speaking of travel, Lynn: I just got invited to speak in Florence next June about my newest book, Rosedale in Love. 🙂

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