By Tina Ann Forkner
When I showed fifty pages of my novel to an editor familiar with my work, I was told right out that it was a coma book. There were, the editor explained, lots of coma books being pitched and I should write something else. Now, before you think the editor was being harsh, you have to know that in my book, a character spent time in a coma, hence the editor’s expression, ‘coma book’. I don’t think the editor was saying that my book would put readers in a coma, but then again, I can’t be sure.
For all I know, the term ‘coma book’ might be a term for extremely boring manuscripts, but her message was pretty clear. She didn’t want to read another coma book. Many writers would have sanely taken that editor’s advice and abandoned the story, but like some of the characters in my novel, I might have been just a little bit crazy. I wrote the book anyway. That was five years ago.
Over the next few years, the book was passed over by publishers so much that even though I’d already had two novels published by a legacy publisher, I started questioning my career choice. Over and over the message about my ‘coma book’ was, “This book is good, but I don’t like____.” The blank was filled in with basically the same thoughts coming from different editors.
After wrestling with fear of failing, beating myself up, exchanging emails with my agent in which I wanted to give up on my writing career, and taking some long and much-needed breaks to be with my family, I always came back to the same place. I still loved that book.
Consequently, loving your book isn’t enough to get a publisher to accept it, so I also got really ticked off. Getting mad made me feel better, but it also pulled me out of my slump and forced me to take an honest look at my manuscript. Was that first editor who called it a ‘coma book’ right? Should I abandon the novel? Was I going to listen to all those rejection letters? I decided that yes, I was, but not in the way you might expect.
Instead of moving on to something new, I decided to figure out what part of the story I could let go of in order to make it better.
I kept going back to my manuscript, revising, and asking
myself, what makes this different than all the other “coma books” out there? I
got rid of the elements that multiple editors didn’t like and tried to figure
out why they loved other aspects of the book.
What I figured out was, my story wasn’t about a woman in a coma. It was about a woman waking up from a coma. My main character, Joy, had been sleeping through life, not sleeping through a coma. She wasn’t stuck in limbo, she was waking up to a bigger life, but there was something huge keeping her from embracing it.
Now, talk about having a come to Jesus moment. All this time I’d been calling the book Waking Up, but somehow I had never connected the title I had chosen to the bigger point of Joy’s story. And when my author friend and future editor extraordinaire, Amy Sue Nathan, mentioned that Waking Up Joy would be a better title, it all came together in my mind. The book was later picked up by Tule Publishing, which is a whole other post, but the point is that I did not abandon Waking Up Joy, and it paid off. It releases October 8th.
I’m not saying that every story we write should be published. We all know that just isn’t true, but if you have a story and you feel in your bones that you can’t let it go, spend some time thinking about what you are really trying to say. Consider what editors are saying in their rejections of your book. If you feel like they are missing the point of your story, then your point hasn’t been made clear in your writing.
If at the end of the day, you think you can let go of your novel, then you definitely should move on and write something new. But if you are passionate about your story, if you think about it all day and it wakes you up at night, then go back and rewrite it. Make it clear, tell it better, but don’t ever give up.