Dear Journal: I Discovered That ‘To be Maria’ Needs More Work


I haven’t subbed ‘To be Maria’ out to any agents, other than the few that I contacted in October/November of last year. I haven’t heard back from all of them, but yesterday I received this email in my inbox from the agent I queried at the SiWC:

Dear Deanna,

Thank you for submitting the opening chapters of TO BE MARIA per our discussion in Surrey, and for your patience while we reviewed your material. You have an interesting premise and some lovely, detailed writing here, but I’m afraid that the pace is slowed considerably by the amount of back story you tell the reader starting with the second page. While much of the information is important, you need to find a way to weave it more fluidly into the narrative over the course of the book rather than stopping the action early on. Your writing shows promise, but this project is not quite ready for the submissions stage. I wish you the best of luck with it and with all your writing endeavors.

When I first read this email, I felt my heart sink. Initially, I thought no way. I’m not going to change Anya’s back story in the first chapter. I received good feedback on it from a few avid readers, so I’m not changing a single thing. But then, I read the message again and again and again. The more I read it, the more reflective I became. It’s not a bad rejection notice by any means. In fact, I’m thankful that she took the time and effort out of her busy schedule to provide me with constructive feedback.

As good as the first chapter is, it still can be way better. I took her message to heart and have decided to re-write the first chapter. The next step in my plan–before I query any more agents–is to send the revised chapter out to people for feedback.

I’m finding that writing is like life. You live and you learn. You leap one step forward and then suffer one step back. You stumble and you fall along the way, but then you pick yourself up and move forward with the determination to learn from those mistakes. At times (like I just experienced) you come across that one kind person who lends you a helping hand, even though it might be a short critique or a small piece of advice.

My writing skills continue to evolve as I continue to experience new things–good and bad–in my personal life. I do realize that I’m the kind of person who gets wrapped up in my own ideas. Over the summer and fall months, I had this obsession with “back story”. A story just isn’t a story without back story. That is true, but as this agent gently pointed out, I need to incorporate it within the body of my novel without bogging the story down. So, the important lessons I learnt yesterday are moderation and balance. No story can exist without these two things. Nothing in life can exist without these two things for that matter.

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