Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Margo L. Dill: Staying True To Your Story

I've had the pleasure of knowing Margo Dill for several years through WOW's (Women On Writing) blog, The Muffin., where she regularly contributes. I also follow her over at The Literary Ladies, where she teams up with a group of talented writers sharing their hearts through their posts. Margo's latest book, Caught Between Two Curses, is recently released and an ideal read for young readers (and, ahem us "older" readers too). 

I'm delighted to host her today as she shares her publishing conundrum: how much do you compromise your story to have it published? Thanks, Margo!


Writing the Story In ME VS Wanting to Eat

By Margo L. Dill

I’ve never been at the point where my writing solely had to provide food for my family. But writers are known to be dramatic, so just bear with me as I share with the choices I made with my newly released young adult novel, Caught Between Two Curses (Rocking Horse Publishing, March 2014).

I wrote this novel to explore several topics: teenage sex, peer pressure, friendship, high school cliques, baseball, the Cubs Curse, family relationships, destiny and fate. Once I wrote the story, I had it critiqued several times by two critique groups, and I took part in a slush pile read at a writing conference, too. I learned a lot! The novel was revised multiple times, and then it was finally ready for an agent or big New York editor.

Here’s the part where I had to decide: Do I want to tell the story in me or make money? Caught Between Two Curses is the story of 17-year-old Julie Nigelson whose long-time boyfriend wants to have sex, but she’s not ready. It’s also the story of how Julie must break the two curses on her family and save her uncle from death before his 35th birthday. It’s also the story of Julie trying to find love and negotiate through family relationships, including with an estranged and illiterate grandmother.  Is there baseball in it? Yes! Is it a baseball story? No.

But I couldn’t seem to get agents and editors to understand this. One told me, “Your plot makes no sense. How can curses be connected? What does this have to do with the Cubs? Does anybody know about the Cubs? Do girls read about baseball?” Ummmm. . .well, clearly you are not the one for this book.

Another agent told me that I needed to 1. Not kill Julie’s parents before the book starts (which they are actually killed by the curse) 2. Not have Julie question her feelings toward her best male friend (Isn’t this realistic and pretty common?)  3. I can’t even remember all the other plot changes this girl told me to make; but in the end she said if I did them, she would consider taking a look at my book. Ummmm. . .okay, so I want to eat, but I don’t want to write your novel.

So, what did I do? I started another, completely different novel—actually two more—and kept going to conferences and revising chapter one of Caught Between Two Curses, making it shine. Then I met a publisher who did understand my book and wanted to publish it! Yes, I get to eat now.

What did I learn? A career in writing takes hard work, improving my craft, revising my manuscript, evaluating feedback. But once I’m sure of my project, then I’m not changing it for anybody. I will keep working to find the right person to publish it, so that I can be proud of the story I WANT TO TELL—the story in me.

Has anyone tried to change your story? How does your career/salary affect your writing choices?

To check out Caught Between Two Curses, visit Amazon.com where it’s available as a print or e-book OR Indiebound.org and Barnes and Noble, where it’s a print copy.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 


Margo L. Dill is a children’s author, freelance editor, and workshop leader, living in St. Louis, MO. She is also the author of the historical fiction, middle-grade novel, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids, 2012) and the forthcoming picture books, Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire and the Case of the Missing Cookies and Lucy and the Red Ribbon Week Adventure. Caught Between Two Curses is her first young adult novel. She promises that she is a Cardinals’ fan at heart, but the Billy Goat curse on the Chicago Cubs is too irresistible for a plot line.  Find out more: http://margodill.com/blog/

36 comments:

  1. I can't understand why anyone would read a proposal and then want to change almost everything about it to fit their tastes. Good for you, Margo, sticking to the story you wanted to tell! Good luck with the book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I always keep an open mind and consider suggestions, but in the end, pretty much do what I want. Once I'm fully satisfied with a story, nothing can change it. I'm stubborn that way. But getting to the point of personal satisfaction may put some of those earlier suggestions into effect.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I take all suggestions into consideration, but I've been writing long enough to have a pretty good feel for what I should take to heart and what I can ignore. (I'm an indie, let-the-readers-be-the-gatekeepers author. :P)

    Good for you for sticking to your guns. :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Obviously the Cubs' curse doesn't get broken!
    I've never been asked to do a radical change. Not sure how I would feel about it either. Probably stick to my own story like you did.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks, everybody! First I have to say if you are a Cubs fan, you may live the ending of my book! My uncle bought three copies because of the ending! Ha!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You may love the ending. Darn auto correct

      Delete
  6. I take suggestions from my critique group all the time. Usually they are right. I especially pay attention if more than one person has the same comment or suggestion. When I pitched to the agent in person and she wanted to change everything. I don't think she was listening at all. She thought everything I was saying was cliche and I was trying to explain how the plot was causing tension. Anyway, I thanked her for her time and moved on. Sometimes you just know when things are not right. You have to be proud of your name on the cover or byline. Thanks for stopping by and chiming in!!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Compromising your story, and yourself, is never the answer.

    Do you lift the Cubs' curse? Darn that stupid goat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hate to give away the ending, but I will tell you that the curse on Julie's family is connected to the Curse of the Billy Goat. In order to save her uncle, she must break the curses!

      Delete
  8. I change things in my stories all the time while I'm writing and editing, but not the things I really want to say. If I wrote someone else's vision of the book, it would no longer be mine.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Good on you for sticking with your story. This is why I love being indie. Excessive changes take your personality out of your book and make it the agent/editor's story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true. My publisher hardly changed a thing!

      Delete
  10. It's good to have an outside look at the novel to help make it better, but when that outsider doesn't get what it's about and tries to change the essence or voice they may not be the best person to listen to. I once had a crit partner who changed every. single. word. in my submissions. I guess she just didn't like the way I wrote.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I've been in a critique group with a person like that. I usually don't pay any attention to critiques like that because at that point, it's usually a matter of style and taste and not the story or proofreading help.

      Delete
  11. Thanks for sharing your story. Publishing is both exciting and terrifying right now. I've learned a lot over the past year since my first novel was published and I've been wanting to go indie for about that long. Your story reminds me of taking that scary first step into the world of indie publishing is well worth it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So just to clarify, and I think that everyone should do what is right for him/her--my book is published by a small publisher (indie publisher means not big house) that is traditional (royalties but no advance). But I agree it has been worth it! And my publisher is fantastic. Again, I guess it's all finding what is right for you and your story.

      Delete
  12. I was once told a publisher would sign my book if I made it fit the formula, which was attached to the email. I didn't want to write to the formula, so I kept looking for other publishers. Who knows if it's the right choice. Formulas evidently work...I mean what explains all the Friday the 13th movies?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabeth: Formulas work--romance is full of them and some of them are very, very good. :) But I think for me, it's a question of: Am I going to be proud my name is on the front cover?

      Delete
  13. As a life long Red Sox fan, I feel for all the Cubs fans out there and hope your curse will follow ours into the realm of things gone by. I think you were right to stick to YOUR story, but then I - like you - am not dependent on my writing to eat. I guess it makes a difference.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Way to stand up for yourself and your story! I've only been asked to make small wording changes to poems that I've had published, but in one case the wording changes changed the entire feel of the poem, and I regretted having done it. It just isn't my poem anymore. In other cases, when an editor has asked me to change a word in a poem, the change has brought out the meaning in a way that I appreciate. It's a tough call even with small poems. I haven't had to make it with a book yet since I went indie . . . although I have some strong-minded beta readers in my household who thought I should either bring back a character from the dead - not going to happen.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm impressed that you fought to tell your story, and won! As a Chicagoan, it would be even more impressive if you broke the curse, but anything can happen in fiction! Thanks for the inspirational story, behind the story! Both sound like winners to me! Best of luck Margo! Thank you Julie!

    Julie

    ReplyDelete
  16. It's awesome that you found someone who "got" your story. I think a book about the Cubs' curse tied in with YA is a fabulous idea.

    ReplyDelete
  17. For my debut, I had to split my book into two in order to cement the publishing deal.

    Honestly, I think the story is stronger for it, but I have come to wonder if the effort to bend over was worth it when the relationship with my publisher went sour within two months of my first book being published.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Awesome! As a Cardinals fan, of course I have to remind my Chicago fans about the curse.

    ReplyDelete
  19. That is a great point to remember. Once the book is out there in the world not everyone will get it and others want to change it. Kind of like sending kids off to college, all you can do is hope they stay on course. I love Margo’s loyalty to her work and her steadfastness of waiting for the right publisher. Kind of like waiting for the right person to marry, my mama use to tell me not to fall for the first girl because there will be another one down the line. She was right. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Way to go, Margo! You gotta be YOU! And you would've loved the speaker at Sat Writers last Saturday. She shared all kinds of info about the world of writing: agents, editors, publishers, etc. and some of the same things you went through. Best of luck to you!! You know I'm a believer!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thank you all for stopping by and cheering Margo on. I think this post touched an aspect to writing and publishing we all struggle with at some level. Be sure to check out her book!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Sometimes with articles or other shorter writing the edits can seem even more persnickety. It's always interesting to see how something is printed when it says they have the right to edit as needed. Then you see the article in print and think, "That's not exactly the way I wrote that sentence or paragraph. But, I usually just think, "oh well, they paid me for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw your comment above mine and had to speak up--I don't see many others who write articles like I do! With articles, it is definitely tougher. I've had them redo the article, then send it to me for approval and I read it and wince through the whole thing because they've done such a horrible job of rewriting. As long as my name isn't on it and they pay me, that's up to them...

      Delete
  23. I've found all of the changes I've been advised to make actually strengthen the story, so I haven't encountered that yet...but it is a big dilemma. I think often that means making sure you choose an agent and editor who will have your best interests in mind... If, during the process of finding an agent/editor you encounter someone whose vision seems to conflict with yours, that's DEFINITELY a red flag not to start a relationship with that person.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I'm of the persuasion that we should be true to the story if the story is what we want to tell. We can write a "more marketable" product without morphing our heart-felt stories to become that product. Who says we can't play both sides? Interesting experience you've shared. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Julie, I'm SO GLAD you had Margo here. This really resonated with me. I feel like I'm battling a bit of this myself right now and I absolutely needed to hear these words. Thanks SO MUCH for this. <3

    (And thank you also for your kind words on my blog today. They really did mean a lot. You're such a beautiful person) :)

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for being a part of the conversation. I love reading your thoughts and feedback.