When I submitted the manuscript for Someone Like You to my editors at Bethany House, I fully expected a revision letter. I even expected a long revision letter. But I wasn’t prepared for eight single-spaced pages that essentially said, “The only element that works for us is the goat.”
For those who haven’t read the book, the goat is named Ladybug. She’s a nasty old thing, and she raises havoc at every opportunity. When your best character has cloven hooves, you have a problem—a big one.
So how did I end up with such mess? And more importantly, how did I get out of it? Someone Like You is my seventeenth book for publication. I know the rules, the hooks, and the tricks. But for some reason, I missed the boat on this one, did a resounding belly flop, and sank to the bottom of the deep blue sea.
Not a good place to be, but swimming to the surface changed my writer DNA in the best possible way.
Let’s look at some of the missteps.
Meet twin granddaughters. Family first!
The bad guy took over. Hunter Adams is a classic narcissist and the father of the heroine’s son. Readers hate him—in a good way. But in the first versions of the book, he dominated every scene. You don’t want that in a romance. But I was fascinated by him—a little like Julia, my heroine. Hunter was easy to write, so I ran with him—and did another belly flop.
The biggest problem of all: The hero wasn’t heroic. In the final version of Someone Like You, Zeke Monroe is intelligent, funny, courageous and kind. He’ll be a great dad to Julia’s son. But in the early version he was work-obsessed and miserable.
Why? Because I grabbed for another life rope. A friend told me I do tortured heroes well. In my state of panic, I made Zeke as tortured as I could. By the time I finished with him, the poor guy needed counseling. Instead he got a major rewrite.
Flailing in confusion. You can see a pattern here. In the midst of the first ms, I grabbed for life preservers wherever I saw them. When friends offered advice, I took it all. At one point, I made the heroine needy and waif-like, when in my heart she needed to be strong and nurturing. I spent far too much time in my comfort zone—internal monologue—and that was the kiss of death to the pacing.
Did I mention I had a significant surgery in the midst of all this? I still wonder if some of the problem was due to anesthesia fogging my mind longer than I realized.
In the end, I exhausted myself to the point where looking at the computer put tears in my eyes. Somehow I finished the mess of a story by my April 15th deadline, took a breather, and awaited the revision letter with both trepidation and relief.
This disaster of a desk pretty much shows my state of mind while working on
Someone Like You. Chaos!
I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate the editors at Bethany House. What made that eight-page letter bearable and not utterly crushing was the kindness in every word. When I was at my lowest, I felt like Moses in the book of Exodus, where Aaron and Hur hold up his arms when he’s beyond exhausted.
Here’s how we fixed the book.
Excellent editorial advice. The insights in the revision letter cut straight to the problems listed above. It helped me to regroup, but I still had to write the words while stinging from all those belly flops. My brain literally shut down, or at least that’s how it felt. The words just didn’t surface. That’s when I called in the troops.
Talented Critique Partners. One friend read the first five chapters, told me it read like a first draft, and helped me with the critical opening scene. Another read the whole muddled mess and gave me general impressions.
And finally, my long-time critique partner came out of retirement to go over the mess line by line. Remember how I flailed during the first draft and grabbed life ropes? This time when she made suggestions, I knew my characters and defended them. It felt really good!
Show Don’t Tell. We all know the phrase. It’s basic. My personal rule is to focus on the external action. Since I default to internal thought, this is a challenge. During the revision, I added several scenes—all action—and it paid off. Two of those included Ladybug the goat, and she’s a favorite.
I also cut the scenes were Zeke and Julia talked about Hunter, thought about Hunter, or moaned about Hunter. Action only! I used the Find function in Word to count the number of times “Hunter” popped up and cut that number in half.
Accept defeat. Do you know what hurt the most through this entire ordeal? My pride! It wasn’t until I asked for help that the healing really began.
I want to say that I prayed a lot, leaned on God, and He pulled me out of the mire, but you need to know I was a wreck the entire time. I often write about characters who have hit bottom—that place where you can’t pull out of the tailspin on your own. I went there with this book.
I love Psalm 84 because it’s about blessed men and women going through tough times. It’s also about God delivering us by His grace alone. Funny coincidence—that just happens to be Zeke’s story arc. No spoilers, but you can be assured his joy returns.
And so did mine.
Now let’s talk about you. If you’re a writer, is there a book that just about did you in?
And if you’re a reader, what books hit closest to home for you? Which titles made you laugh and cry at the same time because they were just too true?
I can’t wait to hear your stories. I’ll be checking in throughout the day, but just an FYI—I have a part-time job (10-3pm eastern time) and it may take me a bit to get back to you.
Victoria is giving away three print copies of her books—Reader’s choice between Until I Found You, Together With You, or Someone Like You. Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing! Three winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
Please note that currently, Together With You is on sale at the lovely price of $2.99 for Kindle, so get your copy!
Victoria Bylin is a romance writer known for her realistic and relatable characters. Her books have finaled in multiple contests, including the Carol Awards, the RITAs, and RT Magazine's Reviewers Choice Award. A native of California, she and her husband now make their home in Lexington, Kentucky, where their family and their crazy Jack Russell terrier keep them on the go. Learn more at victoriabylin.com/
More About Someone Like You
Zeke is determined to keep Caliente Springs running despite financial trouble. When Julia walks back into his life, he's surprised at the feelings she stirs up. As they work together on an important client's wedding, the fate of the resort soon depends on their success. With Zeke and Julia both pushed to their limits, will their history put up walls between them or bring them together?