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Seven Years, Five Editors, Four Publishers: How I’m Writing My Novel

Ever wonder what it takes to write, edit and sell a novel? While there are a few overnight-success stories, most authors work very hard to produce a manuscript and get it noticed. Annette Martin published an excerpt from her novel-in-progress in Understorey Magazine in 2014. But she started writing long before that—and she’s still working to revise her manuscript and find a publisher. Here’s one woman’s story of writing and selling a novel.

Many years ago, after retiring from the school system, I had the gist of an idea for a story. I doodled at it here and there but had no real plans for publishing or even finishing it. I just enjoyed writing. Always had. But seven years ago I got a bit more serious.

By 2012, the story was finished. Almost 500 pages. What to do with it? The Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland (WANL) gave me a list of editors and said they’d pay half of the editing fee. I contacted one of the editors.

In 2013, that editor sent me a very long list of suggestions. I revised accordingly and sent it to another editor through WANL. This second one sent the manuscript back with another long list of recommendations, one of which was to “save some for the sequel.” I figured this meant I rambled too much. My story (I had trouble calling it a book) was too long.

In 2014 and 2015, I got even more serious. I chopped pieces out, twisted things around and found I really liked revising. I thought I’d like to have it edited by someone in Nova Scotia as that’s where I now live. I contacted the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and found another editor. She did three readings. Many revisions later, I was ready to try some publishers.

I sent sample chapters to three publishing companies and the whole manuscript to another publisher, all in Newfoundland as that’s where the story is set. (But then, I enjoy and relate to books from Sweden, Norway—love Jo Nesbo—and other places so why did I think that way?)

Of these Newfoundland publishers, I never heard back from one (I later learned that they never received the manuscript). Many months later, a second said no, flat out. But then—a ray of hope. In April 2015, Creative Publishing emailed to ask if they could give the manuscript to an outside reader. In August, after I phoned to check in, they sent the reader’s comments to me by email. There were many good suggestions but he or she suggested I find yet another editor! The reader thought I should work on aspects like the inner thoughts and voice of the characters.

I sent the manuscript to an editor in British Columbia (I was really branching out). It was August 2015 and I was working in a more disciplined way. After two readings by this editor—and more chopping—I sent it back to Creative. They responded in June 2016: The manuscript was improved but still not ready.

Somewhere along the way, I also sent it to a publisher in Nova Scotia. They said, “It doesn’t fit with books we have in mind at this time,” or something like that. I am really not sure what that means.

Back to the revisions. I’m getting really good at revising and still enjoy, it by the way. (Teachers have the correcting gene.) I emailed another editor, the fifth, and last July her comments arrived. She wondered if I might reverse the order of a few chapters. I thought about this and decided it wasn’t necessary. She also said the opening was weak and I have to agree. I’ve changed it many times and I’m still not happy.

The manuscript is now down to 325 pages. I figure I’ve discarded enough characters and plots and pages for two more books. I do appreciate the many things I’ve learned from all the editors. (Who knew you have to leave quotation marks out at the end of a paragraph if the same person is speaking in the next one? I’ve read thousands of books and never noticed that.)

I plan to fix the beginning and send it off to a few more publishers. If nothing happens, I’ll self-publish. Or I’ll throw it in a barrel and set fire to it….

Book Review: No One to Tell by Janet Merlo

71KvlTE8B-LToday, the RCMP announced that it will offer up to $100 million in compensation to RCMP officers who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse on the job. The RCMP Commissioner also offered an apology: “We failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry.”

Acknowledgement, compensation and public apology have been a long time coming.

Janet Merlo documented her twenty-year career with the RCMP in her book No One to Tell in 2013. The title is apt. In her detachment, Merlo was known as “a fucking woman with a big mouth.” Yet ironically, she had no one to tell about the constant discrimination and overt sexual harassment she endured. No one who was willing to listen and make changes.

Merlo, originally from Newfoundland, received her first RCMP posting in 1991, on the opposite side of the country in Nanaimo, BC. She knew that women before her in the detachment had complained of harassment and they had been shut down. Soon Merlo experienced it herself: a supervisor offering to retrieve change from her uniform pockets; a supervisor with a blow-up doll in his office; a list of “Training Courses Now Available for Women” left in her mail slot, courses which included “PMS—Your Problem Not His.” Merlo describes these and many other instances of bullying and abuse throughout her career.

At first she said nothing: “In a paramilitary organization, order is maintained by mute force—you just don’t speak out against those who outrank you.” When she did speak out the bullying worsened. She feared for her career and her health but she continued. She told coworkers and supervisors, sent letters to the RCMP Commissioner and to the BC Minister of Public Safety. She lodged a formal complaint that resulted in an investigation. Nothing was admitted or acknowledged. She was told to put it all behind her; that her issues were simply personality conflicts. Merlo was diagnosed with PTSD and that, too, was challenged by the RCMP’s Health Service.

Merlo says she has never thought of herself as a feminist yet her book empowers women in many ways. Through numerous anecdotes, No One to Tell provides a vivid look at the daily life of an RCMP constable and portrays the draining, often hidden, challenge of balancing several roles—in Merlo’s case officer, mother, wife and caregiver. Despite these many roles and her dedication to the job, she was often told she just wasn’t ambitious enough. Most importantly, the book also helps to explain why so many women are reluctant to come forward and report abuse.

Catherine Galliford, who trained with Merlo, first broke the silence about abuse in the RCMP during a CBC interview in 2011. That interview brought many women forward, including Merlo. They formed a Facebook group and, in 2012, Merlo filed a class-action lawsuit.

Today’s announcement and apology is partial settlement and a first step toward healing.

Read more stories about Women and Justice.

A New Partnership: Understorey Magazine and the Alexa McDonough Institute

 

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Big news for Understorey Magazine!

We are now in partnership with the Alexa McDonough Institute (AMI) for Women, Gender and Social Justice at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

AMI, chaired by Susan Brigham, is a hub of feminist energy, action and research. Understorey and AMI share a mandate of empowerment through self-expression and sharing of ideas, experiences and stories.

We look forward to this exciting chapter of the magazine. Stay tuned for details of our new editorial board and creative direction!

A huge thank you Second Story Women’s Centre for their support in launching Understorey and publishing seven fabulous issues since 2013.