This month I spoke with author Lyn Liao Butler, whose debut, The Tiger Mom’s Tale, releases from Berkley Publishing this Tuesday, July 6, with her follow up, The Red Thread of Fate, hard on its heels next year.
Lyn’s living many authors’ dream at the moment, with two books coming out through a major publisher—but when she first started writing in 2015 she faced not just rejection from the industry, but total indifference.
A dancer and yoga instructor living in New York City, Lyn and her family moved out of the city in 2013 and in response to friends’ queries about what she was doing with herself “in the country,” she started a blog to let them know. Two years later she decided to turn her posts into a book that she wrote in six months–her first attempt ever at writing full-length fiction, having never taken so much as a writing course.
She immediately sent out about 25 agent queries, without anyone else ever having read the manuscript or her submission materials. And…she heard absolutely nothing.
“It was radio silence,” she says. “I didn’t even get rejections. No response.”
Lyn started googling to find out what she was doing wrong and realized she needed to connect with other writers and to join a crit group, which she did, revising her story and resubmitting. This time she got interest from five agents, but all of them passed.
Undaunted, she started a second manuscript, thinking she knew better this time, but she was too self-conscious to tell anyone else she was attempting another story. This time 15 agents asked for a partial or full—a fantastic response by any measure in this business…but again, no offers. So at the end of 2017 Lyn decided to give up writing.
But that first manuscript kept playing through her head. She took a month off work and rewrote the story completely, but retaining the same characters, setting (NYC and Taiwan), and basic plot line, and began querying at the end of 2018.
Agent Rachel Brooks of BookEnds Literary Agency had requested Lyn’s second manuscript, and while she’d passed on it then, she remembered Lyn, and with this submission she asked for an R&R–revise and resubmit. Lyn went back to the editing process yet again, and sent back her revision a month later. Rachel called within ten days and offered representation.
“It took me three and a half years and three manuscripts to find an agent,” Lyn says.
Five months later the book sold to editor Cindy Hwang at Berkley/Penguin (“It felt like five years at the time,” Lyn jokes), who also bought her second book, which Lyn had been diligently revising with her agent while the first one was out on submission.
“It’s really about luck, timing, and just stubbornness, and not giving up, I really think,” Lyn says. “Sometimes it doesn’t even matter how good a writer you are–it’s just [whether you’ve written] a great story. Some great writers don’t get picked up. A lot of it just luck and timing so you just have to keep at it till something sticks.”
I asked Lyn how she processes editorial feedback, and how she decides what feels right for her story and what to disregard, and her answer reflects that key reality so many writers forget about writing: that drafting is just part of the process, and editing and revising are often where the story really comes to life.
I love editing. For me, writing the first draft is the torturous part. Once I have a very messy first draft down, I love diving into edits. I usually go through the book a few times myself before sending it to critique partners, or to my agent. I know some people have trouble processing constructive criticism but for me, it really opens my eyes. Sometimes, something I wrote is taken in a way that I didn’t intend, so it really helps to have people read it with fresh eyes.
I trust my instincts a lot, and rely on my gut to decide if a feedback is relevant, or if it’s something I can disregard. But in most cases, the editorial feedback I get from my critique partners, agent and editor makes a lot of sense and I am able to use it in some ways.
Ultimately, it is my story, and only I truly know what I want out of it. But it is with the help of feedback that makes the story stronger, points out any inconsistencies, lagging pace, too much backstory or not enough character development.
I don’t see editorial feedback as criticism. I am always eager to see what others thought and will often take their critiques and mull on them for a while, letting my instincts guide me. I have pushed back a few times when I felt something was important and should stay, but I have also put my ego aside and accepted that some feedback was spot on.
My best piece of advice is to be open to feedback, but stay true to your story. Does the feedback make what you are trying to portray stronger? If it does, then it’s probably a good idea to incorporate it.
Authors, how do you revise? What challenges have you faced in the process–or in your journey toward publication? I’d love to hear your perspectives in the comments.