Trigger Points for Novelists

Trigger PointsIf you read last week’s blog, you know about one of my personal trigger points. I don’t always like being edited.

I have an excellent editor, who listens and supports me. Still, I don’t like the editing process. I’m sure I’m not unusual, but at the same time, as I pointed out, many of my colleagues don’t even flinch. On the other hand I love writing a synopsis, and I know for a fact that many writers would prefer to write an entire book and have it rejected than write even the shortest synopsis. Different strokes.

This week, though, I discovered I’m not as phobic about editing as I thought I was. Because I’ve discovered something curious.

Before sending the synopsis for my next book to my editor I decided to send it to my literary agent. Do you know about agents? While they are not a requirement for submission to some publishers, others require writers to have one before they’ll consider a manuscript. An agent is a first reader. A reputable agent–and not all of them are–and a respected agent–not all of them are–won’t send a proposal to a publisher unless he or she believes it has potential and fits what that publishing house is looking for. The editor or professional reader who gets that manuscript will know that the first test has been passed. The manuscript or proposal has merit, even if it’s not exactly right for them.

Of course with independent publishing now on the rise, literary agents are scrambling to figure out what services they can provide. Writers are no longer dependent on publishers to get their books in front of the reading public, and agents have to find new ways to market themselves.

I have an agent, though, and a good one. Steve suits me so well because when I need his advice he gives it. But he doesn’t offer it unless it’s needed or solicited. He trusts me; I trust him. That arrangement works for both of us.

Since I had a question about my new synopsis, I sent it to him before sending it to my editor. His response surprised me. He had some serious questions about the tone of the book. Even more surprising? His reaction didn’t bother me one bit.

Apparently I don’t mind having my ideas questioned. It’s the finished product I don’t want touched.

So now I’m rethinking my premise. I have two ways of approaching his critique. One is to rewrite the synopsis and concentrate on making certain that the tone of the synopsis truly conveys the story. That may be the only thing I need to do. But the second possibility? I’m already rethinking a key element of the plot. If I can find a way to change it, I just might. It could be tricky, but the result might make the book even better and affect the tone, as well.

Not every critique is a good one. My first agent disliked the premise of Whiskey Island. Books about the Irish coming to America were  boring. Other plot points annoyed her. She was so dismissive of the book that I knew we had finally outgrown each other and I moved on. Whiskey Island went on to become one of my readers’ all-time favorites, exactly as I had proposed it.

But this time I think my agent is on to something, and I plan to respond accordingly.

Trigger points for novelists may not seem relevant in your personal life, but there’s food for thought here. Exactly what makes you uncomfortable? What upsets you? What makes you angry? Can you narrow your reaction to the precise issue?

Figuring out your specific trigger points may be helpful. You may be able to find ways to avoid them and save yourself a lot of stress. You may be able to discuss them with the people involved and ask them to moderate their behavior. Or once discovered, you might just be able to laugh at yourself.

I’m not laughing yet, but I’m hopeful. And besides? I have a year to go before a book of mine is edited again. Whew!


  1. Terry Guerra on January 26, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Such good advice, to figure out my trigger points and avoid them. I’m putting this into place ASAP.

    P.S. So glad you trusted your instinct and Whiskey Island went on as you proposed it!

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