About a month ago, I felt my publishing dreams slipping away. After deciding to pursue indie publishing, I’d just received a quote for $3000 to edit Wherever You Go.

‘It’s never going to happen,’ I told my husband during our regular coffee time. ‘We don’t have that money.’

At this point, some writers choose to skip or reduce the editing process, but that wasn’t a choice I was comfortable with, which led me to that ‘it’s never going to happen’ moment.

Amazing how things can change in the blink of an eye. The next morning, I had an offer to join an author collective called Pilyara Press. That’s a whole different blog post, but once I said yes, things moved fast.

By the end of that week I’d sent my manuscript to my editor, Sydney Smith, and shared the news that Wherever You Go would be published in 2020. It felt so good being on the receiving end of congratulations that day – even now, the memory sends happiness-tingles up my spine.

And I’m going to admit something here that embarrasses me now. I was pretty confident there wouldn’t be a huge amount to do.

Typing that makes me cringe.

But this feeling was based on feedback from my wonderful beta readers – published authors – who loved my novel. I’d already been through three revisions and incorporated a lot of learning and feedback. Yet, my novel hadn’t been accepted for publication by traditional publishers, despite all my hard work.

‘It’s beautifully written,’ publishers and agents said. ‘The characters/story is appealing.’ But, (and there was always a but) it wasn’t what they were looking for. Not enough drama. That was their word.


That’s all they said.


My beta readers couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Nor could I – the problem is, when you are so close to a story, it’s hard to see the gaps or problems. The story was based on a tragedy that had rocked a couple’s marriage – surely that was drama?

So, here I was, waiting for my editor’s feedback. She messaged:

‘I’ve just read the prologue of your novel, Monique. You’re a skilful writer. I’m excited about this novel – and believe me, I don’t say that often! I’m already moved by this story.’

Another happy-tingle moment.

And then a few days later, she messaged:

‘I think you’ve got a terrific story here – the kind that women will want to read. I just think you need to cut to the chase a lot sooner.’

All I could see was terrific. Cut to the chase sooner, no problem.

We had a chat and then she sent her comments through. By now, I realised the story might need a bit more work than I’d thought, but it wasn’t until I read Sydney’s comments in full that I guessed just how much work there might be.

That’s the embarrassing part. It’s that mix of naïve arrogance (and how I hate to say that word) that makes me shake my head.

Here’s where reality (my reality) and fiction fused. I don’t like conflict. I like peace and harmony. I try to be nice to people and yes, I do care (most of the time) that I’m liked. I admit it. The problem is, my conflict avoidance is right there in every chapter of my novel.

‘Dammit, you’ve psychoanalysed me. I’m the peacemaker,’ I messaged Sydney.

And dammit, she was right.

Every time there could be conflict, my character said nothing.

But good fiction needs conflict. It can’t all be internal for the main character.

Things have to happen.

My character (Amy) was too reactive. The plot and characters kept coming to her and then she reacted. She wasn’t fully the agent of her own destiny – perhaps later, but not early enough. Plus, she kept too much hidden from the reader and while my beta readers didn’t feel this way, Sydney felt that readers wouldn’t be as sympathetic to Amy as I thought because she never let them in. Oh, and Amy’s goal was abstract, not concrete.

Let me just say that I obsessed over that last part, the abstract and concrete, for almost a week.

I’m not joking. Obsessed is not an exaggeration.

I started consuming articles about narrative arcs and character goals (internal and external). I started dreaming about chapters and sentences. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to fix Wherever You Go.

Because I had to fix it.

I had to.

I hated my book.

I did.

It’s possible my husband did too because he heard about it every single night.

And then I got sick. An insidious flu knocked me (and my husband) off my feet. High fever, coughing, fatigue … I had the lot. What I didn’t have was the energy or desire to look at Wherever You Go.

I’m almost back at full strength now and happy to say that I finally had the breakthrough I was fighting for before I got sick.

And I’m excited. At the weekend, I outlined my revised structure, and the next day I started revision four. It meant looking outside of the box of what I’d created and coming at it from a different angle, and trust me, I resisted that at first.

I’ve moved past that, thanks to some much-needed time out and the wisdom of someone who I now see as the mentor I needed.

I love my story and characters again and I know I’m going to love them even more when I’m done.

Sydney is tough but knows her stuff. This is what she asked:

‘Do you want to publish the kind of fiction that will rivet the reader? Or the kind that will reassure?’

Wow. What a great question.

She says that right now, Wherever You Go is ‘pleasant with hints of heartbreak’.

Do I want it to be more than that?


Yes, I do.



Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

10 Responses

  1. OMG! That post is riveting, as will be your novel, Monique. Structural editing is harrowing and cathartic. More than once I’ve wanted to throw in the towel afterwards. Yet there’s nothing like an experienced editor’s hands upon your novel to improve it. Remember, it’s still your book, and editorial suggestions are just that – suggestions. But they certainly get you thinking. Rivet or reassure? What a great question!

    1. It really is. And while I wanted to cry and wail, I could see that she was right about so many things. And yes, I do want to rivet. I want people to be emotionally affected, not just feeling warm and fuzzy and ‘How nice’.

      Thank you for your encouragement!

  2. You can do it!!! I hate conflict too, so I know where you’re coming from. But you can make it fabulous.

  3. I can relate to this, my beta readers have said I didn’t share enough about how the main character was feeling. I have gone back and edited so that I have written mostly in deep POV for my main character. Also, my story line is fairly low key, so creating drama and conflict was a challenge. I have revised to concentrate more on the reactions of MC rather than actual events.

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