Sometimes things just do not work the way you expect. When I had an offer from Aio for Ada Nish Pura I asked for an explanation of what she meant when the publisher said there would be major rewrites. And I got a reasonable answer:
...The most major change revolves around the level of complexity. Basically, you’re sitting on a gold mine of potential world-building and culture, which in turn affects the main character. Right now you’ve got a great frame; you’ll just need to fill in more (much more, some of which you probably already have as backstory in your own mind), and in places, you’ll need to consolidate.
I’ve also got serious questions as to the science the book is based on. Right now that part is very thin. No worries that I’m talking about quantum mechanics or physics—more along the lines of geology and biology.
Your writing will probably also take some polishing. (For instance, “however” rarely belongs in a work of fiction; it’s more of a term paper kind of word. And I’m not picking on that just because you used it in your email—it’s something I noted in ANP during the review!)
That seemed more than reasonable to me. We started in on the work and made very good progress, though we unfortunately had some stops while she took care of business matters (new company, and I perfectly understood). However, we started running into trouble when we hit the 'polishing' phase. And this is where it came down to a misunderstanding in terms.
After more than eight rewrites of the same three chapters I realized that we were not connecting. I started lining out what I thought she wanted and asking if I was right. I pointed out that I thought what she wanted was prose that delivers all the information in the most descriptive and non-obtrusive manner. That didn't mean simple words without adornment, just not lines written for the sake of a pretty phrase when it doesn't work as well as a simpler one would. I felt the art is in the whole of the story, not the pieces, and lines should not be created just to draw the reader's attention.
Using transparent prose is definitely a school of thought, one with which I’m fairly familiar. We’re definitely not in that school at Aio. We do look for rather literary writing and we love lines that cause a reader to stop and admire it...
Now that changed a great deal of how I looked at the novel. Also, with the word 'literary' came another explanation, and one that I had missed on the site. She said Aio's intention is to publish only literary science fiction.
Now, here's the thing: There are certain literary sf writers whom I adore. Chip Delaney is the top of the list. I could spend months reading and rereading Dhalgren alone. The use of language by writers like Delaney amazes and enthrals me.
But I am not a literary fiction writer of any sort, and I would never pretend to be. My strengths are worldbuilding and culture and an exciting plot to go with them. I don't want to write lines that draw the reader out of the story. I want them to live in the adventure, not admire the grammatical nuances.
But even more than that, I don't believe that you can create a literary writer unless that is their true voice and style. It can't be 'polished' into being.
Today we both agreed that this was not working. So, Ada Nish Pura is now back in my hands. It's a stronger book for the increased worldbuilding and culture, and the writing itself is much better -- just never quite literary enough for Aio. I'm taking the opening back a few steps in the rewrites to where I was still comfortable with the language. Then I am going to rewrite the entire novel and submit it elsewhere.
I should stress that while we couldn't make this work, that doesn't make either side in the wrong. Aio is a new publisher, and I believe that they are still in the process of defining who they are and what they want... and though I looked like I fit the qualifications, three words had gone missing in the transaction -- literary science fiction. Those three words really did change the entire structure of what I thought I was meant to do with the story.
If you would like to read the first chapter, It's going to be up on my snippets blog for a couple days. I just wanted to share, because I really, really like this chapter, and I think when I get the rest of the novel up to this level, it's going to be the best thing I've ever written.