Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Standing At The Base Of Mt. Everest: The Realities of Submission and Revision

So...I apologize for being sort of M.I.A. for awhile but a lot has happened that I've been trying to figure out how to discuss here. Since the main objective of this blog is to document my writing journey and serve as a resource for fellow writers who are on the path, the truth is that I can't just share the good and the hopeful, but I need to share the negatives too. Because sadly, they are as much a part of writing as all the other stuff.

To be honest, the last six weeks have been pretty stressful. After many months of being on submission, getting wonderful feedback overall but no offers, and biting my nails to the quick, BAND GEEK is officially off of submission and did not sell. As you can imagine, this was a huge disappointment. It seems that editors did not think that their teen audiences would readily go for a book with a male protagonist that wasn't a book for boys, and while several even said that it would have been great if the protagonist had been a girl instead, none offered and gave me the chance to flip it and work with them to make it be more of what they were looking for. Editors today are truly looking for books that are already in absolutely perfect shape, which raises the bar ever higher. Fortunately, there is a pool of interest for whatever I write next and an open door to submit, so therein lies the silver lining.

The reality is, I'm not alone in the large group of writers whose first book did not sell. However, our egos always want to believe that we are the exception to the rule. Mine was no different. What kept me sane during the entire submission process, however, was the fact that I was busily writing a second book.

Which brings me to stresser/disappointment #2: I finished the second book, revised it to a place where I felt really good about it and sent it out to my beta readers. The feedback that came back was fairly consistent: It was a great read, very enjoyable and fun, and so tightly written that it was hard to find places to comment. This made me feel on top of the world, naturally, and so I eagerly sent it to my agent, confident he would feel the same. This book had all the positive elements of my first: the humor, the dialogue, a fun premise, plus a female protagonist. I felt like I couldn't miss. However, that was short lived because after my agent read it, he reported back that he felt it still needed a lot of work, and that a lot of missteps I'd made with the first book were present with the second. He suggested I work with a freelance editor/book doctor to help get the book into shape since he thought all the bones were there for a great story but it wasn't there yet.

I was crushed. My confidence and mojo were wiped out in a single blow. It was so unexpected, and perhaps it brought me back down to Earth that I still had much to learn despite how far I've come.

I began working with the editor/book doctor, who was wonderful, and gave me incredible insight into every aspect of my story that wasn't working and why. She helped me brainstorm ways I could punch things up to make them mesh better and be more logical and cohesive. Having now had a month away from the book, she suggested that the first thing I do before undertaking a revision was sit down and re-read the book with an eye to the comments both she and my agent had provided. And you know what? They were spot on.

While this was depressing as hell, it was also a tremendous gift. It gave me the chance to have distance and to rethink and rework and to make this book be the novel it deserved to be and the story I really wanted to tell. A story that at the end of the day actually mattered.

This summer at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, editor Elise Howard from Algonquin gave me food for thought like no other presenter when she said that she had a narrow list of titles but went primarily for "stories that matter." It made me reflect on my own writing and how although the dialogue was snappy and snarky and fun and the stories were light and romantic, they might really be missing that something that makes them stay with the reader. So I've been given the chance to do just that.

As I dive into this monstrous revision, I feel like I am standing at the base of Mt. Everest, but I know that in order to follow my dreams, I must embrace the climb. As Ray Bradbury says, "You only fail if you stop writing." So with that as my mantra, I take my first step forward. Admittedly, I'm terrified, but I also know that this is my passion and that I will get there. And I am incredibly fortunate to have an agent who believes in me and has faith in me, as well as a community of family, friends and fellow writers who will cheer me on to the finish line.

So wish me luck. If I'm on here spottily, it hopefully means I'm knee deep in revision and I will check in now and again. What better time to start than NaNoWriMo, right? I guess I picked the wrong week to give up coffee. *sigh*