REALITY CHECK – Getting a one-on-one agent review

It’s no secret that writers have big egos. Even when invited to eviscerate someone’s work, I don’t want to do it because while I want to help them, I don’t want to hurt them. Usually, though, the worst ego-bruising events have to do with rejections. I mean, we all get to the point where we’ve finished something and send it off to an agent only to have a short, terse, message come back with some version of “no,” provided we get anything back at all. Normally, these things come without context or explanation. What you rarely get though, on an unsolicited query, is anything more than that. However, if you did, I promise, your ego would be harmed beyond merely ‘bruised’.

Personally, I look at a rejection and wonder, but why? What was the reason that this has been rejected? How can I improve if all I ever get is no?

This fall, I had the opportunity to get a one-on-one review of my work by a big-time New York agent with a big publishing house. To be clear, I paid for this. I thought that having this review would finally get me to the answer of “but why did you reject this?” The goal was to find a compass bearing on the improvement process. Maybe I’d even get a sense of whether or not I was writing things that could be marketable.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t come away with an improvement strategy as much as a recommendation to be a completely different writer. I also cried. And if you’re looking for a reason to ugly cry with sort of minimal collateral damage, this is a really good strategy.

The first piece we looked at was Deep Space. I read about half of the prologue in a group setting. At the time, and especially now, I regard this piece as thoroughly unfinished. Not ready for submission and not ready for beta-readers or in-depth critiques beyond perhaps that first bit. I received the very, very favorable feedback of “That’s fun, I’d read more of that” This comment was followed by some commentary on the contents and structure which I generally regard as productive, but indicates much re-writing. This was 100% in-line with expectations, except for the bit where he handed me his card and invited me to query him O_o. Best case scenario right? (well, yes, but there’s more). After having my ego so rapidly and enormously inflated, what came next was painful and, to be perfectly honest, a little bit humiliating.

The next day, at my appointed time, I went in for a one-on-one on Hexe – at the time, this one was drafted and out for early readers to come back and tell me what’s wrong. Most definitely ready for critique, in any case. I am (was) proud of this work, even after nearly trashing it this spring. It’s got some good humor, it’s got a light fun tone and the characters are memorable. So memorable that my daughter was trying to make Hexe’s castle in minecraft – high praise from her, I can tell you. So, what was my feedback do you think? I have to paraphrase this one, because we spent twenty minutes covering the same ground. “This is really, not very good. It’s solidly one-note and I couldn’t imagine reading this for… How long is it? 120K? no, cut that down to 75K, max…” and it went on. The bits of feedback can be summarized in the following bullets:

– It’s one-note

– Play it straight

– Get there faster, shorten it up

– Make the main character more likable

– and (INFURIATINGLY) The writing itself is pretty good, can’t fault that.

He then spent the last few minutes asking why the hell I hadn’t given him deep space. I told him it wasn’t ready yet, I really wanted the feedback on this one. After hearing the review of Hexe, I realized that even if I sent him Deep Space to have a look at, certainly as it was then, he was going to shake his head and say, ‘nope’. The humor and approach are really similar. I was so certain, actually, that I told him as much right there. He repeated his advice in the bullets above, and reiterated that he wanted to see more.

I feel like this is the worst spot to leave a writer. I don’t even know what to do with the comments. I mean, sure, shorten it up makes sense, but play it straight? That was a choice I made specifically to support the humor and, in fact, to give the satire a little more punch. And one-note? – I’ve been thinking about this for weeks now and still don’t know what it means or how to fix it. What’s more, I walked away with the idea that I’m not very good and that the writer’s voice I’ve finally found isn’t either. To be successful, I have to write like someone I’m not.

The same agent who’d reviewed my work pointed out that there are many millions of manuscripts written every year, and only a small percentage of those ever get to print with fewer yet making it into bookstores. Not only is this environment competitive, the odds of having a story, no matter how good, make it into print and even on to the shelf at the bookstore are a million to one against.

A rejection letter without context is a kindness. The reality is that if you knew the agent’s full reasons for not requesting more, there’s a very good chance you’d throw your laptop into the ocean and never think about writing again. So, next time you get a rejection and ask “but why?” just assume they didn’t like the concept, and keep going. If you hit the point where there is nobody else to query, maybe write something else or simply self-publish then write something else. The real, honest truth is, on average, becoming published traditionally is simply not going to happen. In a lot of ways, it’s the best and most compelling argument for self-publishing I’ve run across yet.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ve got. I’m headed back into my existential funk and clean the kitchen, which will also be critiqued and found wanting. Cheers.

Advertisements

Looking Forward

img_1988

In 2016, I had one real resolution for the year -Finish Wine Bottles and Broomsticks and get it published. I may as well have just gone with the old stand-by of ‘lose 30 pounds and run a half-marathon’ because that was going to be a hell of a lot easier to pull off. Sure, I did finish, but that’s as far as I got in the success bracket.

On Christmas, we had friends over for dinner. It was a pretty mellow affair on the whole and the usual get-together at the Koster’s – food, drink & conversation. The topic of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks came up with the question “so what’s next for Wine Bottles and Broomsticks?” I thought I had a good plan and answer for that, write book two, and self-publish both sometime late next year. That’s what I said. However, in the week since, I’ve been thinking about it more. I even had a lengthy discussion with a co-worker the other day on the topic. His perspective was something to the effect of: “It doesn’t matter if it’s un-edited shit. You just need to get your name out there, put it on Amazon.”

I got to thinking about that in preparation for this obligatory new year blog. There are a lot of perspectives out there and I’ve received a ton of good advice. Hell, most of the blogs I even bothered to write in the last half of this year have covered just that. All of the advice has basically been in the vein of, “Don’t give up!” It’s good advice. Being discouraged is not a route to success. However, at some point, you need to move on.

The real, honest truth about Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is that I don’t have a plan. Yes, I could spend a lot of money to self publish – annoy all of my friends and family with pleas of ‘buy my book’ …. again. I could try to go through the process of crowd-funding using a slightly different approach, but I’ve basically burned that option down. The fact is, I did everything I could this year and it just wasn’t good enough – I’m not sure which part was not good enough, but it was a big enough part that the book wasn’t going to catch anyone’s eye. The only practical plan is to move forward. Don’t look back, just keep looking forward. What’s done is done and I need to look to the next thing.

So, if you’re wondering what’s going to become of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, the answer is nothing. I’m moving forward now. Other projects are  in the works, and no I haven’t been moping around kicking myself either. I’ve got 3 other projects in the air just now and I’m happily plotting them out and moving them forward. My hope for this year is that I finish at least one of those and I’ll have something new to share.

Happy new year.

 

Wine Bottles and Broomsticks takes a bow, moves off stage

Winebottles_Broomsticks

Last week, I wrote a blog post about how Wine Bottles and Broomsticks wasn’t going to happen. Today, it didn’t. It didn’t achieve the requisite number of pre-orders on Inkshares.com in order to produce a limited run of the book. After the post from last week, I received a lot of really excellent feedback and advice. The basic gist of the advice was to keep moving, not just with writing, but with this project. Publishing is a tough business and Inkshares was probably not the best venue for an unknown author, especially given the fact that a pre-order there is more expensive than readers are comfortable paying for, and the incentives weren’t enough to overcome that cost difference. In short, just because this effort failed, doesn’t mean that continuing to explore other directions isn’t worth the time. I just need to sit-down and re-think what I’ve done and what other options remain.

At the moment, the basic direction is to keep moving. I’ve gotten some interesting and creative ideas to work with, but I think the first thing is to hit up a few indie publishers to see if I can find a fit for the project there. In the mean time, I’ve started working on book two and hope to have that drafted and ready for editing sometime next spring. If I don’t manage to pick up a publisher for Wine Bottles and Broomsticks by then, I will move forward with publishing it, along with the sequel myself. I’m not sure what that might look like, and I might yet conclude that self-publishing won’t be a successful route for me, but at least I’ve got an idea of how to proceed.

Anyhow, that’s the state of things. Thank you all so much for all of your support, this isn’t the last word on Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, but it is going on the shelf for a while.

Thanks,

Dave.