Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waiting Waiting Waiting or Can't We Just Submit This Thing Already?

I just skimmed my last post and boy was I feeling confident that day!  That is definitely not the way that I've been feeling the last two weeks, but a lot of that has to do with criticism that we received from an up & coming Young Adult novelist named Genn Albin (GA).

About two weeks ago I was looking through Publishers Marketplace at book deals that had closed in the previous week.  I saw a post about a first time novelist (GA) who sold the beginning of her Young Adult Science Fiction series after having 7 publishers bidding on it.  Michelle & I were talking about how inspiring it was to see a debut novelist have such a great outcome, and so we decided to look up her blog.  While there, Michelle noticed that GA had offered to critique anyone's Query Letter (QL, which is the letter that you send to potential agents asking for representation) who donated money to Joplin relief.  Knowing that GA's own QL was awesome (we had found that on a different website) and had been clearly successful, we thought any guidance from her could only be a good thing.

I donated money to Joplin, and true to her word, GA agreed to critique our query letter.  I had spent many many long hours on our QL, and I really thought it was pretty good.  Also, when I took a synopsis writing class from a former editor, the editor also said that she thought that my QL was good (although she didn't seem to have as high of a bar for excellence that I do, so I didn't know whether to trust that or not).

Eventually, GA's critique came back, and apparently she didn't think our QL was as good as I did.  She suggested changing just about everything about it, and she really emphasized that it needed to be written in such a way to make the book seem interesting (well, I certainly hadn't written it the first time with the idea of making the book seem dull, so that advice fell a bit flat).

Of course that was a bit of a hit to the ego (huge understatement), but I really didn't want the critique to be about my ego, I wanted it to be of use to us, so I immediately talked over with Michelle how we could re-write the QL to make it better.  GA had suggested (among many other things) that we might remove any reference to Irish Travelers since that seemed to be bogging the QL down.  Well, our book is about an Irish Traveler con artist, so if she thought that the QL could be improved by removing reference to the Travelers, then clearly our QL hadn't made it clear how interesting they are.  Because of that, I reconceptualized how the QL should be formatted.  Everything else that I had read about Query writing talked about how you didn't want a lot of "backstory" in your QL, and I thought that describing the Travelers' lifestyle would be too much backstory, so I had barely described them at all.  Clearly this wasn't working, and we needed to write the QL the way that made the hook of our story stand out.  I realized that our QL needed to focus on all of the things that make Travelers interesting and a great hook.  Michelle & I bounced some ideas off each other & I came up with a few lines about how the Travelers are a group of striking contrasts (or some such), and I asked Michelle to write the newly conceptualized QL (because, let's face it, I was still stinging a bit by the fact that my first effort wasn't up to snuff, so the idea of writing a new letter didn't appeal to me at that moment).

After a few revisions, Michelle & I had our new and improved QL, and because Genn Albin is just that awesome, she offered to give us feedback on our revision, so we sent if off to her.  Within a day she got back to us and called our new QL "AWESOME".  She said she'd get back to us with more specific thoughts about it soon, but we're happy that she thinks the new QL is a big improvement at least.  That also helped me go from a place of self doubt (what if I'm wrong about our book -- what if it really isn't as good as we think it is) to a place of confidence (well, obviously I had a good eye for how our QL needed to be changed, so I probably have a good eye for what works in our novel also).  Even thought Query writing and novel writing are not at all the same thing (with most novelists finding Query letter writing to be more difficult than writing the novel), this experience reminded me that I'm going to have a long road of criticism ahead, so I better get used to it now.

Otherwise, Michelle & I are excited because we printed out copies of our novel for our friends who are acting as first readers, and our friends have already started reading the novel (and three or so have already finished it).  Kristyn called me the other day to tell me that both she and Dustin couldn't put the novel down and they both really liked it.  That was a great boost to my spirits.  I literally felt like I could cry.  I just really want other people to love this novel as much as Michelle & I do.  Since then, the other small amount of feedback that we've received from other readers has also been positive.  This has made me anxious to have the first read book club so that we can get on with submitting to agents already.  I really want to see how this is all going to play out.  Will we get quick requests for the full manuscript?  Will someone want to represent us?  Will we get a publishing deal?  Being a novelist isn't enough.  I won't be happy until I'm a professional novelist.

P.S.  Now that you know that our novel is about Irish Travelers, do you have any insight into why I named this blog Tinkering with Writing?  Hint: Travelers are often referred to by a name other than just Traveler.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Home Stretch (well, of writing at least)

Michelle and I finally have a complete draft!  The book is approximately 80,000 words (the sweet spot for Young Adult), and 26 chapters, plus a prologue.  I'm very happy about this, of course, but I must say that I don't feel near the excitement that (1) I think I should feel, and (2) I thought I would feel.  The feeling is rather anemic, really.  I think part of it is that Michelle isn't here yet (she'll be in Pennsylvania in 5 days), and also partly that having a draft isn't really any sort of end point.  Right now I am editing furiously so that we can have our first full draft "completed" by June 16th.  Obviously that's only two weeks away.  We need to have the draft done by then so that we can distribute it to the members of what we are fashioning our "First Read Book Club".  (Basically people we've asked to read the book to give us feedback.)

That is what I'm really looking forward to.  Printing off entire drafts and mailing them to people will really feel like we've done something.  Right now I just have 27 separate files for the different chapters.  Incorporating them all into one document and printing that out for people to read, now that'll be something.  I feel like I should be anxious about people's reactions once they read it, but right now I'm not terribly nervous.  I expect constructive criticism (in fact, I hope for some), and I don't expect that anyone will hate the book.  It would be nice for at least a few of the readers to really like it (there will be seven people reading the book including my husband, my mother, and my brother), but honestly, even if people only think the book is "cute" I know how I feel about the book, and I don't know how much other people's opinions will change that.  I mean, obviously I need to take criticism and analyze it, and the whole point of having people read it is to see where we can make improvements, but no reaction could convince me that our book isn't great.

It's like this.  While I was at Villanova for the semester in 2005 (due to Katrina), Michelle and I saw an HBO Comedy special with this weird New Zealand duo.  We both thought it was the funniest thing we'd ever seen.  We watched it over and over again.  When I got back to New Orleans, I showed it to Justin, and he also thought it was funny.  He was nice enough to find a recording online, and he made me a DVD of it for me.  For the next few weeks, I told all my friends about how hilarious this comedy duo was and how they just had to see this HBO special.  Finally, one night all of my roommates at the time (including Max) sat down to watch it with me.  I died laughing the entire time, while my roommates looked at me like I was mentally challenged.  No one thought it was funny at all.  It got me thinking that maybe I was a little crazy, although I knew that I still loved them.  Michelle even emailed one of the members of the duo, and he corresponded with her briefly.

Do you know who this comedy duo was?  Flight of the Conchords.  They're super popular now with their own HBO show that is primarily based off of that comedy special.  Max (who didn't think they were funny at all back in 2005) took me to see them for my birthday two years ago, and it amazed me to see the thousand or so people at the sold-out show who all loved them.  It just goes to show that you shouldn't allow your fate to be decided by one hostile focus group.

The thing that I've been so amazed about throughout this whole process is just how confident I am in what we're doing.  I'm never this confident, but I really love our book.  Not like, "I really loved The Help" (which I did, that book is amazing -- in fact, if you haven't read it, stop reading this right now and go out and buy it).  More like "I love my child.  It's a lot of work, and sometimes it pees on me, but I really really love it."  I guess there is a small part of me deep down that is quietly asking, "But what if I'm one of those people who has a monstrously ugly baby, but is convinced their snot monster is the cutest thing in the world?"  I guess that's just a risk I'm willing to take.