Sunday, July 24, 2011

When no news is definitely not good news

No new news to report in the finding an agent front.  I cannot begin to describe how excruciating this process is.  Michelle & I sent out our first batch of ten query letters on July 2nd and got three requests for the manuscript.  We've heard back from one of those three people, and obviously it was a no, or I would certainly have something to report.  Then two weeks ago we sent out a second batch of ten query letters, but we haven't heard back from any of those agents yet.  July is a busy month, and the agents we just queried have an average response time of 3-4 weeks when they give positive news, so this doesn't mean that we won't be getting any more requests.  Going a few weeks without hearing anything from anyone, though, has been trying, to put it mildly.

Notwithstanding our anxiety about hearing back from agents, we're plowing ahead with the second book of the series.  We already had a good idea what was going to happen in the next book (we have a plan for the entire 4-5 book series, actually), so it hasn't been that difficult.  We're in the home stretch of outlining the book, and I'm really happy with it so far, although it has been slightly harder to outline than the first.  There are continuity issues to contend with as well as decisions about what we want to reveal when.  I think we've struck the right balance between revealing a lot of new and interesting information while still leaving a lot of grist for later books.

It's hard, though, working on book two when we're still in limbo regarding book one.  I still feel good about what we produced.  All of our beta readers loved it, and one of the agents who requested our manuscript said that she "greatly enjoyed [our] beginning" so I hope she feels the same way about the rest of the book when she finally reads it.  (I'm hoping that the fact that we haven't heard from her yet is because she hasn't had time to read the book.  That's not an impossibility because her average response time when she agrees to represent a book is close to a month from submission.)

The other night when Michelle & I were working, I really started to think about about what it would be like if our book didn't get published.  When you spend this much time with your characters you honestly come to love them as if they're real people, and the idea that they would never get put into print can only be described as akin to the idea that your child would never get to be born.  Maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, especially since I don't have any children yet, but I'm sure Michelle would feel the same way and she does have her share of lovable rugrats. 

I've been saying for weeks that I have a feeling that after we finish outlining book 2 we're going to start hearing back from people.  Since we will be finishing that tonight, I guess my premonition is about to be put to the test.  Let's hope that this premonition is as prophetic as when I told my roommate in New Orleans that I just had the strongest feeling that she wasn't going to be in school in the coming semester with absolutely no reason to believe that until a week later when Hurricane Katrina hit.  Maybe I'm good at predicting cataclysmic life changes, and this certainly would be one for us, although hopefully one without such devastating consequences.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Getting Feedback

This last week has been chocked fulls of highs and lows both in my professional life and my personal life, but for brevity's sake I'll just stick with the professional.

This past Wednesday we were to receive feedback from our beta readers about the book.  However, we'd already heard back from a number of them personally, and the feedback was almost universally positive, so last Saturday night at 11PM we just couldn't resist, and we began querying agents.  The way that you do this is you send your query letter (which is like a cover letter that describes your book in 2 paragraphs and tells a bit about yourself) and any other materials they request (such as the first few chapters) to the top 10 agents on your list.  Most people never hear back (positively) from any of their top 10 agents, and so then they move down to the next 10 agents, etc. until they find one.  Well, by 5 PM on Sunday, we'd already gotten our first request to see the full manuscript.  We were excited because not only did an agent want to look at our manuscript, but he was a very big name agent and he got back to us in 24 hours during a holiday weekend!  The following Monday we got two more requests for the manuscript, one from an agent who had already read the first chapter which she "greatly enjoyed," so we were feeling pretty good about everything.

On Wednesday we sat down with everyone who had read our book to get feedback.  Now, Michelle & I really did write this book together.  There are many lines that she wrote and many that are mine throughout the entire book, but I wrote the first draft of the prologue (which was meant to be very different in tone than the rest of the book since it's set in the 1800s), and she wrote the first draft of all the other chapters.  This was fair because I did an extensive amount of research on Irish Travelers and other things relevant to the story arc of the series, so we ended up doing essentially the same amount of work (I may have worked a bit more hours, but the work that she had to do was more draining).

Anyhoo, so it was difficult to hear at the book club that people loved the writing of the book overall, but just didn't think the writing quality of the prologue matched the rest of the book.  I think they thought they were helping cushion the blow by repeatedly emphasizing that the writing in the rest of the book was so much better, but little did they know that they were just twisting those screws in further and further.  While no one said anything at the actual book club meeting for fear of contradicting what others said, three people who've read the book have told me privately that they liked the prologue.  I still stand by the fact that it is purposefully written in a different style that may appeal to some people and not others.  I'm interested to see what agents think about it.  I'm certainly willing to re-write it and there are some things about it that I think would be good to change, but I think if you didn't use more formal language, etc. (which were a chunk of the comments) then it would lose the feeling of being in the past.

Regardless of my own ego (which I need to get over, but it's really hard when you want to make writing your career and you have 4 people tell you that your writing is just meh, or at least it was difficult not to take it that way), the vast majority of the feedback about the book was positive.  In particular people really liked the characterization of the male lead, Shay.  They liked the plot and the female lead as well, but the most effusive praise came regarding Shay.

So the next day, I was still feeling pretty down (partially because of the feedback from the book, but partially because of things going on in my and a number of my friends' personal lives), and I wake up to a rejection from the first guy who requested the full manuscript.  He said that there was too much exposition, particularly in the dialogue, and that we also needed to work on characterization, especially with Shay.  Well, after the feedback from the beta readers, we were totally floored.  I went back and re-read the first chapter to see what he was talking about re: exposition, and while of course there is some amount of exposition in any dialogue at the beginning of a book, that was something that I gave great care to when we were planning out the book/editing.  I certainly don't think any of the dialogue sounds forced to cram in backstory. 

So that was depressing.  After reading the letter about 5 times and having Max read it, Michelle & I really think that the person never read past the first chapter.  If there was a lack of characterization for Shay, then there must have been an even greater lack of characterization for Spencer, but she's not mentioned (and since she doesn't come in 'til Chapter 2, that would make sense if the agent didn't get past the first chapter).  This agent generally represents more high fantasy, and so we're just hoping that he was expecting magic to happen on the first page and so when he had a whole chapter about Travelers in a Traveler camp, he was like, "This is all exposition!  Get to the story!"  When in reality our book isn't a fantasy book that happens to have Travelers in it.  It's a book about Travelers that happens to have some supernatural elements.

The only thing that Michelle & I can comfort ourselves with is the fact that another agent has read our first chapter and "greatly enjoyed" it, so perhaps this guy just doesn't see our vision whereas that woman will.  Only time will tell.  Obviously, if we receive the same feedback from others then we'll have to reassess.

It hasn't even been a week since we started querying, and it was a holiday week at that, but this wait is killing me.  I don't know how other people do it who don't even hear back from anyone.  Plus, I know that at least one of the agents who we queried hasn't even read it yet, because she (very thankfully) posts on her blog through which date she's read all queries, and she's only up to June 23rd.  There are also a lot of writers' conferences going on right now so people are busy.

I have high hopes that we'll hear more back this coming week.  I mean, really, it takes 2-3 weeks on average to hear back about a query letter (when the response is positive), and it takes on average 3-4 weeks to hear about the manuscript, so we're already light years ahead.

On Sunday I'm going to Springfield for 3 weeks to be with Michelle.  We just  need to put all of this querying out of our minds (well, as much as possible) and focus on outlining the next book.  That is so much easier said than done.