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.

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