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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Slow Down!

I'm just going to pretend it hasn't been months since I blogged.  I'd appreciate it if you'd play along in my denial.

Moat of you already know that I started out the year by accepting Jen Linnan's offer of representation. I'm still waiting for that to sink in or for fireworks to go off every time I even think about it.  Despite imagining it happening for three years, the whole thing still feels surreal.  I love reading "how I got my agent" stories, so I'm going to share mine, along with some additional lessons I learned in the query process, but I'll break it up into three parts. 

I've completed and queried three middle-grade novels.   By the time I was ready to query novel #3, I certainly felt like a failure.  My social networking circle is heavily populated with other queriers.  It seemed as if everyone was signing, publishing, and becoming best-sellers (or moving on to self-publishing, but I'll save that topic). I tried to take comfort in what I'd learned and how much I'd grown as a writer.  Sometimes, it worked, but sometimes, I wallowed.

Lesson #1: Go slow

Impatience is my middle name. I do not do slow well.  I'm only 5' feet tall, but if you take a walk down the hall with me, you may need running shoes to keep up.  I go fast.  Not surprisingly, then, I failed on this one the first time around. 

I'd read all about querying small batches, which I sort of, kind of, did.  I sent out five queries, and waited.  Then, I got requests for fulls, and I was excited, so I sent out more.  And so on and so on.  The problem: I was getting form rejections with no feedback on those full manuscripts.  I had no idea that was bad. 

When you're trained to believe the primary goal is writing the perfect query letter, if that letter results in people wanting to read your novel, it feels like success.  If you're like me, you assume that if enough people read it, surely ONE will want to represent that work.  What I didn't understand at the time is that while agents and editors don't give feedback on queries, they generally are pretty supportive of manuscripts they reject that are "almost" there.  My lack of feedback was a huge flashing sign, and I drove right past it without so much as a brake check.

So, I kept sending, and I kept not getting feedback, and after about nine months, and ongoing revision, I decided to trunk novel #1 and shift my focus to novel #2.  Then, I was sitting in revision workshop at a conference, while Molly O'Neill shared before and after pages of novels.  We read pages from the beginning of the first draft of several  published books, including Divergent.  Right in the middle of the conference, I had an epiphany.  My first novel started in the wrong place.  Yup, it had been finished, gone through two writing groups and several better readers.  It has been queried and then read by numerous agents.  And it was all wrong. So I spent several months re-writing. 

By Spring I was ready to query it again, and that's when I learned about feedback.  When I went back out with it, again, agents requested.  I remember at one point having eight agents reading it at the same time.  It's hard not to get your hopes up with numbers like that.  Clearly, no offers came, but I probably got something more valuable:  feedback. At that point, when agents rejected, they sent paragraphs of feedback—what resonated, what didn't, what they liked about my writing, what they didn't.

I was close, but not close enough. Unfortunately, I'd pretty much exhausted the pool by then. 

We can all be in a hurry to find success, but sometimes, slower is better.  I suppose I need to remember that more often than just in querying, huh? 

So, yes, go slow. 

Slow down, but don't stop!

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