Feedback

The Arkansas SCBWI conference was great. I got to catch up with writer friends, heard the real scoop about the journey to publication from an almost-published author, and got some feedback on my story.

The word feedback has two connotations. The good kind of feedback that helps you grow and improve. And the bad kind of feedback that you associate with a sudden screeching noise that makes you jump and cover your ears.

I got both of those this weekend.

The good news is that I was told my writing is strong, my voice good, my concept unique. I got some great suggestions to improve minor things in the story. The screechy part? “Put this on the shelf for at least 2 years. It will never sell right now.”

Yeah, my ears kind of went numb after that one.

It was something I had suspected for a while now. When I started writing this, I saw it as straight Sci-Fi (with romance!) and it is that. But it does have an element of the d-word in it. (See, dystopian is such a bad thing right now, I can’t hardly even type it without breaking out into hives.)

I didn’t plan for it to go that way, but my muse apparently did. It’s not strict dystopian, but at the end of the day, the evil corporate overlords running the country made it seem that way.

I’ve read a lot about the genre. Most sources will say that if your concept is really unique, it won’t matter right now. Publishers will want it anyway. But you have to sell the concept to an agent who thinks they can sell it to an editor before you even get to the publishers.  A well-respected agent told me at the conference that my story (good as it is) simply won’t sell to that many people right now.

This is, of course, one agent’s opinion. But when you add it with all of the things I’ve read, it starts to sink in.  

Screech. Cover your ears.

So, since it’s not safe to drive and cry, I pushed back the tears on my way home from the conference and I decided to take a break from EVERGREEN. I will still make the revisions suggested because they’re good and they’ll help my story. I will still query to agents, though I will pare the list down to specific Sci Fi lovers for now. But, as I heard from several people at the conference, sometimes it’s best to put the manuscript in the drawer for a while.

It’s funny because I love dystopian. Dystopian is my favorite thing to read. It’s the thing that made me decide to write. When I put down DIVERGENT, I went straight to my laptop and typed my first sentence of my first manuscript.  Now, its wild success is the very thing keeping me from being able to sell my manuscript.  The thing I love the most is the thing standing in my way.  There’s a tragedy if I’ve ever heard one.

But, all is not lost. The last speaker at the conference had us do an exercise. He made us write for 60 seconds. It didn’t matter what we wrote. We just had to write. Then we had to pass it to the person sitting next to us. This exercise started roughly 5 minutes after the agent told me to shelf my MS for two years. The thought of doing that made me sick to my stomach. I walked out of that room thinking, “There is no way I can write anything but dystopian. I need to give up for the next two years and revisit the whole writing thing then.’

But I wrote for 60 seconds. Then I came home and wrote for a couple hours. Then I wrote the next day.  And the next. And now I have 5200 words on a definitely non-dystopian novel. Because I’m a writer and that’s what writers do.

I’m not giving up on EVERGREEN. I wholeheartedly believe Frankie’s story needs to be told. When the time is right, I think it will be.  But for now, I’m starting to have a lot of fun with Piper.

That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It

So, I didn’t walk away from Pitch Slam last week with a glorious offer of representation handed to me by my dream agent. Nor did I walk away with requests for more pages. After a couple few undisclosed amount of minutes filled with, crying, flailing and gnashing of teeth, I realized that it’s okay.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t get requests, but as the lovely contest organizers said, “That doesn’t mean you’re writing is bad.” It simply means that *MY* agent didn’t happen to read my entry.

There were around 180 entries over 4 age categories, with at least 8-10 different genres being read by only 5 registered agents participating in the contest. You do the math. (Seriously, you do it. I hate math.)

The odds were slim to start.

Just like the odds of landing an agent in the “traditional” way.

I have to admit there have been a few dire moments recently when I thought of giving up. I gave into thoughts of self-doubt (Maybe I’m not good enough to be a “real” writer…) I questioned my instincts. (Maybe this kind of story just won’t sell right now…) I decided that I just wasn’t tough enough for this business.  

It wasn’t a fun place to be.

Then I spoke with my writer friends and realized each of them have had these same thoughts.  Even the big name writers have been plagued with these thoughts at some point along the way. Those writers–the JK Rowlings, and the Stephen Kings –they had those thoughts. What they did after them is what makes all the difference.  They blocked them like they were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar under the basket. (Yeah, I just googled that sports reference.)

This Tuesday I’m making an effort to block those negative thoughts. And I’m looking back at my story and falling in love with it all over again.  Sure, there may be edits still yet to come, but at the end of the day, I will fight for this story to be told. I want to find an agent that will fight alongside me. That person is out there somewhere. When we find each other, there will be no stopping us. The rejection, the doubts and the questions may rise to the surface from time to time. But it’s what I do after them that makes the difference.