I recently received the final two rejections for Alex Bullied, both from agents who had requested more pages – fifty for one, the full manuscript for the other. Whenever I send a full manuscript, I am including my hopes and dreams. And this time, it was to an agent at Writers House, so, win or lose, I was feeling validated. An agent at a Major League Agency wanted more of me! But, alas, having done this for awhile, I know there’s a good chance it’ll just be a delayed rejection. Still, I can’t help but cross my fingers and hope.
Alex Bullied has been shelved – or, more accurately, drawered. I gave it all I had. The agent complimented my writing and the story. He just wasn’t passionate enough about it.
Let’s face it, it wasn’t good enough.
When I wrote my first book, Riding On The Wind, I spent months perfecting the first six chapters. I hadn’t yet taken any writing courses or joined a critique group. I didn’t even know what a critique group was. I knew nothing. What I did have going for me was a lifetime of loving books and reading. I wrote by instinct. I wrote the book I wanted to read. And I read Writers Digest and The Writer and any other writing magazine I could find. Inevitably there would be an article that addressed whatever question I had at the moment. I wrote and rewrote those first chapters until finally I had to make myself move on. But, those are six really good chapters.
On my third query, I scored an agent. I was so green, I had no idea that was a Big Deal. After a year, although it came close a couple of times, she could not sell my book, and we parted ways.
I had written that book for myself, for the reader I had been at twelve years of age. I did the same with the next book, Morning of the Mermaid, in which I imagined how the first mermaid came to be. By this time I had taken some writing classes, had found a critique group and was much more savvy.
I knew enough to be hopeful as I sent out the first queries. All rejected. I chalked this up to premature querying, something many beginning writers do. I attended a few writers conferences, paid extra for professional critiques from agents and editors. I rewrote and rewrote and sought out more critiques, all of which pointed to more rewriting. Would this book ever please the agents? Frustrated, I set it aside.
The story of Alex Bullied had been playing in my mind for a year and I started it with a certain amount of joy. This one would be so much fun. I aimed to write a humorous book for boys. If you’ve been reading this blog you know my trials and tribulations as I finished the manuscript and set out to hook an agent. To please critics, I rewrote. And rewrote. The book drifted from my initial concept. I wasn’t writing for boy readers anymore.
I was writing for agents.
This is a quandary many prepublished authors face. Who do we listen to? Who’s advice, who’s critique, do we take? How far from our vision are we willing to go? As far as we think it will take to get an agent? Who do we write for?
Literary agents are the gatekeepers to the Publishing Kingdom. To get in, we must please them, right? But what if, by writing to them, we lose ourselves, our voice, our vision?
When I am writing middle grade fiction, I imagine I’m writing to myself, at that age. If I start to think about agents reading, the words become self conscious and I do not think this is the way to brillant writing.
I caught an interview with comedian, writer and film maker Jordan Peele the other day. I had to write down what he said when asked if he had any words of wisdom for writers. (He was being asked as a film writer, but I think it applies to any writer) When I heard it, I thought, that’s what I’m talking about! He said:
Follow the fun. Don’t follow the practicality, don’t follow what’s going to get this sold, what’s going to make this good. You’re writing your favorite movie that doesn’t exist. What’s the movie you wish someone would write for you?
Follow the fun.