Thursday, September 15, 2011

A cautionary tale

Nothing like a cautionary tale to revive a stale blog, right?

My cautionary tale actually starts a couple of months ago. See, I went to the WIFYR conference in the spring (I've mentioned it before, I know), and in a fury of inspiration managed to write the novel over the summer. The first draft, anyway. And as any writer worth her salt knows, drafts need revision. Usually lots of revision.

Sometime in early August I was looking over my notes from the conference and saw that one of the agents had suggested that we might get a faster response from her if we submitted before school started. I don't know why I thought that meant I should actually submit something to her then (I blame it on the fact that I was pregnant at the time--but I'm not anymore), but that's what I did. I suppose I expected that I wouldn't hear back for some time and that the answer was likely to be negative. About a week later, my sister gave me her feedback on the novel and said, "I think this should be first person." Unfortunately, she was right. So I started revising to first person, got about two chapters in, and the agent's assistant wrote back: she wanted to see the next fifty pages.

I panicked and called my sister. She said, "See, this is why you don't submit stuff to query that isn't ready to query." Her suggestion? Celebrate for half a second and then revise like crazy. Which I did. I got the first fifty pages revised over the weekend and then, with a little more of a clue this time, started working on the revision whenever I had time. Between kids and a new semester of teaching, this wasn't as often as I'd like (I did, however, finally start a writer's group!).

I was about 100 pages through the revision (and in the middle of adding some new scenes) when I got another response from the same woman: she wanted to see the whole manuscript. This normally would be good news--but for me it meant that I had about 100 pages to revise over the weekend. Again, I did it. It wasn't fun. (For me or my neglected family). I'm trying to caution myself against getting too hopeful because a) a request for a full manuscript does not always lead to an offer and b) I'm still new at this and I am probably not that lucky. But at least it means that someone, someday, might want to publish my book.

In any case, I learned a valuable lesson: do not query something until you're ready to submit the whole manuscript. It can be a painful experience!

I did have one of the neighbor girls read it (she's in the target audience) and she told me she liked it. (Her mom told me she read it in less than two days). She also told me that where most of my adult readers thought the characters sounded too old, she thought they sounded about right, except at the beginning, where they sounded too young. She reminded me that we often tend to underestimate younger readers. I hope I won't do that too often.