The Portland Writer’s Workshop provided a venue rarely available to writers–a chance to “pitch” a novel idea to somebody in the business. Normally, you will not query an agent (or publisher) unless the novel is completed–that means revised and polished to be the best you can offer. Completion was not a requirement at this workshop. (Non-fiction is a different world, which I will not discuss here).
Prior to the workshop, writers who were so inclined (and paid a nominal charge) sent a prepared query to Writer’s Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino to critique; I mentioned this a couple weeks ago. Chuck then sent the query back with suggestions to give writers a chance to revise for the all-import “pitch” session with agents (again for a nominal fee).
Back to last week’s post: during the Writer’s Got Talent section, writers offered the first page of their novel, which Chuck read out loud so that all attendants could hear. The first page of my fantasy novel, The Returning, did not make it past the opening paragraph before three hands rose into the sky, my stomach sinking. But an interesting thing happened: one of the agent/editors kept reading while the others who had lifted their hands explained why they stopped
Jump to the afternoon: I scheduled two “pitch” sessions with specific agents. The first agent (one who had raised her hand) offered pointers, saying this part is good, this paragraph gives too much information, tighten this, etc., etc. I left the meeting unsettled in that the items revised and clarified following Chuck’s critique were the same things she suggested fixing or deleting entirely.
So there I am: the first page of my novel rejected by three of the six on the panel (in about 15 seconds), and two opposing views on the nature and depth necessary to churn interest in my work. No need to complain, though, as I attended with the sole goal of learning in hopes of growing my craft. Nothing gained from an internal “bitch” session.
The second “pitch” session:
As before, I read the query to the agent/editor, who by-the-way, was the one that had kept reading after my first page was voted down. She commented that the query was strong with a good hook. I smiled and mentioned that the first page was shot down quickly in the Writer’s Got Talent section. She asked to see the first page, and reading it, said, “Oh, I didn’t agree with that.”
She asked to see more of my novel, requesting I send the query and the first 20 pages (explaining that normally she asks to see the first 10) since she had already seen examples of my writing.
Success! I left the Workshop exhilarated and feeling that somebody in the business (a professional agent/editor) saw competency in my writing, whether it be style, voice or whatever, and was again reminded that failure and success are close companions during the writing and publishing process.
As Chuck pointed out, there are four major hurdles for the writer during the publishing process:
- An agent/editor reading the entire query.
- A request to see a sampling of the novel (anywhere from 5 to 50 pages) gets you past the “slush” pile.
- A request to see the entire novel.
- A contract offer.
Because of the Writer’s Workshop, I leaped the first hurdle and sent off the query and first 20 pages to the editor of a professional small press. Now I wait, hoping to reach the next step, but even if it does not pan out, the knowledge and confidence I gained through the experience was well worth the price (both economical and emotional).
One of the most important lessons coming out of the Workshop: with 1,100-1,400 agents hawking writer’s novels, some will like any given novel and some will not depending on prejudices, needs, availability, and a host of other factors that are completely out of a writer’s control.
What is within a writer’s control—the imagination, the determination, the perseverance–no one can take away from you, except you.
Now, go write that story …
Next Week: The Particulars (and surprises) from the Writer’s Workshop.
This Week’s Quote:
“Writing a novel is like a newly turned field; full of hope and dreams of harvest.”
This Week’s Links: