Recently I began querying the manuscripts for two novels I’ve written. At first I hated this process. You pour out your heart into your writing, then submit it to a select group of literary agents in hopes that one of them will snatch it up and say, “YES! I must have this!” Well, it doesn’t really happen that way. Some people have been querying for years with not a single nibble. Even J.K. Rowling has stories of this process that might bring nightmares to those considering walking in her shoes.
Recently I’ve received feedback on both of my novels from agents who chose to pass. There’s not much I hate worse than a rejection, but it might surprise you to know that I love a rejection that comes with an explanation.
Some people have said, “why would you want to fix it just because someone tells you what they don’t like about it?” Well, it really depends upon the type of feedback, but the answer is simple: If I don’t know what’s broken, I can’t fix it. Understanding the catalyst for a pass allows me the opportunity to know where there are problems and fix it.
“But your beta readers loved it,” some say. “If your readers love it, why would you change it at all?”
Again, the answer is simple: if the criticism is valid, then it’s arrogant to not give it real consideration.
So what’s the feedback I’ve received that caused me to make changes? It seems that I know every technique for writing in a passive voice and utilize them to perfection. Yes – that’s a near quote. Haha! Honestly, I didn’t know that! Looking back over both manuscripts, I realized she’s right. Ouch! But guess what? That’s easily fixable. She said she loved my “voice” but couldn’t abide the passive tense.
The second criticism I got on the second manuscript was that I was a pro at tense confusion. Okay…she didn’t say I was a “pro,” but I’ve identified what she meant and it’s true. I switched up past and present tense consistently. That one was a lot harder to fix because it was difficult for me to identify, but I sat down with a talented English teacher and she helped me identify what that meant. Now I’m hyper-sensitive to it.
So what’s the end result? Some people hate criticism and take it very personally. After all, what we write is our baby. Telling someone you don’t like the style they’ve used can be akin to saying, “Oh, your daughter is so pretty, but she’d be beautiful if only she had red hair and green eyes instead of that brown hair and brown eyes.” If you’re a writer, tell me that’s not true. I bet you can’t.
But really, as a parent, who wouldn’t want to help her child to find more success in life? I like to think of criticism — criticism from those who know their business — as a kind of personal hygiene for the manuscript. Just because my son thinks his breath smells better when he doesn’t brush his teeth doesn’t mean it’s true.
Now, before y’all go critiquing this blogpost with comments on tense confusion and passive voice, I’m gonna tell you right now that I freely admit that those problems exist within this text. I’m not going to change them this time, though. This writing is for me. It’s how my brain thinks and this particular post is all about pouring out what’s on my brain.
So…back to the query process. Check in with me in five years and I’ll let you know if I’m still enjoying it. :)