If you are a writer who’s ever pitched a novel, or simply googled insight into the publishing industry, chances are you’ve heard this before.
I know I’ve heard it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve even accepted it. But it wasn’t until this past week I truly understood it. The following experience gave me a different view on those words.
About a month ago, I was given the opportunity to judge the first round of a writing contest. It was a simple “answer these questions, see if you qualify, and you can judge” sort of thing, but I was still looking forward to it. I couldn’t wait to see what the contest process was like from the other side! I opened the entries with excitement, read through them, made notes, and instantly attached to a certain story. A week later I reread my samples, focusing on the technicalities and quality of writing. I carefully considered, tried to provide helpful feedback, and sent my judged files back to the contest coordinator with a sense of satisfaction. My judgments were fair. Every score I gave could be justified (at least by me!).
But here’s the crazy thing-
I didn’t give my favorite story the highest score.
Why? Because technically, it wasn’t the best. The highest scoring story flowed better. The sample was flawless. There were no mistakes, no awkward phrasing, and no grammatical errors (that I picked up on). It was simply well written.
However, something about the second ranking sample spoke to me. The characters grabbed me, and the story drew me in. I wanted to read it.
What’s really puzzling is if I were to summarize the story lines, the highest ranking book had a better plot. More happened. It moved at a quick pace. But there was something about the second place book I loved. I don’t know what it was. I can’t explain it. It simply connected with me.
As I ponder this experience I’m blasted with an understanding I thought I previously grasped, but obviously didn’t.
The love of a book is subjective.
My judging experience opened
my eyes to a new side of things. I’ll probably need to reread this post in the future to remind myself, but I finally understand. If I were an agent, I wouldn’t have requested a full for an arguably well written book, simply because it didn’t speak to me.
This taught me how important it is to find people who connect with your work. If my writing is good, and I constantly strive to improve my craft, eventually I will find the right people to help me get my book out there. A big part of success is commitment.
So there’s this book pitch contest called #PitchMAS. Maybe some of you have heard of it?
PitchMAS is run by Jessa Russo and Tamara Mataya around Christmas once a year. It’s free. It’s a good opportunity. I finished my novel The Mercy Killers recently, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I e-mailed my submission. Here it is, and it wasn’t great.
A young vagabond girl trades freedom for protection from a disease-ravaged world, but not without sacrifice. When the plague’s cruel ending threatens her sanctuary, only one man can help. Problem? He was the sacrifice.
I didn’t make the top 50.
I wasn’t surprised. I’m not great at pitching, so I figured I wouldn’t make it. Pitching an entire novel in such a restricted format is not an easy feat. I read the winning pitches and I was impressed! I could see how they used each word to their advantage. I learned from it and decided I would try again during the #PitchMAS party!
On Friday morning I woke up and posted the first two pitches that came to me on my twitter feed, sporting #pitchMAS and my genre hashtag.
There are worse things than dying from the Plague. You could survive it and be forced to become a Mercy Killer #YA #NA
The Governor’s son has a new GF. She looks sweet, but she isn’t. She’s a mind reading blade-wielding vagabond with a dark past #YA #NA
I walked away for a few hours, refusing to obsessively refresh twitter all day. I’m not an amazing pitch doctor and I know it. Why stress?
I was talking on the phone with a close friend when I decided it was time to check my feed. I had a few notifications, but I didn’t get excited. It could be anything.
I received 4 likes.
For those of you who don’t know what that means, 4 agents/ editors “liked” my pitch enough to request my query.
I lost my mind!
I wondered if I was seeing things. Was I reading the twitter feed right? Was I on the right page? DID THEY DO IT ON PURPOSE!?!?!?! My friend who was still on the phone thought something was wrong.
“What is it Jessica? Are you okay? IS THERE BLOOD!?!?!?!”
No blood. Just confused joy.
You see, I just finished my novel. I entered into a few contests, signed up for a query class which starts in January, and started on the novel’s sequel. I created a rough query letter a week prior to try my hand at the process, but I hadn’t done anything with it. I wasn’t expecting anything. #PitchMAS is a big contest, many authors participate, and I am very unseasoned.
I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, so I threw up another #pitchMAS tweet-
Greylin is a Socialite, promised to Attica’s next ruler. She hides telepathic abilities and skills with weapons.Why? #NA #YA #R
I received three more likes, two by editors.
Okay! This was really happening!
Overall, I received 6 partial manuscript requests. I spent the next 24-48 hours getting my submissions ready. I was so grateful I already possessed a basic synopsis and query letter! I strongly encourage putting together something as soon as you complete and edit your novel, just in case! I tried to craft each submission to the Agent/ Editor requesting, and made sure to follow the submission guidelines the best I could. I am not a practiced query writer, but I gave it my all.
About a week went by, way to soon to hear anything. An average turn around response for a partial is 30-60 days. So when I woke up with two full manuscript requests from two separate publishing companies, I made sure to read both e-mails twice so I could be 100% positive I was reading them correctly.
Did they mean to send this to me? Were they serious? DID THEY DO THIS ON PURPOSE!?!?
Are you noticing a trend?
So…I sent my manuscript in!
I won’t lie, my manuscript wasn’t perfect. The story is finished (except for a few tiny tweaks I keep obsessing over, but that’s normal, right?) and edited to the best of my ability, but there are bound to be mistakes in a 100k word manuscript. I was nervous, but I hit send.
I understood it takes a while to hear back from publishing houses. I wasn’t expecting anything.
I swear, not expecting anything works!!!!!!
I received my first “we are interested in publishing your book” e-mail a few days later. I am currently staring at a contract with my name and my novel’s title printed at the top.
I don’t know if I will sign it (although I am very strongly considering it), my lawyer is looking over it (I don’t have an agent! I just wrote some tweets!) and I want to talk to my hubby bubby about it face to face, but the publishing contract exists! This is amazing to me!!!!!
GUYS!!!! I WROTE A BOOK AND PEOPLE DON’T HATE IT!!!!!!!
I won’t be making any rash decisions about my novel this week. I asked the publisher for a certain amount of time to consider everything and get my ducks in a row, and they kindly obliged. The firm is new and fairly small right now, but I believe in small beginnings. After all, I’m just an Accountant/house wife who got bored while her husband was deployed, couldn’t find a book that hit the spot, so I wrote one!
Everyone starts somewhere.
My book started at 2am on a sleepless night when one of the characters insisted on being put down on paper. My writing journey was wonderful and came naturally. I wasn’t sure how my journey to publishing would start.
It looks like it started with #PitchMAS and a little fantasy!!
A Gift of Poison, what a name! And like its intention grabbing name the book started off with a flourishing scene involving gambling, a good chase, and knives being thrown at our heroine.
This book certainly has a hook.
The story centers around a young girl named Briand, who’s sharp, beautiful under all her gruff antics, and gloriously flawed. She doesn’t lack in spirit but she does lack in discretion, and it tends to get her into trouble. The fact that the man who is charge of her wishes she didn’t exist doesn’t help her situation.
The book started off well. Briand is shunned by her Uncle to the “wildlands” which seems to be an eventual death sentence. Her cousin, Bran, and the Steward of the castle, Kael, want to save her from the harsh punishment, so they attempt to whisk her away somewhere safe. In the process it is revealed she is the “Dragonsayer”, meaning she can control animals – even dragons.
Sounds cool, right?
In many ways it is. Kate Avery Ellison is an amazingly descriptive author with a vivid imagination and this book is full of poetic world building. Some people don’t like that, but I do. And there are moments of really great story telling, such as the snake scene (when you read it you will understand) and the moment in the mountains with the lake (JUST READ IT!). It has loss, different cultures, and a great twist ending. This book is appropriate for young teens and still interesting for adults, which is a rare thing.
It’s just missing something.
I think what’s missing is more connections. More connections between the characters, and there are a few holes in the story. This is the first book of a series, so I suspect many of those holes were placed with purpose and will be explained in the future. That’s understandable. But this book’s description is “Intrigue. Romance. Dragons.” Those last two words are a bit understated in the storyline.
There are dragons, just not as many as you might like to see. That is fine with me, the first book of a series often offers only peeks of what’s to come. Be warned that if you are choosing this book because of the dragon aspect you might be disappointed.
There are many great reasons to read this book, but if dragons are all you want go somewhere else, or wait until the next book in this series is released so you can jump right in.
As far as romance goes, this book is lacking in it.
Romance is starting to show by the end, but it hasn’t fully bloomed. I have a problem with that. I am a sucker for a good “angsty” duo or a spit fire boy and girl who love to hate one another. This book almost has it, but not quite. I think a little more would have driven the plot along, especially because the two characters in question are so much more multi-dimensional when they are together. They make one another better, not just as people but as characters in a story. I am hoping the next book will break past the “I almost like you” barrier. When Briand and her love interest cross over that line it is going to be quite a show!
Finally, the ending is abrupt. Way to abrupt. I wouldn’t call it rushed. The plot points that needed to be tied up in this book are taken care of and foundation for the next installment is laid. The book just sort of …Ends. Where it ends doesn’t really make any sense to me, so I felt sort of lost.
Overall, I’d say this book is good. Not great, but good. It wouldn’t be the first book by Ellison I would recommend, but I will be anxiously waiting for the next installment to be released, mostly because of the ending.
I think she did that on purpose!
3.75 stars, and I’m rounding up on all the sites that don’t allow decimals…which is all of them.
Thanks for the book Kate Avery Ellison! It was an enjoyable read.