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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Year of the Novel: Complete

I briefly mentioned this a few months back, but the Atlanta Writers Club hosts conferences twice a year in which they bring in a panel of literary agents and allow their members (for a nominal fee of $200 or so) to mix and mingle with the agents, as well as pitch their books and submit the first 25 pages of their manuscripts for critique.

Last November, the AWC held one of these conferences and I decided to participate in both the critique and pitch sessions. Although my book wasn't finished at the time, it was very close and I knew exactly what was going to happen so I knew that I would be able to cogently discuss the book if it came to that. I did my research on the seven agents on the panel and decided on the two that seemed most likely to dig my book and I signed up for the sessions and paid my money. The way I saw it, at the very least I could get some experience on presenting myself at these things so I would be prepared when the AWC did this again in May, 2012. My book would surely be done by then and I would then have a couple pitch sessions under my belt so I'd know what to expect.

Now, after having done a pitch session, I can tell you it is a truly terrifying experience. I had written out a pitch before the conference but once there I realized it was completely inadequate and set about frantically rewriting it and trying to memorize it as best as possible before my session came up. I failed...miserably. Not only did I not have the pitch memorized, but three sentences in, the agent started asking a ton of questions that led waaaaay off the path of what the book was about, so that by the end of our ten minutes together it was clear to me she had no idea what I was talking about. The coup de grace was when she said that she "liked the idea of the book, but instead of doing a comedy or farce, I should just make it super serious, just dripping with pathos," and I was thinking, OMG, that's exactly the book I've written. But I had failed to explain it properly to her, and so she left the pitch session thinking I'd written a religious comedy about recruits in a heavenly army, when in fact I'd written a deeply serious book about Man's relationship with God...with splosions and monster, of course.

So, needless to say, I was little dejected. But, fortunately I still had one more shot with an agent who seemed like a good fit for my work. And the kicker is, she'd actually gotten to read some of it. I'd sent the agent the first 25 pages of the manuscript and a one sheet/bio about two months before, and she was supposed to come to the meeting with some pointed critiques. After the shellacking I'd taken in the pitch session I was hardly expecting this to go well, but when I sat down with the agent she pulled out the manuscript, flipped through it a little and then smiled and said, "You know, I really didn't have any critiques, I just wanted to talk to you about the world you're building here."

What!?

It was just about the awesomest thing that's happened to me so far in my very short, very meager literary career. I'd spent almost two years working on this thing with no clue as to its worth, and here was a professional, someone who actually knew what they were talking about, telling me that I'd jumped the first major hurdle of a work of fiction: after reading the first few pages, do you want to read more? Yes. Yes, I do.

The catch was that I now had a book to finish. It took me four weeks of intense writing, and then another four weeks of even more intense editing (culminating in a nine-hour final rally that went until 4 in the morning), but I finally have a finished novel*. I submitted it on Saturday. It's done. It's out of me. And it's as close as I've ever come to saying exactly what I wanted to say. I'm proud of these characters and what they've achieved and who they became. I'm proud of myself for working late night after late night and early mornings and not going out with friends and working through my lunch hours in noisy Subways and Starbuckses. For two years I emptied myself out onto the page, and now it's out of me and here and hopefully people like it. It doesn't really matter to me if they do or not. Certainly I don't want people to tell me I suck, but it was the completion that was most important. I had something to say, and it took me a long time to say it, but I did. I said it.

Let's see what happens now. I promise I'll be more present on the blog now that it's done. I might even post a few chapters here and there if I don't get too paranoid.


*And, boy is it a doozy. It clocks in at about 212K words (which is about 700 or so pages in real book pages), and that's after I chopped 10K+ words during the editing process.

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