by S. L. Duncan
I remember starting out on this ridiculous publishing endeavor, the whole querying process lived on this binary of good news and bad news. And let’s face it; the news was mostly the latter. Yet there was some comfort in knowing that it was always going to be one or the other. You either got requests for a partial or full manuscript of your work, or you got rejected.
And then one day that good news leads to even better good news—the offer of representation.
I say I remember this feeling, like it was SOOOOO long ago, but really, as a published author, not much has changed. I still participate in this querying process, only this time my agent does the querying (though he has a cooler name for it—submitting), and for the most part, the results are the same. Either the editors like my work and offer a deal, or they reject it and no offer.
There is, however, a new dynamic—a third possible response, acknowledged usually with the help of your agent. I’ve been on submission for a new book for a few months now, the first round of what might be a hard sell. It’s a WWII middle grade book about a boy surviving the London Blitz with a future-predicting, haunted teddy bear. I was warned prior to submission that the historical elements and the more literary tone might make for a tough get. So when my agent sent me the compilation of the first round responses to his submission, I was prepared when there was not an offer on the table.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the uniformity of the responses—all 12 of the 14 that bothered to respond nearly said the exact same thing, and it was mostly positive. What they loved and what they gravitated toward is what we thought they’d hate—the historical setting. So what went wrong? Why didn't they offer a deal? This is a bit hard to admit publicly, but here you go:
Nobody connected with the main character.
So, here’s where that new dynamic comes in: The Hard News. A good agent, much like the one I’ve got, wears multiple hats. The one you want him or her to wear in this situation is the psychologist hat. There is plenty of advice my agent gives based on his experience, but he doesn’t give me the answer—he asks what I think is the answer. Can’t you just imagine me, on the leather-bound couch, my agent sitting in the chair beside me, pen and pencil in his hand, checking his watch for how much of the hour is left? Lose the furniture and the impatience, and that’s just about what we’ve got—him on the phone asking, “What do you think you should do?”
This is where I am right now—holding neither good nor bad news. Just hard news. Hard because I know it’s true and it will take a grand effort to basically start over. Hard because it would be so easy to say everyone else is wrong and set out again on another round of submissions. Heck, I might even land a deal. Deep down, though, I’d know those original editors were right; that the work and effort I’d put into writing and mastering that book was flawed, and in a big way.
So be prepared for Hard News to come with the good and the bad. Because while it’s a hard thing to accept that you’re wrong about something, it’s an even harder thing to do something about it. And who knows? With a little effort, it might just be Good News in disguise.
S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on INKROCK.com and on Twitter.