…and no, unfortunately, this has nothing to do with baseball (though baseball season is almost officially here *soft squee*). It actually has everything to do with writing and the devilish process that is pitching a manuscript and searching for representation. I’ve went through a few rounds of querying, as I’ve mentioned before on the blog. And, like I’ve also mentioned, I’ve often grown frustrated upon receiving rejections that don’t tell me what’s wrong with my manuscript (hint: that’s all of them). Though I understand the rationale why, it leaves me at a loss. The manuscript I’ve been pitching is one that I’ve worked on for a long time. I’ve edited it countless times, almost to the point where if I edit it any more, I’m worried I’m too blinded as the creator to improve it further (thus, requiring outside eyes to help highlight the shortcomings). Without someone to tell me what’s wrong with it, I don’t know what else to do with it.
I recently started getting into Twitter and using that as a writing platform. I entered into two different contests recently: #PitchMadness and #P2P16 (Pitch to Publication). I’ve made some really amazing connections and even found a few brave souls willing to be those other pair of eyes for me, to help my manuscript improve since I don’t know how else to help the poor thing. As a self-proclaimed Luddite, I never would have imagined Twitter could have such positive results for me as a writer.
Especially because I think, through Twitter and these contests, I realized why agents reject my manuscript.
Of course, I can’t be 100% sure. It might not be the sole reason. But, finally, I’m recognizing something that I’ve always known in the back of my head yet feigned ignorance surrounding, in hopes that it wouldn’t actually matter: word count. Word Count matters a lot. Not only does each genre have a specific “cap” word count, but each age audience does as well. For example, an adult romance has different word count expectations than a middle grade contemporary. I have been pitching my manuscript as a young adult fantasy. Ready to hear the word count?
News flash: that’s a helluva lot more than the majority of young adult novels, even fantasy (which tends to run higher due to world-building requirements). Even for adult novels, that is still too high. I knew this. I’ve always known this. Yet following feeds of responses from different editors and agents in both contests mentioned above, where they offer awesome advice and feedback over all the entries mentioned, I realized a couple of things that, again, I didn’t want to recognize: agents really do care about word count and if you are drastically out of your range, they might reject you from that basis alone. Why? Because it makes you seem like an ignorant writer, i.e., ignorant of your genre and age group and market. Of course, there are exceptions regarding word count, but that brings up my next point: I’m a debut writer. And debut writers, normally, don’t get published when their first novel is 125K.
Getting slapped in the face with this–to the point that I can no longer ignore it is a fact–leaves me with a few different options of how to proceed from here. The main one? Cut down the manuscript. Like, by 25K. My stress at cutting it results from the feedback from a few previous beta readers, who claimed they all wanted more; wanted elements that I left out. With this conundrum, I wanted to slam my head against a desk. Especially because I would love to add more. There is plenty I left out, in order to “keep it short.” Ha. However, as aforementioned, I think I’ve worked with this manuscript too much to be able to see it objectively. I need new insight. Thankfully, I have a few newly acquired critique partners who just received the first three chapters today and all know my goal is to slim this monster down, without losing content. I am beyond excited to hear their thoughts. *jumps up and down*
Yet that isn’t my only option, if cutting down proves “impossible”. I have been labeling it as YA. But if I label it as NA or possibly even A (New Adult or Adult) fantasy, the word count doesn’t look as bad. Still needs some trimming, but might be able to get some people to take a risk and at least look at a partial. That’s a weird thing to consider for me. I always considered myself a YA writer. Yet, when I recently got some feedback on my query, they said they didn’t see any elements of YA within it. And when trying to come up with comparative titles in my query, I always struggled doing that, because I realized I don’t read very much YA, instead mostly adult. And the new project I’m working on, I’m labeling adult science fiction. Basically, this rambling can be summed up to this: I always considered this particular manuscript YA. If it weren’t YA, how does that change the vision of the manuscript (especially as, already having books two and three written, I would label those more adult than YA)? That is a whole new can of worms that will chalk up a lot of time on the drawing board for me. (It also signals that, if this is to remain a YA, I need to be reading more YA. Stat.)
An even further possibility is focusing on my latest project and trying to get representation there, once it is ready. Or possibly a different project even after that. Then, once I find someone and become more established (dare I say, published?), perhaps that agent or a different one would be willing to risk my lengthy project because I have a couple titles underneath my belt. Another option.
It’s weird to feel like I have so many options on where to take this particular manuscript and trilogy, after working on it for almost five years and feeling like I was almost “done.” (Though, the argument can be made that a writer’s work is never done. It simply reaches a point where it is good enough after all the work that has been put into it and ready for an audience. But editing is a never-ending process, so you eventually have to stop somewhere and be pleased where you did). Though it is disheartening to believe that so many agents won’t take a chance on me because they believe I’m wordy (which I am) or ignorant (which I’m not, but I am stubborn) or not worth the risk (because I’m new), simply because my manuscript is long. Over and over, I wish they would just let me explain the length. I have reasons. Or, better yet, just read a partial and tell me what they think of the draft. Tell me if I’m writer material and the plot is sound. Give me some sense of direction, as all of these choices now are, frankly, a bit daunting.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works. And I don’t think I can ever be positive on if that truly is the reason for my rejection collection or if it is something else about my story that drives them away. Perhaps the market is overdone; the tropes are too familiar; the characters aren’t alive enough. The list is endless of what it could be. Yet I know this: trimming down the story isn’t going to hurt. And instead of just picking one of the options above, I think I’m going to mess a bunch of them together. I have some new eyes and will definitely be editing (again), but am also going to focus on this new project first, getting a full draft of it completed before the fall, to keep me creativity pumped; as well as working on my editing skills by working on my new CPs’ manuscripts, hopefully helping them improve the same way they’ll help me. I’ll probably query some adult fantasy agents and see if I get any positive responses there. Needless to say, the experience I’ve had so far this year resulting from putting myself out there as a writer has been a whirlwind, and undoubtedly informative. And despite some of the daunting tasks ahead of me, it is comforting to know that I can still do the work needed to get these stories told. Because I want them to be told. Someday.
And dammit, I’m willing to put in as much work as necessary to make sure that happens.