In May my wife wondered aloud why I didn’t take the summer off to focus on my writing. According to her, teaching full time and carrying a full consulting schedule left me thin to do the work necessary to find an agent.
As is usually the case, she was right.
And, boy, did I have a lot of work to do.
As thorough as I am in my professional life, for whatever reason I had been quite negligent in properly researching the market for my book, its competition, and the specific agents to whom I intended to pitch my book. Unprepared for the task at hand, the same offense for which I fault my students, I myself was.
We call that irony, kids.
I realized, in interacting with some authors on social media and in reading about different authors’ journeys to attaining representation, how pathetically unprepared I was to pitch my book. Hold up! I couldn’t just send out a form query letter and expect every agent to bite on that? I actually had to personalize my queries?
Oh, and that violent rape scene in Chapter 11. That might trigger flashbacks, so it might have to be softened (Thanks for the Kate Brauning). So, I have to read through Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up AGAIN!?!? Uggh.
And what about contemporary competition? Wait, I can’t just say my novel’s a mix of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Rules of Attraction? I actually have to read newer novels? Crazy thought, especially since I’m not reading averse (See “Reading is Cool” for more on that).
This is really where my summer begins. As of 8/15, from mid-June, I’ve read the following books:
- The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
- Eight Men (short stories) – Richard Wright
- A Country for One Man (unreleased MS) – Foday Samateh
- Paperweight – Meg Haston
- The Way I Used to Be – Amber Smith
- Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
- Dear Life, You Suck – Scott Blagden
- The Beginning of Everything – Robyn Schneider
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
- Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
- The Bad Guys Won! – Jeff Pearlman
- Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
- Killing Reagan – Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard
- The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah
- Killing the Rising Sun – Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard
No, not all of those are YA competition for my manuscript, in particular the nonfiction pieces, the historical fiction ones, and the thriller. However, in reading the YA selections in particular, I’ve come to see that I’ve come to see YA as much more adult than young adult. Which makes sense considering that “by some market estimates, nearly 70% of all YA titles are purchased by adults between the ages of 18 and 64. Of course, some of those are parents but, assuming that the majority of actual young adults are old enough to make and do make their own book purchases, a lot of ‘non-young adults’ are reading those teen books,” according to Valerie Peterson’s March 17, 2017 piece “Young Adult and New Adult Book Markets” in The Balance.
Besides gleaning useful information from texts like Thirteen Reasons Why and The Way I Used to Be on how to tone down the previously-mentioned rape scene, Paperweight offered me insight into how to write about eating disorders and Dear Life, You Suck gave me necessary perspective on suicide. These texts have strengthened my belief that my manuscript falls on the YA shelf, despite its at-times coarse language and adult subject matter.
The most preeminent development for me, though, was finally – FINALLY!!!! – swallowing my pride and allowing my wife to look over my pitches. It’s almost unbelievable how she was able to troubleshoot questions I’d been pondering for months – What’s the BIG idea of the novel? To whom am I writing the book? Why does this text differ/stand out from the competition? What’s my hook? – within minutes. Again, wife knows best, go figure.
Considering she sells advertising for a living (superbly), I wasn’t surprised by how efficiently she dealt with my issues. I’d even like to say I always wanted her to read my proposals. But I didn’t probably because I feared hearing those two necessary words everyone needs to hear sooner or later from someone who knows better: “This sucks.”
And I’m better for hearing it. Getting knocked down a couple pegs makes you work that much harder to get back up.
In my stubbornness, I know I’ve made some very foolish mistakes (see “Practicing What Constructive Criticism Preaches” for more on that). However, I think I needed to make those mistakes to allow me the opportunity to acquaint myself with my competition and compare my book to it and to pique the brains of already-published authors I never would have had the chance to interact with.
Maybe that’s just my positive spin on my previous ineptitude, but I feel at ease with the product I’m pitching. And – cliches be damned – I’m ready to do whatever is asked of me to make this dream of mine become a reality.