I’ve always believed that I’m a good writer. But at the same time, I’ve always believed I still have much to learn.
At the intersection of these two opposing ideas is the place where I wonder whether, at this moment, I’m good enough for traditional publication.
Whether my historical fiction WIP, which I’ve believed in long enough to have now gone through three (soon to be four) drafts, is now good enough to at least pique the interest of a publishing professional, let alone snag and hold that interest for the duration.
At this intersection is also the place where an opportunity presented itself to receive feedback on a bit of my WIP by a literary agent.
This occurred by way of #PubforPR—a weeklong online charity auction of goods and services from authors, agents, editors, and other members of the writing and publishing community. The proceeds of this event would all go toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico following the devastation from Hurricane Maria.
Items up for auction included signed books, box sets, book club appearances by authors via Skype, full and partial manuscript critiques, query letter critiques, phone consultations with agents and social media specialists, and even the opportunity to attend a writing retreat with a bestselling author.
After perusing the more than 300 available items, I zeroed in on a 10-page manuscript critique from an agent who represents historical fiction, which I bid on and subsequently won. Here are my thoughts on first preparing for, and then actually receiving, this feedback.
1) I had to want it
I’ve long known that I can talk myself into or out of just about anything. I thus had to spend several serious moments asking myself if I really wanted to bid on this critique at all.
Did I really want to open myself up to feedback from an industry professional before my WIP is technically finished? Was I prepared emotionally to deal with the outcome, particularly in the case of negative feedback?
And if so, did I really want to secure that feedback by way of an auction, which by its very nature often elicits, especially in the final moments, crass displays of money and one’s perceived deservingness of the prize over others?
Ultimately, the fact that this auction was for charity was the only thing that convinced me to participate. However vehement I might become in the moment, I reasoned, it would benefit Puerto Rico that much more.
And so once convinced that yes, I did want to do this, I planned my winning strategy like a military tactician, spending days figuring out how to time my final bids and how else to access the site if it crashed in the final minutes before the auction’s official close.
2) This is a test
Another reason I decided to take part in the auction—indeed, the reason I chose the specific item that I did—is because someday soon-ish (by next spring at the latest, hopefully), I plan to begin querying agents.
I’ve never done this before, but know from the relatable experience of applying for jobs, asking guys on dates, and giving portions of my work to fellow writers for critique that putting yourself out there like that can be a nerve-wracking experience.
By winning this agent critique, it offered me the chance to feel the feelings of nervousness and self-doubt and impatience in a controlled environment of knowing that a response actually would come eventually (we’ve all heard about how some agents just don’t respond if they’re not interested).
What’s more, by offering up only 10 pages—in many cases the same sample size upon which agents base their decision to either request more or pass—I’d get a good sense of how my writing might be received were this a real query.
3) Life goes on
This relates to point #2. I agonized over every detail of my submission, desperate to ensure that I’d cut out all the filter words, and that I’d obliterated all the run-on sentences, and that I had no typos in the text, and that it was in proper manuscript format, and that each part of my title page had the correct number of spaces between it.
I then clicked send and promptly stopped thinking about it.
Because life doesn’t stop for a novel query; at least mine didn’t.
I still had to go to work, and work two Saturdays of overtime, and carry on with the volunteer consulting work I’m doing, and continue working on the rest of my WIP’s line edits, and continue researching Ancient Greece for my next novel, and continue working on my application to the research methods and evaluation program I’m applying for, and call my mother every Sunday, and cook dinner every night, and clean my apartment, and go to the gym, and buy my niece a birthday present, and meet up with friends, etc. etc.
I thought I would obsess over my email waiting for the agent’s reply. But I was so darn busy, when the reply came, it took me completely by surprise. Admittedly, the wait was not very long at all, but I think I could have happily carried on in my same manner for weeks.
I’ve heard from many different sources that the best thing to do while querying is to keep yourself occupied, and this experience has helped prove just how valid this advice really is.
4) The moment of truth
The email came in the afternoon of a workday just after I’d returned from a noontime class of cardio boot camp at the gym.
I had to read it three times in a row before my exhausted, ravenous brain could parse its meaning, my heart thudding in my chest like I hadn’t left the boot camp class at all.
For the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. She said my language was lovely! She said my characters had layers! She said the action was exciting!
It was not all choirs and fireworks, of course. She also offered tips on things to watch out for, and advised I take a second look at a certain part (hello infodump, my old friend).
But more so than not, the feedback was praising, validating, and very encouraging.
5) This changes nothing—and everything
As pumped as I was to receive this feedback, I need to take care against reading too much into it.
It was, after all, only 10 pages—not even a full chapter. (The chapter had another page and three-quarters to go, but following agents’ guidelines was also something to practice in all of this, so I followed them to the letter).
Just because I got the novel off to a good start doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone sideways at any point from page 11 onward. As well, this is only one person’s opinion. A different agent mightn’t have enjoyed my pages at all.
Still, as my mother was quick to point out, the agent was the most professional person to read any of my novel to date, and she liked what she saw.
I’ve always believed that I’m a good writer, and I now have at least a bit of proof that this is in fact the case.
As for whether or not I am indeed, at this moment, good enough for traditional publication, that continues remains to be seen for a while longer yet.
What convinced you (or what will convince you) that you’re a good writer? What does validation as a writer look like for you? Let me know in the comments.