Second Opinions

Last post was a while ago–I was just about to find out how my MS went in the CYA Conference competition. I did okay–received a Highly Commended award, which was lovely.  So were the couple of sessions I went to, one about the elevator pitch (with the very talented Pamela Rushby) and then acclaimed US author Jackson Pierce with “Everything I Love about YA”. The conference was well-organised and I met some other writers who, like me, are just starting out. As I said, lovely.

There was something about that day that wasn’t lovely, though. In fact it was downright ugly. It was my critique session with a she-shall-remain-nameless editor. Now I had managed to get everything I needed submitted on time–synopsis, chapters, bio–and all of these things were given to the editor ahead of time so, according to conference blurb, she could read and prepare her critique.  Perhaps she didn’t read that part. I know she didn’t read my chapters. Nor my synopsis. I don’t care about the bio, but I bet she didn’t read that either. So instead of a critique of my chapters and my story concept–an overview of my book and it’s issues–I got a line edit of the first two pages, which was done as I sat there watching.

I did get a one line off-the-cuff verbal critique of my overall skill as a writer though: “I wouldn’t bother dear, being a vet sounds like it’s much more your thing”; and a running commentary on the horrors of other manuscripts she’d edited.

Now the line edit was useful in the end–like most new writers, writing in first person, present tense, I’d overused the pronoun “I” and it was disrupting my story flow. But here’s the most important concept I took home, and took to heart: “I wouldn’t bother dear, being a vet sounds like it’s much more your thing.”

So I stopped. I stopped writing, I put my manuscript away in a drawer, and I withdrew from the writing world. I didn’t tell anybody (including my critique parter–I’m so sorry Megan) why I withdrew. I just tucked my tail between my legs and went.

I would have stayed away, hidden under my comforter, sad and sulking, if it weren’t for one of my beta readers. She was, and is, a champion of my book. She let me sulk for a while and then, when she saw I wasn’t going to bounce back on my own, she sat  me down for “a little talk”. She told me my book was good, my ego was bruised, and I should get over myself and get a second opinion because she sure as hell didn’t agree with the first.

I thought about it. And then I sat down and read my book as a reader, rather than the author. I really liked it. So I decided to take Trudie’s advice. (Thanks Trudie!)

I researched editors–the different sorts, what they do, what to expect–and I decided I needed a developmental editor (DE). A DE looks at plot, characterisation, voice, style and story arcs to make sure your novel is the best it can be. Yay, right? So then I needed to find the right DE. I googled “YA contemporary developmental editing” and came up with not quite 10,000,000 hits. Ummm…

So I did what any good researcher does, and started hitting random links.

And then links from those links. And links from those links–well you get the picture. Eventually I stumbled on an old blog post from an agent I follow on Twitter (super agent, actually–lets call her Pam). I had sent a (very premature) query off to her already–after the book was shortlisted for the CYA Conference Prize–and received a form letter rejection, so the “once I’ve edited your MS you cannot query me with it” rule on the blog post didn’t seem like it would be a big deal. My thought process went something like this: I will ask her to edit and I will ask her if she thinks it’s viable as a book that might one day find an agent and a publisher, and I will be big and brave no matter what she says. I emailed her to see if she was still offering the service, and how much it would cost me. Pam got back to me promptly with a really reasonable price, and an offer to do the edit while her agency was closed over the Christmas/New Year break. Perfect.

That gave me a week or two to revise–which I did, obsessively. I deleted a lot of first person pronouns and I sent it off to her about 1.30am the morning before it was due. Not that I was stressing or anything. She’d told me the timeframe would be a week or two, so I wasn’t expecting the email I got the next day. Pam loved it, absolutely nailed what the story needed, and said if she hadn’t edited it, she would have offered representation. Then she made the most generous offer EVER: she offered to act as a reference for the quality of the manuscript when I did query, and even gave me a couple of direct referrals to other agents whom she thought might like it.

Trudie is still doing the “I told you so” dance.

So now I’ve sent out queries to the agents Pam referred me to, and I’m researching other agents in case the MS doesn’t resonate with the agents I’ve already queried. And I’m so glad I got a second opinion.