Sunday, December 18, 2016

The "It" Factor

By the time I had figured out that Project 2016 was part of a larger project, I had already sent out a handful of queries. Most of them had gotten responses before I went back to work, but a couple were still outstanding.

I went ahead and got back to writing because, for one thing, I needed to keep myself busy and stay in the habit of working and, for another, I didn't want to hang all my hopes on this version of Project 2016 being the one that got picked up.

It's been long enough that I'd actually forgotten about all but one outstanding query (as an aside, those auto-response receipts are a godsend as far as keeping up with who has what and where). I've been working on other things, and the emails I sent back in early October are fuzzy.

So I was surprised this week when I found a response from an agent in my email.

Before anyone gets too excited, the email wasn't a manuscript request. It was a rejection. The sixth for this project so far.

I'm not generally bothered by rejections. What makes good fiction is pretty subjective, and sometimes your work just isn't someone's style. Frankly, you don't want someone who isn't one hundred percent about your work to represent it. And I'm not bothered by the number of rejections. Harry Potter was famously rejected a dozen times before it found a home. All manner of famous authors have seen rejections--Orwell, Faulkner, Stein, L'Engle, Alcott, Christie, Joyce--the list goes on. I've heard authors talk about seeing upwards of 50 rejections before finding the right match (though, I'll admit--I'm not sure I'd still be unbothered by rejections at that point).

The responses I've received from the people I've queried, thought they haven't been what I wanted, have all been kind and helpful. None of them have made me feel like I'm wasting my time with this project. In fact, from the way some of the rejections have been worded, I think I might have come pretty close to success once or twice--phrases like "excited by the query" and "interested in the premise," stuff that suggests that, if nothing else, there was something that gave the reader pause or piqued interest.

And that's great--it's really, really great. It means there's something in the story that people are into.

But it's also so frustrating that I want to pull my hair out.

In addition to these more promising statements, the emails I've gotten have mostly included some variation of "I didn't fall in love with it the way I need to to represent it."

Again, in the long run, that's a good thing for me to know. Whoever is going to champion my book needs to love it at least as much as I do. If someone can't reach that level of enthusiasm, they won't be able to fight for it. And my work not being someone's cup of tea is no big thing--there are plenty of books that are great that I'm just not that into. It happens.

None of this experience is abnormal. But it has left me asking questions.

What's the "it" factor? What makes someone fall in love with a book? What might my book be missing?

Obviously, there's not a hard-and-fast answer to any of those questions. What makes a person fall in love with a book is going to depend on the reader. The "it" factor can be anything from a particularly compelling character to a detailed and expansive world with thorough lore, to a timely conflict or the introduction of a fascinating piece of technology. My book may not be missing anything--or it may be missing a lot.

The process is a roller coaster. People have joked that being an artist is simultaneously feeling absolute narcissism and crippling self-doubt. That doesn't seem far off the mark. This question of what makes people fall in love with a book (which is really me asking "why aren't people falling in love with my book?" if I'm being honest) has got me on a bit of a downswing. But it's temporary. It always is. And at least I know that there is something worth keeping in this project.

I've still got two queries out. I have no idea what to expect from them, but I do have a plan for what I need to do next, which is about the best I can ask for.

I'll be taking next week off from the blog for the holiday. The blog will be back January 1 with a 2016 recap and, if there's news, updates.

Happy holidays, folks. Thanks for reading.

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