“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that lost by not trying.”
- Francis Bacon Sr.
At the conference, I put myself through three critiques. The first was a peer critique on Friday afternoon.
Two years ago, at my first ever peer-critique, I’d brought a rough draft of Indigo in the Know. The feedback was essential, making me decide to start the story in a different place. The next day, I took a workshop on openings and read aloud at what I thought was a better beginning for the manuscript. Although my voice started to wobble, it evened when I found the protagonist’s voice. The instructor and several writers came up to compliment me at the end of the workshop and throughout the conference.
Last year, I brought the beginning of Aura for peer critique, and received positive feedback and some tips for improvement. But I showed the editor ten pages of my newly written The Disappearances and couldn’t adequately explain what it was meant to be because I didn’t know myself.
This year, after writing a few pages of Naked Eye on Mother’s Day and a few more during the week, I brought it to read aloud. Writing these pages came much easier to me. That’s not entirely true. I’ve never had a problem spitting out pages. And that’s what they look like once someone else shows me where I’ve gone wrong. But this time, the words were better. I’ve improved with each manuscript.
I’m not saying there isn’t work to do. But this time, I won’t need to focus as much on grammar or show, don’t tell or to find a better hook to begin. I am miles, no, light years away from the first manuscript I ever wrote. Thanks to reading books on writing and grammar, as well as finally absorbing the comments regarding the mistakes I’d made over and over, I finally know what it takes to produce a decent sentence, a stronger paragraph, a crisper page.
And I’m less married to words. I have the blog to thank for that. I try to keep my posts to less than 1k words, so sometimes when I've written an interesting paragraph, but the piece is too long and the part doesn’t fit… I CUT IT. Without looking back. NO MERCY.
After the peer critique, I had my agent critique. This is where I fess up. In April, I was one of the winners of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest. I never actually expected to WIN. I’d entered looking for feedback on a beginning. And where did I find out? On the Bolt Bus traveling from New York to Boston. And what did I win? The option to send a query and ten-pages for critique. My face turned red and I wanted to gasp, “OHMYGOD,” but I’m sure the other passengers would’ve thought I was crazy.
What should I have done? Taken my time to polish my manuscript. Guess what I did? Yep, you guessed it. I sent the query and ten pages while still on the bus because nobody was around to talk some sense into me. (Perhaps I should’ve confided in those passengers.) As promised, the agent responded quickly. With a rejection.
A week or so before the conference, I received an e-mail notification about which agent would be critiquing the query for Aura. Guess who? Yes, the very same agent.
I thought about e-mailing the agent, explaining about my lost mind, but decided to use up part of my ten precious minutes to tell her instead. When I got there, I said, “I’m Theresa Milstein, one of the winners of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Contest.” She looked at me, clearly confused. Somehow, I hadn’t been the last submission she’d looked at. (I know, shocking!) She struggled to remember. “Is that the one with the Walmart and the couple?”
My original query letter wasn’t getting any bites (get it, vampire story). I worked with someone else and wrote a new one, and wanted feedback before I considered sending it out to the wide world of agents. She was awesome, telling me to make sure I answered:
Who is the main character?
What do they want?
What’s stopping them?
What choice do they have to make?
How does the problem get worse?
She also told me to promote it as standalone with series potential and to focus on what made it unique (Jewish girl not seduced by another vampire). Then she invited me to rewrite and resubmit it with five pages. Yay!
Late Saturday afternoon, it was time for my synopsis plus nine pages of Aura. The editor said if she had more pages, she would’ve continued reading. She liked the main character and the voice. The editor agreed the market was saturated with vampire paranormal romances, but said if I focused on what made it unique (same as above), I may find a publisher looking for a new spin. UNFORTUNATELY, her publisher had one coming out on her list so slot taken.
Then I told the editor I’d written something else, and that it was almost ready for submission. In the future, I hope to send The Disappearances.
I didn’t get an offer of representation. I didn’t get a request for a full. But the feedback I received showed me I’m closer. And when speaking with agents and editors, I had more confidence in my work and myself. Compared with my editor critiques the previous two years… there is no comparison.
“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson