Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel, Part 2

Read the full post of Part 1 HERE: 

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel, Part 2
By Victoria J. Coe

Last week’s cliffhanger: For the second time, agent Marietta Zacker considered my manuscript and regretfully said it still wasn’t working. She and I had shared a vision for what the story could be. She inspired me to explore my characters and plot more deeply. I’d done my best and made good progress, but my revision fell short. I had two choices: 1) Give up, or 2) Get professional help.
I decided to reach out to Ben H. Winters, my Grub Street teacher from the previous year. To my amazement, he said he’d love to help. It wasn’t easy to spend the money, but with so much at stake I had to go for it.
It turned out Ben was worth every penny. Actually, he was worth a trillion pennies! I shared Marietta’s comments and suggestions with Ben and he kept those in mind as he read my manuscript. Three weeks later, he sent a detailed critique and we scheduled a call.
Coincidentally, at that point I was taking an 8-week on-line master class on plot with editor Cheryl Klein. When Ben and I talked, he helped me see a new way to implement the suggestions Marietta had made. I was able to apply what I’d learned in Cheryl’s class and we spent the entire call brainstorming. I hung up with a plan. It was my “Aha!” moment.
I was on fire. It only took me two months to revise the manuscript and send it back to Ben. (Unbelievably, he’d agreed to reread it even though he’d just won the Edgar Award and was on a national tour for his newest book.)
And more good news - Ben said that finally, the story felt like “what it was trying to be all along.” In other words, it was ready for Marietta.
I sent the manuscript back to the same agent for the third – yes, the third – time. She said she looked forward to reading it and she hoped to respond within three weeks. I braced myself for the wait and started thinking of the next step I’d take if/when the rejection came.
A day later, my husband and I went to New York for a big night on the town. The next afternoon we were getting ready to head back to Boston, when I checked messages.
I was shocked to see an email from Marietta asking if we could talk. She said she had some questions. I was so distracted, my husband had to pull me out of the way of a speeding taxi!
I couldn’t imagine what Marietta’s questions were. She couldn’t possibly have read the manuscript so soon, so why would she have questions? I wrote her back and we scheduled a call for the following morning.
I could hardly sleep that night. I had visions of the Monty Python bridgekeeper asking riddles before I could cross the Bridge of Death. Did I know the capital of Assyria? Or the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
The next morning my stomach was in knots. When Marietta asked how I was doing, I actually replied, “I’m totally nervous!”
But thankfully, she calmed me down immediately. She said she read the manuscript in one night and she loved it!
She talked about my characters like she knew them personally. Like she cared about them. We talked about things like age range and where the story might fit in the market. The conversation was so organic, I’m not exactly sure at which point she offered representation. All I know is I was so overjoyed, I couldn’t contain myself.
It had been 11 months after I’d first queried Marietta. It was a long quest, with lots of ups and downs, a stellar supporting cast, and a heroine who never gave up. But my story has a happy ending and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The good news from Vicki gets even better. See the Publishers Weekly Rights Report from February 3, 2014 HERE! 

Writers, what’s the best feedback 
you’ve ever received from an agent?

I’ll share mine in the comments below.

Monday, February 3, 2014

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel

Two years ago, Judy Mintz introduced me to Victoria J. Coe at the NESCBWI Conference. Months later, we wound up moving about four blocks away from one another in the same town as Judy. Vicki is a talented writer, treasured critique partner, and friend... and she's got one heck of a story. 

When Your Writing Journey Becomes the Plot of a Novel
By Victoria J. Coe

You’ve read it before – a determined heroine sets out on a quest, fails, tries again, fails harder, hits bottom, has an “Aha!” moment, overcomes her character flaw, tries a third time and ultimately succeeds… or becomes the victim of a tragedy. When I first wrote my middle grade novel, I thought – that is, I hoped – my happy ending would come at the end of Act 1. Ha! Who would want to read a story like that?
              I spent ten months writing and revising. My first readers, including my critique group, teacher and classmates at Grub Street Boston, and critiquers at New England SCBWI helped me work on a huge number of issues. Everyone agreed the character and voice were special. I began to believe.
            I researched agents, whipped up a query, and started sending out batches of ten. All in all, I queried 50 agents and got five full requests. The first four were kind enough to offer comments, but it was obvious my manuscript wasn’t a good fit.
            At the bottom of the alphabet, Marietta B. Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency ended up in my fifth batch. After researching the authors and books she represents, reading her interviews, and learning how highly-regarded and overall impressive she is, I was ecstatic when she became my fifth full request. I held out hope.
            Less than a week later, Marietta sent me the longest, most exciting rejection ever. She gushed about the character and the voice. She used the word “love.” Clearly, there was a connection.
But, she also said the plot and story development needed work. She made suggestions. She said she’d be more than happy to read a revision. She offered to talk if I had questions.
            In further emails and a phone conversation, Marietta and I shared a vision of what the story could become. I was determined to rewrite the manuscript and blow her socks off.
We kept in touch as I rewrote. With the help of two SCBWI critique groups, I revised again. Five months later, we all agreed it was ready. I sent the new and improved manuscript back to Marietta with sky high hopes.
Waiting was torture. 
Then, almost two months later, the email came. And it was bad news.
She agreed I’d dug out a stronger plot. She praised the changes I’d made. But, she said the story still wasn’t working. She actually said it pained her to write the words that she had to pass.
Talk about feeling devastated. It was the best chance ever with the best agent ever and then it was over. Just like that. After all that work.
Numb, I had no idea how to react. But I knew I had to thank Marietta for her incredible generosity and encouragement. She kindly responded that she’d be open to future submissions. And she’d even read this same manuscript again should I decide to revise a third time.
Yeah, right. How could I revise if I didn’t know what wasn’t working? And if it wasn’t working for Marietta, the agent who loved my character and my voice, it wasn’t going to work for anyone. I had two choices: 1) Give up, or 2) Get professional help.

This part of the story is called the cliffhanger. 
Tune in next week to find out what happens!

Writers, what has made you shelve a novel? 
What has made you stick with a novel?