by Donna Hatch
I finished my latest manuscript, a romance with fantasy elements in a medieval setting. Think Lord of the Rings but bring the romance between Aragorn and Arwen forward and push the rest back. This manuscript, Queen in Exile, represents many years, on and off, between babies, moves, jobs, church callings, and life in general. I write because I must, and normally never showed my writing to others except my very sweet, supportive sister-in-law, who, in her kind and very biased opinion, said it was wonderful. Good for my ego, but not necessarily true. But about a year ago, I decided to see if anyone else thought my fantasy novel was as wonderful as I did. Perhaps my late night obsession could result in a marketable skill. My husband would certainly understand more why I write if I could produce something tangible for all my efforts.
So, I joined a writer’s group and won a scholarship to a writer’s conference in San Diego where I learned more than I ever imagined. I went home, made some adjustments with the help of a critique partner, and pronounced my baby perfect.
With my husband’s encouragement, I wrote some query letters and sent them and the first few pages of my manuscript to several publishers I was just sure would love it. They all replied with very polite rejections. Form rejections. No personal notes, no reasons why, just “no thank you,” or “it doesn’t fit our needs at this time” blah, blah, blah.
That’s okay, I had heard that most writers don’t sell a book unless they have enough rejections to wallpaper a room, so, undaunted, I kept at it, sending it to agents as well as editors once I discovered that many publishers won’t accept un-agented submissions. Their replies were the same. One agent actually sent me a personal note telling me she had a VERY hard time (her words, not mine) deciding whether or not to accept me as a client, but, of course, in the end, felt she could not represent me.
This was my baby and I loved it, so why didn’t everyone else? After a while, I began wondering if perhaps there was something about my work that might need fixing. I heard recently that even a baby sometimes needs changing. And some babies are too ugly to win any contests no matter how much we love them. So I decided to show my baby to some contest judges to get their opinion. I carefully chose contests that were reputed to give great written critiques, rather than just a score. Then I sent the first few pages, based on the number required by each contest, to two contests at the same time. It was like handing over my child to let someone else discipline. I waited with much trepidation, fearing it would come back black and blue.
Guess what? They didn’t say my baby was ugly, but they said it needed a change. Or two. Or a bunch. With varying degrees of tact, the impartial judges proceeded to tell me what was wrong with my baby. It was hard. It hurt. And some of the judges were downright cruel. However, most were incredibly helpful, and a few even wrote me personal notes. After a good cry, a good dose of chocolate and a little time, I re-read the comments, rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I knew my baby was beautiful, I just needed to change it and wash off the mud to reveal the beauty I knew lay underneath.
Of course, everyone’s opinion is subjective and some of the judges things that directly contradicted each other. What I looked for were the common things that showed up in many of the judges’ comments.
I fixed what I felt needed fixing and sent it out again to three more contests. Meanwhile, I wrote a Regency and sent it in to two of the same contests as the fantasy. This time around I scored higher. One contest came back and my fantasy had been chosen as a finalist. Yeay!! The second one came back and while I did not final, I did score fairly well. The third one came back and BOTH OF THEM HAD FINALED! Double yeay!!
Then, last week the results of one of the contests I finaled in came back. My manuscript not only won in its category of paranormal/fantasty/sci fi, but it also won the contest over all. Triple yeay!!! As the winner of this contest, I get a critique by a big time New York Agent. Also, the final judge, who is an editor of a large publishing house, requested the complete manuscript. It is my hope that one or both of them will like my work enough to offer me a contract, but I am not naïve enough to think it will be this easy.
It is too soon to hear the results of the other contest that I finaled in, but I’ll broadcast it all over the country if I final in that one, too.
As a writer, it is incredibly validating to find out that someone likes the baby I have lovingly created. I do not write because I want to sell books. I write because I must. Because I am. And if someone else receives enjoyment from my works, then we both benefit.
In the immortal words of Tigger, TTFN, Ta-ta for now!