Friday, October 29, 2010

Improvement, Not Defense

Yes, I am still writing about the Write Angles Conference. It’s funny, one of my dive buddies jokes about how only divers can take a 30 minute dive and turn it into a 4 hour long conversation. Well, only a novelist wannabe can take a 1 day conference and turn it into 3 blog posts.

We went to see the keynote speaker after lunch, and then to the last break out session “What Agents Really Think.” At this section a random selection of the first pages that attendees submitted ahead of time would be read aloud. The four agents would respond to each one as to whether they’d read on to the second page, or whether they’d request more from the author. Just from one page.

Michelle and I sat in the very front so we could get a good look at the agent reactions. From where I sat I could see the stack of first pages in front of one of the agents. I could see that the first one on the pile was not mine. I grew antsy and wondered how many first pages were submitted and whether mine was selected for reading.

The first one read was an astoundingly beautiful description of Malawi at sundown. The author talked about how the air grew cold once the sun went down, the darkness closed in and the cooking fires were visible from the road. It was so beautifully written I swear I could smell the campfires. I applauded after the reader finished. But then I stopped when I realized that Michelle and I were the only ones clapping. Yes, we were the dorks in the front row clapping. Mr. McAgentton (the one I’d met with) said “I don’t know who you are, but you need to send that to me.” All of the agents swooned over it. I slouched in my seat. It was way better than mine.

But then I remembered what Michelle and I talked about in an earlier session in which we talked about the self-doubt that creeps in after rejection. We both had the same thought “When faced with rejection we say ‘So, what can I do better next time.’” And while I may not be able to describe nightfall in Malawi as beautifully as this person had, I had other parts of my book that were just as good, but they were a different kind of good. Who knows, maybe this Malawi person can’t write dialogue for crap. I feel I can. I commanded myself to turn on my sponge and learn about what I can do better.

Then the reader read the next one, and the next. Damn, all of these were good. I fought to keep myself sitting up straight in my seat, not letting the self-doubt seep in. The agents shed their politeness as the session wore on. I think that some of the first pages weren’t as polished as others (not like that Malawi one. Damn!) and they picked up right on it and asked questions like “Who is this person? Why are they doing this? What’s going on here?” All very valid questions.

I kept my eyes on the stack of first pages that the agent closest to me had on the table in front of her. Then I saw mine. I elbowed Michelle, “Mine’s next! Holy crap!”

And it was read, and I watched the agents react. There was one who was particularly expressive. She rolled her eyes, she sighed and scribbled a note in the margin. The rest remained poker-faced.

Now, keep in mind that this first page had since been re-written. So, it wasn’t the best representation. And I wondered what Mr. McAgentton was thinking about it at the time. Was he annoyed with himself for having requested my first 50? Would he ignore my email once he did get those pages? Have I blown my chance with him?

The reader stopped reading. I think only one of the agents raised their hand before the end of the reading, which is the signal that they would stop reading at that point. They had done that on a few others as well, so I didn’t feel singled out. My heart pounded as I waited for a response.



Blogger Heidi said...

“When faced with rejection we say ‘So, what can I do better next time.’”

I love that concept. I'm going to borrow that one. =)

November 5, 2010 at 12:09 PM  

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