Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

How do you choose what to read? (& my new novel)

The name of my new novel is Mystic Grounds, and here are a few words about it:

Have you ever wondered if your fate has already been written?  MYSTIC GROUNDS is a 39,831-word YA novel in which three friends, Esra, Anjali, and Sage, try to figure out who they are, who they’re not, and whether it’s even up to them. Esra is just your average geeky hypochondriac haiku-writing high school junior until she and her friends discover that she can decipher the future in mysterious patters formed by coffee grounds.  When good and bad predictions start coming true, everyone starts to wonder whether Esra is simply predicting the future or if she’s actually manipulating it.  Are Esra and her friends in control of their own destinies, or has the future already been determined?

I'm querying it at the moment, hoping that an agent will like it enough to sign me, and then sell it to a traditional publisher.  I know, I know, there are lots of arguments against traditional publishing, but I'm going to try anyway.  Why?  Well, there are some arguments for traditional publishers, too:

  1. They can get my book into bookstores.  It's something I can sort-of do, maybe, but not really.  Especially because I live abroad.
  2. They can organize translation rights.  I cannot do this.
  3. Agents have a relatively good idea of what sells. If one believes in my book well enough to take on the project, they can help me make improvements to the manuscript.  
  4. Traditionally published books can get reviewed by all, not just some, review organizations.
  5. One must admit that it would feel really good to hear that an agent, who reads thousands of manuscripts a year, liked mine.  So I hope that happens.
I've now queried 15 agents.  One has already sent me a rejection letter.  I'm past the point of the rejection hurting too much.  Most authors have to be rejected many times before finding representation. It's part of the process.  Oh, and in case you're wondering, a query letter is a one-page letter that you send to agents.  In that letter, you have to introduce your book and yourself.  You get one page to spark their interest.  It's incredibly hard to do.  I've done my batch of 15 and now I'm going to stop and wait.  Because if there's no positive response at all, I'll have to go back to the drawing board with the letter.  You don't get a second chance with agents - once you've sent them a query letter for a project, you don't get to send them a revised query letter for that project unless it's years later and you've massively revised the manuscript.  So you don't want to write to a hundred agents only to realize that your letter is rubbish and that you should have written something else.  

It's been said that it's unfair for agents to make judgements this way, but I do think it's perfectly fair.  It's no different than how we judge books we're going to buy at a bookstore (or on Amazon).  We see the title, we look at the cover artwork.  That's step one.  They say not to judge a book by its cover, but covers do tell us a lot.  I definitely judge books by their covers (though I don't think I judge people that way.  Well, maybe a little).  Manuscripts don't have covers, though.  The next step in knowing whether you'd like to read a book is to read the back of the cover.  In a query, you're essentially coming up with hypothetical back-cover text.  

Some agents let you attach some of your manuscript.  Sometimes it's the first page, sometimes the first 50 pages, sometimes the first chapter or the first three chapters.  Of course they'll get a better sense of the book by reading three chapters than by reading one page, but how many times have you picked up a book and read the first page and thought no, this is not for me?  I have.  So I can't fault agents. 

This month, I was supposed to read a book for book club, for example, and I liked page one.  But by page two, I already didn't like it.  I read 30 pages, at which point I hated it.  I will not torture myself and read on.  I'm not taking some literature class that I will get a grade on.  The author had written other highly-acclaimed novels.  After deciding I hated the book, I read some reviews of it.  Some were glowing, but many (perhaps most) were along the lines of "I loved _______s other books, but this one is awful."  One reviewer even went on to say that if this had been the author's first book, rather than the 3rd after 2 highly successful books, he would never have gotten published.  That made me feel really good.  I'm not entirely sure why.  

All I can do is cross my fingers and hope that someone likes my book.  One agent has the entire manuscript.  She had read my entire other manuscript and loved my writing but not the characters.  I'm hoping that this time, she'll love both.

How do you choose what you're going to read?