My First Positive Literary Agent Response

“It is not so much what we accomplish in life that proves what we are…it’s what we overcome.”

–  Unknown

 

Around ten minutes after putting up yesterday’s post, I checked my email, as I do probably fifteen times a day. When I had one new message, I assumed it was to let me know that someone had liked or commented on my post.

Well, it wasn’t. It wasn’t from WordPress at all, actually.

It was from a literary agent who I’d submitted a query letter, synopsis and sample pages to in the middle of May. Seeing as the email was only a few paragraphs, I assumed it was a rejection letter and was about to add it to the appropriate email folder when I read it over more carefully.

I’m not the kind of person who easily freaks out over news, whether it’s good or bad. I take it in, and my brain doesn’t let me react until I’ve had time to process it and make sure the news is worth freaking out over.

Well, this was.

The email started out like any other: thank you for your submission, etc. Then, the sentence my brain tripped over:

“I would be delighted to look at the full manuscript.”

Not first fifty pages. Not a partial request at all. FULL. MANUSCRIPT.

My eyes jumped down to the rest of the email, which gave me guidelines for submitting the entire novel and ended by saying they were “looking forward to the read!”

Whenever I fantasized about getting my first positive response from an agent, I pictured it in one of two settings: either in my house, where I could yell at the top of my lungs, or else in a room with all of my closest friends, so we could yell together.

As it happened, God gave me the second scenario. I was sitting in a beach house with eight of my closest friends in the world, and when I read the email, they were right there. As soon as I finished reading, I screamed, and I think my eyes got a little watery. My friends, who later told me they thought someone had died, all rushed over to the laptop to read what I’d just read.

My girlfriend got there first and immediately hugged me. Then she caught my laptop as everyone else hugged me, too. Last was my friend who first read my story concept back in 10th grade, edited it, and told me to turn it into a manuscript. She and I hugged the longest, and I’m pretty sure she was the most excited.

Then I stood up, took a bunch of deep breaths, and got out my phone to call my parents. They were just as excited and kept telling me how proud they were. Then I called my two Ideal Readers, who both congratulated me and wished me luck.

But then, because my brain sucks, I snapped back into task mode.

I was on the clock now. I opened my manuscript and started to read it over, right there. Not in the fast scanning kind of way, but in the way I would read any other book. I sat there checking for any last minute errors whatsoever, and to my relief, I didn’t find any.

After about an hour of this, I got up and paced around the living room, my brain whirring. I thought through the email from the agent, the exact wording they used, what they wanted and how I would write up a response. I made a list in my head: how I would need to research “responding to full requests” for etiquette tips, and how I needed to finish the read-through of my book, and how I needed to tell everyone on Facebook, and how crazy all this was.

I spent all of today finishing up the manuscript read-through and crafting an email response back. And, tomorrow morning, I hit the send.

Alright. Since I’m writing and have the chance to organize my thoughts, let’s look at this from an objective standpoint. The pros here: I don’t know how many kids (with no publishing creds, to boot) have gotten full requests from literary agents, but I don’t think it’s that many. So that’s something to be excited about. Other pro: this was one of the first responses to a revised version of my query, which means I might have finally found a version that works. So even if it doesn’t work out with this agent, there’s hope for me as a writer in general. This means that my letter worked, and can work again.

Cons: I have no experience in submitting fulls. Other con: even though a full request is awesome, 99% of them are still rejected. My odds have jumped up from a 0.5% to around a 1% success rate. Still a long way away from publication.

But, I can’t dwell on the odds now. Why should I? An agent wants to read my book! The whole thing! Not part of it, all of it! Like I said, I don’t know how many kids have gotten that far with an agent, but I couldn’t find any cases of it.

So for now, I’m just excited. And of course during the next few weeks I’ll be biting my nails so badly that I might have difficulty writing blog posts. But, I’ll do my best.

Thank you to everyone who supported me and wished me luck. Here’s to one step closer.

Before I Graduate High School (This I Believe)

“No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.”

–  Althea Gibson

 

I picked that quote in particular because I remember pretty clearly the time when I first heard it. It was back in September 2011, when all the new eleventh graders of my high school had a meeting in the auditorium. Some spokesperson from the yearbook company came in and tried to convince us to buy class rings. He gave us a bunch of generic stuff about how important high school is, and how graduating high school is such a huge accomplishment, and how lots of people helped us along the way.

I agree with all of that. I couldn’t have gotten through high school without the help of many different people, all with various contributions. Whether it was moral support, help with studies, pushing me to take insanely hard classes because I could handle them (hi, Mom and Dad), or just being there for me.

I’ll go into that for a second. But I graduate high school in approximately five hours, and right now—in my last few hours as a high schooler—I want to address the obvious factor playing at my emotions right now: the nostalgia.

Have you ever had something really incredible happen to you, and it’s so unexpected that you don’t even freak out, because your mind isn’t letting you register that it just happened? That’s what graduation is like whenever I think about it, at least right now. I’m not bouncing up and down with excitement like I was for Prom; nor am I being slammed with sadness like I was on my last day of classes.

Let’s be blunt here: getting a high school diploma isn’t that big of a deal for me. I know some kids really work for it, and earn it through hours of studying and hard work and dedication, and I respect those kids immensely. But let’s look at me personally, just for a second.

Yes, I had a lot of homework, and yes, I worked my butt off these past four years. But If I’d really wanted, I could’ve taken all the basic requirements Freshman year, filled my class spaces with free periods, and had mounds of free time. I don’t consider it an accomplishment that I chose to cram my schedule with college level classes. Insane, maybe, but not a huge accomplishment.

Don’t get me wrong, graduating high school is a huge accomplishment for me (and everyone). But not because of the diploma. That part was easy for me. The hard part was getting through the leap from a tiny private middle school to a large public high school. Or finding the right people to be friends with. Or staying away from the wrong people to be friends with. High school is so complicated, and for a lot of teenagers—myself included—academics are the least of our struggles.

The real struggle is finding yourself and making sure you don’t lose it along the way. And after four years, I’m proud to say I did that. I’ll direct your attention to exhibit A, a post I put on Facebook recently.

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Now THAT, I am proud of. And that’s what I’ll be celebrating tonight.

I think it’s appropriate to close this post with the last high school essay I ever wrote. My English teacher showed us a thing online called “This I Believe,” started in the 1950’s, where random people—some famous, some not, some old, some young, etc.—post a short essay online about their beliefs. My last assignment in English was to write such an essay, and I think it ties in nicely here.

This I Believe

May 18, 2013 

When I first started high school, I was pretty scared about making friends. After all, I’d come from a private school where my graduating class was thirty-two kids. Then I entered a school with a class of 464, and I didn’t know anyone. But, in my years at my high school, I’ve made some irreplaceable friends, both in my classes and outside of school. It’s my belief that friends are everything in life, and whatever accomplishments you make are chiefly because of them.

I might be talkative and outgoing now, but I wasn’t back when I turned fourteen. The person who really got me to talk and express myself more was a girl I met on the first day of high school in English class. She and I have become incredibly close since then, and I’m sure one significant reason for that is because I feel like I can say pretty much anything to her. She was the first person to really listen when I talked. Also, she happens to be my girlfriend now, which is amazing.

I know that finding your voice in high school doesn’t seem like a remarkable accomplishment, but to a teenager, believe me, it is. I made an amazing group of friends in high school, and their support is connected in some way to every achievement I’ve made.

Whether it’s encouraging me to do my Eagle Scout project or us studying together for finals, my friends have been there for almost everything. My point so far, I guess, is that my friends helped me get through the major chunks of high school. And the fact that I got through those is one of my most notable accomplishments to date.

My proudest one, though, is more directly connected to the help of friends, which is why I saved it for last. Anyone who knows me—most likely, anyone reading this—knows that my favorite thing in the world to do is write. I started working on a novel at the end of eighth grade. But, I didn’t have anything solid until I opened up a bit more socially, which I couldn’t have done without the girl I mentioned above. Then one of my close friends read it, told me how good it was, and edited it into oblivion. She helped me destroy my adverbs, which I’ll never forget. And a third friend, who read the entire thing in one night, gave me something invaluable: a vote of confidence in it.

And my best friend helped me turn the draft into an actual manuscript, with a tangible story line and polished characters. He made several suggestions that skyrocketed the plot, and his friend helped me polish my query letter for it. Together, the three of us went through the final manuscript line by line out loud. [Finally, my Ideal Readers revealed]

I haven’t lived that long, but I’d like to think I’ve accomplished a few noteworthy things. I’ve survived high school, earned my Eagle Scout award, made highest honors, met a lot of amazing people, finished a book, and had the time of my life while doing all of those. My friends are the reason behind all of this, and even if I don’t owe them my life, I owe them everything I have worth living for.

I don’t know where I’ll go from here. Part of me hopes I’ll meet people in college who are even more incredible. But a much bigger part of me knows I won’t.

So yeah, I think that essay is about all I need to say before I leave high school. In the end, it’s not about how fast or slow time passes, or the good memories, or the fun dances, or the breathtaking moments, or the awesome parties, or the unforgettable school trips, or getting through tough classes or accomplishing everything you could have ever hoped for.

It’s about the people who make all of those possible. Family and friends, whether mentioned in the essay or not (because believe me, even if I didn’t mention you and you’ve helped me, I remember). It’s about the people who shape your life in the best way and who deserve all of thanks you could ever wish on them.

So thank you.

My Last Day as a Kid

“Fifteen, there’s still time for you,

Twenty-two, I feel her too

Thirty-three, you’re on your way

Every day’s a new day.”

–  Five For Fighting, “100 Years”

 

With every post in the past, I’ve had a clear idea of what I’m going to write about. But, tonight, I have no clue what I’m going to talk about in the next six or seven hundred words. I’m just going to kind of ramble and revise until I have something worth putting on my blog.

Let’s get something out of the way first: I’m not like most teenagers. In a lot of ways, but especially how I feel about getting older and growing up.

At first, I felt the same as most people. When I was ten, I wanted to be twelve. When I was twelve, I couldn’t wait to be fourteen. When my fifteenth birthday hit, I decided I was comfortable with that age for a while.

My sixteenth birthday came at the end of 10th grade, and for the first time, I wasn’t completely comfortable with it. I loved being right between ten and twenty, old enough to have my permit and hang out with my friends on my own but not so old that I had to worry about applying to college or getting a job. Sixteen, to me, felt old.

Seventeen was worse. Don’t get me wrong, my birthday was great. All of mine have been, in fact. But that just felt old, even more than last year. I was in my upper teens now, long past eighth grade and starting high school. I was getting towards the end.

And tomorrow, on April 11, 2013, I become a legal adult.

I don’t know how my eighteenth birthday will be. Maybe I’ll blog about it! I’m sure it’ll be fun…a few close friends are coming over this coming weekend to celebrate with movies, pizza and a Nerf gun fight. I’m not sure if we’re trying to be ironic since I’ll be an adult, or maybe we just really like Nerf guns.

But, my birthday isn’t here yet. Right now it’s very late the night before my birthday, and I’m sitting here trying to take in the fact that these are my last few hours as a kid.

Here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as a definitive goodbye anymore. When you say bye to someone who’s leaving, you’re still going to stay connected on Facebook, and Twitter, and maybe they’ll even visit occasionally.

Stick with me.

To use an example: when you say goodbye to your friends before going off to college, it isn’t a definitive goodbye. You’ll still see them during the holidays, and you’ll text them, etc. Let’s agree that the reason we say goodbye is because the way we see them is about to change. Instead of hanging out every day, you’ll hang out a few times a year. Less and less as time goes by, and eventually, you’ll stop.

But you won’t say anything then, because you’ll already have moved on. Saying goodbye to someone is really saying farewell to your current friendship situation, a way to preemptively let go so you’re okay when it actually happens.

Same thing here. I’m saying goodbye to my current life situation, which is being a child, but I’m not really letting go yet. I’ll still watch the same movies, act like my same old self; I’ll even hang out with the same people, at least until I leave for college (but that’ll be a completely separate emotional post).

So yeah, this is more of my excuse to say goodbye to childhood rather than an actual farewell. It’s not like I’ll wake up tomorrow in a suit with slicked back hair and a briefcase full of mortgage bills. But I’ll start acting like a kid less and less, the same as you see your friends less and less after saying goodbye. Then, one day, you realize you don’t really miss those things anymore. And you wonder what even happened when you weren’t looking.

My favorite kinds of books are the ones with kids as heroes. That’s the kind I write, incidentally. Whenever I would read the ones about the socially awkward guys, the fourteen year olds just starting high school who are cool but shy or whatever, I’d always think, “That’s me.” But I’m not a fourteen year old kid just starting high school anymore. I’m almost done. When I was going in, I just wanted more than anything to find a solid group of friends, figure out exactly what I want to do, get good enough at doing that, and more than anything, get to the point where every day I live is life at its fullest.

I’m there, guys. It took a while, but I’m finally at the exact right point in life. I have the best group of friends I could ever ask for, I know without a doubt that I want to write (not professionally, though; even my ambition has a limit), and I think I’m finally at the point where I’m good at it. It used to be that I couldn’t wait for the day to end, but now, the days never seem long enough for me.

But, I digress. The point is that when I was younger, all I wanted to do was ride out the roller coaster and hope it took me to a good place. And now that it has, I’m a little sad to get off the ride.

But! I’m not really getting off. Just changing rides. I know that a lot of people reading this, especially adults, are slapping their keyboards and crying out, “You silly teenager, your life is just getting started!”

See, I get where you’re coming from. But I also think that people don’t emphasize enough just how awesome of a thing childhood is. Two of my brightest friends (my Ideal Readers, in case you were wondering) aren’t even in high school yet.

So yeah, I’m sad to be finished with this ride. But I have no clue where this next one will take me, and this time, I’m not in a hurry to get to the end. I’m just excited to see where it goes before it gets there.

Because there are so many things out there worse than growing up. There are plenty of emotions worse than missing something fun that happened. After all, I’d rather hurt a thousand times over because of good memories than hurt once because of bad ones. And whenever I think, this is the time of my life, I remind myself that I can never really be sure until I live the rest.

Wish me luck, everyone. Here comes the rest of my life.

On Writing: Into Battle (The Publishing Battle, That Is)

“I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to say here. I could be all dramatic, but I don’t think that’ll help. So I’ll just go with the good old ‘whatever happens, happens.’ I’m ready. My odds are impossible, but I’m ready. I wish I wasn’t so scared. But starting now, I want to take on the attitude of ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Tacky and clichéd, I know, but so am I. Maybe I’ll make it today, or tomorrow, or never. All I know right now is that I’ll never give up.”

–  Written by me today, 3/5/13, at 4:27 PM, just before sending off my first query letter

 

Well, I’m not sure how much of a helpful message I can spell out in this entry. Most of my blog posts are tied to something about me, but I also try to incorporate useful opinions within the personal rambling. Tonight, though, I think I’m finally out of writing thoughts to share with the world. I hit the send on my query letter a few hours ago, and there isn’t really too much left to say on my part. I wait, hope to hear back in a few days, and prepare for the expected.

The expected is rejection, of course, but I’m not going to talk about that tonight. No doubt, once I’ve been verbally slapped with my first negative response, I’ll write a whole blog post dedicated to the feelings swirled around it. Right now, I’m just waiting, and it’s kind of hard to talk about that.

But, I’ll give it a shot.

In a minute, though. Right now, I want to talk about what it feels like to click the send on your query letter, in case anyone is curious but doesn’t want to try it for themselves.

It’s scary, for one thing. During my free period at school today, I combed the test email I sent myself last night. In that combing, I found a few tiny errors. Tiny as in wrong spacing, or a word that wasn’t doing any harm and could probably have stayed without any problems, but I decided the letter read better without it. I checked four separate times that I’d spelled the agent’s name correctly—an error that, unless I’m mistaken, still dominates the scoreboard for most notorious query-killer to date.

Then I got home, and it was time to hit send. Shortly beforehand, I wrote a small note in a journal my friend got me for Christmas. I hadn’t written in the journal yet because it was a part of a set using actual ink with a quill, which was awesome, and I wanted to save it for a good occasion.

Well, I figured today counted. Incidentally, I’m terrible at using a quill and ink.

By circumstance, one of my two Ideal Readers (remember them?) was over. I would’ve loved to hit the ‘send’ with both, but I figured there would be plenty of letters to be sent in the next few weeks. They’re still both my sword and shield, and they’re always with me as I charge into this mess of a battle.

My IR and I each gave the letter one last look, then—at 4:48 PM, according to Outlook—clicked the send. In two seconds, the cover letter to my five years of work was sitting in the inbox of my favorite agent in the country.

As I said, the experience is a tad scary.

There’s only one other thing I can think to cover in this blog post, since I’m assuming it’ll be my last one before I hear a response. That being, the indication of certain agent responses.

Here’s what I mean:

As I said in my Agent Process Told Through Memes post, there are three rounds you go through with an agent: they read your query, they read your partial, they read your full manuscript. I’d just like to list what I believe each of those stages to mean, as indication of someone’s skills as a writer.

  1. Round 1 complete: The agent likes your query and asks for your partial—I’d like to believe this indicates you’re a solid writer, with a story that has a solid concept. My hope is that I’ll get here eventually.
  2. Round 2 complete: The agent likes the partial and asks for the full—in my mind, this should be a huge step to reach, because it means you’re not only a solid writer with a solid concept, but your story is enough to keep a busy agent reading. I dream of getting here, at least.
  3. Round 3 complete: The agent likes the full and signs you on—if I ever get here, I’ll run through the streets screaming my freaking lungs out.

So, even if I only survive the first round, it means someone in the publishing business believes I have a solid concept and am a solid writer. All of this is subjective, of course, but I have to anchor my hopes on something, right? Why not on hope itself?

And of course, on everyone who helped me. To those who read my stories before they were manuscripts, then my first drafts, then those who listened when I thought I was done (and for telling me when I was).

Lao Tzu wrote, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

And in the face of the scariest thing ever, what more could I ask for than that?

On Publishing: Writing a Query Letter

“Sometimes the fall kills you. But sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” 

–  Neil Gaiman

 

All my unpublished novelists in the house, put your hands up!

I understand that today’s post—much like a lot of my writing posts lately—is for an extraordinarily select audience. Most people, even bloggers, have better things to do than write a novel and actually try to get it published. I personally…well, don’t. Publishing is my main goal at the moment, and I’ve come to realize that for those writing query letters, hearing (reading) about the struggles of the few others in the same boat can be immensely reassuring.

First of all, to get everyone on the same page, what the heck is a query letter, anyway?

Let’s go back to the stats I mentioned in my last post. The average agent gets around thirty proposals every day. If every single one of those was a full or even partial manuscript, they literally wouldn’t have time to read them all and still be able to function. At best, they’d be able to glance over the first page or two, then move on.

Fortunately, somebody came up with the brilliant concept of query letters. Now, instead of agents getting thirty or so novels dropped on their desk or in their email inbox, they receive thirty or so one-page letters (they should be one-page, at least) giving a brief overview of the proposed book, much like the inside flap would if it was published.

And so, that’s the final test for an aspiring novelist. Okay, not the final test, but certainly one of the most daunting. Now that the author has finished their brilliant book, they need to write a brilliant letter talking about it so as to hook every agent who lays their eyes upon it.

Not as easy as it sounds, let me tell you.

 

This is how the professionals do it, right?

This is how the professionals do it, right?

At first, as an optimistic writer who had already had to handle many problems with this project, I did the rational thing: after picking through the Guide to Literary Agents, I turned to Google.

A fine example of a time when Google worked too well. I realized that there are hundreds of thousands of sites (and people running them) giving advice as to how exactly to format a query letter, and what you must do and what you must never do and if this isn’t included you automatically fail and never forget this and aah I need to go take a nap while my brain explodes.

Yes, it’s that painful.

But I managed to make sense of it. I came up with a list of “ironclad rules,” which included the tips I read in GLA as well as the rules that came up frequently in my search, such as how to format the letter. Not to mention, I looked up the submission guidelines of agencies in which I was interested.

So, while you might not much care, I’ll put them up anyway: my personal ironclad rules for writing a strong query, pieced together from other ironclad rules.

  • Address to “Dear Mr./Mrs. Last Name of Agent”…always better to err on the side of formality
  • Personalize the letter, either at the beginning or end. Tell the agent why I’m querying them specifically.
  • Mention that the full manuscript is indeed available, and give word count along with genre
  • Keep under 350 words
  • Make sure contact info is in the letter
  • Avoid redundancy like the kind in the image below

 

You don't say?

You don’t say?

Anticlimactic, I know. Those are all probably things you’ve heard a million times already. But the thing is, there isn’t really one way to write a query letter. Its job is to convey what the book is about, and it’s the author’s job to figure out which way works best. Other than that, it’s really in the writer’s control. The agent wants to see that a potential future client can write well, and there’s no web sites that can give instructions for that. A lot of them try, but in the end, the query comes from the author’s core. The letter-writing process is unique for each novelist.

I’m a senior in high school, and most of my classmates spent New Year’s Eve 2012/2013 at friends’ houses partying. Me? Well, first I watched Iron Man and The Avengers, but that’s not the point. After THAT, I sat watching the Times’ Square celebration with my laptop in front of me, blasting MC Hammer’s “Too Legit to Quit” in my headphones (they played it during the celebration!) all while trying to write the query letter for my manuscript. Well, technically not the entire query letter, but the plot summary portion of it. I worked my way through the stack of young adult novels next to me, reading their inside flaps and hoping for a burst of inspiration.

And it sort of came eventually.

I had the structure of my summary done by the time 2013 hit. The writing was awful, but the structure was there. I went to bed, woke up a few hours later in the morning, then got the other half of my inspiration burst (I guess it was delayed?), and I finished off the summary portion.

That night, January 1st, I emailed it to my ideal readers and watched the season one finale of Criminal Minds, a heck of a way to celebrate the end of winter break. Then one of my IR’s emailed back their official approval while I listened to my favorite song, “The Riddle” by Five for Fighting.

And that’s how I got my query letter written.

My Sword and Shield (On Revision: Stage 3)

“A mere friend will agree with you, but a real friend will argue.”

–  Russian Proverb

  

Well! Back to business. That pesky process of editing that pesky novel, which at this point has probably been sitting unfinished for far too long.

I know mine has. Due to the dragging of my own feet as well as the busyness of others, the final clean-up of my manuscript is being stretched out much longer than I’d have liked. I suppose I should be grateful that the universe is forcing me to take my time on the last polish-up of my work, but I’m not. I’m just ready to declare it done.

And so tonight I blog about what I like to call “Stage 3” out of the three stages of editing. First, there was basic plot tidying up. Then there was the deep, word-by-word scrub. And now, voilà, the final rinse-off, then your baby is all clean and ready to be shown off (alright, in my defense, that sounded much less creepy in my head).

So. What, then, is my final test before I declare my work complete?

Glad you asked! In theory, after plot errors and wording errors are nailed down, the manuscript should be perfect. Technically speaking, there should be not a single blemish in all of its eighty or ninety thousand words.

But we both know better than that, don’t we?

Okay, enough dancing around the solution. I’ll just tell you: my final test is I read the entire manuscript aloud. Cover to cover, as a matter of fact.

But wait, there’s more!

Remember those pesky Ideal Readers I mentioned about a week and a half ago? The ones who are the living definition of the kind of people I write for? The ones who are so level-headed that if they like the finished product, you know without a doubt that it’s ready?

Yeah, I kind of have to read the manuscript to them.

Allow me to explain why.

The final read-through is when you put your story to the test. Remember all those times in the writing room when you read over a particularly putrid bit of dialogue, cringed and said to yourself “I’ll fix it later”? or, even worse, “I’m sure it sounds better to other people”?

Well: there is no later. And, to really put a pin in your balloon: it probably doesn’t sound better to other people.

But I’m getting off track. Here’s my point: reading aloud forces you to make the book as perfect as you can get it. Your brain—or mine, at least—just can’t engage in “make it perfect” mode if the book is being read in the privacy of your locked bedroom.

But then you read your story out loud, to…oh goodness, people! Human beings, with beating hearts and pituitary glands and real ears that connect to real minds that are analyzing your story as you read!

Am I making any sense here? By reading your story out loud to the people you wrote it for, the point isn’t so much what they say about it as what you say to them about it. If you have to pause in the middle of a sentence and apologize for how bad it is—which, I’m sorry to say, I’ve already done several times—then that’s a flaming red flag you need to take care of.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we need other people to push us to be better. And there is no one more perfect in the world to push me than the ones who the story is meant for. The fact of the matter is, I would rather fight off a pack of rabid squirrels with a spork than read my ideal readers something that isn’t my best. Call it the pride that comes with being an author, the nerves that come with being human, or the love that comes with friendship. All three are here. And all three together are what get me in the mode to find any final errors in my story.

When I sit down with my laptop, look my two IR’s in the eye and start to read them my book, if there’s a single freaking word out of place, I catch it. Instantly. And I have to apologize that it isn’t perfect, that I’m not either, and then I make a furious mark on the document to fix the error later.

And if one or both of your ideal readers tells you it’s bad? Well, then you just go cry in a corner.

Kidding. But as the epigraph of this post states, real friends argue with you. More often than not, it’s for a reason.

 

One of my favorite songs, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” has a lyric I absolutely love. It says, and forgive all the spacing:

“I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing

Roman cavalry choirs are singing

‘Be my mirror; my sword and shield,

My missionaries in a foreign field.’”

I’m charging into a battle where my odds of survival are hilariously low. And yes, I’ll probably fail. But the first step to surviving an impossible battle is to have a good sword and shield to defend yourself against whatever the world might throw at you.

And I have the best two anyone could ask for.

On Writing: Ideal Readers

“No two persons ever read the same book.”

–  Edmund Wilson

 

Hi there! I’m sorry about my inconsistencies this past week or two…busyness pays us all a visit at some point or another, and for me it’s not so much “when do I have time to blog?” as it is “when do I have the energy to write a post that isn’t awful?”

Well, I tried my best, readers. Here goes.

I’m rapidly finishing Stage Two of the revision process of my manuscript, and barreling towards Stage Three at lightning speed: reading the entire story aloud. Once that’s done, I’m done, at least for now. Will the manuscript be perfect? Of course not. But it’ll be about as close as I can get, at least for the time being.

But before I enter that stage—and of course, blog about it, as you no doubt suspected I would—I want to say a few words about the concept of an “ideal reader,” because it’s an interesting way of thinking that I think can apply to all writing in general.

I was first made aware of this concept from Stephen King’s book, On Writing, which I highly recommend. I now defer to Mr. King:

“Someone—I can’t remember who, for the life of me—once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has an ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of the story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what they’ll think when they read this part?’”

He goes on to say:

“If you’re writing for anyone besides yourself, I’d advise you to pay very close attention to their opinion. You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter most. And you should.”

“Call that one person your Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the days of the first draft, when the door is closed. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to story, a way of playing to the audience even while there’s no audience there and you’re totally in charge.”

This is interesting to me. Back when I started writing my manuscript in eighth grade, I was writing strictly for myself. No one was to see it, no one was to know it existed…in fact, no one even knew I wrote at all for the first two years I did it. And the poor quality of my work reflected that isolation.

I believe now that other people push us to be better. Not just in writing, but in our lives in general. No, I’m not equating writing to all of life itself, though it isn’t the worst comparison in the world.

But let’s get back on track. Ideal Readers.

I think all writers have them. Even if they aren’t writing strictly for one person, or for specific people in general, then they’re at least writing for a certain kind of person. This is usually reflected by the genre, if it’s a novel.

I need to have an I.R. An Ideal Reader keeps me anchored while, at the same time, pushing me to be better. When I write a humorous line, I’m trying to make them laugh. When I write a fast-paced action scene, I’m focused on holding their attention. That’s what, I think, all storytellers do. Even if their Ideal Reader is someone in their own head.

And me? Who’s my Ideal Reader?

I have two, actually. My story is a YA Fantasy novel, aimed for thirteen year olds. I wrote it for two in particular, and they’re the two brightest thirteen year olds I’ve ever met.

No, I didn’t write it because of them, but they’re the reason it is what it is today. Not only do they have faith in the novel—even though they’ve never read the finished version—but they have faith in me. In the end, the story is theirs. I write for those two.

The reason I wanted to talk about Ideal Readers is because of what Stage Three of revision involves: reading the entire manuscript aloud. Everyone has their own way of doing this; I myself realized I can’t do it unless it’s for my two ideal readers. Will it happen? No, sadly. But this isn’t a perfect world, and writing isn’t a perfect art. There are other ways to meet the end goal, and I’ll find one.

So, those are my thoughts on Ideal Readers. Maybe everyone has one; maybe not. But in any case, I don’t think it’s possible to write beautifully if it’s only for yourself. I certainly can’t do it. In the end, we all need people to push us to be better.

I once read that “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

I’d like to believe that’s true.