– By Ink & Insights judge: Nic Tatano
We all know that pretty much everything about writing talent is subjective. Everyone has picked up a bestseller and thought about tossing it through a window like Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook when he got fed up with Hemingway. And there’s the book that never got any traction in the sales department but happens to be the favorite one on your bookshelf. Every flop has passionate fans, every bestseller comes with vicious one-star reviews.
And that reminded me of a few incidents that really stood out in my career and taught me that opinions can be all over the place.
The first occurred at a dinner party. I’d been attending one of those intensive writing boot camps, and the bestselling author running it invited some editors from major publishers for the event. We were told to “bring a few pages of your best work” since we’d have a chance after dinner to share it with an editor. I wasn’t sure what to bring, so I showed the first chapter of a manuscript I’d been working on to the hosting author. His eyes lit up as he read it.
“This could be huge. Really different.” The only problem was that it didn’t fit into a specific genre and would need an editor willing to think out of the box.
So I was very confident after his critique (along with too much wine.) When my turn came, I sat down opposite the editor and happily handed her a few pages. I leaned back, smiled, and smugly waited for the same reaction I’d gotten from the host.
Her eyes didn’t light up; they narrowed.
The brow furrowed.
Big eye roll. Heavy sigh.
She took her pen, went through the pages like Normal Bates attacking a shower curtain in Psycho, and handed it back to me. “Why would ANYONE want to publish this?”
I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I had no comeback. I simply said nothing, got up, and skulked away, totally deflated.
The book, by the way, ended up being pitched by an agent, which brings us to the second part of the story. (It came close to a sale, but again, no one could figure out a genre or marketing plan for it.)
The agent had loved my writing and pitched a few novels for me. Again, close but no sale. I’d met her in New York, we got along great. And then I sent her the manuscript which changed everything. Silly me, I thought this was some of my best work and waited for the phone call. Sat up straight and smugly waited for the glowing phone call.
It didn’t even take a day.
“I’m sorry, but this is the worst thing you’ve ever written. I think it would be best if we part ways.”
“Uh… yeah. Okay, fine.” I politely thanked her for her efforts and ended the conversation.
I immediately started to do what most writers would… searching for another agent who handled this particular genre.
And then I said, “The hell with it. I’m sending this directly to editors.”
I found a master list of emails at major publishing houses and started to carpet bomb editors with my query letter. Incredibly, I got responses a lot faster (and a lot nicer) than I’d had from agents, a few of them wanting the full manuscript.
I thought for a moment about the agent’s comment. Do I re-write this? Is it that bad? The worst thing I’ve ever written? Had I become incapable of judging my own work?
And then I said, “The hell with it,” again. I didn’t change a single word and sent it out.
About a month later an editor at HarperCollins contacted me and wanted to publish it. I ended up doing ten novels for her.
Finally, there’s the contest scenario. Like many writers, I’ve entered a bunch. (One led to my first professional sale, a short story.) I entered a national contest with a few thousand other writers, hoping I’d at least make the first cut. I knew I’d never win the thing since it required votes from readers, and I’ve got zip in the social media department. But I figured since it was being judged by agents and editors, my book might get noticed.
Nope. When the list came out, I hadn’t made the cut.
And one year later, when it came time to enter the same contest again, I said, “The hell with it.”
Same manuscript entered, not one word changed, made the cut.
You can file this under “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure”… so never let one bad opinion or review make you give up. Keep pitching… because you never know if the one person who reads it can change your life.