When I was in the 5th or 6th grade, I checked out a book from the school library about an American ballerina (whose name I do not remember). What I do remember from the book (aside from its puke-yellow binding) was that the ballerina went through a lot of trials and tribulations before she made it. I think she tried to be an actress for a while before her ballet career took off, and during her teen years, she went to a lot of casting auditions. She would perform pieces that she wrote herself. Usually they were melodramatic monologues from the point of view of an a abused and misguided teenager who somehow found herself alone and pregnant, and she would stumble across the stage bemoaning her sorry state and wondering why it felt like she had rabbits jumping up and down in her stomach.
The casting directors would invariably laugh at these performances, but sometimes they would ask her to give a repeat. They'd even call in additional people to watch. She'd get her hopes up, thinking that surely they must regard her as a talented actress if they wanted to see her perform again.
But she never got the part. They weren't asking her to perform again because they were impressed. They were calling additional people over to laugh at her-- at this ridiculous girl who didn't even fully understand how someone got pregnant, but had written a monologue about it anyway.
This. This is my greatest fear with The Novel. That I would parade it out there, and end up looking like a teenager talking about rabbits in her stomach.
And it feels like this is exactly what happened.
I went to a writer's conference last weekend, and I guess it was supposed to energize me and reinvigorate me, but instead it made me want to lie in the dark for days on end in a catatonic state.
Please, this is not a rant against the New York publishing industry. I remain ambivalent towards the whole thing. This is just the way it is.
To get your book "traditionally" published, you have to have an agent. Once an agent agrees to rep you, he/she sends your manuscript to various publishing houses and hopes to get lucky. To get an agent you have to "query" them. A query is essentially like the thing you would read on the back cover of the book. It is not a synopsis and doesn't reveal the ending, it is just supposed to "hook" someone into wanting to read your book.
Here are some statistics I gathered from the web: the average agent receives approximately 5,000 queries a year and agrees to represent 4 of them. Yes. 4.
Of those 4, I'm not sure how many actually make it to publication.
With odds like that, I feel like I might as well go back to academia. There, at least, you only have to contend with about 200 applicants per position.
In my next life, I am going to choose an easy career.
At any rate, I "pitched" my novel to an agent at the conference. She was really nice. I chose her specifically because I had researched her and thought she might be interested in my kind of thing. She reps YA (young adult), which is what I thought my book was. But at the conference, I quickly found out that I was wrong.
The problem is that the main character of my book grows up throughout the course of the story, and this is not done in YA lit. I guess I should have known this. I mean, what you are supposed to do when you're writing a novel is read every book that has ever been published in that genre and write something that is exactly the same except with a new and exciting twist. Agents and publishers like to call this "doing your homework."
I really, really hate that phrase.
Now, I have read a few YA titles (a full-time job and child-rearing and writing the g*ddamn novel definitely do cut in to my spare time), mainly those suggested by my BFF (a literary expert), and of course I noticed that the main characters do not grow up throughout the course of the book, but I guess I didn't connect that it was forbidden.
Nobody was mean to me at the conference and in truth, nobody laughed at me or called over a group of people to watch me repeat my rabbit-in-belly performance. The agent I spoke with was actually helpful and gave me some suggestions (unfortunately, none of which seem tenable to me) to make this book into a YA fiction.
I think the pivotal moment came when she asked me, "Who do you see as the market for this book?" And I stumbled, "Well, young adults of course." But as I said that, I knew I was lying. Or at the very least, wrong. The agent was right, the industry is right. A young adult (i.e., 16 year old) really isn't going to want to read about a character who grows up and faces the world of getting a job and paying bills, etc., even if she does end up having to come back and face the mess she left behind when she was 16. An an adult isn't going to want to wade through the first half of the novel-- 40,000 words of a teenager making horrible life decisions that influence the person she becomes.
Sorry I'm being vague about the plot.
So as I sat there in the pitch session, it came crashing down on me that I have spent 15 months writing a novel that has no genre (it is neither YA nor adult fiction) and has no "market" or "target audience." I am, quite possibly, the only person I can think of who might actually want to read this book.
It was a very sobering thought, once I saw it for what it was.
I came home and lay down in the dark for a long time, trying to figure out how I am going to get over this.
There are mortal flaws with the book as-is. In the many long months I've spent trying to revise it, I really cut down on the second half, when the main character is an adult (so that it would seem more like YA fiction), and I think that it doesn't even make sense anymore. I'm essentially left with nothing, after 15 months of pouring myself into it. It's embarrassing. Honestly, I'm ashamed.
I feel very much that the best thing for me to do now is just move on. I cannot put any more effort into this genre-less, unmarketable book without it killing me. Unless it already has.
If I would really put myself through the ordeal of moving forward with this, I need to figure out what genre it is and how to retro-fit it into that. But once you get out of YA, the world of fiction seems to become very murky. I honestly don't know the difference between literary fiction, commercial fiction, genre fiction, contemporary fiction, women's fiction, etc. The internet tells you 75,000 different things (which is why I think the phrase do your homework is ineffective and even offensive). I'm beyond the point of being able to evaluate this on my own; I'm too close to the material and I've reworked it too many times. I feel like I would need to have somebody outside of my own head to read it, but at this point it has become so deconstructed and so utterly horrible that I would be mortified to let anyone look at it as-is.
I guess I just need to take some time to figure out what to do. Maybe the end result will be that I take up sewing and swear off writing forever. Until then, here is the official website for the novel that no longer exists.