Sunday, November 4, 2007

Facing Your Audience

by LuAnn Staheli

Sometime in junior high, I decided to be a writer. I wrote poetry and short stories, but I looked forward to the day when I would grow up and write novels. It took me several years to get there. Only eleven years ago I completed my first, the story of my mother’s childhood. My second novel was born three years later from a random idea. It was followed two years ago by a book based on my own teenage years, then last year I completed a historical set in the time of the Aztecs that I had been working on for nearly twelve years.

So, four complete novels reside on my computer hard drive. All have been through my critique group, revised, and prepared for publication. And that’s where the problem lies. Despite the fact that I’ve queried several editors and agents, I’ve not yet sold one of these manuscripts. Like many want-to-be authors, I could just give up and set my dreams aside, but after all these years and the amount of work I’ve already put into them, I don’t want to.

I decided to face my audience. All four of my books are meant to be read by teenagers, and every day I see over one-hundred teens in my Honors English classrooms. Copies in hand, I approached several of my best editors. “Would you be willing to read and critique this for me?” The response has been overwhelmingly positive. At last, the chance for the student to tell the teacher what they need to fix.

With delicious glee, the students were off, taking their task seriously. I’ll admit, I was nervous. Sending my babies off to faceless readers was one thing, but knowing I would see my new editors face-to-face every day for the rest of the school year was frightening. “What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m a terrible writer? Will I be able to fix anything they don’t understand?”

As manuscripts started to come back to me, I discovered that sending them home with kids was the best thing I could do. The responses have been positive; the comments specific and helpful. As I’ve started revision based on my target reader’s input, I feel my manuscripts will be better than ever.

Writers need feedback to improve their work, and no response is as constructive as that from a real audience. Sure, agents and editors may hone my work, but the kids—they are the ones who will really matter when the books finally get published.


A. Riley said...

Your story is a lot like mine. I knew I wanted to write when I was little. I have various starts of stories, and am in process of writing a new novel.

This last weekend I shared it with my friends. It was a little nerve wrecking getting the courage to let them read it. But they loved it and offered a few ideas or thoughts. One of the best things I could have done.

For one, I finally got over that fear that I couldn't show anyone my writing for fear that I wasn't any good. And two, their praise helps keep me motivated to finish.

Julie Wright said...

what a great resource to tap into!!!

Anonymous said...

Querying is not the most effective way to get an editor or agent's attention. Conferences are.

I suggest finding conferences with editors and agents who are hungry for YA. Practice your pitching. Get an appointment. Let them see how excited you are about your own product and you will get requests for partials.

I have been a serious novelist for nearly two years, writer for 30. But in the last two years I have pitched to 2 Agents, and 3 Editors, and got requests from every one of them. I also got great writing lessons from entering contests. I even won one.

If you have such a great pool of crtitics for your genre, you cannot help but be successful. But you have to change your strategies a bit. Use every avenue.

Heather B. Moore said...

A. Riley: I'm always surprised when writers are reluctant to show their work to anyone. Because . . . when it's published EVERYONE will be able to see it. But I do understand the fear. I didn't tell anyone that I was writing a novel (but my husband and parents) until I was on my 2nd one. And then only a few select people. You don't want your "baby" to be rejected. My most valuable writing resource is trustworthy readers/editors who give the feedback I need and the praise that keeps me motivated.

Anon: I agree that conferences need to be part of your querying process. About 50% of the authors I know who have agents met them at a conference. The other 50% did it through earning publishing credits on a small scale, then querying agents.

If you want to up your chances, you need to network and prepare those pitches!