There are two innovative competitions going on right now (one of them just finished) that bring agents and writers together to see if the magic will happen. Call them speed-dating for single writers. One of them, #pitchwars, involves sending in a query letter and the first five pages of the (finished) manuscript to a mentor (up to three, out of 31 possibilities), who then selects from the submissions and chooses one writer to work with for a month to get the manuscript ready for bidding on by agents. I entered this competition, but I know that I will not win it. The commercial aspect of the process, needing to find a manuscript that will sell, means that my slightly cross-genre book is unlikely to be chosen. And it’s too long. Kiss of death. Though the results of the competition won’t be announced until next week, I know quite well that I won’t be one of the winners.
The last three days there has been another competition going on, a really innovative idea called #PitchMAS. In this one, day one the writers can have their pitches critiqued and edited, day two the 35-word pitches are made on a blog, and bid on by agents, and day three the competition is on Twitter, at 140 characters only. Agents troll the hashtag and request additional pages when they see something tasty.
I participated in this last one, too. It was, in a lot of ways, very fun. I met a huge number of really interesting people, writers like me, hoping to get their work noticed. I commented on many of the pitches; there were a great number of books there that I think I’d like to read, and I told the writers so. In the end, probably a third of the consistent pitchers got hits from agents. Gratifying. It doesn’t mean a lot, as there is no commitment implied or expressed, but it’s a start. It says “I want to hear what you have to say,” and that is powerful stuff. Heady.
I know from hearsay. I didn’t get picked. I pitched fairly regularly, five or six different ways – a useful process all by itself – but never got a reply or a query. Not even a “hey, I liked that” from one of my fellow writers. So I content myself with knowing that I tried, and that I did the best I could. It is cold comfort.
One of the hardest parts of writing is being excluded from the party. As excited as I was about my fellows being chosen – many, many of them deserved it far more than I do, and I am genuinely pleased that someone noticed their brilliance – there was still part of me wondering why my pitches were not good enough. There isn’t any way to know. Sometimes it’s the wrong genre for the audience. Sometimes the pitch itself isn’t compelling. With no feedback – and the only feedback Twitter contests give are yes or no – it’s impossible to know. I can work on it, and I can ask, and perhaps I will. Seems simple, right? Let me ask you, then, when was the last time you went to someone and said, “my child doesn’t seem to be doing as well as I’d like. Will you come and look at what I do as a parent and tell me where I’m screwing up?”
You have never done this. You resent the implication that you should have to do this. I do too. I’m struggling to find the humility necessary.
I wrote a while back that humiliation is not humility. One may choose to be proud even when humiliated. Well, I am humiliated, and trying to choose to be humble, weighing the cost of destroying something that I thought had value, and starting over again, against just doing the things that so far have made us reasonably well off. Especially since the starting over again has no promises of success whatsoever. Just as this attempt did not.
The emotional toll is impossible to describe, except in metaphor. Remember the first broom lesson in Harry Potter? All the kids are there, first time with a broom, and some kids get it right away. Some kids struggle a little (even Hermione). And then there’s Neville. We’re meant to focus on Harry, who absolutely deserves just a little something to go right, but I watch that scene and my eyes are on Neville, there on the ground, with a rogue broom nearly pantsing him in front of everyone.
Similarly, I’d like to celebrate your book deal, sincerely I would, and in my best moments I even wholeheartedly do. But (to use just one recent example) you’re nineteen years old. Forgive me – please, really, forgive me – if I wonder whether your paroxysms of joy and relief aren’t just a weensy bit…what? Ridiculous? Pathetic? Offensive? “I’ve waited for this day all my life” is a lot more compelling when you’ve lived one. To be asked to prom is awesome. To not be asked is excruciating. Until the latter has happened to you, I doubt that you understand how lucky you are that the former ever occurred.
I write mortgages for a living, and I’m good at it. I make a good living and I do it by helping people, which I’m pleased about. Recently, I’ve been finding myself in meetings checking Twitter to see how the other entrants to these contests are doing. It gives me a secret identity, almost. I was involved in things the others were not. Creative, awesome things.
So I made the super suit, and I went to the party with all the other superheroes, and discovered, by the end, that I didn’t actually have any super powers. The other kids are flying and shooting fireballs and electrocuting bad guys, while I…well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? I don’t know what my super power is, let alone if it’s truly super. I run pretty fast, and I can jump high. I thought that was good. It’s not, though. It’s just not. Try again, obviously. Of course I will.
Today, though, I’m going back to work as Clark Kent. I can still do my job as a mild-mannered loan originator. It’s still honorable work. I’m happy to have it. But some of the thrill is less now, more fragile. Where I was excited before, now I’m hesitating, unsure of myself. Today, right now, I wonder. When I remove my glasses, can I still fly?
Will I ever?