(Note, I am breaking this down into smaller posts/chapters, so you don't get lost and can learn from my journey).
Wow! I just spent 3 days in Bettendorf, IA, in a Lodge that reminded me of a cross between The Haunted Mansion and Hogwarts... Complete with pictures where I swear the eyes followed your every move.... The only thing missing was floating candelabras. If your imagination was not opened by the amazing details, the darkened lighting, or repetitive patterns, the companionship of spirits and authors and professionals was enough to throw anyone into overdrive 0 - 120.
The spirits of the lodge were all friendly! There was so much to learn, so much to think about.
We spent an afternoon learning how to develop a character by Molly O'Neil. She then broke down the importance of the first page of any manuscript. We heard her share the importance of voice, hook, fun, friendship, themes... and what makes you want to read more.
See, an editor is a "highly trained reader" (thanks Molly!) and they want to be drawn into a good story. A good story needs to be polished, fun, with wonderful voice and depth. It needs to provide connections. Characters need to come off the page, do something surprising. We need to love them. Think of your favorite book! Why is it your favorite? What makes you want to read it again, and again, and again... that is what an editor looks for.
While developing my character for our exercise, I was introduced in my head to Jayden Schmidt, a 17 year old who lives in a suburb of Chicago. She was raised in California, and forced to the midwest when her mom got remarried. Though she is close to her mom, she detests her step-dad. She is popular, well dressed and loves to shop, but her heart is not in it. She'd rather be in the Science lab or exploring nature. But she doesn't want to be considered a "geek." She can't stand her shallow "best friend" and misses her true friends back in CA. Though she has dated, she thinks guys are true jerks, and has yet to have a real kiss that will bring her to her knees. Her little brother makes her laugh, but her mom always makes her cry. She is still searching for her true hero.
I stalked her for about an hour. :-)
And finally from Molly that Friday, "My job is a business decision." She says. So we can't take it personally. Our stories may (or may not) be wonderful, but an editor needs to buy something that will make them money, reach the readers in multiple points, and fit into who that publisher is.
Also amazing that day was my critique. I was nervous with anticipation. I wanted to meet with Molly or Aly, two amazing publishers... I got my form and it says "Stephen Fraser," I hadn't submitted to him because I read he represents all, but was focusing on chapter books. I didn't have a chapter book to share with him, but I do have a nice little story that is ready to be bought, but wanted great feedback before sending it on after it's initial rejection, with the sweetest rejection letter. Rejections can be bitter-sweet, but it's a business decision.
So I felt a little nervous, wondering what he would tell me, and sad that I wouldn't have a chance to find my book an instant home... I did say CHANCE, not a home run. ;-) I was wrong. Everything happens for a reason.
Anyway, he loved the manuscript. He told me he could feel, taste, anticipate, touch and see the story as it unfolded. His suggestion was to add smell to round it out and gave me a nice list of places to send it. I really like him and we will see where this journey takes us. I have some work to do, but it was a wonderful experience.
He did use the word poet to me, which made my day, and for me validated that I am a writer and I have stories to share.
That evening I went to dinner with an amazing group and had fun making friends. :-)