“I Am A Hideous Manoctopus!” Or, How I Wrote A Novel That Isn’t (Part Two)

So, after writing the book, I did some research* and sent off the manuscript.

I could, but I won’t, provide too many W5 details, because that would be in bad taste. Like Fight Club, one doesn’t talk about the submission process. Or rather, one can do so, but it’s considered poor form to name names or otherwise mention specifics that could positively identify any parties involved.

It is simply not done.

"downton abbey"

via PBS

I’ll repeat, it is simply not done.

However, I think my experiences might prove instructive, so I’m going to talk around the topic as best I can.

About a month and a half after I sent the (partial) manuscript, I received a polite rejection.

Actually, I’m being disingenuous: it was much more than polite; “polite” is the standard, impersonal form rejection.

I know, I know — it may not sound like much, but in an industry where more often than not you’ll never hear anything one way or the other, even the most transparently mail-merged “dear mr. space comma thank you for your submission” robo-rejection is well above and beyond the call of duty. Sad, maybe, but true.

Ain’t nobody got time for that. “That” being “all the things you do, in life and in art.”

In this case, the Editor stated upfront that it was a difficult decision, but that the house just couldn’t commit to it, and I thought, ok, fair enough. After all, it’s an offbeat story with, I suspect, a very limited potential audience. That much is evident from page one, and I figured it would be a tough sell.

Then I noticed that the response continued. In fact, the Editor went on to outline the manuscript’s numerous flaws (some greater, some lesser) and made many insightful comments about my story, for example:

“…you seem to have great characters and great interactions between them (and a very fun writing style that I like quite a lot), but a too-hazy world and no overall plot that I can discern.”

(Which, by the way, is absolutely true.)

And I thought, Huh. This person has really thought about my story a lot.

And I don’t believe I’m deluding myself. Remember what I said about “Oh, they’re just being nice?”

Well, not always. And nobody is two pages’ worth of nice. Ever.

Especially not to a stranger.

It’s no secret that a good deal of what goes down in publishing occurs because of personal connections or lucrative cross-media platforms, but this person didn’t know me, doesn’t know me. I don’t have an agent, I don’t really have any credits to my name, I don’t have an MFA, I’m not tight with folks in the industry, and most importantly, I’m not famous for some other thing that isn’t writing. This was a total cold call on my part.

No matter what house they call home, editors are busy, busy, busy people. There’s no real reason to respond, at length and in detail, to some over-the-transom scrap of slush pile fodder written by an absolute nobody. But this editor did, and I was absolutely floored — both by the fact that the person took time to respond and that everything said was so accurate and on-target.

In fact, what struck me most was this comment:

“I think you have may have chosen the wrong medium for your awesome characters to run amok in,”

explained the Editor, suggesting that a non-prose form might do my story more justice. “I would watch the hell out of it as a web serial, and I suspect I’m not the only one.”

I thought, “OMG, this person is absolutely correct about everything. Why didn’t I see this sooner?”

(But then, that’s what editors are for. They see things that lesser mortals miss. Without editors, we’d all be reading…I don’t know, actually, but the notion frightens me. Mockbuster-style slash fiction would be my best guess.)

I endeavor not to send or receive any correspondence than necessary, but in this case I did end up writing back to the Editor to express my appreciation of the fact that not only had my manuscript been read and carefully considered, it had been understood.

The gesture was not lost on me, probably because this sort of thing is so rare. I can’t even express how meaningful it is to receive someone’s honest, carefully thought-out and articulated perspective on ANYTHING. Most people are busy with their own lives and just say what’s most convenient. So I was touched by this unexpected kindness.

Of course, I can’t draw or act or muster up a production crew or anything like that, so I can’t actually implement these suggestions. Since it’s just me and my laptop, I’m afraid that Supervillain, while it may not be a novel, is not about to become anything else, either.

Ah well, such is life.

Sorry. I wish I had a better ending to this story. I wish, too, that I had a better epilogue, but I don’t.

You see, lately, I begin to wonder if I have chosen the wrong medium, period.

In retrospect, I believe that I chose writing because it requires neither specialized equipment, which I cannot generally afford, nor other people, on whom I cannot generally depend.

It may be a result of growing up feeling alone in a crowd, or knowing from a very young age that nothing, not even my own body, was ever mine and mine alone — nothing was mine, save for my thoughts, but only because no one ever showed the least bit of curiosity or interest in them. There are a lot of probable causes, but I’m not going to go into them. That’s what therapy’s for.

Regardless of reasons, it is entirely possible that prose fiction may not be the best outlet for my ideas. I don’t know what I’d be better at, maybe nothing. Possibly I’d be just as ill-suited to other art forms. And anyway, as a storytelling medium, writing already has the lowest barrier to entry; if I can’t write fiction, am I really going to get a shot at screenplays or video games or what have you?

Maybe if I’d explored some of these avenues years ago…?  Although “years ago,” I didn’t have much leeway to pursue any kind of artistic journey: my expectations were largely shaped by my circumstances, which were mainly “I need to become gainfully employed, as soon as possible, and in a way that allows for financial self-sufficiency.”

Unfortunately for me, this is a major, time-consuming “error” to have made — and, I suspect, one that can’t easily be undone. So, if I’ve ever had any chance at some sort of creative career, I’ve basically botched it. And sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Meanwhile, what do you do after you finish writing something? Why, you write another something.

Stay tuned.

*Some writers believe in dragging the equivalent of a trawl net through Manhattan, hoping that someone, in some literary agency or publishing house, somewhere, will want their manuscript; I am not one of those people. I believe that a carefully researched and targeted query is a much better use of everyone’s time and energy. On the other hand, I am not published, nor am I likely to be, so — if publication is your goal — I wouldn’t necessarily take my word for it.
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