Things Nobody Told Me About Selling A Novel (Part 3): The Clarion Critique-Wait

The Clarion Workshop was a lonely place, and a busy one. We had lost all of our friends and family for six weeks as we flew off to San Diego, and replaced them with summer friends that we’d just met. And writing was a lonely business; sitting in your rented bedroom, reading the day’s stories, felt isolating.

So you’d creep down to the commons area, and there would always be people there. The teachers, in particular, went out of their way to be in the commons; poor souls, they would be gone after a week, and they wanted to make the most of their time with us.

The only noise in the commons would be the rustling of paper, the clattering of keyboards. There were times talks would break out, of course, but the evenings were for work: critiquing tomorrow’s stories, writing your own. We warmed ourselves at each other’s presence, not communicating, but having that pleasure of knowing we were all on the same page. Sometimes quite literally.

It was comforting, being in a room full of writers…

…unless it was my story on the block.

The rule at Clarion – well, more what you’d call “guidelines” – was that nobody was to talk to you or anyone else about your story until it was critique time. This was to avoid tainting other people’s perceptions, or to hurt the critiquee – if Bobbi told you she thought your story was the best ever, and the other seventeen people disagreed, you could set yourself up for a brutal round of crits when you expected praise and got slammed. (Or vice versa – approaching praise when you’re cringing for a beating ensures you won’t appreciate it in the way you might need to.)

So when I knew they were reading my story, I got paranoid.

They went hmm, I said, trying not to crane my neck to see what page they were on. Was that a good hmm or a confused hmm? Oh, they just frowned. What’s that mean? They’re reading awfully fast – oh, wait, they just made a note. What’s the note say?

Do they like it? Did I do a good job?

After a week or two, I figured out that I just couldn’t be in the room with them when they were reading my stuff. To this day, when I hand a manuscript to Gini for reading, I go to the kitchen and clean the dishes so I won’t be tempted to read over her shoulder. This has the benefit for Gini that whenever she does me the favor of critiquing my story, she emerges with a scrubbed kitchen.

And what no one told me about my first novel is that I am currently trapped in a room with hundreds of people rustling pages, making hmm noises, waiting for the hammer to fall.

Because there is a lull-time between the time the manuscript is turned in and the Advance Reader Copies go out – a time when the reviewers get their hands on your writing. They haven’t finished reading yet, nor written the review. But in these days of social media, you see them Tweeting that they got your book, they make comments that it’s On Their Agenda, and you feel this impending iceberg of Review approaching.

Will it be a good review? Will it be a bad one?

God, you have no idea. Me? I read my blurbs. Obsessively. I was lucky enough to get some nice blurbs, so authors I respect at least liked Flex enough to say something complimentary in the hopes of driving sales, so the blurbs are like mini-reviews that prove that Flex can’t be bottom-feeder terrible.

But what if Kirkus hates it? What if Kirkus gives it a starred review? What if Kirkus doesn’t even bother to discuss it? You could be universally beloved, maybe the novel is brilliant! How would you deal with that? But then again…

And oh God, just publishing this book has made you excruciatingly aware of just how vibrant and active the sci-fi community is, hundreds of excellent blogs just waiting to dissect your book.

But they haven’t done it yet.

Weeks pass. They’re still reading. Some of them even have auto-posts on their Twitter, so you get notifications: $REVIEWER is 46% done with Flex. They were at 16% yesterday. Are they a slow reader? Is that good? Lord, you’ve never paid attention to how someone reads a book before, and seriously, how vain is it to analyze someone’s percentages?

Go for a walk, you raging egomaniac.

The thing is, you don’t necessarily want to be told how brilliant your book is. (Though that’d be nice.) What you want is the judgment, to collapse the wave quantum-physics style – because this oscillating limbo where you shuffle back and forth between grand dreams and terrible nightmares is worse than any single bad review.

The reviews will arrive soon. And when that’s done, maybe you’ll have people saying they enjoyed cat vomit more than your book. Maybe you’ll be unmasked as a fraud, where everyone you know sneers and wonders how you got published. But to my mind, that’s far better than this month of suspense.

Right now, I am in the Clarion room. I’m watching the papers ruffle. Everyone is going hmmm.

And I am doing so many metaphorical dishes.

3 Comments

  1. Sandra
    Jan 28, 2015

    OMG, the waiting sounds horrific. I never thought of that. You just killed 98% of my desire to ever write a novel.

    Well, not really. But all the sympathy, and hope for a million wonderful reviews!

  2. Els
    Jan 28, 2015

    At 64% currently. Hope to finish this week.

    Wait, that wasn’t helping, right? *tries rustling with her kindle once more*

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