Among the broken and barnacled, somewhere lies the perfect shell. The challenge lies in patiently picking through them all to find the treasured prize. The shell seeker’s saga reflects my thoughts after attending a writers’ conference in St. Augustine. I continue to search among broken plot lines and marred character descriptions to find the novel which will shine enough to capture the interest of an agent, publisher, and readers.
Beachside for four days was the simplest difference from the other writer’s retreat I attended in the woods and lakes area of New Hampshire. At that first retreat, time was spent writing and sharing a few selections with the rest of the group along with a couple of moderator-led discussions. At that time, Eliza’s story was young and my writing was naïve and unpolished. Now, I have a finished manuscript, which still needs more polishing, but is at a stage where I can at least describe and “pitch” the story to garner its commercial value and interest.
Led by author/agent, Paula Munier, and author/mentor, Michael Neff, these two professionals guided us in developing our 200 word pitch (hit upon the core plot line, conflict and main character’s story arc), our bio, identifying our genre and choosing appropriate comparables for our story. “Comps” are recent publications which are similar to our stories to capture a reader’s interest and level-set their expectations. For Eliza’s story – yes – title STILL TBD – I chose Call the Midwife, the PBS series based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth for the theme of women in medicine and episodes related to patient cases. The other comp I provided was Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly for the time period of the early 1900s and the theme of privileged women helping others.
After fine-tuning the pitch based on feedback from Paula and Michael, we began the real practice pitches beginning with a phone call with an Executive Editor from Harper Collins. EXCITING!! And, even more excited over her feedback:
Sounds great, fascinating theme . . . Would love to pick up and read – loves Call the Midwife… It sounds a little bit sad – nothing has changed – women’s health care, women in science…Stories deserve to be told
She had other feedback as well to hone the pitch even more, which I did that night as homework and then came back again to pitch in person to two other agents / editors. All for practice. They were split, interestingly enough, along gender lines. The man was not interested at all. The woman found the concept compelling and appreciated my personal connection, but I needed a stronger character arc presented.
The biggest take-away from the weekend was the consensus that a fifty year saga would be very difficult for a debut author to pull off and to convince an agent/editor upfront that I can pull it off. This means it’s back to the deep editing stage to re-configure Eliza’s story. I believe, and hope, I have enough material from later chapters I can re-purpose and weave into earlier parts of the story. New writing will be needed to make sure those inserts are coherent.
Beyond the excellent writing feedback from the weekend was the opportunity to meet nine other aspiring authors. Eight women and one man from the eastern US and Midwest. Each of us are writing vastly different novels, from mysteries and thrillers to a memoir to contemporary literary fiction, each story sounds interesting and compelling. I hope we can all stay in touch and abreast of our successes, and struggles, along the way.
I’m taking this week off to drive home and clear my head. Upon arrival home, I should be ready to dive in again and get back to crafting the best story I can to tell the untold stories of the early graduates of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
I just hope our weather back in New England will now be edging toward the sunny days we enjoyed in FLA. PS – If you’ve never been to St. Augustine, I highly recommend it for the great dining options, the beach, and of course, we could all use a splash from the Fountain of Youth!
One more recommendation – If you’ve never watched Call the Midwife on PBS, Season 9 premiers on March 29th in the US. The first eight seasons are on Amazon Prime and other services. Season One HERE.
Added Note: According to the publishing professionals I spoke with the once popular family sagas over the years and generations is on the wane. Is that a reflection of the emergence of the “instant gratification” generation of readers? Or is it a means to help authors have a second novel at the ready with “Part Two”?
When was the last time you picked up a 650 page novel like Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers? Published in 1988 I know it’s been years for me. But, if you’re looking for a spring beach vacation read, check it out. It’s available on Amazon. Click HERE.
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