The Tale of a Manuscript
Driving home from work one night a day or two after I had submitted it to four editors and an agent, all of whom I had met at conferences, I heard on NPR that West Side Story would celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012. I hadn't known that. West Side Story lives BIG in my YA manuscript. Woohoo! What luck. I was on the leading edge of something. Bring out the castanets. Cha-cha, cha-cha.
Then I heard, in the same broadcast, that because of the 50th anniversary, Glee was doing an entire season based on West Side Story. Alarm bells. Alarm bells.
I asked Dear Editor (Deborah Halverson) about it. Was my book dead, I asked? "Yes," she said. Click link for full story.
I have since heard back from the agent, who said she didn't feel the story would be fresh enough to break out into the tough YA market. Not fresh? Just because Glee was spending an entire season on West Side Story? Oh, come on. (Nodding my head in disappointment.)
That caused me a lot of soul searching, as you might imagine. I'd taken a revision course from Holly Lisle who encouraged writers, even before writing one word on a new manuscript, to seek out three alternative markets, in the event that your favored market turned into a no-go due to bad luck, bad timing or whatever. My manuscript seemed to fit well into all of the above.
So I began, in January 2012, looking into the inspirational romance market as an alternative. My guilty secret is that I love those sweet little books put out by Harlequin Love Inspired. (You thought my guilty secret was that I love Harlequin Blaze? or Elora's Cave? Naaa.)
I thought of a way to push my protagonist's story 10 years ahead. My book wasn't precisely a teen romance, but there was a strong romance element to it. I could use a lot of the same story, play up the romance, and maybe sell it to Love Inspired.
I began a serious inquiry into the Love Inspired line. I saw that over the past 15 years, approximately 600 books had been published in the line. I downloaded back cover copy of all 600 books and discovered only ONE book with a story line similar to mine. What luck!
I read the book. Comparing my story to this one, I saw that the two stories, though having a similar theme, were as different as night and day. What luck. No one could accuse me of copying someone else's published book.
I proceeded to read a couple of books on writing Christian Fiction, and specifically Christian Romance, to make sure I would not inadvertently slip any of the taboos into my manuscript. I discovered I could fit into that market seamlessly. I AM the market for Christian Romance. I live the life of what's popular in Christian Romance lines: small town, ranch, cowboy, sense of community, home and hearth, heartwarming and so on. My values fit the values of Christian Romance readers to a tee.
Taking my research a step further, I ordered CDs from last year's American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference, in order to hear about what Christian fiction publishers, particularly Love Inspired, are looking for, straight from the editors' mouths. The CDs came yesterday, I discovered when I got home from work last night. Though tired and hungry, and it was already 7:00 pm, I was so eager to hear what Love Inspired had to say, I delayed making dinner until 8:00 pm, in order to listen to their presentation.
What did I discover? Straight out of their mouths, one of the first things I heard was that they do not like artsy themes: Theatre, music, art. No wonder I'd found only one book in 600 that had that theme. What luck. Shot down again! Fortunately, I had not spent hours and hours re-tooling the YA novel into a HLI. I doubt I have spent more than 20 hours on it.
But they are desperately seeking historical romance manuscripts. My two YA manuscripts were not the first two manuscripts that I had ever written. I have several possibilities waiting in the wings, including historical romance ideas, and so I am immediately dropping all work at revamping my YA manuscript into a contemporary HLI and focusing instead on a historical romance idea. It's the one I began working on in January for that line, after learning that my YA manuscript probably wouldn't sell.
The moral of this story? The moral is NOT to be demoralized. Both of my YA manuscripts still exist. If the time isn't right for them at the moment, it might be in a few months or years. In fact, I am not giving up on either of them, but when I have more time in August, I might just take a serious look at how I might revamp them into something that will work in the current YA market. It would make a lot of sense to see how much I can downplay West Side Story in the manuscript that is currently with four editors. Maybe I could simply change the name of the play and say it was written by one of the high school students, based on West Side Story.
It's important not to write to market trends, but writers do need to be aware of the market. It's also important to keep writing, no matter what. You never know which of your completed manuscripts might be THE ONE.