It’s only now, as I’m querying publishers, that I realize I may have missed a crucial step in the brilliant-idea-to-completed-manuscript process—asking for feedback on my writing.
Almost every book has an “acknowledgement page” where the author expresses appreciation for assistance and support. “This book would not have been possible without the help and patience of X, Y Z,” it says before naming relatives, friends and professionals who reviewed it, provided input or shared ideas.
Meanwhile, like an idiot, I’m querying for a 93,000-word manuscript no one ever read.
This is probably not something I should be bragging about.
Why on earth didn’t I get feedback?
First, I’m superstitious. I don’t like to mention ongoing projects—case in point, I announced I was pregnant a month before giving birth. Talking too soon is bad luck.
Second, I don’t talk that much about personal stuff in real life. Whoever is reading the article series on my quest for a publisher knows that I’ve been querying for a novel, but the topic never really came up during conversations, even with Feng. My parents must have read the blog, though, because they know. “Your mom told me you wrote a book,” my dad mentioned in passing last summer. “Don’t worry, you’re not in it,” I replied. We left it at that.
This is not shyness. My story isn’t personal or autobiographical, I have nothing to hide and I’m not embarrassed about it. It’s just that I don’t feel a complete manuscript is an achievement of note. Writing is the easy part.
My other excuses?
I didn’t ask anyone to read the manuscript because I don’t know who would.
Who are those published authors with friends and relatives willing to commit precious time to read a work in progress?
When I first met Feng in Beijing in 1999, he was carrying around a copy of War and Peace. I found this detail intriguing—a mysterious guy who spoke fluent English and Mandarin and who was reading Tolstoy’s finest achievement? I was fascinated. Years later, wiser, less impressionable and very much married to a man who had never shown the slightest interest in Russian literature, I asked him about War and Peace. Turned out he didn’t read it. There are many things Feng and I share, just not a love for books. Feng spends hours analyzing world events and economic trends but he won’t read fiction because, I quote, “it’s not realistic.”
Mark does love fiction, strong characters and funny dialogues. He whisper reads to himself every night—except he can’t read yet, so he makes it up from words he deciphers like “oh no!”, “dragon” or “look.” If I’m still querying by the time he is in his teens, I’ll bribe him to read my manuscript but it’s not going to be his bedtime story anytime soon.
Most of my French relatives love books. However, none of them can read a novel in English.
I cringe at the thought of asking my Canadian friends to read the manuscript. It’s awkward. It’s too big of a favour to ask—most of them don’t have time to read published books they picked themselves. I don’t want to become this desperate, annoying person who constantly tries to gather support for her project, like self-called “entrepreneurs” who market and try to sell their MLM products on social media. I can’t picture myself contacting everyone I ever had the chance to meet and scheduling coffee dates just to go “hey, how have you been doing, great, so I wrote a book, here it is, feedback expected if you don’t mind.”
I still resent Victor Hugo for writing Les Châtiments and indirectly forcing me to spend my last two years of high school analyzing his aggressive invective against Napoleon III. I wouldn’t want my friends to feel this way.
Reading shouldn’t be a chore. As consumers, we are already constantly solicited for time and attention—look at this ad, check out this product, renew your membership, open this email, click here and show your support there.
There are already too many people selling too many things.
I don’t want to add to the noise.
I tried to create an immersive novel with relatable characters who live a life more interesting than ours. Ideally, I’d like people to want to read my story… except few know it exists.
My lucky bamboo stalks didn’t survive the Canadian fall.
Clearly, I have to reconsider my strategy.