Anyone who knows me well knows that the only things I willingly spend money on are secondhand books and delicious, delicious foodstuffs. I am more or less the absolute tightest of tightwads in Fairbanks, if not the whole of the Northern Hemisphere.
In January, I was floundering in the depths of writing depression and wanting to throw in the towel, and wanting to cling to the towel forever, and wanting to at least maybe put the towel in a closet somewhere for a few months, and being generally indecisive and pathetic. I was drowning. I wasn’t making any writing headway and I felt like the only way to make that stop was to just sink and be done with it all.
Amongst the zillions of newsletters, blog posts, and announcements clogging up my inbox (it seems I check my emails less when I’m depressed too) was a notice from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators that they were doing a ten page manuscript critique with various literary agents and the deadline was coming up soon. I get notices for these things all the time, but always ignore them. But I figured there wasn’t any harm in just checking how much it cost, right? Maybe this was the lifeline I had been hoping for.
Fifty whole dollars. If this says anything about my brain, I think of dollars in terms of the food they can buy me. (Not even kidding. This is absolutely true.) Fifty dollars can get me nine and a half gallons of almondmilk. Fifty dollars is twenty-eight heads of romaine lettuce or, if I’m feeling really fancy, fourteen pounds of arugula. Fifty dollars is fifty-eight pounds of whole wheat flour, which is enough for seventy-six loaves of fresh, hot bread odiferizing my house. Fifty is a lot of dollars.
After the smelling salts burned awareness back into my nostrils, I came to and swore it off. No. No way. Fifty bucks? Think of the groceries! But my husband was a little tired of the nightly tirade about my worthlessness and stupidity and general suckage, and gently encouraged me to just try it. So I figured, ‘Okay. I’ll call it a birthday gift. Maybe I do need this.’ I flung my credit card at SCBWI and ran away sobbing.
A few days later, I chose my critiquer, signed up for the casual group critique as well, sent in my packet, and then did my best not to think about it for the next few weeks. I was so successful at this endeavor that a fresh email from SCBWI caught me by surprise (a mere two days after the pep rally with Paul Greci and the AWG). Cringing, I opened the email to see what my seventy-six-loaves-of-bread dollars had gotten me.
It wasn’t glowing- she didn’t rave about it and beg me to sign with her on the spot. But it wasn’t a let-down either- which is really saying something because when I get in the dumps, I’m hunting for let-downs. My critiquer kindly balanced what was good (and there was more than I was expecting) with what was bad (and there was actually less than I was expecting). She gave me gobs of inline edits, and even more in general thoughts, hopes, problems, and what she loved and wanted more of.
Like I’d guzzled too much soda, a little bubble of hope welled up in my belly. Maybe the story wasn’t garbage. Maybe I wasn’t garbage. Grumps the Goblin (the voice in the back of my head- he looks like Gollum but with more and pointier teeth) assured me this couldn’t possibly be true, but there was one more chance to test it out. The group critique.
Since a mere handful of us live in the scattered wilds of Not-Anchorage, Alaska, we gathered in a Skype meeting to pick at each other’s scabs. But I didn’t find myself bleeding. Once again, I received generally positive reviews with only a few problems that I already knew about. Even the gal who didn’t like fantasy had good things to say about it. (Take that, Grumps!) Upon request, I shared the critiquer’s review and got another round of feedback, and came out of the whole ordeal feeling shockingly happy.
The icing on the cake? One of the ladies in the critique group- the one who doesn’t like fantasy- emailed me later and told me, “You know, that last line in your critique sounded an awful lot like an invitation to query.” I had thought so too at first, until Grumps had convinced me otherwise. But hearing it from another person opened up the possibility again. Maybe it was. Maybe I should try regardless.
I’m not saying you should all rush out and throw dollars at the first Writer’s Digest class you can find. Flinging money at problems isn’t always the best solution. But in this instance, paying an agent to look at my stuff and tell me it wasn’t trash was helpful. Between this and Paul Greci’s presentation just a few days before, I finally felt ready to start working on publication again. And that extra bit of confidence and encouragement was definitely worth fifty bucks.