Highly exciting. While I had, of course, made every part of Rabbit and Cougar as good as I felt I could make it, I still think the beginning is not the best part, and I loved the idea that a publisher was going to read the whole book and see the best of the story.
Yesterday, my mom called to say I'd gotten an "unfortunately, pretty flat" envelope from Candlewick. I asked her to open it, and she did, and read the letter aloud over the phone.
First off, the letter said that Karen Lotz regretted that she could not read the manuscript herself; she's just had a baby. Congrats to her, and I can definitely understand that changing things. The letter-writer, another Candlewick employee, said that s/he had read it instead, so that was fine by me.
(I use "s/he" here because I don't want to specify the person, given what's about to go down in this letter. I wouldn't even mention Ms. Lotz or Candlewick, but I'd already put them in the October post, and besides, I'm not about to say anything that isn't simply true.)
Right. The letter. It started on some friendly critiquing, for which I was grateful. It stated that the beginning seemed a little slow (something I'd struggled with) and that the story seemed to be MG, not YA, a conclusion I'd pretty much come to since sending it. Though this was clearly leading up to a "no thanks," I was pleased the letter-writer had taken the time to give me some feedback.
Then, a sentence or two that sounded off. I was confused for a moment, until the letter dropped the bomb: a sentence that made it clear the letter-writer thought that Rabbit and Cougar were an actual rabbit and cougar.
I was dumbfounded. Well, for a second. Then, I swore a little bit, apologized to Mom, and was dumbfounded again.
The characters Rabbit and Cougar are, respectively, an elf whose culture uses names based on nature (his sister's name is Iris - what did this letter-writer think that meant?) and a human who takes on the fake name Cougar to better fit in with the elves. This is all made very, very clear in the first chapter - heck, a lot sooner than that. (In the second sentence, Cougar is referred to as a "boy.") I've had nearly a dozen people read this chapter, not even counting agent submissions; I got a lot of family and friends to read it when I was looking for a way not to make the beginning "slow." Not one person had the slightest confusion as to whether Rabbit and Cougar were actually TALKING FUZZY ANIMALS.
The second level of bad feeling I got from this is that, while one of the letter-writer's comments made it clear s/he had at least read some scenes in the first chapter, this little revelation told me s/he had definitely not read past Chapter One. Even there, I suspect s/he did some serious skimming; s/he had somehow missed references to Cougar being the first human Rabbit has ever seen, other elves being surprised at a human coming to their village, and generally what I suspect are dozens of instances of the word "elf." But in my view, it's simply not possible s/he read past the first chapter. This is, as you might imagine, A TAD FRUSTRATING.
I read enough agent and editor blogs that I can only feel so angry with the letter-writer, because I know the volume of queries, sample pages, and manuscripts that people with these jobs slog through. Still, my submission was not, strictly speaking, slush. It feels very much like I didn't get a fair shot. The letter-writer said I did not provide enough description of "Rabbit's rabbitness and Cougar's cougarness." GUESS WHY THAT WAS? Hey, I loved the Redwall books for years, and I totally agree that, if my characters were in fact talking fuzzy animals, then I'd have done a terrible job justifying and making use of that fact. I wouldn't blame anyone for putting the story down. As that wasn't the case, though, I feel like part of the reason Rabbit and Cougar was rejected was something that was in no way the fault of the writing. And, of course, if I'd gotten the reading I was under the impression I was going to get, the letter-writer would have to AT SOME POINT realize that s/he'd made a faulty assumption.
I don't mean this as a criticism of Ms. Lotz or Candlewick. The company puts out some great books and seems to have a pretty cool business model, and I'm sure some of the credit for that goes to Ms. Lotz. It's also possible that I was mistaken about the "she'll read the whole manuscript" thing - the person with whom I clarified it was an author published by Candlewick in attendance at the conference, and I got the impression she'd spoken with Ms. Lotz about it. Maybe not. Maybe Ms. Lotz planned to, but the letter-writer didn't know this. Maybe there was a miscommunication somewhere. I don't know.
So, that's pretty much it. Thanks for staying with me on the Rant-a-Coaster. Better luck next time, I suppose!