It is no secret that I watch — pretty religiously and usually while drinking or snacking to further differentiate myself from the sinewy dancers bodies — So You Think You Can Dance. It is pure entertainment, and unlike American Idol or The X Factor or The Voice, the talent on this show are (usually) highly-trained performers who have been working toward this much of their lives. There is less nonsense, in other words.
Besides that, there’s the other, slightly more private and embarrassing fact about me, that I secretly wish I could dance. I do not secretly harbor the same fantasies for being a singer. I also live with the daily knowledge that my future will never include me formed in the graceful lines of a pirouette. (As proven by my foray in Hula while visiting Hawaii this summer, which can be viewed here.)
But I’m straying from the topic. As I watched So You Think You Can Dance this season, I have also been in the very emotionally abusive (totally masochistic, I should specify because the agents have been very kind) journey known to all aspiring authors as querying.
Of course, to soothe my own misery, and because I’m a writer who looks for storytelling tools, I drew some parallels between the Road to Publication and the Road to America’s Favorite Dancer, that I am now going to share with you. (And, because I know you’re getting ready to ask, there will be visual aids.)
1) There is a long line of talented, charismatic, maybe even gorgeously beautiful (for writers, more social networking savvy) people in front of and behind you vying for the same position as you are. There is room for many to succeed, at some level, but the majority won’t make it past this point.
That is not meant to be discouraging. Querying agents is an ambiguously difficult task, where you can never really know if you’re doing it well or if you will ever make any headway.
Confession: I have developed a serious (borderline neurotic) phobia that all my emails go straight into spam folders. I have fantasies, and not the good kind, of the internet netherworld where emails from me wander around in limbo. Even when I get prompt replies, I then worry over my response email. Really…it’s becoming a problem. One with no solution because as a querying writer it is essential to maintain a front of cool. In other words, no psychotic Twitter stalking, no emailing to check they received your other email. Guys…we just have to wait.
2) Even if you make it past this stage into the first round of eliminations, (or what can be compared to a partial request) that may be where your journey ends. This, of course, is up to how well you dance and how willing you are to be vulnerable on stage. (Is your writing “there”? Did you revise enough for a stranger to connect with your words?) Also, what kind of contestants they are looking for this season. Producers have an idea of the kind of show they want to make, you just may not be what they are looking for. (The “Not for me, not right now” response.)
Many writers, after multiple partial requests without an upgrade to full, will give up. It is draining to have the hope dangled — even with good intentions, as I am inclined to believe agents generally have — in front of you, for it to then be snatched away.
Confession: I try to see requests as nothing more than a first date. The agent is grabbing coffee with your MS, flirting, maybe fantasizing about kissing, maybe looking for an out. It is not a commitment for more, but could result in further courting.
3) You make it to the top 20! Yay! This is further than almost every other dancer in America. You should be proud. You should be grateful. You still just really want to win. Winning is the goal, not placing, not getting some recognition only to be told you’re not popular or talented enough for the big time. (You’ve had a full requested, but still no offer of representation. You’re progressing, but your goal is an agent willing to rep you, not nice words about how much they love your book…just not enough to take it on.)
Your road to dance success may not be through So You Think You Can Dance, it doesn’t mean you can’t dance.
Ultimately, you want an agent who gets your book, can conceive of how to make it better, will be able to sell it, and will defend it right along beside you to anyone who doesn’t get it. Submission is a bitch, mediocre feelings won’t carry you through it. An agent who passes because of that is a kind person indeed, who respects their position in the author’s life and sees they aren’t the best to represent them.
Confession: I actually would rather continue to search for the right agent than sign with the wrong one.
4) You make it to the top 10. (A position I will equate with having an agent, but being in revision still, maybe even out on submission with no luck. I have no agent, though I feel I will always be in revision.) You’re gonna go on tour, you know that much. You’re popular. Your talent is real, and your discipline to improve has so far held up. Any number of things can result in your elimination at this point, but the greatest seems to be that you just aren’t what America is drawn to right now. It’s really not about your skill, but what you’re selling.
Jenna, who I thought was a very talented dancer with a lot going for her, never seemed to grip the audience. In the end, both she and Tucker were eliminated after dancing beautifully all season.
Confession: I am not a technically perfect writer. My grammar can be lacking. I’m a fan of a comma in odd or random places, and my education has come from reading a lot, writing a lot, but not going to school a lot. This does not make me better or worse. In fact, betas on my early drafts probably wanted to strangle me, but somehow also still loved the story. However, technique isn’t the most important thing. Technique can be improved by practice and a willingness to learn, something easily managed by all if we put our minds to it.
5) Even when you make it to the end, you still may face disappointment and set-backs. (Expectations for your publishing deal, your sales, your fame and fortune are not met.) The truth is, this is what it all leads up to. The finale.
This season of So You Think You Can Dance featured a really talented tapper who made it to the finale. Aaron had auditioned three times for the show. He had made it to Vegas twice. He had made it through multiple cuts only to be sent home before the Top 20. Finally, he made it into the Top 20, then the Top 10, then the Top 4. His skills as a dancer were top notch. He had a great charisma on stage. He was masculine and strong and, really, not bad looking. I was rooting for him. Sure, I liked Fik-shun. I thought he was talented. I loved him with Amy, etc. But I wanted to see the happy ending for Aaron. I hoped, after all the years of him knocking on this door, him seeking this prize, the answer would be America’s Favorite Dancer Is…Aaron.
Why? Because I want that. As do all writers on the journey toward publication. To pretend we don’t dream of a great publishing deal, a New York Times Bestseller, a film adaptation that doesn’t suck, would be a boldfaced lie. This dream isn’t about the realistic, the what we know will probably happen, because in the end we will be happy to be published and continue writing books — no, the big dreams are what keep us sending out queries, revising, writing. We must write, this will not change if we are never validated by a publishing deal, but the yes from an agent, the sell to an editor, is our goal.
We hear nonstop about the subjectivity of this business. So You Think You Can Dance beautifully illustrates this concept. In the end, what another person loves is not up to you. Be a champion of what you love. Write the stories you want to write, with the characters you can’t ignore, and have faith that you will one day become Your Agent’s Favorite Query, That Editor’s Must Read Submission, The Bestseller Everyone Loves, or The Book That Someone Won’t Be Able To Put Down.