I spent the first half of today feeling discouraged, and the second half of today feeling like my writing is so terrible that I shouldn’t waste my time trying to get published. In other words, I had my normal response to a partial-manuscript rejection.
By this evening, I had straightened around to deciding that I should at least consider an idea proposed by the agent that would, in her opinion, increase my likelihood of securing representation:
Switch it from YA to MG.
This agent is not the first to suggest that Jim and Jack has a Middle Grade feel to it. Two of my critique partners also mentioned this, but I have stayed true to my original vision of the novel being for gifted eighth-grade boys (as well as a grade or two in both directions).
1. Boys mature at a significantly slower rate than girls during those tween/lower teen years.
2. Boys are generally not as emotionally complex as girls (read The Male Brain, by Louann Brizendine, MD, if you disagree with this. If you are still doubt, go make friends with a 12-15 year old boy.)
3. Gifted kids of both sexes are known for their asynchronous development, in that their emotional maturity frequently lags behind their intellectual prowess.
4. 1929 (in which half of Jim and Jack is set) was a simpler time in many ways. Even though adolescents typically had more responsibilities at a younger age, frequently getting married right out of high school, there was a naiveté that doesn’t exist today. Society as a whole was more focused on developing character rather than on “being cool,” and I want that lack of sophistication to be reflected in my 1929 characters.
5. Just to make sure I was right, I had my manuscript test driven by ten 12-to 16-year-old gifted boys (nine of whom did not know me) before I started querying. On response sheets, in answer to the question, “Do you think you were the right age to read this novel? Why, or why not? What age would you think IS the right age?” every one of them thought that theirs was exactly the right age, for various reasons. Which says to me that it is right on target.
I am willing to consider the change, though. Clinging to my rationale won’t bring Jim and Jack any closer to publication. As the litmus test, I have recruited my reluctant-reader middle grade son to read it. If he likes it, I will pitch it differently and see what happens.
They say that you know you’re getting closer when you start to get personalized rejections. We’ll see.