I'm still reeling. I had an excellent critique of the first 9 pages of Strings of Discord last night. A challenging critique, one that indicates I'm already moving to a new stage of development as a writer. And I'm absolutely freaked. Deer-in-headlights, am I ready for this, can I really do this, what the hell do I do now, freaked. And just to make things even more confusing, I'm also buzzing from the compliment to my writing.
It's made for a confusing evening and morning.
I guess I should explain. We had a new member at our critique group last night. After the group regulars all gave their feedback (three very enthusiastic thumbs up with only minor quibbles), he then took it to the next level. Basically, he said that what I had written was a stock epic fantasy beginning. Something that could be published if it landed on the right desk at the right time, but it wasn't going to turn any heads, and it would likely launch me, at best, into a mid-list career. Assuming I could find someone looking for stock epic fantasy. But I have a great hook for the entire series, which I already knew, and he wanted that played up a bit more in order to vault my book above the stock epic fantasy out there.
Here's why I'm freaking out.
In just nine pages of rough draft and a brief verbalized logline/synopsis of sorts, he not only saw my hook and was eager to read it, but he also indicated that I was capable of doing it well enough to talk about how I could transcend the genre. If only he were an editor. That's why I'm buzzing. It's also why I'm freaking. Because SoD has only been my little project for three years. Something I believed in and knew could go places. I knew it would be a good shot at a breakout novel. But now someone else knows that too. There's a pressure in that. A sense of "I can do this and do it big, but someone else in the biz knows it too and expects it now". Yipes.
The whole critique made me realize that it's time to move on to the next development stage as a writer. And I've been in this current one only since May, basically. I'm about to leave the comforting level of good, solid writing that has a decent chance of getting published but--if it does make it--it's not going to turn a whole lot of heads, it's going to go through a lot of rejection before it finds that magic combo of time/person to buy it, and it's going to launch a mid-list at best career. And there's really nothing wrong with that level. It would give me the chance to write for a living. It would get my stories in print. It would give me an audience. It would give me a chance to work up to other levels of writing and maybe eventually break out of mid-list. It would also be frustrating and long. It would make publishing that much more of a challenge.
This next level is the break-out level. That ability to take an idea and make it pop beyond what the genre is doing at the moment. This level makes the career I described above a definite possibility, but the least of what I would experience in publishing. This level makes it more likely that I would launch above a mid-list career. This level puts a helluva lot more pressure on me and this would-be career. Starting at this level means it becomes my baseline. That makes leaving the comfort of my current level really, really scary.
You know, this probably sounds like a lot of arrogant, self-indulgent bullshit. Maybe it is. Really, it was only one other writer's opinion, and, though he's been around the block with professional authors, he's still an unpublished writer. And I'm by no means an expert able to make the sort of predictions and career distinctions I just did with any sort of rationale other than my own observations and opinions and intuition. Regardless of whatever "level" I reach as I writer, I may never get published. I may only ever be a struggling mid-list author, never quite sure if my last round of sales was good enough to get me the next contract. I may write the 30 books or so that are in my head at the moment (this is the problem with epic series ideas), and they may only delight my family and friends. And that's OK, because I know I'll at least be doing what I love.
But if this critique is right, and my intuition is right, then I think I just crossed a threshold in to a world of amazing publishing responsibilities. Exciting, terrifying, and something I can't ignore.