Looking back over 2017

Last year, I made a list of every children’s literature agent in the UK that was open for submission. There were 53 of them. At the beginning of this year, I resolved to submit my recently completed (and by that I mean completed, redrafted, redrafted, rewritten and redrafted several more times) manuscript to every one of them, in a do-or-die experiment to see if this could finally help me achieve my long-standing ambition to get the fucker published.

To cut a long story short, it didn’t.

shrug.gif

My current rejection tally stands at 45. There are a few competition / publisher rejections thrown in there as well, meaning there are still 12 agencies left on my list. I don’t think I’ll be submitting to them. I’m pretty tired.

And there has been some good news in there. I was longlisted for one of those competitions, three of those agencies had requested my full manuscript, and several more sent me encouraging responses; that this book wasn’t for them but I was doing a lot of things right and should keep going.  If it wasn’t for those few positive responses I probably would have drowned in a pool of tears and ice cream by now, so I really am enormously grateful for them.

But yeah, on the whole it has not really been a great year, ambition-wise. It is safe to say that both my ego and motivation are feeling a bit:

beaten up

But to re-employ my most wrung-out metaphor; I’ve been waiting for this bus for effing years, one more isn’t that big of a deal – I’m still not moving a bloody muscle until it gets here. So here, once again, is a Plan Of Action:

1. I won’t be posting (on purpose…) in December, because it’s Christmas and I am in dire need of both cheer, and not thinking about my bludgeoned dreams. Nobody wants to be dealing with this crap at the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

sad elf

2. Currently the plan is to keep The Rejection Box going in the new year, because there are definitely more rejections in my future, amiright?! I’ll be posting fortnightly or monthly though, as for a while my focus will be to…

3. Write something new. Again.

And who knows? Maybe 2018 will turn out to be The Year.

Until then, Merry Christmas x

 

 

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The Whooshing Sound

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I was aiming to complete my new manuscript for the Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize deadline of 8th December. I also casually mentioned on my Twitter feed that I’d reached the 40,000 word mark of my new manuscript by early October, but had also come to the troubling realisation that:

thisisshit

Which was, you know, not great.

The situation was not helped by the fact that throughout October I was having a flare-up of ulcerative colitis (a chronic bowel condition I am blessed with, of which you can find more hilarious details at my page on the women’s health blog Time Of The Month). In short, this meant that I was perennially exhausted, in pain and reaching truly unprecedented levels of raging grumpiness. None of which is particularly conducive to cranking out 5000 words a week of a story you’ve utterly lost faith in.

So on having my manuscript epiphany, I did what any fatigued, hormonal, stressed-to-the-nines writer would do. Had a meltdown, spent a week feverishly trying to find a way of balancing having enough time to fix the manuscript with making it not-shit, had several more meltdowns, and eventually was sat down by my kind and sensible partner to be told that maybe it was time to consider letting the Chicken House deadline go.

I mean, this stung. I am, historically, the sort of person who takes deadlines – if anything – too seriously, and have in the past pushed myself to depressing and unhealthy extremes in order to avoid missing one. But, my partner pointed out – with the sort of quiet, carefully-chosen words one might employ when trying to talk someone off a roof ledge – there would be no punishment for missing this deadline. In many ways it was self-imposed, it would roll around again next year, and it was making me really unhappy.

All of which was true. But to me, the punishment for missing this deadline is a missed opportunity.

This came back around to bite me again this weekend, when the deadline for the Bath Children’s Novel Award made that nice whooshing sound as it flew by me. I had been less focused on this than the Chicken House, as rather than needing a full manuscript to enter, only 5000 words and a synopsis was needed, which I had long-since prepared. Right?

laughcry

Well, I had 5000 words I fully intended to rewrite completely and a synopsis I had mentally binned but had no time to alter. So I spent twenty minutes on the day of the deadline looking over everything I had, trying to figure out if there was anything salvageable that would be even slightly worth the £25 entry fee, and eventually concluded that really, really (really) wasn’t.

I’m trying to see the passing of these deadlines not as lost opportunities, but necessary sacrifices. Even had I persisted with the manuscript as it washed down the toilet, the product would have been a ridiculously flawed story I wasn’t proud of and absolutely knew wouldn’t have a hope in hell in these competitions. But it’s been genuinely difficult not to see these whooshing sounds as personal failures. There’s been a lot of ‘if I hadn’t wasted so much time’, ‘if I’d taken longer over the planning’, ‘if I’d gotten feedback early on’, if if if if blah blah blah… And I still haven’t really shaken any of those feelings off. My attitude to writing has always been that it’s better to write something terrible than nothing at all, and that the only way to guarantee I’ll never get published is if I never submit. So to deliberately not submit, rather than submit something I know is bad, might be ultimately more sensible, but has still clashed spectacularly with my instincts.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on the next plan, and not on the feeling that I’ve set myself back a year. I’ve put the terrible manuscript aside for a while, to let it rest and see if returning to it in a few months can highlight how to fix it. I’ve gently started working on something new, but am trying to take it slowly and enjoyably with a distant deadline of December 2018, rather than looming over myself like an angry Judge Judy.

watch

I have embraced the Whooshing Sound. Unlike Douglas Adams, however, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it much.

Celebrity Children’s Authors Whinge

Apologies for the lack of post last week, but I’m gonna make it up to you with a long, in-depth and semi-researched post today, FULL of complaints and whining! I spoil you.

So if you are involved in (or a semi-desperate observer of) the Children’s Publishing market, you were probably aware of the controversy caused last week by the celebrity-heavy line up of children’s titles for next year’s World Book Day. 4 out of the 10 books that will be £1 on World Book Day 2018 to promote reading, were written by celebrities.

You are also probably aware that, ludicrous as this seems, it isn’t surprising. Controversy over celebrity children’s writers has been a growing topic over the last couple of years, when everyone from Jamie Lee Curtis to George friggin Galloway to Eyebrows Delevingne has been cranking out children’s/YA books.

If this is all getting a bit TL;DR (get me bein’ all down with the internet), then this gif pretty much summarises my feelings on the issue:

 

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Unlike most ACTUAL children’s authors, feeling personally victimised by the industry isn’t that new to me (pardon the self pity), so when I hear about a celebrity getting a publishing deal that would probably have paid for at least half a dozen debut authors, it just gives me a particularly violent burst of the impotent rage and sadness I’m usually feeling when I think about children’s publishing.

But I didn’t particularly want to talk about why this is A Bad Thing, because I really do feel like that’s pretty self-evident. (If you don’t think so, David Almond, Patrick Ness and Joanne Harris, among others, have gone into it.) What I wanted to talk about was the brain-frazzling logic I’ve seen defending the celebrity children’s authors. For instance, World Book Day director Kirsten Grant has said, “Yes, there are celebrity writers on the list (who have written their own books), but if they are the catalyst to encouraging a non-reader to pick up a book and start a nationwide conversation about reading, then everyone will be better off.”

not sure

Now, Kirsten, are you telling me that you honestly believe that the average 5-8 year old knows (or gives a flying fuck) who Clare Balding is? Don’t get me wrong, I love Clare Balding – I think she’s very good at her actual job, but I’m not sure her prominence in the televised sports presenting and journalism field is going to have brought her to the attention of many kids, however much they might love animals.

What Kirsten Grant MEANS is that these children’s PARENTS have heard of Clare Balding, and so are more likely to choose a book written by her whilst stood in the kid’s section at Waterstones, staring at the multi-coloured, floor-to-ceiling mirage before them and clutching tenners in their sweaty, panic-stricken hands – because it’s easier. It’s easier than doing some research into children’s books and their non-celebrity authors. It’s easier than asking a bookseller who they would recommend. It’s easier than picking something at random and your child-hating it because they told you that until they’ve read Dick King Smith’s entire back catalogue they couldn’t possibly touch Jacqueline Wilson.

And that’s okay. I get that. I’m not a parent, but that shit looks well stressful, and I can easily imagine ignoring these options in a field where you feel a bit in over your head.

But I don’t think it’s right for publishing companies to ENCOURAGE that. It feels lazy, to me, to spend loads of money slapping a celebrity’s face on an often-ghostwritten book and screaming about it, regardless of its quality, to push parents towards buying something easy. Surely more children will end up reading if they’re given something because it’s good. (Slight disclaimer here that I do know there are celebrity authors – David Walliams, for one – who write genuinely good kid’s books. But it’s an exception-not-a-rule situation.)

So yeah, that’s my two-bit. Please don’t try to tell me that publishing celebrity authors will encourage children to read, because you know and I know that is nonsense.

(And FYI, I’ll write you a children’s book for like 1/1000th of the price of Cara Delevingne.)

Priority Balancing

Here’s a Relatable Thing. As a writer who also has to do ‘other stuff’ (earn money, buy food, do the washing up, book dentist appointments, have friends etc.), I generally find that any writing or publication-hunting I want to get done finds itself languishing in the dregs of the Priority List, somewhere between ‘change that lightbulb in the kitchen’ and ‘tidy files on desktop’.  Unlike the lightbulb, I actually really want to do it, but the fact is that if I don’t put a load in the washing machine, I don’t have any socks for tomorrow; if I don’t make lunch, I’ll be hungry this afternoon; if I don’t earn money, I can’t pay for stuff…ever. Whereas if I don’t send off that submission…well, pretty much nothing happens.

Because of this, it’s genuinely difficult to force myself to make time for it. And half the time, I’ll set a whole day aside for writing / submissions, then find myself at 4.30pm in an unusually tidy lounge with a bunch of things checked off my to-do list and about 8 words written. But this is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ blog, so regardless, here are my top two tips for finding the time:

  1. Set aside time in advance. This always starts off being a whole day, then an afternoon, then a couple of hours, and usually at around 4pm I fling myself down on a chair and assert (to no-one in particular), ‘RIGHT. I am going to write for ONE FULL HOUR.’ (Then I spend twenty minutes fiddling with the formatting and despair at myself.)
  2. Scrounge any time you can from literally anywhere else. I have sent submissions off at work. I’ve sent them off in the middle of the night. I’ve sent them off whilst sat at bus stations. Depending on my motivational and rejection-blues levels, I’ve been pretty crazy about it. (Not that I recommend the craziness.)

And on that ALMOST totally pointless note, I will leave you.

Things That Keep Me Motivated

  • The only slightly nonsensical belief that, if my fate was to acquire X number of rejections before achieving success, I must have put a good old dent in it by now.
  • Drinks with fellow writers, in which you lament the universe’s (/publishing industry’s) heinous treatment of you, air your fears and then slurrily insist that the other is SO TALENTED (they really are) and you’re SO SURE they’ll make it (you really are). It helps to know you’re not the only one.
  • Sitting in a cafe and writing by hand, which still always makes me feel like a ‘real writer’.
  • Sheer spite.
  • The thought that each rejection is a step closer to the agent who will (finally) take a chance (/pity) on me.
  • Other people telling me they really do believe I’ll make it (and these people are only sometimes drunk).
  • Reading wonderful books that make me realise that agents aren’t just sadistic twats.
  • Reading terrible books that make me realise I can’t be all that far off.
  • Not thinking about it for a while.
  • Tea (the drink, not the meal. Though actually, that too).
  • Having a bit of a cry, and emerging like an angry motherfucking phoenix from the ashes.

come at me bro

I Liked It, Just Not ENOUGH

I got a lovely rejection letter a couple of weeks ago. It said (verbatim) “I really wanted to like this – you sound great and committed as a writer and the synopsis is also really promising but I’m afraid I just didn’t fall for this in the way I wanted to.”

And on the plus side, feedback is a rare find and always much appreciated. A friendly, personalised rejection letter is also a rare find and always much appreciated. This agent asked me to bear her in mind for future submissions, and I certainly will – she was kind, helpful and polite. And I know that I’m lucky to have had that response, and that I’m lucky to have had all the encouragement I’ve had over the last few months. It’s a really good sign that I’ve consistently received positive rejections and encouragement, in amongst all the agents who have flatly ignored me.

But guys, I’m getting so fed up of being told they ALMOST loved it. I’m so fed up of getting job interviews but never the job. I’m so fed up of second place. And I know, I know, I’m lucky to place at all. But in the most arrogant statement I think I’ve ever admitted to on this blog, I don’t feel lucky – I actually feel like a very hard worker and publishable-level writer who has been noticeably UNlucky. I hope that doesn’t sound horrific. If it does, and you’re sat there thinking ‘I’ve worked ten times as hard and gotten half as far’ then please feel free to print this blog post out and burn it (I probs would).

But I have gotten a fair few responses that have essentially said ‘I would have taken this on if I’d ‘clicked’ with it’. And HOW THE FUCK am I supposed to make it ‘click’? I feel like I have done everything I can do, and now just have to hope that some luck-distributing leprechaun (or similar) gets his arse in gear and sprinkles a bit of long-awaited ‘click’ over my manuscript.

Until then, I suppose I’ll just keep pestering agents, and when they tell me I’m ALMOST good enough, be like:

fake smile

 

The 13 Stages of Receiving A Rejection

1. A new email! Ooooh, it’s- oh God.

calm shocked

2. It’s from an agent. Shit.

3. What if this is it? The beginning of my future life? What if I will forever look back on my time on earth and it was right now – THIS MOMENT – that changed everything?

4. Alright,

calm down

5. It’s probably a rejection. Almost certainly.

6. Well bloody click on it then.

7. Oh God.

8. Oh GOD.

9. ‘Thank you for sending us…’ BLAH BLAH BLAH DON’T TEASE ME

10. ‘Unfortunately…’ oh.

11. That’s fine.

12. I didn’t want this stupid agency anyway.

13. pizza