POSITIVE THOUGHTS

Hello all, another quick one today. The post that feels most relevant is pretty depressing (SHOCKER), so I’m going to save that for the future (read: next week). Instead, I’m going to leave you with a list of happy things I force myself to think when the rejections and general barren wasteland of unsuccessfulness are getting me down:

  • Even if this book never gets published, the full manuscript was requested three times, and as far as I’m aware nobody can go back in time and take that away from me.
  • I have, like, a LOT more story ideas to turn into books to turn into rejections before I’m done.
  • JK Rowling was, like, thirty-something before she was successful – as are most other authors (though this one usually leads to ‘I CANNOT TAKE ANOTHER TEN YEARS OF THIS’ so use with caution).
  • What’s for dinner?
  • Patrick Ness says that the best writers don’t just ‘write’, they ‘write anyway’, and hell if that’s not exactly what I’m doing. (My boyfriend would like me to point out that he actually suggested this point, not Patrick Ness. But he didn’t use the interesting phrasing, so here we are.)
  • In about three hours, I can go to bed.
  • What happens if I type ‘puppy’ and ‘trampoline’ into Google?
  • When my book is one day published and I become HIDEOUSLY SUCCESSFUL, I can spend a fabulous afternoon calling all the agents who rejected / ignored me and point out to them that they are not my agent.
  • If the publishing industry thinks it’s more stubborn than I am then it can THINK AGAIN.

never give up

Apologies past, present and future…

Hello, it’s only going to be a short one today because:

  1. I should have posted yesterday, but had nothing written (AGAIN).
  2. I’m literally at work, hoping nobody important is about to walk in and see that I’ve mentally checked out an hour and a half early.
  3. Well, they’re going to be short ones for a while…

As a kind of follow-up to my last post, in which I said I’d be scaling back my submissions attempts, I’m also going to be scaling back blog posts. Given the scheduling shit-show that has been going on the last few weeks, I wouldn’t blame you if this actually comes as a relief.

I’m still going to try and post weekly on Mondays, but the posts will for the most part be short, sweet and update-y rather than covering anything…y’know, interesting.

rashida-jones-the-office-shrug-gif

This is because over the last couple of months I’ve been driving myself round the twist trying to get all my submissions done, a blog post written, some actual writing done, work four days a week, maintain personal hygiene, have friends, sleep etc. etc. And I’ve reached that point where I feel like I’ve been doing a half-arsed version of everything, rather than a proper job of anything.

So I’m still going to post, but only briefly unless there’s something specific / important to say. Hopefully this will give me time to take my foot off the mental pedal a bit, and will mean that when I do write a proper post it’s not just an increasingly miserable re-hash of ‘yeah, I’m still being rejected’.

So sorry for the late post, sorry for the lack of lols in this one and sorry for the future brevity – here’s hoping all of these things served / will serve a purpose!

A Re-Evaluation of Tactics

Oh dear guys: it’s not going super well, is it? I have now crossed the 25 Rejection marker, and had a long-awaited rejection from the third agency to have requested my full manuscript last week. The fact that my full manuscript has been under consideration at one agency or another for the last couple of months has had a few effects:

  1. I haven’t been sending as many submissions off, so the ‘awaiting response’ column of my spreadsheet is looking depressingly weedy.
  2. The landslide of ‘well they’ve ignored me for three solid months now, so that’s probs a no’ rejections all landed in the last few weeks.
  3. I’ve now had rejections/ignortions (work with me) from pretty much all of my green list agents.

I’m also not holding out an awful lot of hope for any of my more recent submissions, as all of the full MS requests I have received arrived within a week of my initial email. Obviously this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the past few months do seem to have taught me that the longer you wait for a response, the more likely that response is going to be a big, fat ‘no’. This being the case, I was 90% sure that last full MS request would be a no weeks before I received it. But this is still the furthest I’ve felt from potential success for a couple of months, and it kinda sucks.

But you know, darkest before the dawn and all that. And what this does mean is that I’m considering a minor change in tactics.

In a complete contradiction of one of my previous posts explaining why I’m submitting to agents[link], I’m still going to submit to agents, but I think I’m going to try and submit to a few indie publishers as well. This is not because I’ve lost all faith that an agency will ever agree to represent me.

4820143-1010070502-tumbl

It’s more of a nothing-to-lose strategy. One of the things that put me off wanting to submit to publishers in the first place is that some agencies ask for a list of publishers who have already seen the manuscript – which, to me, felt a bit like sending them a list which said ‘lol turns out I suck at doing your job, but here’s a bunch of people I’ve made it pointless for you to approach, just to make this a nice fun challenge’. I’m still worried about that, but frankly I care less now. Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say, and I’m one rejection away from camping out on Bloomsbury’s doorstep and refusing to leave until someone reads my goddamn book.

Whilst I’m here, I’m also going to subtly hide in the middle of all this text that I’m going to scale back my pre-full MS requests 5-submissions-a-week goal. Now this is partly because I am just super busy at the minute, and finding time to write a weekly blog post is proving maddening enough. But mostly because I want to give myself a bit more time to work on my new project. This is not because I’ve lost all faith that anyone will ever publish this book.

4820143-1010070502-tumbl

But last weekend I went to one of Patrick Ness’s events to promote his new novel, Release (which, if you’re looking for a book recommendation, I can confirm is that fabulous Ness-ian mixture of heart-achingly real and brain-frazzlingly weird), and gave him a brief breakdown of my attempts to get published – brief because I spat the words out like a machine gun. After he’d stopped looking at me like this:

stunned

He advised me to split focus; keep sending off my book, but spend more time working on the new one, too. And to be honest, working on the new one requires infinitely fewer desperate-self-pep-talks and dark musings on my future, so I’d like to do more of it. I will definitely still be sending at least one submission off per week – hopefully two or three. And who knows, perhaps we’ll hit the hallowed ground of four or five on weeks when I’ve decided I don’t care about a) being caught sending submissions off from work b) having friends or c) sleeping. But to assuage my future guilt, I thought I’d best let you know.

So, to summarise: bit sad but will be okay, trying a few publishers, spending more time on new project and less whingeing about rejections.

And we can call this Plan J, or something.

Next Post: Okay, now it’s getting REALLY hard to come up with new ways of saying ‘still not published’. Kind of expanding on this post, I want to talk more about how to divide time between an old project and a new one – partly to see if it helps me figure out how to actually do that…

Submissions Last Week

Just the one I’m afraid, and to an agent….I will get on this Plan J thing though, I swear.

Current Rejection Tally: 25

Urgh, but do I HAVE to?: An exploration of Networking.

Is there a word more abhorrent to the awkward, introverted British ear than ‘networking’? Certainly there is no word more likely to send a shiver down the spine of a writer – someone who voluntarily spends hours at a time sitting alone, mentally wrapped up in fantasised situations and worlds. I am no exception to this rule, and can’t seem to stop myself from even saying the word networking with the same accidental lip-curl that occurs when I say words like ‘faeces’ or ‘Brexit’.

ew

The tragedy of this is that networking is undoubtedly an actually good thing.

Now here is where my blog will once again diverge from where a ‘How To Get Published’ post would go. Rather than explain all the reasons networking is great – peppered with fabulous stories of Author X, who found an agent at HER VERY FIRST NETWORKING EVENT and similar – I’m just going to hold myself up to you as an unpublished, increasingly tragic would-be writer who’s scared of networking and say, once again: don’t do this.

I am made so anxious and sweaty over networking that I go to great lengths to avoid it. Whilst I generally like to consider myself a pretty friendly, not-too-socially stunted person, I have an awkward streak a mile wide which quite thoroughly disables me from walking up to a group of strangers I’d like to impress and just inserting myself into their conversation. The only time I can even vaguely consider myself to have ‘networked’ (see, I’m even sneering as I type it) was at the Newcastle Writing Conference in 2015. An agent who had taken pity on the terrible book I was submitting when I was fifteen had asked to meet me, and here she was – about six years later – taking part in a ‘meet the agent’ event. After the talk, as the crowd filtered back out through the doors, I joined that uneasy half-queue people form when they’re not sure whether or not it’s appropriate to queue, and waited to talk to her. She was perfectly calm and smiley, told me she half-recognised me and listened to my 100-miles-an-hour, entirely rehearsed blather about the story I was working on, what I’d been up to since our last meeting, and had I mentioned the story I was working on? She kindly asked me to send it to her when it was finished, I bounced off feeling that hadn’t gone too badly and resolved to network more often.

The slightly tragic end to that story is that I did send her my completed manuscript, and she rejected it. But hey, at least I’d tried – and I know I would have been furious with myself if I hadn’t at least tried.

But that resolve to network more often has sat quietly in the back of my head, never really needing to be tested. It’s not like there’s an arse-load of publishing events in the North East of England for me to avoid. However, in a couple of weeks I’ll be going to the 2017 Newcastle Writing Conference, enjoying the events, listening to the discussions, and dithering over the post-Conference ‘networking opportunity’. Whilst I am going to try and force myself to go to this, the image I have is of standing at the edge of a large room full of established circles of people, clutching an empty glass with a slightly strained but hopefully approachable smile on my face. That’ll be the outside.

The inside will be more:

panicking

But hey, I’ll try.

Quite apart from the sheer self-consciousness, what puts me off networking is the veneer of falsity. A networking event has literally been labelled ‘opportunity for people to come along and attempt to self-serve by finding other people who might be of use to you’, and yet everyone wanders around pretending that they’re all just here for the chat. Don’t get me wrong, loads of industries are built on this, and I get that only suckers will walk around with weird insecure guilt – but it’s a difficult attitude to shake.

So with all of these positive thoughts (ahem), I will attempt to go forth to a networking event and try to a) stay for more than five torturous minutes, b) actually talk to some people I don’t already know and c) try not to come off as a profoundly uncomfortable introvert who judges networking events. And I’m sure it will be helpful, educational, enjoyable and in no way terrifying.

Really, really sure.

Next Post: I’ve been wondering whether to take a temporary break from my relentless agent-bashing and submit to a few small publishers – so probably some ruminations on that, written with (hopefully) far more flair than I’m managing in my current knackered, it’s-10.30pm-on-Sunday-why-do-I-do-this-to-myself state.

Submissions Last Week:

Well I attempted 2 agencies, but think only 1 actually went through – but to be discussed next week. (Also that third full MS request came back as the predicted but nonetheless deeply disappointing rejection.)

Current Rejection Tally: 25

 

The Venn diagram of people who get published and people who listen to editorial advice is a circle.

As I mentioned last week, I’m currently spending a day a week working as the editor for Cuckoo Review – a publication comprising of arts reviews written by young people in the north of England. It’s easily the most I’ve ever enjoyed work I was actually being paid for, and it’s given me quite a lot to think about (not to mention blog post fodder!). My job is, very simply, to edit the reviews, give some feedback to their writer, and publish them online. I’m not talking the J. Jonah Jameson style of editing, where you crumple up reviews and chuck them out of windows, shout a lot and smoke cigars – the purpose of Cuckoo Review is for the young writers to gain experience of professional writing, to encourage them and help them develop.

But that part – the ‘gain experience of professional writing’ part – has got me thinking. Because it’s one thing to sit in your bedroom and tap away at the keyboard – whether journalistic or fictional – and it’s quite another to hand it over to someone whose sole job is to rip it apart and put it back together again, to make it fit for publication.

(Massive tangent incoming…bear with it.)

There’s a bit in Joss Whedon’s Firefly when a fairly psychopathic bounty hunter explains to a doctor that if he’s going to work on gunshot wounds, he ought to be shot – so he knows what it feels like.

you oughta be shot.gif

Now, not to align myself with fictional psychopaths, but I have – on occasion – found myself thinking similar thoughts. As someone who’s in and out of hospital more than I’d like, I have often found myself wondering whether this nurse or doctor actually knows what it’s like to take this medication, or go through that procedure that they have no hesitation in suggesting to their patients. (Slight disclaimer here: I have thought this in an idle, passing way – not in the shooty Firefly way.) But (the relevance is coming…wait for it…) I also think there’s some definite crossover here with editing.

One of the things that I think makes me particularly suited to being an editor is that, boy oh boy, have I been on the receiving end of that crap. I’ve been reduced to tears by feedback received on my MA. My own mum once nonchalantly mentioned to me that she thought the main character of – what was at the time – my 300,000+ word fictional world was ‘a horrible person’. When I sent the book I’m currently submitting to my old dissertation supervisor, she managed to tell me that it basically needed re-writing from scratch in a way that made me feel positive and motivated as I left the meeting – though to be fair:

thats witchcraft

I am no stranger to harsh editing. So I bust a gut with every review sent to me, trying to respond in a way that is constructive but kind. In spite of which, I’ve had one or two responses from the young people that have made it clear they’ve felt defensive over my edits, and this gives me pause. Because on the one hand I’m mortified that I’ve displeased them – my whole purpose with Cuckoo Review is to help them, not annoy them. But on the other, perhaps a touch harsh, hand, a part of me thinks…well, that’s life. Similar to what I was saying in my ‘how good do you have to be’ post , self-editing is an essential part of making your work good enough; and the editing of others is, if anything, moreso.

As a teenager I once swapped my recently completed first novel with a friend’s, to read and critique each other’s work. My friend gave me plenty to think about for my own story (which was, in my poor friend’s defence, pretty abysmal), but when I went through the novel I had been given in return, I found every one of my suggestions countered; every question dismissed. At the time if frustrated me, frankly because I was a bit of an arrogant sod when it came to writing, but also because I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well then why did you ask me to read it?’

Because if a piece of writing is published, you are asking people to read it. And at least some of them are going to have questions, problems and critiques. So even before reaching the realm of submissions (which I realise I have made look devastatingly tempting to you all), I think it’s wise to listen to every edit given to you. I’ve always tried to listen. Some feedback I’ve dismissed quite rightly, some I really should have listened to – but most of it, even when I haven’t liked it, I’ve taken on board. Because that’s life.

And with that, we can file this away under ‘Becky’s Egotistical Reason #542 on why the publishing industry should stop ignoring her’, and move on with our days.

Next Post: Networking. Yep. You knew it was coming. We all knew it was coming. Try as you might, there is no escaping that terrible word and it’s horrifically awkward results. Now excuse me while I hyperventilate into a paper bag just at the thought of writing about it.

Submissions Last Week:

Well the best I’ve managed in a while – a WHOPPING 3!

Current Rejection Tally: 24

But what happens if this actually doesn’t work?

God, even writing this post is going to be bleak. But come on guys, let’s chin up and barrel through. I am totally in control of my emotions on this subject, and this will not devolve into a hysterical, shrieking mess. I got this.

fake swagger

Ahem. So. My Current Rejection Tally stands at 22 – and it’s actually 24 if you include the two agencies I’ve nagged for a reply but who almost certainly aren’t going to email me back. (For the interested, 11 of those 22 have been actual rejection letters, the other 11 are assumed – if two months and three emails haven’t done it, we can probably safely assume nothing will.) My top choices list all have big red ‘R’s next to them on the fabled spreadsheet, or a slightly less aggressively red ‘Full MS – R’. Even though I’m currently waiting on 9 responses (unfortunately including the 2 that I’m 99.9% sure are rejections), and have a further 19 agencies in the next batch alone – it seems like it might be time to consider what happens if every one of these agencies – and the ‘long shot’ list that comes after – results in a rejection.

I’ve written before about what I believe is the best way you can prepare for an utterly failed submission, so I’m not really going to cover the practical aspects of what you actually do next, so much as the more abstract, emotional elements. How will I actually feel, if every single one of those agencies tells me I’m not quite good enough?

Firstly, it has to be said, quite embarrassed. There are plenty of people in the world (and I am often one of them) who won’t tell anyone when they have a driving test coming up, or when they’ve started a diet, or made a new life resolution – for fear of having to admit to those same people that you failed. Now not only did I tell literally everyone about my attempts to get published, I actually broadcast it on the internet. I was aware of the extent to which this might backfire when I started, but blithely told myself (and not incorrectly, it has to be said) that it probably wouldn’t be read by anyone, anyway, and it was a good way of guilt-forcing myself into not giving up. And in some ways this has worked – I definitely would have massively slowed down my submission / general creative / positivity output without feeling as though a small collection of friends and strangers would a) notice and b) challenge me on it. In fact, the dread of embarrassment at suddenly giving up on this blog altogether has once or twice resulted in rage-fuelled Sunday night power-writings, or panic-fuelled I-have-to-catch-a-train-in-half-an-hour submissions – which may not have produced my best work, but it did at least produce work. So yes, if at the end of this little internet adventure I have to post a ‘sorry guys, but I ran out of agents who might have cared’ conclusion, I will feel pretty damn mortified.

On a slightly more optimistic note, I think a (very small, to be honest) part of me will be pretty much okay with it. Being able to devote myself fully to my new project would hopefully grease some seriously sticky wheels, and I can’t say it won’t feel refreshing to see that little ‘(1)’ symbol on my inbox and not get that contradictory swoop of hope and dread in my guts.

But let’s be honest here, the overwhelming majority of my feelings will be neatly summarised by this image:

crying in the rain

The disappointment will be crushing on, I imagine, new and exciting levels. I don’t really want to linger on this point, but think 24/7 pyjamas, crying in work bathrooms and a hopefully temporary, though nonetheless intense, crisis of confidence / self-esteem. Throw in about 6 BMI points worth of chocolate and binge-watching old Friends episodes, and you pretty much have it. It wouldn’t be pretty.

The astute among you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned giving up and starting again twice before – my current submission is actually the third novel I’ve sent off, misty-eyed and hopeful, to agencies. So do I not know exactly how I’ll feel if I have to give up and start again now? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?…your call), no. I was nowhere near as mercenary with either of my previous submissions, and submitted in a much more happy-go-lucky, arbitrary and (perhaps) healthy way. Whilst this meant neither story was exposed to as many potential opportunities, it also meant that neither of them were systematically rejected by everyone possible (though in fairness…I’m pretty damn sure they would have been). Prior to now, I have never exhausted every possibility in my bull-headed pursuit of publication – and so maintained the veil of ‘well it could have happened…’ that would be thoroughly lacking this time.

So…yeah. If this doesn’t work, it will suck. But here are the comforting thoughts on which I will leave both you and (for sanity reasons) myself:

  1. It hasn’t happened yet, and is actually quite a ways off.
  2. Even if this book is rejected by everyone, I am 100% sure that I will just write another one, and try again.
  3. One day – one bloody day – I am as sure as it is possible for me to be that my stubbornness will beat the shit out of the publishing industry’s stubbornness, and I’ll get there.

So we’ll see.

Next Post: As part of my other life in which I actually get paid for stuff, I’ve started work as the editor for Cuckoo Review – a publication in which young people in the north of England write arts reviews, supported by New Writing North and an array of professional writers. Having been doing this job for a few weeks now, it’s got me thinking about the importance of editing, and the relationship between writers’ acceptance of criticism and chances of success – cue, The Rejection Box. Didn’t I make that sound like an absolute riot!?

Submissions Last Week:

Just two, but to be honest considering the level of busy things are at the moment, and the fact that I still haven’t heard back from Full Manuscript Request #3 – unusually, I don’t actually feel the need to apologise.

Current Rejection Tally: 22

How Good Do You Have To Be?

So this is a question I, somewhat arrogantly, haven’t actually addressed on the blog yet: how good do you actually have to be to get published? Temporarily pushing aside the luck, the timing, the taste and all the other myriad factors that contribute to publication: is the book actually just…good enough?

Well, actually, I suppose the first question is; does it actually have to be good? Now, you can throw all the Fifty Shades of Grey / Twilight arguments you like at me, but the answer is yes. Yeah, I know: E.L. James is rich, Stephenie Meyer got a contract within a month or something, that book you read last month was purest bollocks etc. etc. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule: every now and then I think the universe likes to throw a curveball, just to check we’re all paying attention. Plus, I maintain that if E.L. James had been submitting to agencies, she would have been soundly and eternally ignored. She was published because of her fanfic’s pre-existing  popularity, and thus a guaranteed audience – and if the last year has taught us anything at all, it is that there is absolutely no accounting for the public’s taste.

i dunno

So, let’s assume that yes, the book does – obviously – have to be good enough to be published. How do I know when I have touched upon such hallowed ground?

Well, for me, it’s a combination of four factors, in descending order of common sense.

  1. I have edited it until my eyes bleed.  

Another thing we can just assume, is that a first draft isn’t good enough. Unless you’re magic, or perhaps Shakespeare (though even then…unlikely), a first draft is never going to be the best you can make it. I – she says, preening – have edited my book so much I lost count of what technically counted as a draft when I started the whole thing again from scratch, four edits in. I have edited it so much I simply cannot do it anymore, without knowing it will actually serve a purpose. I don’t say this out of arrogance or smugness, so much as with the hollow, weary eyes of one who truly – truly – cannot listen to the sound of her own narrative without screaming anymore. So that’s my measure of when you’ve edited enough; when you know it by heart, spend half an hour debating over comma placement, and cannot look at the manuscript without feeling slightly sick.

  1. Positive feedback from knowledgeable sources.

Now, this doesn’t mean ‘my mum reads lots of books, and she loved it’ (not least because my mum – whilst generally fabulous – hasn’t read it, probably wouldn’t like it, and would have no qualms about telling me so). I am, however, fortunate enough to have been able to take an MA in Creative Writing, and so had access to published, experienced writers to edit and feedback on my work. One of them said she thought that, with some work, this story would be publishable, and I have clung to that casual comment like a particularly voracious koala bear. I expect a similar effect could be achieved by paying for a professional editor’s opinion. Expensive, but – rest assured – cheaper than an MA.

One a similar note, whilst I haven’t actually had anything approaching an offer of representation from an agent, I have had several personal, heartening rejections (ha) and three full manuscript requests, which – if somewhat soul-destroying when they come to nothing – are unquestionably encouraging in the long run.

  1. Arrogant comparisons to published books.

Now please don’t think too badly of me for this one. I frequently read books so mind-alteringly astounding they make me feel like a time-wasting goon, with not an ounce of talent to speak of. I also often read books that leave me with a sort of begrudging admiration for a phrase or paragraph that feels depressingly beyond my own meagre ability. But occasionally – just occasionally – I read a published book, and get a twisted thrill of smugness, combined with a hearty dollop of bitterness, and the thought ‘I think I would have pulled that off better,’ or ‘I think my idea’s more original than that,’ or, most often, ‘WHY is she doing that, my characters are never this plot-servingly stupid!’ (disclaimer: not always true). And hey, they got published, right?

  1. Sheer pig-headedness.

The fact is that an awful lot of the time – and especially more recently – I’m not at all sure I’m good enough. I re-read excerpts of my submission and am suddenly, burningly sure they’re crap. I write a few lines of a new project, and cringe even as my fingers tap. I receive a rejection and ignore the positive comments, so as to wallow in the ‘oh GOD, she’s RIGHT, I am a TERRIBLE WRITER’ of the criticisms. Not only is this unhelpful, I know – in my heart of hearts, and less self-pitying moods – that it’s unfair. On good days, in soft lighting, I’m pretty sure I’m a decent writer. But failing that, I am as bloody stubborn as they come. And you’d be surprised how useful that is.

Next Post: Being as I’m not currently mired quite so deep in the self-pity trench as I have been in (many) previous weeks, I’m going to try and stagger through a post on what happens if this actually doesn’t work. Because, let’s face it, there’s a good chance it won’t, and we might as well all be prepared.

gulp

Submission Last Week

Just two, because I’m STILL waiting on that third MS response…which doesn’t feel like the most encouraging sign…

Current Rejection Tally: 17