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.

Advertisements

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:

 

unimpressed-gif-11

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.)

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 Rejection Box: A Recap

I am (once again) fresh out of both news and ideas, so I have had possibly my laziest idea yet, and am literally going to give you a summary of The Rejection Box progress so far. There was going to be a graph, but I think we can all agree that would have been too far; instead, I have chosen to express each month through the medium most true to my inner nature: gifs.

January – Bring It. 

bring it.gif

Oh, so full of hope. Plans were in place, blog posts were long because time was plentiful, submissions flowed like the Niagara Falls. One measly rejection was received and basically lauded as a sign of legitimacy. Halcyon days, my friends. Halcyon days.

February – Productivity to the MAX.

productive

Still going strong – posts were lengthy and covered a range of topics that I thought would never dry up (ahem). The first full MS request was received, and even though I tried SUPER hard not to be, in retrospect the naivety of it is properly pitiful…

March – Peaks and Troughs. 

mood swings.gif

The erstwhile peak of The Rejection Box. Yeah, there were ups and downs – two full MS requests along with two more full MS rejections, but hell if things weren’t moving. Goodness me, the mood swings.

April – Denial. 

denial.gif

Looking back, this was the beginning of the decline. Assertions that I’m really not an amateur, beginning to consider what happens if I’ve just humiliated myself on the internet…but still, (mostly) regular posts on real topics. So. That’s something.

May – Anger. 

anger.gif

By this point there is a definite tone of toddler tantrum-ing in the subtext of all the posts. Only at the end of May do the cracks really show themselves, but prior to that there is a clear, rage-y panic that I’m doing everything I can and it is going exactly nowhere.

June – Bargaining.

begging-gif-19

Here we hit the wheedling stage of ‘no, come on now, don’t you think I deserve just a LITTLE bit of not-failing?’ Posts have taken a short and sporadic turn, and mostly revolve around trying to find new ways of saying I really am trying, but success is one devilishly tricksy little bastard…

July – Depression.

depression.gif

With the exception of the brief moment of Chicken House potential, July was pretty much a surrender to the Failure Powers That Be. I was pretty ill this month, in my own defence, but it still reads a touch like a mental breakdown…

August – Acceptance. 

acceptance.gif

Still not exactly ALIVE with blog posts or productivity, but I think (hope) that there is a slight upward turn here. Having been clobbered into the dirt, my hopes and intentions are JUST about ready to peek out from the ashes and play dead if Failure comes stomping past again. Maybe?

So that was worthwhile, eh!

 

 

What Does ‘Successful’ Mean?

Guys, brace yourselves. This is going to be an actual, real blog post.

omgwhat.gif

It occurred to me recently (months ago, actually, but hey) that I’ve talked a lot about wanting to be ‘successful’ and how hard I’ve been trying to achieve any ‘success’ and how desperate I am to even touch a blob of ‘success’, without ever actually defining the term. Do I mean I want to get a publishing contract? Hold my own, completed and printed, novel in my hands? Earn my living through writing? Become a squillionaire? Have newspapers hand me their monthly title of ‘the next JK Rowling’?

Well, yeah. I mean, that’d be sweet.

But sadly, I’ve been writing/trying to get a book published/cyber-stalking successful writers for ten years, and have long since tempered my thirteen-year-old intentions (of appearing on talk shows to promote the celebrity-starring film adaptation of my bestselling children’s novel) with a hearty dose of reality. Don’t get me wrong, the Dream Big Scenario is still – and will always be – to be a rich and renowned writer of books that people love.

But I’m not as stupid as I often sound.

As the years have gone by, my ambition for my own potential writing career has gradually deflated, surged up and (in the darkest hours of rejection) been replaced with the Primary Life Ambition of ‘owning a dishwasher’.  ‘Success’ is not a definition I have set in stone – even for me it’s a totally subjective concept, and I’m sure that anyone you asked would define it differently. But it’s been on my mind a lot recently, as I have once again found myself sacrificing my fought-for and valued writing time wringing job applications from my tired and frustrated brain, for positions I don’t actually want. (Please excuse the millenial* whining.)

On the plus side, it’s usually times like this when I settle on Becky’s Definitive Definition of Personal Success. And it is this: to be enabled, through publication of a novel, to build my working life around writing for children.

In translation, I want to hold my own, professionally published book in my hands. I want to earn some portion – and it doesn’t matter how tiny – of my living through writing. I want publication of a novel to give me a key to doors that are only open to published writers – to apply for residencies, take part in author visits at schools, attend book festivals and participate in the community of children’s/YA writers who are living, as far as I’m concerned, the Life of Riley.

Now don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world I’d be able to live a comfortable life by spending my working days doing the thing I love and am good at. But I think my subconscious feels that if I set my sights a little lower – to being able to call myself a published writer, and desperately pimping myself out accordingly – then maybe the universe will compromise, and give me something. You never know.

So that’s ‘success’, to me. And I’ve been thinking about it for so long, I can’t even tell if it sounds tragic or arrogant anymore…

*Please also excuse the use of the word ‘millenial’.

yuck.gif

Let Me In!

It’s actually going to be a real post this week! With length and misery and everything!

whoop

Seriously though, this blog post is not for the fainthearted – it is, however, intended to be an understanding cuddle to everyone who has felt what I’m feeling at the minute re: rejections. And to try and reassure myself, as much as anyone, that this feeling isn’t reserved for me, and that it won’t last.

So here’s how I feel. Nearly ten years ago, in my tender early teens, I knocked politely on the door of a Very Intimidating House, and had this conversation with the very tall and scary person, called Publishing Industry, who answered:

Me: Will you publish my book please?

Publishing Industry: *flicking through my 500+ page, dragons-and-swords fantasy trilogy* No. Go away and write a better book.

Which, to be honest, was fair. So I did. Two years later, we had the same conversation about my much-harder-to-genre-ise YA story, only now there were some extras:

Publishing Industry: Still not a good enough book. Also, you need to get better at writing cover letters and synopses, pay attention to every minute detail on our various and sundry websites to make sure you don’t piss us off at the starting post, find out where you stand in the children’s market, learn how to pitch better and get more writing experience.

FINE

So I went away (skipping and frolicking) and read hundreds of books, learned the children’s market about as well as anyone who isn’t being paid to do so can, studied countless guides to writing cover letters and synopses to write a good pitch, made sure I was submitting precisely within the guidelines of each individual agency / competition, and in the meantime got an MA in Creative Writing as well as writing thousands and thousands more words.

Now, I’m standing in front of that same door (only now it’s cold and pissing rain) and they still won’t let me in. And now, no-one will even tell me why. Is it because my writing isn’t good enough? Maybe; I’m no JK Rowling, but I’ve also read (published) worse. Is it because my story isn’t marketable? Again, maybe; but it’s essentially children’s fantasy – how un-marketable has that ever been?  Is it because I’m just unlucky, and keep writing to the wrong people at the wrong time? Maybe; but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

What’s frustrating me the most at the minute is that I keep finding myself trawling the internet for more tips, more guidance, more things I haven’t tried that might finally get me through that door. But all I ever find is stuff I’ve already done.

So that’s me this week, I’m afraid. Standing outside of a perennially closed door; cold, soaked and very, very grumpy.

sad rain

Next week we’re back to short and sweet, but I promise to also say some things that won’t leave you wanting to go to bed forever. Maybe.

 

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