Undone

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Copyright Charles Schultz, used without permission because I don’t understand how this works. Get in touch if you’re offended and we’ll see what is to be done

Too much rejection leaves a bitter aftertaste; lips covered in splinters from all the doors shut in the face. I don’t know what I have left. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve not got what it takes.

I’m not going to give up writing because I can’t. It’s the only thing I’m even halfway good at and it’s deep in me, now. It’s too late for me to do anything even halfway worthwhile with my life. I have nothing left. This is my last card.

I’m not going to give up, but sometimes it’s hard to see the point of struggling on.

I know that all authors get rejected, that I can always self-publish. Well I’m not sure if my temperament is right for self-publishing: I have an almost pathological aversion to spending money on uncertainties and I don’t know where to begin. And I know all authors get rejected, but over the course of four novels I’ve had several hundred ‘no’s. That’s cold comfort right there. The Stoics got nothin’ on me.

Maybe I should take consolation from Nietsche and look at all my failures as the building-blocks to future success – the ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ approach. Well maybe. But how strong do we have to get? What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger but that which does will make us dead.

A little encouragement would go a long way. Sometimes you need to be told you’re on the right road; or be told of a shortcut, or even of a different destination with a better view. In this case it’d just be nice to hear that my work is worth something, worth sending out.

If all this sounds like a cry for help, for attention, that’s not the intention. This blog has always been half advice, half confessional: it’d be dishonest not to talk about the bad days as well as the good. All writers will feel like this at some point. I know that, you know that. Everyone has that ‘well what the hell’s the point of me?’ moment.

That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

The depression doesn’t get any less deep.

Downshift

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Things change. It seems like it was only a few weeks ago that I was writing this merry little blog-post, filled with optimism, sunshine and metaphorical puppies. Now rejection is my only friend. I have exhausted the few connections I have. I am running out of options.

Writing is a funny game. There are so many slips ‘twixt cup and lip that it’s almost impossible to feel confident; even a critically-admired trilogy is no guarantee of book four reaching the shelves. There’s so much competition that we have to measure success in little ways: a personalised rejection; a request for a full manuscript, even if then rejected; ‘another agent might feel differently’. Small mercies. Cold comforts.

I want to be published. I want to make a career, even if it’s alongside Paid Employment, proofreading and all the rest. I believe I’m good enough. I’m certainly battered and ugly enough. So I find myself looking once again to self-publishing.

I have product: Night Shift is ready for press, its sequels drafted and requiring only another run-through or three. Oneiromancer is also ready to go, a simpler matter as the subject is deeper within my comfort zone. I’m planning a sequel to that – but herein, really, lies the rub: what’s the point of writing a sequel if the first book stands no chance (a premature statement, but still) of getting published?

The book will be written because the book needs to be written. When you have visions and wonders inside you have to find a way to let them out, regardless of the sense of it. This is what a writer is – a conduit between dreams and the wider world, and one that has only limited powers over what they emit.

But it’s frustrating and dispiriting. I understand the business; I understand that agents are overwhelmed with wannabees and they can only endorse the works they truly fall in love with.

But I’m getting old. I’ve given over a decade to writing and I believe that I’m good (for a given value of good) and will get better. What do I do? What do any of us do? Shall we organise a revolution and overthrow these guardians of respectability and set up our own empire of fools?

Or shall we just get back to the keyboard and keep going, keep going, keep going until we smash the walls with the sheer weight of our words?

On the cusp

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So far I have sent out two* submissions for Oneiromancer and I have had two rejections. At least I’m consistent.

This is not a big deal. Agents – I’ve not gone direct to publishers yet – receive hundreds of unsolicited submissions each week and take on maybe three new clients a year. Even if they love your writing the stars still have to align for them to offer to take you on.

What makes things different this time is that I feel uniquely close to actually breaking through. Rejection one: ‘I admire your writing’. Rejection two: ‘Better than a lot of submissions’. I feel like I am on the cusp; on the cusp of what I am not exactly sure, but something.

I have felt like this before. Night Shift received a lot of full-manuscript requests and ultimately got nowhere. I started this blog because I felt like my writing career was about to take off. Three years later and I’ve barely moved.

Not true, of course. I’ve moved huge distances. It’s just that these distances are very difficult to see from the outside.

Back to rejections. It’s interesting to look at the reasons I was, ultimately, rejected:

  • Submission One: ‘I don’t know the Urban Fantasy market.’

Even genre specialists do not know all aspects of every sub-genre. Agency is about having relationships with editors and publishers; having contacts and avenues in a specific field. If they don’t have that then they won’t be the best representative for your work.

  • Submission Two: ‘…Don’t currently have room on my list’.

Agenting takes a huge amount of time and effort: first the editing, the licking of the work into publishable shape. Then the hawking of the work around editors, representatives and publishers’ readers. Finally the negotiations, the financial play, the business side of the industry. All this takes time and there’s a limited amount of that for each author. Of course their lists get full. Even agents are allowed a day off every so often.

Of course it could be that these compliments are just sweet words; a sop to their conscience and my ego. They could be lies. But you always hear that agents don’t have time for slushpile critiques and anything they say should be taken at face value. So I choose to be complimented. I choose to believe that I am close.

This doesn’t actually help me at all. I’m still unpublished and unagented. But the world at the moment looks bright and positive. It is an inspiration to push on; to get another batch of submissions out there. And, when they’re on the way, to write more. That’s the way to get better. Maybe a stroke of luck is what it’ll take, but you have to be in a position to take advantage of your fortune.

I am on the cusp. It’s down to me to make the most of any opportunities that come my way.

*Three now. Three rejections. That is fine

More ‘No’

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Always have two more targets to apply to. Then, whenever you receive a rejection, send them out. Soon the whole process will snowball and you’ll almost enjoy the sensation of rejection as it’ll be springboard to doing and promoting.

I got my first rejection for Oneiromancer last week and that’s fine. I owed this particular agent first refusal; and, as I waited, I was constrained from really pushing myself. Not literally; I didn’t have an exclusivity clause or anything. But it’s always easier to wait than to act, and it’s not like I had nothing else on my mind.

Now the formal notification has arrived: she doesn’t want me. The note contained nice words (she admires my writing) and I know the business: nothing personal, just a cold hard calculation of what’s best for us both. Of course I’m disappointed but I respect her, her opinions and her reasons.

Sometimes a rejection is gutting, a kick in the knackers, a painful reminder of your own limitations. But sometimes it’s a cutting of a cord, the freedom to walk another road, be it with a different agency or self-publishing – or the chance to write something entirely new.

Rejection isn’t a sign of failure; it’s not a comment on your writing or your potential. It’s an opening of doors. It’s the chance to grow. So don’t be afraid. The hurt is only temporary, and hiding from the world won’t get you anywhere.

Take any lessons you may have learnt, down your gin then sober up and step on. Rejection is never nice, but it’s hardly the end of the world, or of your career. Keep going and you’ll get there in the end – even if the destination isn’t the one you’d originally envisioned.

The Rejection of AntiDoom

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will know that, for the last year and a half, I’ve been working with an agent interested in representing me and my work. For those that haven’t, hello and welcome. Here’s a brief recap.

This is about Night Shift, and it was one standard slush-pile submission amongst many. The invitation to go to London to meet with the agent in question was as terrifying as it was thrilling. There was no deal (indeed, I would have been surprised if there had been) but a request for changes. I then spent two months bashing out a revised version, which wound up with this sad story.

Roll forward a year. A big year, where – based on that disappointment – I went completely back to basics and took my work apart. I thought deeper and harder and re-examined everything I’d previously assumed was set. In March I resubmitted. And, as I mentioned briefly in my last blog-entry, a few weeks ago I received The Rejection of Doom.

Obviously this is not what I wanted. I wanted a gushing email, telling me how great I am and how said agent was going to make both our fortunes, that I’d soon be mixing with the great and the good and that I could retire from my paid employment to concentrate fully on doing what I love – immersing myself in other worlds, relying on a steady royalty-stream to pay for the champagne and caviar, and possibly other things beginning with ‘C’.

Last year, when I got the ‘I’m disappointed with this draft’ email – then I was devastated. This time I’m not – if anything I’m uplifted. This is for two reasons, I think. Firstly it’s because it’s the nicest, most positive rejection I’ve ever had. Mainly, though, it’s because when this draft finally went out to her in March, I was mentally exhausted. I’d been working so hard on this one piece that I’d begun to hate my own work and my own world. I couldn’t see any merit in it and was expecting rejection.

That’s why I started on my new project, to purge myself of this negativity and to focus on something completely different. This rejection, so positive in its phrasing, has made me believe again. I can write. I am capable. It’s always nice to be reminded that you do have worth as a human being.

I replied by thanking her for her work (two free readthroughs by a serious professional: I am a much, much better writer as a result) and asking if I might send her in my next project when it’s ready. She said of course I could. Another thing I’ve gained from this.

The big question now is what I should do with Night Shift now. I’m not prepared to keep on tinkering with it: I need to move on. Obviously if a professional wants changes then I’ll go back to it, but I’m not just going to endlessly shuffle words around just for the sake of some mythical ‘perfection’. I’ve got a new novel on the stocks and a lot more to come after that. I could (and I probably will) keep slushpiling: why not? What have I got to lose? But even that takes mindspace and right now I need to focus on Oneiromancer.

The other option is to self-publish. I’m seriously considering that: one big burst of energy to shove it out with as much fanfare as possible and then I can forget about the damn thing. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of this after my last blog post. Hey, it’s my page: I can be as inconsistent as I like.

What, Dear Reader, do you think? Do I keep slogging the slushpiles or dip a toe into the Self-Pub Sea? I have to do something: it’s (I believe again) a good story; it’s not a failure and it represents years of work. Something should be done with the damn thing.

Either way, my creative work continues with Oneiromancer. There are still Nightmares to create and to conjure, worlds to weave and stories to spin. And, at the end of the day, that’s what I like to do best.

The case against self-publishing

On Twitter I am the (mostly) welcoming recipient of a lot of puff. There’s always loads of authors looking to claw together sales, and, through tweets and retweets, a fair bit of it ends up at my door. Some of it interests me. Sometimes I might take a punt. Sometimes I look at it and think ‘well, that’s not for me but it’s an interesting idea.’ Some of it I find just totally infuriating.

I can forgive the odd typo (there are enough in traditionally-published works, after all) and the occasional clumsy phrase if the story carries me through. I’m not a massive perfectionist – not in other people’s work, at least. But what I cannot forgive are errors in the promotional material itself.

Now I’m in a bit of a bind here. You want examples, right? Thing is, I don’t think it’s fair on authors – who I’m sure have put a lot of time, maybe a bit of money, into their work – to humiliate them in a public forum. See, there by the grace of Picard go I. Had the e-publishing revolution happened five, maybe ten years ago, I’d have been in this very position myself. You can bet your bottom Florint that one of these would have been available for purchase right now – and it’s likely (probable) that I’d have made the same mistakes in my enthusiasm and idealism. I am not anti-self-publishing. It just angers me to see stupid self-publishing. The sort I’d have produced five years ago.

Some egregiousnesses, all taken from tweets I’ve received in the last week or two:

  • Promotional material containing the phrase ‘Three times in the least.’ I mean, come on. I’m never going to spend money – or waste my valuable reading time – on something that promotes itself with such bad English. ‘At least three times.’ Come on, it’s not hard
  • ‘Tatsier’. On a cover. I know typos happen and I know they’re right buggers to find. But on a cover? No. If you only have half-a-dozen words to proof-read then I expect it to be error-free. ‘Tastier’. Again, not hard
  • The cover looks fine, no typos in the puff, all elements present and correct: so you follow the link to Amazon, click on the ‘more details’ tab… And what’s revealed looks like it was written by a student. Of astrophysics.

And all that’s before we get to this batch of beauties.

This stuff matters, folks. I will never buy a book if it looks as if the writer can’t be bothered. Right or wrong, if you can’t use good English (not necessarily ‘correct’ or grammatical English, but language true to the book’s contents) in your promotion then I can have no faith in the words beyond the cover.

I get angry about this. I have to work really hard not to fire off sarcastic tweets – I’ve been criticised myself, I know it hurts and I don’t want to inflict this pain on others. Sometimes I think I’d be actually helping the author by pointing out the flaws – but I don’t think I could hold my annoyance out of sight and I don’t want to be that person. Who am I, after all? Hey, at least these people have got work out there in the public eye. I’ve only got this blog, and nobody gives a damn about that.

Why does this annoy me so? Partly because I’m that sort of person: not quite a grammar Nazi, maybe more the Castro of correctness or the Amin of anality. But there are consequences. Every ‘bad’ book that’s self-published makes it harder for the good ones to be seen. And – I’ll say it again – there are some really, really good stories to be found. There is no filter on the industry. We are drowning in a tide of mediocrity and, whilst I really don’t want to squash the unique voices that would never get a trad-pubbed released, we need help to find a way back to the shore. We need an island, a reef where we know these self-pubbed books are of genuine quality.

[Irony alert: after drafting this entry but before posting I received the Great Rejection of Doom. I may well be joining the ranks of the self-published myself, sooner rather than later. You can’t write the same book forever – sometimes you just need to get it out there and move on.]

For what it’s worth, let me finish by promoting the following self-published authors, who I know write good stuff and – I believe – are worthy of your time:

Finally – finally finally – I’m going to be away (on honeymoon, no less) for the next coupla weeks. That means no blogs for a little while. You have fun – and behave yourselves – whilst I’m away, mmmkay?