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.

Plans

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Draft 4 is finished and backed-up. Now I have to decide what to do next.

After every pass you’re left thinking that there’s nothing more to do. The story is complete and you can’t see what improvements can be made. Yet the doubts remain. There are passages you have a faint uncertainty about. You need buy-in – either to confirm your fears or to reassure you that it does, in fact, work. So we all know that the best thing to do is to either get outside opinions or – failing that – to leave the manuscript in the bottom of your metaphorical drawer for six months and then return to it afresh.

I’ve run out of beta-readers. There’s no-one left to give me in depth feedback – not, at least, without paying a considerable wadge of cash for Editorial Services. I’ve got to say I’ve never seriously considered this. Maybe I should. After all, you only get one shot with each individual agent/publishing house. I’ve often lamented my impatience; once a piece has disappeared into the electronic ether that option is removed. If – as is likely – that line comes back bare and rejected you have to move on. And if you have a preferred option for representation – a contact, maybe, or someone you hugely admire – the urge to send your work to them as soon as humanly possible is hard to resist.

All this should advertise caution but I’m planning on going on to the submissions route. This is partly because I am, indeed, hugely impatient. I want to get on. I have other books to write, other plans to make. It’s also because money is a finite resource and – even after all I’ve read and all I’ve come to learn – I’m a little sceptical about editorial services and what they can do for you. I shouldn’t be; I’m thinking of offering my own services as proofreader/copy-editor in the future, so I can hardly say this cynicism is well-grounded. Maybe it’s more my own arrogance; that I don’t see what they can do that I myself can’t.

What you know intellectually but feel emotionally is a far more difficult balance than people realise. The heart rules the head far more than we’d like to admit.

So: plans. My next mission is to write a synopsis. This is a skill in itself, and will take a fair amount of swear-based sweatery. After that a proper cover-letter will need to be constructed. And then I’ll have to go back to my opening chapters and ensure they’re absolutely perfect: I’ve twice posted my opening scene on this blog but I’m still not completely confident in it. And the opening is critical: an agent hasn’t got time to plough through reams to find the nugget of talent. You only get a few pages to impress.

This work should take me to Christmas. Then it’s a little break for me as I do the whole family thing. Hopefully this’ll give me a little distance to properly reconsider my plans.

Then the submissions will start to roll.

And then it’ll be time for a change: a chance to re-energise my self-publishing plans and maybe even starting a whole new first draft.

So the whole circus begins again.

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.

How do you know?

JK Rowling was an amateur. Twelve Rejections? Twelve? Ha! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been turned away at the door. Twelve? No offence, Ms R, but that’s not even trying.

I’m the first (actually, probably the second or third) person to admit that I have an arrogant side, especially when it comes to my writing. When I complete a piece I’m damn excited. I lose all sense of perspective. Okay, I know it ain’t perfect, but I’ve got the bones down. And what bones – the bones of a colossus, a juggernaut, a god. Rational thought – sure, it gets a look-in, but excitement, even tempered with experience, is a heady brew. Writers are notoriously bad at self-evaluation.

This, in and of itself, doesn’t matter. As long as you have a strong enough support network – a writing group is ideal – you’ll get feedback and can improve your work over successive drafts. But how do you know when it’s ready to send out to publishers/agents or to self-publish?

I’ve got this wrong. I realise that now. I started sending my work out far too soon, maybe even years before I should’ve been thinking about publication. Occasionally it was for good reasons – publishers running open submission periods, for example – but mostly it was just down to impatience and arrogance. Plus the unwitting encouragement given to me by beta-readers. How do you know? How do you know when you and your work are ready?

The problem (one of them, at least) with the publishing industry is that it’s a one-shot affair. You send out your material and you either succeed or fail. And then you can cross your target off your list. Done. For that project, at least.

Actually, I’m not sure if that’s true. Can you resend the same material – or at least material from the same project – to a publisher? Can you go back? Is there a sort of statute of limitations?

Still, I’m pretty sure it’s bad form to go back to the same place once rejection has been established. And that’s where literary consultants come in. How do you know when your work’s ready to go out? You ask a professional for their opinion. Most, these days, at least claim to be ‘talent scouts’ for agencies, so if your work’s ready you stand to get a leg-up. If it’s not you get valuable advice on where you’re going wrong.

I get it now. I didn’t before. In my arrogance I didn’t see the point. After all, my writing is technically pretty good – I enjoy punctuating and, with (free) help can vanquish most typos. My flaws are slowly being eradicated as they’re pointed out to me.

But now that I’ve had my work critiqued by a professional I can finally see where I’ve been going wrong all these years. Where my plots are falling down. Where my characters are behaving – well, out of character.

I’ve got this far (pretty much nowhere) without paying a penny. I guess that’s something to be proud of, but I’ve cost myself a lot of opportunities on the way. If I’d paid for assessment a year or so ago I’d have stood a much greater chance of having an agent/publisher by now. Yeah, I get it now. I finally see the point.

Which is not to say that I regret doing it my way. I have learnt. Learnt a great deal along the way. Maybe it was best for me to make the mistakes as I went along: 2013 was, for me, The Year Of Learning How To Be Professional. Maybe I had to go through that (not in a predestination type of way – balls to all that) in order to accept the lessons. I just wish I’d been a little more patient before sending my writing out to publishers and agents.

Of course, I know I should finish by saying that I’ll never be so impetuous again. But I know myself. Even though I (think I) know what it’s cost me, I don’t think I’d change. That’s just the way I am. And if you’re in the same position then don’t be too hard on yourself. Be accepting. Be Zen. Keep on swimming.

By the way, why is it that consultants only seem to exist in the world of writing? I know of no comparable services for the music industry, or in art. All rely on interpretations of taste and of technical ability. I tend to think of all the arts as similar in structure, but maybe I’m wrong.

What do you think?