Pretty Little Emails
Part of being an author (it's in the unwritten rule book) is checking your email obsessively. From the moment you decide, yes, I'd like to be published, you commit to becoming increasingly attached to your email. I'm talking send-yourself-an-email-from-your-other-email-to-make-sure-your-email-is-working attached. The kind of attached that means you're happy to get junk mail, even though you get that quick jolt of "Yay, I have email" before the inevitable, "Oh, it's junk mail" because it means that yes, your email is operating correctly.
You might be waiting for responses to queries, word from your agent, word from your editor, publisher, critique partner, beta reader, blogger...you see what I'm saying. It always makes me wonder how people survived the writing/publishing process in the age of snail mail. Can you imagine mailing your query, waiting for a response, mailing your manuscript, waiting for a response.
It seems unbearable but even four years ago, when I started querying, agents were still accepting snail mail. Now, not so much. So email matters! Writers spend a lot of time waiting and hearing the whoosh or ping, or ring that you've got mail is like getting a tiny shot of oxygen after you've been under water for too long.
On Tuesday, I got one of those lovely types of emails that weren't junk mail or Netflix telling me what I'd really enjoy.
It was notification that my story, Undercover Distraction, is a finalist in The Catherine Contest, through the Toronto chapter of Romance Writers. I've finaled before in contests, but I have to say, it feels especially cool to make it to the next round in a Canadian one. I love this story. It was very fun to write and starts with a disastrous first meeting between the hero and heroine. It's a reminder that we never know where the moments in our lives might lead us.
Everything they say about finding the right agent for your work is true, so
The thing about coming out of the query trenches, is you quickly realize, if you've made the right match, that everything your writing peers tell you is true. While you're sending off your query, balancing your heart between hopeful and blind optimism, you think people are just offering platitudes. You've heard them: 'it only takes one', 'you're better off with no agent than the wrong agent', 'it'll happen'. Every request for a partial or full sets you up to believe all of the good and every rejection knocks your feet out from under you.
Those authors who have not found their agent soul mate might find it hard to believe that someone who is agented "gets it". But they do. They really, really do. Because they're at a different stage but it's very much a similar journey. Going on submission is much like querying, only you have someone at your side through the process. I'm not going to lie, that part is nicer. It's nice to have that fallback of, okay, I got a rejection but this person believed enough in me to sign me. It takes some of the sting out. Every writer who has achieved success (and that measure is different for everyone) has been where you are right now-- wherever that is.
But what everyone tells you is true: it does only take one, it is better to find the right one, and it WILL happen.
I've gone about learning this the long way. My querying journey has been a bit...unique. I have experienced having an agent I was not properly matched with and the disappointment of parting ways-- even when I knew it was the right move. This journey isn't an easy one: it can be hell on your self-esteem. That's why the people you surround yourself with (IRL and online) matter so much. You need people that will build you up, help you up when you fall, and keep pushing you. You need to do the same for them because whether they're unagented, agented, self publishing or on submission to big publishing houses, they will have their moments of teetering on the edge too.
We're all on that ledge, repeatedly, wondering whether to keep going or give up. But only one of those options can possibly lead to success and I can't tell you how happy I am that I kept going, kept writing, kept pushing down the feeling that I might not be good enough. Because what makes you good enough is your willingness to keep going.
Want some stats as proof? For the book that finally got me an agent (one I'd wanted for quite some time-- which could be another post in itself, titled: establish and maintain connections and relationships because they matter-- okay, maybe that title is too long) I actually tracked the process this time:
47 queries sent = free
4 partial requests = optimism
8 full requests = nail biting
34 Nos or no responses = grumpiness
1 agent (the RIGHT one) = PRICELESS
When it finally happens? You'll be like: Yup,
The other side of happy
This has been a long, trying summer that has pushed every one of my boundaries and challenged me to really understand how much I can handle before I break. Apparently, it's a fair amount. Regardless of what you are waiting for: agents to get back to you, editors to respond, your book to come out, reviews to come in, strikes to end, school to start-- the very act of waiting is a tedious, debilitating thing. That sounds dramatic, but I find that waiting is so much harder than just having to face something and deal with it. When we are forced to sit on the sidelines, unknowing of what is happening behind the scenes, what the outcome will be, and how it will truly affect us, we are under far more pressure than having to actually make a decision and act.
Between the waiting for responses or waiting for this strike (the longest teacher strike in BC history) to end, I have felt an overwhelming restlessness that refused to abate. Every. Single. Second. There is something about having no control that makes this feeling worse. Alas, (yes I just said alas because I like that word) it is coming to an end. Tomorrow, three full weeks into the school year, after missing the last two weeks of June, we are going back into the classroom. Am I happy? Yes. But I'm also the opposite of happy. Not sad. Happy, defined by Websters, is "delighted, pleased, glad, over some particular thing". Yes, I am those. But when I think about going back, reestablishing a routine that involves working full time, being with my family, and fitting in writing, my chest gets tight and I wonder how. How I did it before and how I will manage again.
Change of routine can be a hard thing for many people. For me, it is a multifaceted trigger. I don't like when things are over, but I like when things start. I don't like getting up and going to work, but I love being there. I don't like being away from my family, but I enjoy being with others. I know that I managed to write more than one full-length novel, while working full time and being a reasonably competent (sometimes even good) mom and wife. Yet, I can't get my mind around how to go back and do that, starting tomorrow.
I would imagine that there are a lot of people with mixed feelings about tomorrow. Happy and sad. Excited and worried. The more I write, the more I see the correlations between teaching and writing. It is something you do because you can't imagine not doing it. That is what I was faced with quite often this summer as I subbed my newest manuscript and waited for any sort of news about the strike ending: I wondered, is this still what I want to do? Do I want to teach? Write? Put myself out there, in the classroom and the writing community when I'm not sure that it'll always be a positive response? That it won't always work well, that you can't please everyone? The answer ends up being yes. Even when I tried to explore the idea of what I could do other than teach, I couldn't come up with anything (other than writing) that I wanted to do as much as I have always wanted to be a teacher. Same with writing. I could stop now. I could close all of my open word documents, take a break from Twitter, and just be done. But it doesn't stop it from being there, from wanting it. So I guess, if anything good came out of the strike, or out of some rejection letters, it was that it made me sure.
I'm as sure that I want to keep teaching as I am that I'm not ready to close up my word documents yet. All of this waiting, this hovering around inside of my own gloomy thoughts, showed me, for sure, that there is something worse than waiting: the thought of not doing either of the things I love at all.
I guess the simple reason we put up with waiting and not knowing and not getting the answers we want, is because the opposite of that is giving up and letting go. And if you think I'm bad at waiting....you can't even imagine how bad I am at letting go. So I haven't and I can't see myself doing that anytime soon.
But thanks to my powers of second guessing, I'll likely regret positing something that's nothing more than a random jumble of feelings that probably didn't need to be shared. So read quick, in case I pull the post ;)
sub·jec·tiv·i·ty [suhb-jek-tiv-i-tee] noun, plural sub·jec·tiv·i·ties for 2. 1. the state or quality of being subjective; subjectiveness. 2. a subjective thought or idea. 3. intentness on internal thoughts. 4. internal reality.
I never know how much to say about anything because sometimes you learn lessons too late, after you've already made mistakes and I don't like the idea of wrecking something for myself before it even happens. Every rejection letter that you get probably has some variation of the phrase "please continue to send your work out as my opinion is subjective". You try really hard to believe that; to tell yourself, it's just not right for that agent. Sometimes though, it's hard to keep going when that subjective opinion seems to be shared by more than a couple. It's important during the times that you feel like this to reach out to the people that will push you forward. Also, to remind yourself why you write. You also have to keep telling yourself that it really, really, truly, absolutely IS subjective. Even though I let myself believe otherwise last week, here's a look at my week to show you how I was reminded.
Monday: a kind letter from an agent saying that I write well but she didn't connect. Okay, I can handle that. I can focus on the "you write well".
Tuesday: a "your work isn't right for us" letter. Okay. Fine. Played on Facebook, connected with writer friends to remind myself that this industry is subjective. Was asked to do a review by someone I respect immensely. Okay. Because I can write. Right?
Wednesday morning: a "thank you for submitting to us but your work isn't what we're looking for" response to an email I sent YESTERDAY. Wow. Okay. Um. Maybe I need a new hobby? Or I can just read. All the time.
Wednesday evening: letter in the mail (like in an envelope and everything) from Blue Mountain Cards. The letter told me that one of the poems I had written had been chosen ("among hundreds") to move onto the next stage.
Moral? It really is a subjective industry. Overwhelmingly so. What can you do? If it matters to you, keep going. Keep writing. Connect with other writers because they have the same stories that you do. If you want it bad enough, you have to keep pushing ahead. Remind yourself of what you have done. Write it down and look at it so that the next time you wonder if you don't understand the meaning of subjective, you can read over this list of achievements and feel good. Because regardless of anything else, if you're writing, if you're connecting with other writers and improving, learning to be better, becoming better, then you are succeeding. And eventually, that persistence is going to serve you well.
Know your limit. Write within it.
It's possible that last summer I may have had a little problem...an addiction of sorts...to all things contest and query related. In fact, there may even have been an element of longing to get noticed or validated. In addition to this, I was also suffering with need-to-write-every-single-second-so-that-I-don't-lose-my-chance syndrome. I believe I caught this from Twitter, where you can find writers galore, contests galore, and constant updates on which writer raked in the good news of the day. Like a good game of poker, it's exciting to be sitting at the table, trying your hand, and seeing if you can stay in the game. It's exhilarating when someone "calls" (or favorites your tweet). There's strategy and technique in crafting the perfect query letter, ensuring that your submission is strong. There's luck in finding the right match for yourself. But there's also the necessity of knowing when to fold. When to back down and realize that the stakes might be 'too rich' for you. It might even be necessary to walk away from the table. Until you're sure you can handle being there. Until you understand that it's not a high stakes, winner takes all game. And until you understand that you, may lose a lot of hands before you finally win.
When you start querying, entering contests, and "showing your cards", you learn what you're made of as a writer (and a person). It is not easy to go from the rush of someone wanting your work to the edge of your seat waiting for them to read it to the hard landing of rejection. It may build character but it also leaves a mark. It is incredibly hard to make yourself understand that they are rejecting your work, not you. Because of course, our work feels like part of us. If you can't face the reality that not everyone is going to love your work, that not everyone is going to want it, or you, even if you thought they might, then maybe you're not ready. Or at least, that is what I learned. I wasn't prepared for the slide down. The attention is wonderful and validating, but the time in between scoops out your self-esteem. And it becomes a cycle. If you let it. If you're writing to prove something or because you think you have to, then you're writing for the wrong reason and it won't be authentic. You have to write because you can't not write. Because it's part of you. If you feel this way, then you'll know, or come to know, that sitting out a round, standing on the edges for a bit, doesn't pull you out of the game. It just lets you breathe.
I sat out the last twitter contest and I thought I would be sorry but I'm not. I like the conclusion that I've come to in the last several months: if I slow down it will not make me disappear. If I don't get an agent, it will not make me stop. But if I had entered the contest, when I finally feel like, okay, I can just breathe and write at the same time, I would have thrown myself back into the cycle. And right now, it's not where I want to be. The point is, you have to know what your limits are, what you can handle, and what you can give. This leads me to my second decision.
I've decided not to participate in the A-Z challenge, which I think looks incredibly cool. Writing a different blog every day for 26 days is a fantastic way to be motivated, be part of something special, and be creative. And I signed up. I even chose a theme (a good one) and organized my drafts file to get myself ready. But then I asked myself, "why"? I have been welcomed into a small community of gracious, funny, and talented writers. I have a support system and a couple of critique partners that I respect. So was I pushing myself because I wanted to just play one more hand or because I felt that this hand would be a building block for the rest of the game. Right now, my building blocks include co-authoring a romantic suspense novel, waiting on agent responses to another romantic suspense novel, being a critique partner, and writing things that I enjoy. I'm putting less pressure on myself to do it all. It all sounds great...but this is how you burn out. It becomes overwhelming and emotionally exhausting if you push yourself past your limit or worse, if you don't recognize you have a limit.
Sitting out and opting out are hard choices as a writer. You feel like, even though everything is moving slower than you ever would have thought humanly possible, there's so much happening around you, without you. And it can become nerve wracking. A friend of mine said this week, "Unless you have an editor breathing down your neck, write for fun or what's the point?" I don't have to spread myself thin trying to be a part of every challenge and every contest. But last summer, I had myself convinced that I did. That if I didn't play every hand, that I'd lose for sure. Really, the only thing I was losing was sleep. And maybe some sanity but that may or may not be tied to writing.
In the last year, my writing has become infinitely stronger. But so have I. By taking away the urgency, I've side-stepped the pressure that I was putting on myself. I've stopped telling myself I have to enter everything I can (though I highly recommend many of the fantastic contests and pitching events you can find on twitter). Instead, I'm telling myself to make what I do write, what I do query, the best it can be. In the process of slowing down, finding balance, and gaining some insight, I may even have become slightly less annoying to those who have to put up with me when I get a little too caught up. One of my favorite quotes is below. That's what I'll aim for. As a person and as a writer.
Y'all ready for this?
Tuesday is release day. Unless I mess it up somehow, which is entirely possible. This morning and last night I was instant messaging with my critique partners about writing, confidence, and audience. Basically, we decided that it shouldn't matter what others think if you've written a book you can be proud of, that told the story you wanted to, and that you're happy with. I feel that way about Forever Christmas and the people that I care about, that matter, really love the book. So, why does the thought of pressing "Save & Publish" make my stomach feel like I 've eaten too many advent chocolates? As one critique partner said, WE'VE WRITTEN BOOKS! Not everyone can say that. They can say they want to, they're going to, and they have the best idea ever but how many people sit down and actually write 40,000-80,000 words that mesh together to create a story? As it turns out, A LOT! Maybe not a lot in my circle of friends, but when you join the online writing community via social media, you realize how many books are being written, how many people are 'authors'.
So what makes an author? Surprisingly, there's nothing in the definition of the word author that says 'one who is published'. I think that when you're surrounding yourself with writers, agents and contests, you lose sight of what matters. It's not just about being published. It's not just about the praise of random strangers. It's about starting something AND finishing it. It's about feeling good that you've created something, whether one person or a million read it. The other day my daughter said something to me and I responded with a partial quote (cause our house is like that: we spout quotes and break into song at any given moment). She was worrying about someone recognizing her for something. The quote I shared with her is below and I meant it when I said it. It's not about what you're recognized for, but that feels at odds with doing something that you know begs recognition. I guess that's why we told our critique partner this morning that it has to be for ourselves. We have to make decisions based on what we want for ourselves and not for how others will see us. We need to put our best selves out there if we're going to do it, but in the end, it's not about the applause. So while I hope that many people will enjoy Forever Christmas, I need to remember, even if only my closest friends read it, that it wasn't about sales or praise. It's about sharing something that I'm proud of; something that reminds me, and maybe you, of the point of this season and this life: having people in your life that love and support you no matter what. And if all else fails, I'll just try to remember that: I WROTE A BOOK!
Making words matter
Writing has always been something that has come easily to me. I whip off genuine, personalized report cards in a day. I can write a blog post in under ten minutes. I wrote my first novel (without edits) in four weeks. When the story is there for me, it's not difficult to get it down on paper. That's not bragging-- it's just the way I've always written. Having said that, in the past, my writing has always been for me so it hasn't mattered that there were glitches in the plot or character inconsistencies. Now that I'm actively trying to make my stories stand out above others, to make my writing catch the eye of an agent, what was once good has to be spectacular. Good is not good enough and speed doesn't count for anything.
It's difficult to separate yourself from your writing long enough to see the faults and weaknesses. I'm okay with having them and I'm okay with fixing them but the thing that is hard for me is narrowing in on where they are. This is why it's so important to utilize the feedback that anyone, particularly anyone in the writing/publishing/editing/agenting industry, has to offer. The people that I have "met" in the last year through social media and because of putting myself out there as a writer, have been incredibly supportive and kind and positive. I feel as close to some of them as I do to some of the friends that live down the road from me. I believe you can establish strong bonds and friendships via social media and email. It's new age pen pals. The difference, however, is the personal element is removed so they can, perhaps, offer that extra bit of hard criticism you need. Why? Because even though they like all your statuses on Facebook and retweet your tweets, even though you chat more frequently with them than others who live a few minutes away, they haven't seen you cry when you get a rejection letter or laugh like an idiot when you get amazing feedback. They know you but they don't KNOW you. This can be a very good thing for a writer as it allows them to be a stronger critic. There's an element of detachment that comes with online friendship that can only be changed by actually physically meeting. And I hope that one day I get to meet some of the amazing people that have befriended me. In fact, I already have met some of them and it's a pretty awesome feeling when they're just as cool as you thought they'd be. However, until I meet the others, I can let that buffer level of detachment work in my favor. They can be just a little harsher than my best friend who has to put up with me being moody when she tells me what I know is the truth. If they don't want to deal with my irritation over pointing out something that needs fixing, they can move away from the computer. Trust me, my best friend can't. I will show up at her house cause I'm fifty shades of needy and clingy like that.
So the point is, I'm going to spend some time really letting the feedback wash over me, knowing that these people who are offering me pointers and suggestions, for some reason, want me to succeed. I've said it before but it bears repeating: writers are the most supportive, encouraging group of competitors you could align yourself with. I guess it's because there can never be too many books. Or maybe it's because the same story can be told a million different and compelling ways. Whatever the reason, the writer's I've met want every bit as badly as I do to succeed. But they fall over themselves with praise, feedback, encouragement, and their valuable time to make sure I'm right there with them.
For the next little bit, I will be drawing on them to help me make my work the strongest it can be. I will also be checking out as many articles, blogs, posts,and websites as I can. Here's what I'm starting with this week:
Any good sites you'd recommend for character development or building conflict? Share.
Holy writer's block, Batman
I seem to have a severe case of writer's block. I don't believe it's catchy so it's probably self-induced. I'm trying to come up with theories as to why I can't write all the words I want to. Here's what I have so far:
1. I can't actually write and my brain just realized it.
2. I can only think/write in 140 character sentences (I wanted to count that just now)
3. I've watched so many episodes of Good Luck Charlie that I my brain doesn't understand adult romance anymore.
4. There are no more words or original concepts in my head.
However, what I really think it is that I'm in a holding pattern. I'm standing on the edge of the page waiting to see if it'll turn, if I can turn it, or if the book is closed. I'm part of an anthology being released very soon and I'm curious-nervous-excited about how that will go. I have my latest full manuscript, my best one I think, out with six agents by request and a partial of it out with another agent. And not just any agents-- amazing agents. I feel like I'm waiting to see if everyone comes back and says no. If that happens, I have to figure out why. I have to reassess what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. I have to reassess if I should be doing it. My brain might be imposing a self-preserving hold so that if the rejections start coming in on Damaged, I haven't tied myself into another piece of writing that truly matters to me.
Over the last year, I've realized that even when I say I'm going to quit, I don't mean quit writing. I may quit querying and putting myself out there for a bit just to gather some perspective but it's impossible to imagine that I will simply stop writing. It is not easy to put a piece of yourself out there for others to assess and judge. It's also not something I would have imagined myself capable of even eighteen months ago. But the process has made me stronger as a person and a writer. The trick, for me, has been to take the feedback and apply it to my writing. It's hard not to take it personally, because writing is personal, but when you're querying agents you want to stand behind you and your work, it's also a business. They know what they're looking for, what excites them and what they can sell. It is hard to disconnect yourself from your work enough to realize that when they reject your writing, they aren't rejecting you.
So, maybe my writer's block is stemming from my mental preparation to face these facts should the ending not go the way I want. Or maybe my overactive-relentless-non-stop-worrier-brain just needs a break. I'll let you know.
When it rains...
Technically, it rains a lot in BC. But that's not really what this is about. This is about me waiting for things to happen and realizing that so much IS happening. I have some publishing news that I want to share but I haven't received my confirmation email so I'm cautiously waiting but promise I'll tell as soon as I can. But here's what's up in October:
October 9th.................................So You Think You Can Write
Top 50 entries chosen
October 15th................................Gold Rose Competition
Finalists are notified
October 18th.................................WE Day Vancouver
I will take 20 kids to see amazing and motivating
speakers & be reminded of what really matters in life.
October 24th................................Dinner with REAL authors
I was invited last year, by a friend, to spend an
evening w/writers like Diana Gabaldon, Sam Sykes,
Jack Whyte, and Michael Slade. Last year I was too
nervous to speak. This year I will talk to someone!
October 25th.................................Surrey International Writers Conference
Keynote speakers, workshops, authors AND
I will get to meet/talk to Michelle Johnson,
Carolyn Forde, and Pam Van Hylckama Vlieg
All the while, I'll be waiting to hear back from agents who are reading Damaged, my newest contemporary romantic suspense manuscript. Busy. And let's not forget what this month is really all about, according to my ten year old and seven year old (because writing is great and being published would be lovely but does not hold a candle in their world to:) HALLOWEEN
While you were waiting...
This has been an interesting week for querying my contemporary romance manuscript. I've received 1 "No thanks, not for me, best of luck" rejection and 1 "The writing was clichéd and I did not connect to your main character" rejection (OUCH...that one hurt). However, in the good news column, after entering the pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website, I received three requests: one followed up by requesting the full manuscript the day after I submitted two chapters. It is quite the paradox to have two people tell you they don't want your writing while trying to convince yourself that one of three will. So I'm distracting myself in the best ways I can and thought I'd share some ways to wait because, let's face it, waiting patiently and forgetting that my manuscript is in the hands of three people that showed interest, is not going to happen.
Ten Ways to Wait
What did I miss? What do you do to keep from going crazy? There's a great line in The Search (by Nora Roberts) that I love: "[We] worked on keeping each other from going crazy." Find someone or something to help you channel the crazy that inevitably comes along with waiting. Now, taking my own advice, I'm going to go read Jill Mansel's Staying at Daisy's.