Tag Archives: agents

Takin’ a Hi-Atus

Hello, fellow humans. Happy Friday.

Image: pinterest.com

Image: pinterest.com

I, because I am a lucky sod, am going away this weekend for a wonderful family celebration. This is fantastic, but because it means I won’t be near a computer from – *checks watch* – about fifteen minutes ago, I’m afraid I have to put my blog on hiatus for a few days. I will (I promise) be back next Tuesday, whereupon I shall be expounding about submissions and agents and cover letters and lots of other fantastic stuff. Be there or be one of these:

image: bestclipartblog.com

image: bestclipartblog.com

(Does anyone even know what that means anymore? Did anyone ever know what it meant? Anyway. Y’all know what I’m sayin’.)

Stay well and peachy-happy until we meet again. Do plenty of reading. Do almost as much writing. Do plenty of laughing. And remember to give a few hugs, here and there, because they’re awesome.

Image: advantagepress.com

Image: advantagepress.com

The Joy of Words

Well, last week had this in it.

Image: v8.en.memegenerator.net

Image: v8.en.memegenerator.net

For the unclickables among you, I’ll paraphrase the article I’ve linked to above: in essence, a new app is in development which allows people to read at speeds of up to 500 words per minute, mainly due to the fact that you don’t need to move your eyes at all. The app flashes the words in front of you, with one letter highlighted in red (apparently, just at the optimum point in the word for your brain to recognise and process it without even realising it’s doing so), and your eyes remain steady throughout. All you need to do is look at the red letter, and you read the word automatically.

Image: financialanalystwarrior.com

Image: financialanalystwarrior.com

Yeah. I’m with yonder sceptical dog.

The article I’ve linked to has a trial run of the app (called Spritz), and you can see what I’m talking about for yourself. You can also give it a go, and see how it makes you feel. For me, when I got to the 500 words per minute section, I have to admit the letters were zipping by so fast that I did miss a word or two every so often; my brain put together the sense of the sentence, all the same, but it actually felt like more work, to me, than ‘ordinary’ reading. It also made me feel like I’d just stepped off one of these:

Image: zuzutop.com

Image: zuzutop.com

More than that, though, it made me feel a bit sad. Has it come to this, that we’re living in a world where reading is seen as just another chore, something else to plough through at top speed so that we can get back to playing Candy Crush Saga?

I don’t know. Perhaps the app is intended for people who have to read long technical documents, or complicated legal rulings, or government papers, or something like that. I don’t deny the science behind it; certainly, it worked, exactly as it said it would. But it sucked every droplet of joy out of the act of reading, and I think that’s a retrograde step. There was no time to pause, to reflect, to luxuriate in a beautifully constructed sentence; there was no time to appreciate the skill with which the words were laced together. It was like sitting down before a gorgeous meal, prepared with love and care and painstaking effort, and just tipping the whole lot down your neck, oyster-fashion. Not only will you not enjoy the food, but you won’t enjoy the act of eating, either – the two are closely linked.

A lot like the joy of words, and the act of reading. Just in case you didn’t get the metaphor.

Then, I’m speaking as a person who reads quickly anyway, and who enjoys fluency with words. I’m aware that not everyone is like me, and perhaps this app will help some readers who find it hard to get through longer documents; if it’s useful to someone, then it’s to be welcomed, of course. But, to me, reading (for leisure, that is) should be a pleasant and immersive experience, taken at your own pace – whatever that pace may be. It should allow you time for thought and absorption, time to enjoy the words as well as the content.

Or, maybe it’s just my inner technophobe rising to the fore again.

Image: somedesignblog.com

Image: somedesignblog.com

Anyway.

As well as learning about Spritzing, last week was a word-filled one for me in other ways. I spent it glued to the computer going through ‘Emmeline’, making a concerted push to edit it, and repolish it, and finally reach a point where I can say: ‘Yes. This book is ready.’ It had already had five edits before I even began this process, but as late as Friday I was going through it and still seeing extraneous words, unclear descriptions, frankly stupid continuity errors and places where the dialogue could have been sharpened.

It just goes to show that an editor’s job is never done. However, a writer’s job is to get their work to a point where they can say they’ve done their best, and then let their words go. That, friends, is the challenge facing me this week.

Today is the day I start to submit ‘Emmeline.’

Quite. Image: athenna.com

Quite.
Image: athenna.com

I am proud of my work, and I don’t think it’s wrong to say so. I am happy with ‘Emmeline’, I am glad to have written it, I love my characters and I think the story is enjoyable. Now, we’ll see what the publishing industry thinks of it, and I’ll report back to you when I have more information.

If you never hear from me again, you’ll know what happened.

 

 

Getting There

Sometimes it can be hard to remember that life’s about the journey, not just the destination.

Particularly, of course, when stuff like *this* is going on... Image: theguardian.com

Particularly, of course, when stuff like *this* is going on…
Image: theguardian.com

Trying to forge a career in writing can be exhausting. It’s certainly long-haul, and trying to perfect your craft sucks down the hours of your life so fast that you don’t even notice them whizzing by. It can be hard to keep going sometimes when it feels like all you’re doing is (as my mother would say) ‘throwing biscuits to a bear’ – no matter what you do, nothing seems to change. You keep submitting, you keep writing, you keep trying, and nothing comes back in return.

But we keep going anyway. Why? Because we love the act of writing, of creating a piece of work from nothing, of watching an idea that previously existed only in skeletal form somewhere inside our minds taking shape on a page and turning into a full-blooded Story. Or, at least, we should.

Writing in order to become rich in a speedy manner is simply foolish, yet – from what I hear – many people still believe that writing a book is a fast-track, one way ticket to wealth and fame. I follow a lot of blogs and Twitter feeds where I pick up advice not only on the art of writing, but also on the art of creating a career as a writer, and something I read last week which has stuck with me is the following (highly redacted, and heavily summarised) story:

Once, there was a writer. They lived in an ordinary house, with two or three cute but ultimately ordinary dogs. They may have had up to four (beautiful and dearly loved) children. They got to a certain age and thought: ‘Hey. Instead of just reading all these books, why don’t I write some? There’s got to be a buck or two to be made in that game. Right?’ So, they bought one of these:

Image: site.xavier.edu

Image: site.xavier.edu

They sat down at their brand-new writin’ machine, and they started to bash out a story. Night after night they laboured, until at some point up to a month later they had a story, approximately 178,000 words long, which they thought was wonderful. Their hairdresser read the first chapter and wept (with amazement? Envy? Who knows); their friends all told the writer how brilliant they were to have done something as fabulous as write a book. ‘It was so easy!’ the writer said. ‘You should all do it!’

So, the writer bundled up their manuscript, penned a floral and extravagant introductory letter describing their book as ‘Barbara Cartland meets Catherine Cookson meets Stephenie Meyer,’ and ‘a work of genius,’ doused it in perfume, and sent copies to every major publisher and agent in their country – whether or not they accepted unsolicited submissions, and whether or not they represented the sort of work this undaunted writer had produced.

Then, our writer friend sat back and waited for the big bucks to roll in.

They may also have thought, rather smugly, ‘Not everyone would be intelligent enough to take the easy way out, like me. Suckers.’

Image: fstop57,com

Image: fstop57,com

But, sadly, the writer never heard back from the majority of the places to which they’d submitted their laboriously created novel. From others, they heard stock rejections. From yet others, they received letters thanking them for their effort, and making suggestions as to how they could improve and resubmit.

The writer took this as a blind and idiotic refusal to accept the towering magnitude of their genius, and wrote excoriating letters to each and every publisher and agent to whom they’d previously submitted, lambasting them for not spotting said genius. ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m a multi-millionaire,’ they wrote, in red pen. ‘Just watch!’

And so, they self-published their magnum opus.

And nobody – besides their friends, their mother and the lady who worked behind the counter at their local cake shop – bought it. Nobody read the whole thing. The writer didn’t even have the joy of discussing their work with anyone else, because the book was unreadable.

This writer didn’t write for love of words. They weren’t interested in crafting a story until it’s as good as it can be. They didn’t want to hear constructive criticism, and they didn’t want to be told that there were ways in which to improve. Their first draft was the only draft, in their eyes. Why tamper with perfection?

This person is not a writer, in my opinion. They are what we term in Ireland ‘a chancer,’ out to chase a quick payday without having put in any effort.

But their biggest mistake?

Not listening to the agents who wrote back with constructive feedback and tips on how to make their book work.

Agents are busy people. They don’t typically take time out to help writers if they don’t see something – even something tiny – which is worth nourishing. They’re also interested in a writer’s career, not just helping them bring forth one blockbusting, moneymaking book which will see them both retiring to the Bahamas. Agents do their job because they love finding the right book for the right publishing deal, and because they love discovering something new. If our writer had managed to see beyond their own ego and had listened to the agents’ advice, things could have been very different.

Image: fanaru.com

Image: fanaru.com

The point of all this is: I have received another ‘rejection’ from an agent, but I use the word ‘rejection’ lightly, as the agent is interested in helping me to live up to my own potential.

An agent thinks I have potential.

I haven’t reached my destination yet, but it’s good enough, for now.

**

I just wanted to say a quick ‘thank you’ to everyone who took the time to sympathise with me after yesterday’s post. I had many messages, most of them on Facebook, expressing sorrow for the loss of my friend, and I am profoundly grateful for each one. Please keep his parents, his brothers and his fiancée in your thoughts, particularly on February 23rd which is the date his memorial service will be held. Thank you all for your kindness.

Finding North

What happens when you feel like you’re on the wrong track?

Image: thinkingmomsrevolution.com

Image: thinkingmomsrevolution.com

In the course of researching the market, checking out agents’ requirements, keeping on top of trends in the publishing industry and all those other vital things that anyone who desires a career in writing needs to do, I come across a lot of scary information. I read articles which decry the upswing in children’s stories featuring magic – ‘Harry Potter is so over, people!’ – and some which say there aren’t enough stories like that. I’ve sweated my way through blog posts complaining about exactly the sort of books I love to read – and, by extension, write – and industry diatribes against children’s books which feature some, or all, of the things I’m currently working on. I have had a children’s book in mind for years, one I just haven’t found quite the right voice for yet, which – apparently – is so old hat as to be laughable. Agents and publishers all seem to be searching for something which is new, which is fresh, which is different, but if what I think of as new and fresh and different is boring as dust to them, then what am I to do?

I haven’t written a new short story for quite some time, besides one which I entered into a competition a few weeks ago. I feel like I’ve lost touch, somewhat, with what the market is looking for in terms of short fiction – either I’m churning out cliché, or I’m just not fashionable any more in terms of the subjects and/or style I choose to use, or something else, something I can’t put my finger on, is wrong with my work. I went through a golden patch of success with my stories when I was completely new to writing them – they seemed to fit the moment, and the readers to whom I was sending them understood what I was getting at, and could get on board with what I wanted to achieve – but in recent months, they’ve fallen on cold, stony soil. I wouldn’t even worry about this – taste is a subjective and amorphous thing, everyone is looking for something different in a short story, there’s room for all sorts of creative work, and all that – except for the fact that when I read short stories now, particularly award-winning ones, I just don’t get them.

In the immortal words of Jordan Catalano – they ‘just don’t hold my attention.’

Image: notsuperhuman.com

Image: notsuperhuman.com

I’m not for one split second trying to say that the short stories I’m reading aren’t good – clearly, they are, or they wouldn’t be winning awards – but what I mean is this: how have I become so out of touch with what’s required of a story that I can’t even read, and enjoy, an obviously well-crafted piece of work?

Of course, I believe it’s important to be true to your own voice and honest about what you feel when you’re writing a story. It’s pointless to write ‘to’ a market, because it changes so regularly. Having said that, it worries me that I don’t seem to be able to keep abreast of changes, and that the ideas I’m having are old, out of fashion, out of favour – unsellable, unlovable, dead in the water before they’ve even set sail.

Writing is a hard thing. Not only is it difficult, and time-consuming, and brain-consuming, to sit down and spend hours tapping away at a keyboard but it’s also hard on the soul to create something special and unique to you, something you love and want to share with the world, which then falls at the first hurdle. Writing fiction can be intensely personal; what you write says a lot about who you are. So, if what you write is out of touch, out of favour, unfashionable – or, if you believe it to be so – it can be a deep wound in a secret place, one which you carry with you but show to nobody. A person can’t help but be interested in what they love, and a writer will write what interests them, and what excites and motivates their creative brain. Creating a piece of work is an achievement in itself, of course, but realistically, spending months or years writing something which you love, which then goes on to sit on your desk gathering dust or which ping-pongs around from agent to agent for years without finding a home, is disheartening.

I don’t have an answer for all this. You can’t write to a market because by the time you’ve finished your book the market has changed, as markets are wont, and your carefully crafted story about canine vampires from outer space has been done to almost literal death. You can’t write to a market because that’s not being true to yourself as a writer, and it’s also a little cynical. Instead you write because you love it, and you love the stories you’re telling, and you write them as well as you can, and you try to improve your craft with every project you complete. All you can do is hope that, someday, the market and your talent and your idea and your submission will all align like planets in an intergalactic conjunction, and the magic will start to happen.

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

Image: ibnlive.in.com

Image: ibnlive.in.com

All a person can do is keep the focus on their own personal North. Write what’s true, and what’s real, and – while remaining aware of trends – don’t let yourself be swayed by what other people expect. Write what you love, as well as you possibly can. And – maybe – take some time out and do some reading, or remove your head from your writing space altogether in order to let some new ideas come sweeping in. It’s worth a shot.

The Beginning, and the End

I have written the first paragraph, and the last chapter, of ‘Tider’ about fifteen times. There were no fewer than five attempts to get these vital parts of the book right during the course of yesterday alone. Soon my back garden is going to look a bit like this:

Image: sangbleu.com

Image: sangbleu.com

I’m starting to wish I lived in an era of candlelight and scritchy quill-pens, because back then you had to make every single word work for its place in what you were creating. There were no conveniences born of technology, no handy ‘I’ll just print out these millions of sheets and then recycle them’; if a word went down, it stayed down.

Then again, if I had lived at a time like that, chances are I wouldn’t even be literate, let alone be allowed to create something like a book. So, scratch that. But you know what I mean, I hope.

Beginnings and endings are hard.

The beginning of a book, of course, has to be snappy and engaging and attention-grabbing and interesting, as well as hinting at what’s to come and flinging the reader, in medias res, straight into the fictive world you’ve created. It has to do a lot, and be a lot, and carry a lot of responsibility. Then again, so does the conclusion. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you may already be aware that I have trouble with endings; ‘Tider’ is no exception. I find it difficult to tie up short stories well, and I often agonise about the conclusion to my blog posts, too, which – now that I think about it – may be the reason why I usually sign off with a salutation.

Oh, yeah! Image: atlaschiropractic.com

Oh, yeah!
Image: atlaschiropractic.com

Why, then, would concluding a novel be any less difficult?

I think, however, after a long and hard struggle yesterday, that I’ve finally managed to carve out a beginning and an ending for ‘Tider’ that I’m happy with – or, at least, it’s the best I’ve yet come up with, and that will have to do. I think, as the book stands at the moment, I might have erred a little on the side of schmaltz, but at least it’s genuine, and meaningful.

To illustrate how bad I am at wrapping things up, here’s an example of a pair of concluding sentences so cheesy that you could chop ’em up and put ’em in your sandwich. They’re based on the original finishing flourishes of ‘Tider’, and even though they’re not exactly accurate, they’re close enough to give you a flavour:

Without warning, the police – huffing and puffing with exertion and doing a lot more yelling than was strictly necessary – burst through the door. As they surveyed the scene, probably wondering what on earth had happened, Jenny, Buck and Vincent could only gape at one another in amazement, before exploding into laughter.

This is a pathetic ending. I knew it was pathetic when I wrote it, and I wanted to put my fist through the computer screen yesterday morning when I re-read it. It was such a poor, lacklustre, wrong conclusion; just before this, there’s been a scene of high emotion, and so laughter – even relieved, slightly hysterical laughter – is not a true or authentic emotional response. Truth and authenticity are important in fiction writing – characters have to act logically, and in accordance with reason, and it irritates me when a character is brokenhearted in one scene and five sentences later has carried on as if nothing has happened, or something similar. Of course there are occasions when these rules can be broken for narrative effect, but overall I think characters have to act like people, with ‘real’ responses to what’s going on in their lives. Otherwise, how can a reader relate, or respond, to what they’re reading? How can a book make sense, or seem believable?

Anyway.

So, I’ve taken away that tooth-grindingly bad ending and I’ve replaced it. I’ve rejigged my opening paragraph so much that the words are getting travel-sick. I’ve done my absolute best to make ‘Tider’ as good a book as I can write, and so I’m sending it off to an agent, and that horrifyingly scary event is going to happen today. I have no expectations and I have no hope of success, which might be for the best.

Despite all this, maybe you’d like to send me some good vibes, anyway, and perhaps even a prayer or two if you’re so inclined…

Image: fancy.com

Image: fancy.com

 

 

 

Proof Of My Silliness

As if you needed proof, right?

So, it’s NaNoWriMo, as we know. I have a project to complete, as we also know. Other stuff that I knew, but which perhaps I should’ve taken into account when deciding to bash my details into the NaNoWriMo sign-up page included:

The fact that it’s my dad’s birthday this month;
The fact that it’s
my birthday this month;
The fact that my husband is taking several days’ leave this month;
The fact that I have at least two medical appointments this month; and, last but by no means least:
The fact that I have no fewer than three really important family things to attend – yes, you’ve guessed it – this month.

Image: likeablequotes.com

Image: likeablequotes.com

Over the weekend, I attended a (very fun, and wonderful in every way) birthday party for one of my dearest and oldest friends. I got to see so many people – some of whom I hadn’t seen for ages – and much laughter and catching up was had. We also visited my husband’s aunt and uncle, and that was great too. The silliness in all this, of course, kicks in when one considers that I also knew about all this before I signed up to NaNoWriMo.

So.

I am, at the moment, trying to do several things simultaneously, all of which are vitally important. I am attempting to do them all in the one month so far this year when I have the least time. It’s definitely silly. It’s even perhaps a little on the ditzy side. But you know what else it is?

It’s great.

Image: kwasistudios.com

Image: kwasistudios.com

It’s a privilege to have friends and family to spend time with, and it’s great to have so much to celebrate. (The medical appointments aren’t so much fun, but we’re not thinking about those, right? Right.) It’s also fantastic to be busy, and to have so many opportunities to submit and create work. Having said all that, I still really wish I’d engaged my brain a bit more before making the decision to begin NaNoWriMo. It’ll be NaNoGoSlo at this rate. I was doing really well last Friday – I was way ahead of schedule for the day, and the site was predicting I’d be done with my 50,000 words a week early if I kept up the same pace – but, of course, over the weekend it all went to hell. I’m afraid to check the website now, in case it yells at me – or, worse, tells me how disappointed it is in me, and how it expected better.

I hate that.

The current picture of my situation is like this: I am just over two-thirds of the way through my line edits for ‘Tider’, but the manuscript has been sitting on my desk now since Friday, so I hope I can get back into the right mindset to get through it. I want to finish that job and get the manuscript sent away to the kind agent who gently rejected ‘Eldritch’, but who wanted to see my other work. So, my heart is (not literally, because urgh) in my mouth as I work. Once that’s done, then it’s NaNo time, and to stay on track I have to write something like fifty million words today (approximately.) Then, it’ll be time to turn my attention to my story for Walking on Thin Ice, which has been neglected so long I’ve forgotten what it’s even about. (The closing date for this contest is coming up, by the way, so if you’re preparing a story, get ‘er done.) On top of all that, then, we have the usual stuff – living, eating, breathing, sleeping, attempting to keep the house from turning into a hovel, and all that other incidental stuff.

If someone finds me gibbering gently in a corner, don’t worry. Just leave me be. If you really need me for something, however, just waft a book in my direction and I’m sure native curiosity will drive me out of my stupor.

Happy Monday and happy new week. I’m armed with a brand new jar of decaf, my biggest mug, and my game face. Let’s do this.

Nicolas Cage speaks the truth. Image: brightestyoungthings.com

Nicolas Cage speaks the truth.
Image: brightestyoungthings.com

 

Bootstraps

‘Writing’ and ‘being a writer’ aren’t the same thing, by a long shot. ‘Writing’, that wonderful thing, is something I could do all day, fancifully kneading verbs and adverbs together while mixing a few adjectives in for good measure, trilling with ladylike laughter as I sprinkle the whole with punctuation; writing, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing. I love it.

Being a writer, though – and I’m the first to admit that I’m not even on the first rung of the very long ladder that’s labelled ‘A Writing Career’ – is, at times, obscenely difficult. Getting rejections is hard (I’m going through a spate of that at the moment); writing to deadline is hard; juggling deadlines is harder still. I’m still not completely ‘on top’ of the various deadlines I’m aiming for this summer, and several have just whooshed by. I’m telling myself that sometimes, you’ve just got to admit you can’t do everything, and give up worrying, but the problem with good self-advice is you don’t generally listen to it.

There’s still nothing else I’d rather be doing, however.

Image: sarahhina.blogspot.com

Image: sarahhina.blogspot.com

Today the things that are on my mind include: wondering how I’m going to get on this Saturday (I’m recording one of my stories for a podcast, of which more next week); worrying about all the stories I have out on sub at the moment and hoping some of them – even one – will make the cut; thinking about the stories in piles on my workdesk or in pieces on my computer and hoping that I can save them in time to get them ready for some of my aforementioned deadlines; the constant low-level worry about whether I’ve done the right thing with my life, and – the biggie – my novels, and my plans for those. And, as the title of today’s post suggests, I’m pretty much telling myself to buck up, take a deep breath and just get on with it.

Seriously. Just get on with it. I wonder, sometimes, why the niggling ‘am I doing the right thing?’ is constantly gnawing at the edges of my mind – I know I am. I’ve never been more sure. But when rejection emails are pouring in and nothing I write seems to be hitting the spot, perhaps worry is the only logical psychological response. It’s a bad cycle to allow myself to get into, though, because the rot of ‘well, nothing I’m submitting is any good,’ will eventually turn into ‘nothing I write is any good.’ Once that happens, I’ll only be one step away from giving up. And that can’t happen. I don’t want it to.

I know I want to write for the rest of my life because none of the challenges that I’ve so far faced have put me off the idea, and none of the warnings from other writers – ‘It’s a long, hard slog!’ ‘You’ll never earn a penny!’ ‘You’re in competition with far too many others!’ ‘You need to be exceptional to succeed!’ – have given me a second’s pause. I don’t know if it’s unhinged optimism, or simply self-delusion, but I still want to write, even knowing all this may be true. There is a lot of competition out there, and you’ll never be a millionaire. You could work for the rest of your life doing this, and still you may never succeed.

But I never wanted to be a millionaire anyway, and there’s a lot of competition in every walk of life. There’ll always be a better bookseller/teacher/lawyer/rocket scientist than you, but should that put you off wanting to be one? No way. Isn’t every job, and every career, a long hard slog? Yes. So why should writing be any different?

I know I want to be a writer because I’m willing to accept penury, long hours, hard work, brain-ache, rejection, disappointment and isolation to get there. In fact, it goes further than being willing to accept all these things: you have to be willing to inflict them upon yourself. That takes a special kind of masochism, and probably explains a lot about writers and their tendencies towards alcohol and oddness. (Hopefully I’ll avoid those bits.)

But I know I’ll succeed as a writer because I already have succeeded as a writer – I’m doing it. What more success could I ask for? Anything more than what I already have is gravy, as the saying goes. I’d love to see my name on the spine of a shelf-full of novels, and I’d love to see my stories appearing in some of the high-profile publications I’ve recently submitted to, and I’d love to think that I could bring the same joy into a young reader’s life that my favourite authors brought into mine – but if it never happens, I’m still a writer. I’m giving it my very best shot, and for that if nothing else I should be happy with what I’ve achieved.

I’ll try to remember all this the next time I get a rejection! Oh, how easy it is to write all this self-encouragement in a blog post and forget it completely when the dark cloud of doubt decides to settle over your head once more…

If you write, you’re a writer. End of story. Get on with it!

Grab those bootstraps, and keep on going! Image: wikiality.wikia.com

Grab those bootstraps, and keep on going!
Image: wikiality.wikia.com