Writing Means Failing A Lot

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I am really starting to understand why the word “persistence” comes up so often when writers talk about what it takes to be successful. While decluttering my writing space and organizing files on my hard drive, I faced the eye-opening reality that I’ve been at this writing thing for ten years, (at least in the quasi-professional sense). Ten years. And I don’t have a lot to show for it other than a few teeny tiny publishing credits.

My journals and files say otherwise. I’ve written two novels, more poems than I can count (there are about 1,000 haikus alone), and more than 1,000 blog posts (this one blows my mind the most!). Writing is the easy part. Finding an audience is a little tougher. Getting published feels almost impossible.

My rejection folder is enormous. I have an interesting relationship with this stack of rejection. On one hand, it’s hard not to take it personally. It is after all one agent after another telling me they aren’t interested in what I poured my heart into. On the other, it’s nothing personal. We all have opinions about what we like to read. My only saving grace is that I’ve never had an literary agent tell me my writing sucks and that I should just give up. I know writers get this sometimes and so far I’ve been lucky. It’s just frustrating on so many levels that I can’t seem to break through the barriers.

The soul crushing truth is writing means failing a lot. Not only in the ridiculous number of failed drafts, but in the process as a whole.

Yet, I persist. I’m too stubborn to let the failure win.

I took a little break from the query process to regroup after the last batch of rejections, (30 rejections hit pretty hard). Then, last month I took a writing workshop on query letters and the synopsis. While much of the information wasn’t anything new to me, I still walked away with a renewed sense of purpose. It’s amazing what being among writers in the same situation can do!

This week I sent off a brand new volley of query packages. I must be a glutton for punishment. Most writers seem to be, so I’m in good company. As a matter of fact, I already got my first rejection from this batch. It was pretty swift and painful, but not unexpected.

I’m bracing myself for more to come, but I keep reminding myself I only need one yes. All the no’s don’t matter, it’s the yes I’m after.

Persistence is key.

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c.b.w. 2017

 

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It’s Go Time

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It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and seriously work on my writing. The day job was seriously crazy this school year, but that will all come to an end tomorrow (helloooo summer!). Two months off will give me plenty of time to focus on more than just blog posts and scribbling random ideas into my journal. To say I’m excited is an understatement!

The first big project I’ll be working on is dusting off my query package for my novel. And I’m kicking this off in an unconventional way! As it turns out, a trip to Phoenix Comicon will not only be my moment to fangirl until I drop, (the Autograph Ninja will be on the prowl! ), but also a chance to mingle with authors and publishers. This year’s event features workshops with YA authors and pros in the publishing industry. I will be participating in two workshops to up my game in the pitching process. First, I’ll be attending a Q&A session that features a YA author I admire  – Aprilynne Pike, (her Wings Series is amazing!). Attendees can ask anything about their books, writing, or the industry. Second, I’ll be going to a workshop that focuses on pitching and the query letter. This has been a struggle for me (as it is for so many writers), so I’m hoping this event will help me figure out what isn’t working in my query package.

Aside from taking advantage of Comicon opportunities, I’ve also put out some feelers for some freelance work. I thrive on deadlines at my day job, so why not apply that trait to writing? In particular, I’m looking to write about fandoms or television recaps. Not too long ago I wrote about how fangirling has enriched my life, (see Things I’ve Learned From Fangirling) and that got me thinking: Why not turn that passion into something that pushes my writing forward?

Then, there’s the haiku chapbook I’ve been working on since January. This is the one project I’ve been working on consistently despite the day job! I’m about halfway done with selecting the haikus that will be part of the collection. Once I’m done selecting, it’ll come down to the messy business of deciding the order in which they will appear. It’s going to drive me crazy, but I’m looking forward to the process.

Like I said, it’s go time!

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c.b.w. 2017

And We Go Back

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It’s been very quiet on the novel front (even though my muse has been very chatty on the sequel!), but that’s about to change. I’m ready to take another dive in the literary agent pool, despite the ever growing odds against me.

I spent the summer waiting for query responses that never came – the silence was deafening – and evaluating both my novel and query package. After another round of rejections, I can’t help but ask myself if some of the changes I made were doing more harm than good.

The last round of query packages included a new query letter and a full Chapter 1 rewrite in the novel. Both changes were prompted by several rounds of rejections. There’s only so many rejections you can take before you consider that maybe there’s something wrong with the product.

Prior to the changes, I was averaging about 75% actual responses and 25% no response to my query package. While it is gratifying to receive some sort of a response, the fact of the matter is they were all rejections.

After the changes, the stats changed significantly and not in a good way. In the last round of querying, less than half of the agents I queried responded. The rest offered nothing but silence. This was either a really bad stroke of luck or I need to rethink the tinkering I did on my novel.

Given the drastic change in statistics, I’m thinking it’s time to get back to basics. It’s obvious the rewritten first chapter isn’t grabbing agents’ attention (all that I queried requested the first chapter as part of the query package), so I’ll be scrapping the rewrite in favor of the original version.

After comparing the two this weekend, I can honestly say I like the original version better. It moves a bit slower, but it offers a stronger introduction to the lead character. Furthermore, it provides stronger contrast to the character she evolves into as the novel progresses.

As for the query letter, that’s where it gets a little tricky. I like my new query letter better than the original, yet it’s also part of the package that incited little or no response. So, now the question becomes, was it it the query letter, the rewritten first chapter, or both that turned off so many agents?

Yeah, that’s a sticky wicket.

I went back and read my original query letter and there’s a lot to like about it, but it’s not that exciting. The new query letter has a little more personality and leaves a little more room to personalize it for individual agents. The logical solution to pull the best elements of each and combine them into one new query letter. Yet, I’m left asking myself if that’s really necessary. The original letter has a great track record for getting responses – why mess with it?

If I’ve learned anything in this process, second-guessing yourself can be disastrous. I’ve believed from the start that my novel is something special and I can’t afford to lose that focus. The plan moving forward is to submit the original novel (as structured by me and my editor) and to utilize both query letters. As I research agents, I’ll decide which query letter might be the best fit for each agent on my list. Social media, blogs, and websites for prospective agents offer a lot of insight on personality and preferences.

I’ll consider this last round as yet another lesson learned. We’ll just add it to the lengthy list of things this process has taught me! Despite the constant failure, I remain optimistic. My novel will find its way into print – it’s just a matter of when.

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c.b.w. 2016

Back To The Novel Front

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It’s been a loooooong time since the subject of my novel has come up here, in my head, or anywhere else. Some think I’ve given it up or just don’t care anymore, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s always been lingering in the background waiting for me to come back to it.

Here’s where things get brutally honest. There were a number of reasons why I had to shelve my passion project. Most of them revolved around having no choice but to reorganize priorities. I’ve heard writers are supposed to have tunnel vision when writing and pushing for publication, but I refused to keep the blinders on when it came to being there for those I care about when they needed me the most. That meant redirecting my muse towards shorter writing projects so I could be at hospital beds, visit with friends who had limited time in this world, and provide extra care to aging furkids.

There was also the little thing of having to take care of myself. I needed to take a step back in a number areas of my life, so I could evaluate and adjust to so many changes that have taken place in the last three years. It’s been overwhelming to say the least and I’m not sorry for taking the time I needed. Slowly but surely, I’m coming back to things that have gathered dust during my absence.

Last week, my novel muse is started to whir back to life. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I opened the file for The Muse. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about after so much time …

Would I still like it?

Does it still read like a finished novel?

What about the Chapter 1 rewrite – does it still work?

With all those questions rolling around in my head, I read through the most recent draft. I still love it. Minutes later, I opened my Query Tracker spreadsheet and updated all the information I had for agents on my list (a lot has changed since my last round of query packages!). While it sucked to add a few more rejections to the list, it was energizing to select the next batch of agents that will be receiving query packages.

Now, here’s where things get fun. It turns out my muse had another surprise in store for me. My characters started talking to me again (I swear I’m not crazy!). The sequel for The Muse has been locked away for a while, but I opened up the file again and pulled my Novel Notebook from the shelf. I outlined two major sections of the plot and found I need to conjure up two new characters, and add depth to one that already exists. How cool is that?? It looks like this summer will be full of creativity and more world building!

Like so many other things in my life I’m sure the process will be slow, but it’s nice to be back on the novel front.

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c.b.w. 2016

The Rejections Keep Coming

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Five months ago I sent out several query packages for my novel. I had every intention if sending out more, but the needs of an elderly furkid forced me to make some changes to my priorities. For the record, I’m not sorry I shelved my writing dreams for a few months as I would not trade the time I had with my dog for anything.

During those “off” months, absolutely nothing showed up in my inbox. Ugh. Rejection by silence. That’s the worst kind! I went into my spreadsheet and marked all open queries with “assumed rejection.” How depressing is that??

Just when I think the silence is going to kill me, I get an actual response from an actual agent. While it was rejection, it was a personal email rather than a form letter. She took the time to explain why she was turning me down and gave me encouragement to keep looking for an agent who would be the right fit for my work. Even though this is a rejection, her kindness reduced the sting a little.

As I look through all my rejection letters (there’s more than 30), I’m noticing the vast majority are personalized responses. I’ve decided to look upon this as a good thing. In addition, I only have five “assumed rejections” from lack of a response. That’s not too bad.

I remain optimistic, but I’m also not going to lie. It is discouraging to be at it this long with little or nothing to show for it. Sometimes it truly does feel like this publication thing just isn’t going to happen for me. This is an industry where the competition is fierce and there are literally thousands of incredibly talented people vying for a small number of contracts.

So what’s next? Another round of query packages, most likely. I still have a number of prospective agents on my list and I’m motivated to add more agents to my list. Part of my motivation comes from knowing well-established writers have all experienced the repeated sting of rejections. It’s part of the process and I just have to endure. When I see writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling received rejections by the hundreds, my thirty rejections are just a drop in the bucket. This is not over and I’m not giving up.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling for inspiring all of us to keep going!

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The right agent is out there somewhere and I’m going to find her. 🙂

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c.b.w. 2016