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Way-Word Journey #6: This Just Isn’t For Me

The reason I never wanted to query again was because so much of what I heard felt like I wasn’t good enough.

I. Me. Not my manuscript.

Reality…

Every rejection basically said, we don’t want this manuscript. What they really meant was, I can’t sell this manuscript. For whatever reason.

I had to know why. I could accept the truth if I understood it.

A few people, mostly readers, gave me helpful hints.

There were things I needed to fix: the grammar, the punctuation, finding my style, finding the characters’ voices, learning to plot and world build.

There were issues with some of the books I couldn’t fix: this idea isn’t high-concept enough, the market doesn’t want that right now but wait fifteen years and it’ll come back around, that book is too quiet, that just isn’t the right fit for me (or my list).

Notice the word books: I hadn’t stopped writing for myself. At this point, it had been about five or six years since I’d started writing. I’d written about five books and completely rewritten two of them after deleting every single file of the original, so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back and look.

And this whole time, I felt like I wasn’t good enough.

Me. Not my manuscript.

It’s easy to get resentful, to say the gatekeepers are to blame, to become dissatisfied or even angry with the publishing industry. I’ve been there more than once, especially after a round of rejections. But I’ve also been on the other side of this business, shuffling through the queries and reading hundreds of manuscripts on behalf of agents and editors.

Reality…

Agents and editors have to love the book so much that they’re willing to read it about fifteen times and still be excited about it. There are books I’ve written myself that I can’t say that about. So how would I expect an agent to love it that much? I’ve seen so many excellent manuscripts that I wouldn’t want to read again. They were well written, had voice, great worlds, and satisfying endings. Even if I’d read them a second time, there wouldn’t be a third. It’s still a great book, written by a talented author.

So very often, that’s exactly what they mean.

There are a lot of other reasons agents don’t think they’re the right fit for your manuscript.

The form rejection might make it feel otherwise. (Even the ones that feel personal are usually cut and pasted–because agents are already worn so thin on time, they have to.) Sometimes, they don’t know any editors who they could sub it to. Agents try to keep tabs on what editors are looking for. They might already have a client who’s either written or is currently writing a manuscript very close to yours that would be a conflict of interest. They might have a list already full of that age category or genre that they’re trying to sell and have too many submissions already out to editors in that area. That genre or sub-genre might be already saturated in the current market. (Remember, the publishing industry is 18-24 months behind what’s hitting the shelves, so you might not think it’s hit yet.) There are heaps of reasons agents might reject your manuscript.

In fact, I wish everyone would say that their manuscript was rejected, not that they were rejected. Their manuscript wasn’t a right fit, not that they weren’t a right fit.

Believe me, I know how difficult this advice is to take, BUT–It’s not something you should take personally.

And even if it is personal, take a lesson from kindergarten. Not everyone is going to be your best friend. And you shouldn’t expect everyone to. Be honest with yourself–do you love everyone you come in contact with? Do you love every book you read enough to read it over and over and over and then provide support and enthusiasm and crisis intervention to the author for the few years it’ll take to get it published? Is there even a handful of books you could say that about?

Even wildly popular books get terrible reviews. The rejection never ends. Ever. Some people don’t want to read them. Some people just don’t get what all the fuss is about. With so many people on the planet having their own unique experiences, with so many polarized perspectives, there will always be people who don’t like your writing.

So what?

Reality…

You don’t need everyone to love your book. You just need about 0.000002 percent of Earth’s population to like your book. And you can do that.

You can do that.

Yep.

You can.

 

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Way-word Journey #5: I Thought I Was Good Enough

I’d written a novel!

After having a couple people read it, all of whom said it was !Wonderful!, I thought, It must be good enough to be published then.

My chest tightened, and my stomach fluttered.

So I researched how to query on the internet. One issue–reliable sources. Another issue–outdated sources. I wasn’t sure who to trust or where to go for help. The biggest issue–I didn’t know anyone else who wrote novels. So I gave it a try.

I queried fifteen agents.

Some rejections came, and I thought they were written just to me. Oh, they thought I would find an agent! It just wasn’t right for their particular taste.

I queried fifteen more. About ten more rejections. And they all began sounding the same.

I mean, if it was decent, one out of thirty might’ve liked it, right? After another fifteen queries and some rejections, I’d had nineteen months of heartbreak.

I’d written another novel and half of the sequel to the one I was querying in the meantime. Because by then, I was addicted to it.

Every agents had said they liked Young Adult, Science fiction.

A side note:

Whenever you’re researching on the internet, look at people’s credentials, but also look at when the article or advice was written. For example, a lot of agents used to want the title, word count, genre, and age category paragraph of the query at the bottom, right before your bio. Now, most of the agents (at least the newer ones) want it at the top. Another addition within the last several years is an introductory, personalized sentence about why you’re querying them. And within the last couple years, comparable titles have become a thing to add as well.

That said, most agents aren’t going to throw out your query if you don’t do it exactly that way. They’ll give you the time (and I know this because I read queries for an agent) and read the entire query. But knowing how they prefer it shows a level of dedication and professionalism that speaks to what kind of client you’ll be.

So what was wrong with my manuscript?

I had a great idea, but my writing wasn’t publishing quality yet. I made a lot of errors that new writers make.

And that was okay.

Something I was doing that wasn’t okay was translating the rejection of the manuscript to a rejection of me. It wasn’t enough to keep me from trying though.

All my effort went to honing my craft. And I made a plan.

First, learn to write well. If querying took that long, I didn’t want to waste another eighteen months querying and burn another forty-five agents. So, I wanted to wait until I knew for sure that my writing was good enough.

Second, learn to edit. Because your writing is only as good as your editing. I wasn’t going to throw away those stories. One was a planned trilogy with a prequel, number two already half written. The other could be a series, and I already knew how book two would begin and end.

So how could I learn when I didn’t know anyone and lived in rural New York?

I bought books on writing craft. For a list of some of my favorites, I have a post on it here.

I went to book clubs and libraries and independent book stores and asked the authors I met how they did it. And every single answer was different. (This is something I later realized would be the one thing that remained consistent throughout publishing–everything is different and subjective.)

I read books and analyzed them. Outlining plots. Following character arcs for primary, secondary, and even tertiary characters. Mapping structures of worlds. I tore the books I loved apart and saw them in a completely different light–as an author and editor rather than a reader.

One of the crucial people I met then was author Therese Walsh. She’d published her first book and was writing her second, but more than that, she was building a community of writers through a website called Writer Unboxed. It wasn’t very big back then, but it’s since become one of the best places to go for quality information on writing. She was building a community. She was giving back to the writing industry and gaining an invaluable network. I wanted to be like her, I just needed the opportunity.

Later, after moving to Kansas, I began taking classes from authors and editors in the business who could teach me the art of writing. I went to conferences and found a critique group.

For years, I soaked up as much information as I could.

But I was afraid to query.

Ever again.

 

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Way-Word Journey #4: Coming Out as a Writer

Thanksgiving Day, my family was gathering for the traditional feast. The golden-brown turkey sat, half-carved, surrounded by decimated side dishes of candied yams and mashed potatoes and gravy.

“What’s up with you?”

Should I say it out loud? Gulp. “Well, I wrote a novel.”

“A novel? Well, I’ll be darned. You wrote a whole book?” My uncle’s eyebrows rose when I nodded. The clink of silverware on plates quieted down.  “Wow! You’re gonna be the next J.K. Rowling!”

My cousin chimes in. “What’re you gonna do with all the money?”

“Yeah, I could really use some help.”

The most painful thing…

The accomplishment of writing a novel took the backseat on a very long bus. They asked what it was about and responded with a, “Huh. I don’t really read that.” I’d devoted hundreds of hours to it, but there was no way for them to understand that it was becoming a part of who I was in a way I didn’t even comprehend. But I felt it.

My family tried to be supportive in their own way by telling me I’d be as successful as J.K. Rowling (and they could really use the financial boost, too). But that also sets up the expectation that I’m no good unless I sell millions of copies. And I hadn’t even decided I wanted to be published.

Fun Fact: The majority of authors sell around 10,000 to 15,000 copies of a novel.

And read it? That was a whole other mixed bag of emotions. Some wanted to read it, like my mom and gram. That made me so nervous. The mom in my novel was the villain. Yikes! And what if they hated it? What if it actually was terrible?

Most of my family didn’t want to read, which made me feel a whole different kind of lame. Like I wasn’t worth a few hours of their time.

The reality is, most people think that if you write a novel, the getting it published is easy. Even self-publishing, which is a much more direct path, takes editing, copy editing, dumping some money into a cover, and a part-time marketing job to sell a decent number of copies. A select few people know how difficult it is to take a manuscript and get it  across the Big-5 finish line. So digest comments about your writing while also keeping their blissful ignorance in mind. They probably don’t mean to hurt you. They most likely don’t realize they’re doing it. I know that over the years since this, my family has watched me struggle and improve and been supportive to the best of their ability.

It takes a lot of courage and fortitude to even write a novel, and by the time you’re finished, it’s such a part of you. Having that be rejected and criticized and even just passed by can be a painful experience. But if you never share your novel, you’ll never find a whole other joy that comes from the writing process–the connection with your reader. And it’s worth it. You’ll find that people who read your books will gain things from it you never intended. They’ll have joy in an escape of your making.

You can share it with your family, let them read it, but don’t make them your critique partners. Your mom or gram or sister are most likely not going to give you the real critique you need. Find and connect with other writers out there who write in your genre and age category. It matters. And as you edit other people’s work, you’ll see an improvement in your own writing as well.

Or maybe you just want to write the first draft. Sometimes all we want is to give ourselves the escape. If that’s what writing is for you, you shouldn’t feel like you have to publish your novel. If you have a dream to be published, then go for it! I’ve gone back and forth over the years, not wanting to publish, wishing I could, hoping to go Big-5, thinking Independent presses would be a better way to go. Every one of those feelings and avenues is valid and should be respected.

And when you come out about your writing to people, give yourself a break, too. It’s okay to have all those feelings. Just don’t stew in them or let them get in the way of your dream.

 

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Way-Word Journey #3: The Blank Page

My family lived in a tiny house that didn’t take much to clean. My kids had all just gone back to school. I was doing some freelance work with solid modeling–a remnant from my engineering days–but I found myself with time. It felt surreal. So after I’d remodeled the bathroom, I sat down one day with the idea, a character, and basic outline for a first chapter in mind. I’d just jot it down.

Words spilled onto the page. I had no idea what I was doing. But in that moment, I fell in love with writing in a way I’d never done with any other type of art or work. Five hours later, I got a call from the school that I’d forgotten to pick up my kids.

The key to overcoming that blank page is ideas. I’d had kept so many stories for so long in my head, when I finally sat down, I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t know how to type then but forced myself to keep my fingers in the right place and stare at the keyboard as I learned to type while writing the story. There’s a post here on where to come up with ideas.

Several months later, by the time I’d finished the first chapter, I had 230,000 words in my file.

What I didn’t realize then: I used a lot of those words to build my world, to tell myself all the backstory of who my characters were, why they had these fascinating traits that made them so unique, and all the other things an author needs to know about. (But the reader doesn’t need to know all those things.) Still, I had my first manuscript.

And it was a win!

Even if you ever get published, you should take the time to celebrate every single success. Because the completion of a first draft, the completion of a revision, every step is important in the process.

I remember dreaming about sending it to publishers and knowing they’d all love it as much as I loved it. I didn’t even know about agents, what a query was, A synopsis–impossible to get all that into three pages, which is what the standard was at the time. (Now it’s one.) But I didn’t care. I’d written a brilliant-to-me novel.

In a way, I’m glad I was so naive. It gave me the chance to relish the fact that I’d done it without the worry of how difficult the publishing industry is to navigate. And that’s something that’s quickly taken away from you by the rejection. If you can find a way to never let go of that feeling, no matter who rejects you, do it. I’ve lost and found it several times over the years, and it’s a precious gift to write a book 100% for the joy of what you get out of it.

Do you remember the first chapter you ever wrote?

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Way-Word Journey #2: I Didn’t Always Want To Be A Writer

I didn’t always want to be a writer.

And I’ve come to realize that’s okay.

I began college as an Aerospace Engineering student. I’d watched Top Gun a hundred-plus times and wanted to be Kelly McGillis. I loved planes. They fascinated me. I skipped class to go (with a guy) see the space shuttle land at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. I skipped class to go see the SR-71 at the Pima Air Museum. I also skipped class to ride (with a different guy) in an Aston Martin to get Dunkin’ Donuts.

And it was always Math and Physics I skipped. I should’ve known then that my passion was words.

But alas, I’m truly fascinated by all kinds of things. So after two years of Engineering, I found another love in the world of Biochemistry and received a Bachelor’s in that field and worked in a plant sciences lab. I loved it. I think I could’ve loved a lot of things. And then during a terrible pregnancy, I had to quit. After many complications and several months of recovery, I started my own company bidding and installing signs for new construction. I loved that, too, because it let me be at home with my kids and have a way to earn money. After two more children within three years, I ended that business to focus on my kids.

And I loved it. Every minute? No. But really, my kids fascinated me. They were like little science experiments, creations, and I’d never felt so lucky or blessed to be a part of something so remarkable as being a mother. Some people have told me I missed my calling in life because I spent my best years on my kids. They can think that. I certainly don’t regret it one bit.

But all of that life experience gave me ideas. Experience is the best thing for creativity and emotional resonance. If you’ve never been through things, it’s nearly impossible to write about it.

I was doing things worth writing as well as all the mundane chores that go along with life. Occasionally, I’ve felt behind when I hear about people who have been writing novels since they were in middle school or high school and end up published in their twenties. While being truly happy for them, I also used to feel like I was somehow not as good because I didn’t begin writing until later in life.

Yes, I won an Arizona State poetry contest when I was in second grade. But it didn’t stick.

Maybe I won’t ever be as good as those writers. Maybe I will. In reality, this is my journey, and the only person who can allow me to be upset by it is myself.

The problem is comparison.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Ever. Just don’t. As many books as there are in the world, there are even more writing journeys. Your journey is never wrong. It might be complicated. It might take you somewhere you didn’t plan. But every step will teach you something if you let it, which will only make you that much more prepared for the future.

I’d love to hear what your day job is and if you love it as much as writing.

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Way-Word Journey #1: Boredom Can Be A Good Thing

I stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, and stared at a wall. The brownish red of the brick and dirt that covered my backyard created the backdrop of a wasteland, the occasional tumbleweed or dry grass breaking up the soil. Over the years, I stared at other backyards or back-splashes day after day. Vacuuming, mopping, pulling weeds, folding clothes, I only vaguely saw it all through the fantasy worlds playing out in my imagination.

Snow White sang, but  my voice scares away the animals (including my children). So the only way I survived being a full-time mother of three was escaping into the worlds I created in my head.

I loved my kids more than I can express with words, and they’re brilliant and funny and wonderful. But spending 24/7 with children and cleaning and gardening and cleaning some more–it’s not a recipe for intrigue. And that’s what I craved. I wanted to travel the world, taste foods I’d never heard of, see animals outside a zoo with amazing abilities too strange to imagine, learn about ancient cultures from their ruins.

But diapers had to be changed. The little people needed read to and taught and bathed and occasionally rescued from one another.

So I told myself stories and created worlds of my own that were every bit as fascinating to me as the real world I couldn’t get to. And that’s how I became a writer.

How did you become a writer? I’d love to hear your story!

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