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Achievement Unlocked?

Beginning Writer Achievement Unlocked: first rejection letter!

I hadn’t really expected to reach this milestone so soon; in my head, I’d always assumed I wouldn’t be sending things out to get rejected until my novel manuscript was ready. A glorious fit of optimism overcame me, though, when Women Destroy Fantasy! was announced, and I set aside the novel long enough to write a short story I could submit. I was actually fairly pleased with the results, even after beating my head against the desk during the revision process.

In the end, about 4900 words stared at me and politely suggested I send them on to their intended destination. I fidgeted and fussed over the cover letter and finally gave in, sending my little darling off into the æther. I told myself it had a newt’s chance in a supernova of being accepted, and tried to maintain a healthy balance between cautious optimism and callous realism.

It still hurt when the rejection came.

I suppose now I can consider myself a bona fide writer; I’ve not only put words on paper (well… electrons), but I’ve sent them out to an actual publisher and had them summarily dismissed. It’s a rite of passage for every writer, right? I know there’s more to come, and I need to get used to it. It’ll only get worse before it gets better—and the only way for it to get better is to keep at it.

So now I have a short story that needs a home. I’ll need to collect a list of other possible venues for it, and start sending out more submissions. I’ve heard that the only reason anyone doesn’t get published is that they give up. Maybe this story will never see the light of day, but it will serve a purpose nonetheless. I’ve got to build up the emotional calluses necessary to keep putting my work out there time and again, right?

Well, the first abrasions against my tender psyche have initiated the process. Only about a million more to go.

The #MSWL Blues

According to my sources (that would be a Twitter hashtag), in about three weeks’ time, there will be another #MSWL Twitter event. For those unfamiliar with it, the letters stand for ManuScript Wish List, and from time to time, agents and editors will designate a day to tweet details of what they would like to show up their slush piles (though some tweet whenever they feel the urge, throughout the year).

Writers who follow the hashtag throughout the day can see if anyone is looking for the kind of manuscript (ms) they’re writing, and the tweeting agents and editors have a much higher probability of snagging a ms that hits their sweet spot. Everybody wins! Unless, like me, you’re not ready to query.

For those of us who haven’t quite got our mss up to snuff, #MSWL day can be agonizing. On the one hand, how can you look away—what if someone’s list matches your ms to perfection? You’ll want to know who that agent or editor is so you can query when the ms is polished! On the other hand, how can you watch—what if someone’s list matches your ms to perfection? You can’t query that agent or editor until your ms is polished!

It’s not like I have any illusions about my current ms. Much as I like my story, I’ve no idea if it will actually appeal to an audience wider than my closest friends and family. And all sorts of folks will tell you they had to write something like a dozen novels (and query ten of them) before even getting an agent, let alone a book deal. So I know the odds of getting this sucker onto the shelves are about as good as those of winning the lottery. But I want desperately to try anyway.

So come 26 February (the next “official” #MSWL day), I’ll be watching the tweets roll in, pondering my own simple, single-item manuscript wish list: get it finished!

Argh! The Pressure!

It’s been a helluva week.

Things started out great on Monday. I got to meet my Editor in person, which was beyond awesome—we sat down over coffee and started chatting like old friends. In fact, I felt so comfortable talking with her that it was hard to believe we’d only ever interacted electronically, either via email or story edits.

Maybe that’s why having her expectations about when I might be able to deliver my novel looming over me feels so scary. Suddenly it’s not just family members looking pointedly at their watches and asking me when they can read what I’ve been working on for the last year. Now there’s an actual literary professional who is looking forward to reading and critiquing my book—yikes!

Other tasks insinuated their way onto my to-do list in front of novel revisions, though, and by the time Tuesday rolled around, I’d allowed the Fear of Editor to lapse into background noise. “I’ll get to it here in a little bit,” I kept telling myself.

Enter Twitter’s #MSWL hashtag.

Not only did I lose an inordinate amount of time that day (and a non-negligible amount since) trolling through the agent and editor posts of their “ManuScript Wish Lists” to see if anything remotely matched what I’m writing, but I spent a lot of emotional capital fretting, too. First there was the fretting that I’d seen so many tweets asking for MG/YA/NA manuscripts that it felt like no one wants anything for the adult/general audience to which I write. Obviously, that’s not true, but I’m sure other writers know exactly that feeling.

Then there were the occasions when I did find something that (almost) matched what I’ve got. At that point, I started tearing out my hair because I don’t have a completed manuscript to send out for a query. The sheer weight of revisions needed to make it ready for prime time is staggering. Needless to say, Tuesday left me a mess.

Wednesday was lost to family moving house.

And that brings us to today. Today I struggled with procrastination. (Say what? Writers never do that!) Aside from reading more books on improving one’s writing, I didn’t actually do any writing work until late afternoon, when I took my kids to an after school class. Sitting in the parents’ observation area, I struggled again with how to fit my plot into those pesky Cat-Saving beats.

The damn thing has no zip, no punch. When I whittle it down to those fifteen key elements, I’m left with square plot points trying to fit into round beats. I just can’t crack it.

On the up side, I’m making fabulous progress plotting out the next book beat-by-beat. I’ve even got some thematic and thesis/antithesis strands planned. Funny how much easier it is to create an engaging plot from the ground up than by massaging an existing one.

Too bad I’ve got so much massaging left to do.

Phooey on Convalescence

I’m feeling very out-of-the-loop. I haven’t visited my dryads in nearly a week, thanks to surgery and recovery, and it’s really strange. Even without my physical limitations, though, I’d reached a bit of a natural lull.

You see, I’m waiting to hear back both from my editor on the short story I’ve sent to her for review (with the goal of submitting it several places, one of which will hopefully publish it) and from my CPs on a complete (though not polished) draft of the novel. On the one hand, it’s great to feel like I’ve got some things off my plate—”woo hoo! mini vacation!”—but on the other, I’m at loose ends. It’s like I’m going through Dryad Withdrawal or something.

Obviously, the most straightforward solution is to move ahead with the next project. I’ve got a second novel (and eventually many more) planned; I should take this opportunity to begin outlining the plot. Since I plan to take advantage of the pre-existing motivational structure of NaNoWriMo to power me through the rough draft here in a couple of months, having the important details sketched out in advance should help me make less of a hash of that initial draft than I did out of the current one.

Welcome back to Square One, where I have limited mobility/access to a useful computer for the next N days. Convalescence is a tricksy bugger, and I’m having a hard time predicting just when and for how long each day I’ll be able to be upright—that is, what kind of time I’ll have to commit to such brainstorming. So far, those moments have been brief and infrequent, and dominated by such daily minutiae as eating.

I can see Square Two on the horizon, though. It looks like several hours restlessly awake in bed, too much an invalid to sit for long at my computer, but too bushy-tailed just to stare unthinkingly into space. Maybe those pending hours will be the ones I can bend to the task of letting my mind wander the paths of Mabel’s next adventure.

And hey—at least I’ve got a voice recorder.

Today’s Writing Demons

Last time I talked about how the cover art I want to use for my novel is keeping me from leaping wholeheartedly into shopping it around once it’s done. Today I’m fighting different demons.

I’ve got a couple of short stories written (or at least drafted) about what it’s like to be a dryad in the world I’m building. I even quite like them. Before the demons popped up uninvited, I’d been thinking maybe it would be a good idea to try submitting a short story or two to some reputable sff magazines, just to test the waters. It would be good for me to start getting my work out there, get used to rejection, and maybe even get a little feedback. And, on the super-outside chance someone actually published me, it would look great on my artist’s résumé!

Then the latest demons materialized to torment me.

“Of course you like them; you wrote them!”
“You realize, of course, that compared to a real author’s work, your stories are complete crap, right?”
“No one is ever going to publish that schlock, so why are you even trying?”

~sigh~ Frankly, I’m tired of these little shits. I’ve had to listen to them for years; they convinced me not to bother even trying to write fiction for longer than I care to consider.

Eventually I found a way to sneak past them for my non-fiction work, and started blogging about my thoughts on my favorite TV show. I told them, “I’m not doing it for an audience; I’m just writing for me.” That seemed to work, and—miracle of miracles—a small but loyal audience eventually followed. So I kept writing. And kept considering dabbling in fiction.

Ultimately, the urge became too strong to ignore; I had to make an attempt at this novel. That’s when I found a magic spell to get them to shut up for a whole month, while I pounded out a really horrible rough draft. “That’s awful!” they’d shriek. “I know! Isn’t it glorious?” I’d reply with a grin.

It felt like a victory—and in its way, it was. I got past that first barrier and got something on the page. But there’s only so long one can afford the luxury of sucking, at least for any given piece of work. If you really want to write something that other people will read willingly, eventually you have to make it good.

So now I’m back to Square One, where the demons’ taunts are loudest, their slings and arrows sharpest. Deep down, I think I’ve got something worthwhile to share in these stories. Now it’s a matter of finding their True Natures beneath the labored words and banishing the cunning demons that so long obscured said truth behind a curtain of self-doubt.

Let’s see what I can find in my spellbook this time.

Shop It or Self-Pub? Art’s at the Heart

So I’ve started thinking more about what I want to do with my novel once it’s “finished” (~insert raucous laughter here~). Initially, I figured I’d just self-publish, try to push it to a few places I thought it might appeal or I might have a little sway, and say “Yay! I’m an author!” I even went so far as to commission some cover art, which I adore; it’s mind-bogglingly awesome. The further I get, though, the more I think, “maybe I should try to shop this around after all.”

There are, of course, several barriers to trying to get published through a “real” publishing house. I suspect every beginning writer considering the task looks at it all and says, “holy $#!7—where do I even start?” (at least I’m going to pretend everyone does that, because if it’s really only me, then that’s just depressing). Do I try to break in by getting short stories published? Do I just start shopping my manuscript around? Do I look for an agent, or do I go straight to publishers? Where do I find “appropriate” agents or publishers for the style of novel I’m writing?

On a more existential level, there’s the “am I good enough?” barrier. I look at my favorite books, at new releases, at things people I know are getting published, even the WIPs my critique partners send me, and I am overcome with conflicting emotions. Sometimes I despair, thinking I’ll never be able to match the literary skill I see displayed in print. Other times, I am buoyed by the thought that I don’t really see anything else out there quite like what I’m writing, and I dare to hope that someone will find my stories interesting for that very fact.

Oddly, though, the obstacle that concerns me most at the moment is that glorious cover art. I stumbled across the work of Robert Farkas, and instantly fell in love with his style. I was thrilled when he agreed to do a commission for me; he listened to my requests and dealt gracefully with my inexpert art direction. When I saw the final piece, I was over the moon—it’s perfect.

And there’s probably not a publisher out there who will agree to use it.

The idea crushes me. I know publishing is Big Business, and there’s a Way Things Are Done. If my novel ever got picked up, my publisher would have their own in-house art department create a cover design. But Farkas’s piece is the cover for this novel, as far as I’m concerned. The typography is negotiable, but the image…

I’m well aware that the traditional road to publication can be long and arduous. I think I’m up for the challenge; I’m ready to “give it the old college try,” anyway. But whether I start with my first novel or wait to shop the next one really depends a lot on how tightly I hang onto this art. Suffice to say, I expect to struggle with the decision for a long time.