Joey’s small press adventure

Moving on to my second recently-published friend, Joey (not his real name).

In the interest of full disclosure, I really don’t know Joey all that well. We just kind of happen to travel in the same circles and, in passing, we discovered we had both graduated from the same writing program, only a handful of years apart.

Now, Joey’s specialty is poetry, and though I don’t tend to read much of the stuff, I do appreciate good poems when I happen upon them, and I have to say Joey’s work seems pretty darn good to my untrained little eye. And my untrained little eye must be on to something, because Joey’s poetry has won at least one small-but-significant poetry award for emerging artists. He’s also just been recently published by a small, but very well-respected literary press.

While it’s possible that Joey happened to know someone who knew someone at said small press, and therefore he somehow had an ‘in’ with them, chances are he didn’t and he actually got in the good ol’ traditional way: By submitting his work. A few months ago, he proudly announced that his collection of poems had been accepted for publication. He got an advance, a contract and all the traditional bells and whistles. The publisher even threw a book launch for him, and has had him out on a mini-book-tour with another handful of poets. His poetry collection is available for purchase at any regular old bookstore.

Being a poet, it’s not surprising that Joey didn’t bother with agents and the querying process in the traditional sense. He knew where he stood in the market and he approached the handful of respectable small presses that were likely to be interested in his work.

Like with Diane, there’s no point comparing Joey’s work to mine. Diane and Joey are evening wear and cultured pearls; I’m slacks, funky shoes and silver rings. And I’m OK with that. I, in fact, like it that way. My writing may still have some residual literary flair from my days at writing school, but that’s all it is: Residual. And flair. May aim is to tell a story. I like having a plot with a discernible beginning, middle and end. And though I like words, and I’d like to think I’m reasonably adept at stringing them together, I have no illusions or even intention of writing literary fiction, much less high calibre poetry.

Still, since learning of Joey’s experience, I’ve started considering small presses a lot more seriously that I had in the past. I mean, while Joey’s publisher is high-end literary, obviously not all small presses are created equal. So, I started doing some research and I’ve even come up with a handful of small publishers that may actually be a pretty good fit for the novel I’m currently shopping around. But like I said in my previous post, I’m not quite ready to take that step just yet. I still have those fulls and partials out and I can’t even say I truly regret the relentless querying I’ve put myself through–never mind how harrowing, heart-breaking and thankless it’s been at times. The thing is, deep inside, I still think going through a literary agent is what’s going to be best for my book and my writing career in the long run. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit.

Do I wish the odds weren’t so stacked against me? You bet I do!

Do I wish the traditional publishing industry didn’t move at the speed of tortoises slugging through a swamp of crunchy peanut butter? Well… Duh! Don’t we all?

Am I tempted at this very moment to just start querying small presses, even when I still have a handful of fulls and partials out there in Agentland? Uhm… Yeah. But like I said in my previous post, I’m also sorely tempted at times to just go the Diane route and self-pub. And who knows? I might end up doing just that. But not yet. Because, even as my impatience is sometimes borderline asphyxiating, I just have to force myself to stop and really, really consider what I think will be best for my career. Because I’m not talking about this one book I’m currently shopping around. I’m talking about any and all others that will come next. I’m talking about what I’m working on right now and what I’ve been working on while querying this novel; I’m talking about what I will be working on next year or the year after that. Because the day I stop writing altogether, the day I fully, truly give up hope… That’s the day I give up my soul.

OK, that came out a little more melodramatic that I intended. But it really is true. Giving up my dreams would mean dying a little. Resigning myself to failure. And I’m really not ready for that. Not when I’ve got people who still believe in me–which just humbles me into believing in myself.

 

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Diane’s self-publishing story

As I was saying in my previous post, I’m going to tell you a little about two writer friends of mine, who have each seen their books in print over the past couple of months.

Friend #1–let’s call her ‘Diane’–queried a handful of agents as she tried to find a home for her literary novel. As a bit of background, a few years ago, Diane  published a book of poetry through a small/micro press which offered her no distribution, no bookstore placement and zero marketing/publicity support. Still, it was not a vanity or self-pub, so she honestly had some published work when she started to approach agents with her novel. She got the standard ‘not right for us at this time’ form rejection from all four or five folks she approached. Her response? She decided to go at it alone, through one of the myriad “subsidy” publishing outfits out there (we all know that’s the euphemism for “vanity press,” but “subsidy” does kind of have a better ring to it).

Now, while I don’t know every single detail about the “publishing package” Diane paid for, I do know the publisher did offer her at least two rounds of editorial input and her cover is actually pretty nice–one of those that doesn’t scream “SELF-PUB!”  Beyond that, I think they also threw in “some” marketing and publicity support and have kind of walked her through booking three or four readings in different cities, plus a bunch of blog interview thingies. Note that I said they “walked her through” the process, because I’m pretty sure Diane did all the actual bookings and such, and she for sure paid her own way when traveling. In other words, Diane has put a lot of money and A LOT of work towards publication, book launch, publicity, etc… She’s still working her ass off to promote and sell her book on her own, but she’s excited and happy and just plain glad that she threw some money at her debut, because her experience self-publishing has been a really, really good one. She’s gone as far as to say that, other than having had to pay for it, it hasn’t been much different than dealing with that micro press which published her poetry a few years back; she says that, in fact, this experience been a lot more enjoyable for her.

This is all very good and fabulous (except for the expense), and I’m under no illusion that I wouldn’t have to work any less hard on publicity and self-marketing were I to be lucky (yes, LUCKY) enough to land a traditional publishing contract. Still, Diane’s experience does give me pause. Her cover is awesome, she has had some support resulting from her “publishing package” cost, etc…

BUT.

I’ve read her book.

And it’s a good book, really. Very literary, though, so it’s not what you’d call plot-heavy–but that’s fine, it’s not what literary fiction is generally about. What it does have is well-rounded characters, very lyrical, beautiful prose, and even a good underlying story. My quibble? Even as I read the novel, I knew it could have been even better. While Diane might have been offered “some editorial input,” her book could have benefited from a more experienced hand or a more exhaustive edit or whatever you want to call it. Maybe I’m naive to think that a traditional publisher might have done her book justice, might have helped her cut many of those pesky, unnecessary adverbs, might have sliced and diced those three little scenes that really went nowhere and added nothing to character or story. Maybe I’m just showing my greenness, my sheer ignorance about the publishing world, but I would like to think that yes, when a publisher has a vested interest in your book doing well, they’re going to work harder to make it shine. But if you’ve already paid them in full, what’s in it for them? Technically, they’re fulfilling their side of their contract (at least I assume so, in Diane’s case), but they’ve already gotten paid, so there really isn’t any further incentive to polish a manuscript until it’s squeaky and blindingly bright.

But maybe I’m being cynical and the nice people at Diane’s subsidy publisher are really super into what they do and they honestly worked to the very best of their abilities. Perhaps no editing team at a traditional publishing house could have done any better. Heck, maybe I didn’t read Diane’s book properly and I missed some deeper meaning or something in the stuff that I thought could have been edited out or reworked a bit.

All I know is that watching Diane going through her journey has certainly made me take a good look at my own, shedding a little light on all my options. Have I reached any conclusions? Well. No. Not even remotely. For me, Diane’s Plan A-1 is still a Plan C. A Plan C I might well have to pursue at some point, but I’m not ready for that just yet. It’s just good to know the option is there and that some services out there are pretty decent, if not absolutely stellar.

And yet, there are some moments that I just want to say, “Screw this waiting and rejection and more waiting crap! I’m going to Disneyland!” Or, more to the point, “I’m-going-to-spend-as-much-money-as-it-would-cost-me-to-go-to-Disneyland-flying-first-class-and-staying-at-a-fancy-Disney-resort, and get my darn book published my own sweet self!” But I just can’t bring myself to take that leap just yet. Not when I still have fulls and partials out in the world. Not while there’s still the slightest shred of hope that I won’t have to venture into this scary new world on my own.

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One size does NOT fit all

As anyone who’s ever read this oft-neglected little blog can tell you, I’ve spent the past few months navigating the often unrewarding, at times exhilarating waters of querying, as I hope to eventually land an agent and a traditional publishing contract for my young adult novel. In the meantime, I’ve seen two writer acquaintances of mine see their work published through very different means, and I’ve got to say, their experiences have really given me some serious food for thought. I mean, I find it amazing that, while we all graduated from the same writing program (only a couple of years apart), our approaches to seeking publication have been so wildly different–and with wildly different results to date.

Three main things go through my mind when I think of these two acquaintances of mine–or let’s just call them ‘friends,’ just for simplicity’s sake, even though it’s not like we’re super close or anything:

First off, there’s the requisite, unavoidable, extremely human prickling of jealousy and impatience. I mean, why them and not me, right? Why can’t it be my time already, dammit?

Secondly, that all-to-human jealousy is often tempered by a surprisingly honest glow of happiness that at least their efforts have not gone unrewarded. Hell, I know what they’ve been through to write and then publish their stuff, so you bet I’m happy for them! Their books are already on my shelves.

And last, but not least, their recent book releases have me questioning the whole process I’ve been putting myself through, and whether I may just be going about it the wrong way.

You see, neither of these friends of mine have put themselves through querying on the same scale as I have. One of them self-published; the other’s been recently published by a small, very well-respected literary press.

Over my next couple of posts, I’ll tell you a little about each of their experiences and how they’ve given me some perspective about my own.

 

 

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Subjectivity isn’t code for ‘you suck!’

You know all those form rejections that talk about how subjective the publishing business can be?

You know the ones: They’re the short-but-sweet notes that remind querying authors to query widely because what’s not a specific agent’s cup of tea may well be another agent’s dream come true. Now, I don’t know about other folks, but my mind tends to just skim through all those semi-encouraging words and fixate on what my stupidly fragile artistic ego considers the bottom line (never mind what my rational self tells me about subjectivity and personal taste and blah blah blah…) Point being: When I see those rejections, all I read is, “We don’t want you. This is a form rejection and it could well mean we think you suck. In fact, yes, you probably do suck. Please go away now.”

Well, today I had a lesson on how stupid that frame of mind truly is. First thing in the morning, I got a personalized rejection on a requested partial. While I really appreciated the brief, but thoughtful personalization, and could even kinda tell where the agent was coming from, it still stung a little, because of all the work that’s already been poured into my little book. She did add that her take on it was probably just her own opinion/taste (I’m paraphrasing), but in usual Gloria-fashion, I barely paid attention to that disclaimer.

I went off about my day, thinking I could definitely work a little more on the book to address Ms. Agent’s concerns, even though I had already done JUST THAT two weeks ago (I did offer Ms. Agent an updated manuscript, since she had a slightly older version, but she didn’t seem interested). Still, I thought even the updated version could use more work, right? After all, this is “only” Draft Eight we’re talking about here (Ms. Agent’s opinion referred to Draft Six, in case anyone’s wondering). My thought was (is) no manuscript is ever truly, truly in final form, is it? I bet even after some books hit the shelves, their authors are still stuck in the “I should’ve done/not done that there!” once in a while. But I digress…

My point is, I went about my morning thinking I could either address the shortcomings according to Ms. Agent… Or I could just throw in the towel, declare The Experiment a soul-sucking failure of epic proportions, and resign myself to a life of frustrated dreams because–you know, I suck and all that. Right?

So, while those thoughts wrestled in my mind, I took The Lab for her morning walk, then drove her to the vet for her annual check-up, had lunch, got another form rejection on query only (no pages)…

And then, lo and behold… What should arrive in my inbox as I ate a grilled cheese sandwich and pondered the future (or lack thereof) of my writing career? TWO full requests. TWO. Both based on submitted partials–one on the older (Draft Six) version Ms. Agent had just rejected; one on the stronger, better (IMHO), Draft Eight version. Both spoke about intriguing beginnings and cool language and imagery–the very things Ms. Agent flagged as unappealing to her.

Conclusion: Yes, subjectivity is not just lip service. It happens. Some people like flowery language. Some people like short, snappy sentences. Some people love descriptions. Some want to jump straight into the action. Some need a bit more setting right off, or an immediate emotional connection with a character. Others love words and imagery and poetry.

Someone once said that becoming a traditionally published author is 1/3 talent, 1/3 hard work and 1/3 luck. And the longer I’m immersed in this process, the truer that rings.

Now I just hope my luck is finally starting to pick up. It does only take one ‘yes.’

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Thank you, PitchWars!

A few weeks (and couple of posts) ago, I was bemoaning the overabundance of form rejections in my little world because… how is anyone supposed to fix anything if they no longer have a clue HOW to fix it? Especially since we’re not talking about a rushed first or even second draft. No, no: At the time of that posting, my novel was on its seventh draft, having already undergone multiple revisions and benefited from the invaluable feedback from several kind and super smart beta readers. So… Those form rejections? They were telling me squat. It was starting to make me really cranky. And depressed. And despondent.

Well, not a full week since I’d hit that self-pitying rock-bottom, I stumbled across PitchWars, a critique contest for polished manuscripts run by the fabulous Brenda Drake (for more on what the contest is all about, click here). Not really expecting much, I re-polished my query letter, proof-read my first five pages for typos, and decided to enter. The odds were a little daunting: Of almost 700 entries, only 40+ would be picked to go on to the next leg of the contest. So I wasn’t precisely holding my breath. And just as well, because I did not get picked.

But, guess what? It didn’t matter. Because, of the four mentors I’d submitted my query and first pages to, three sent back personalized responses: Short, concise reasons why they’d passed on my submission. Now, participating mentors were NOT required to do this. I was just lucky enough to pick these awesome people who took time out from their own writing to send short, personalized responses to each of the 80+ entries each of them received. And I cannot begin to say how incredibly AWESOME that is. The perspective that brought was just priceless and it made me realize that, yes, there’s some stuff really working in my query and first pages. And some stuff that still needed work…. But after getting those personalized notes I at last KNEW what the heck to tackle! And I cannot begin to describe what a difference that has made.

Within a week of receiving my responses, I was editing to beat hell, finally (FINALLY!) having a clue what to fix. The “how to fix it” part took a bit longer and a lot of mulling through the holiday season, but I sussed it out and I think my opening pages are a lot stronger now for it.

I guess sometimes all you need is a little outside perspective. I know it has made a world of difference for me and I’m truly indebted to these three amazing people who took the time to help me, a complete stranger.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean no more form rejections. I know that. What it does mean is that the book I’ll be submitting now will be a much better version than the one I started submitting a few months ago. At the very least, I feel a lot more confident about it! And that also counts for a lot.

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Pitch Wars: Thirteen reasons why a mentor should pick ME!!!

1) I’ve been writing since I was 8. My first book was a Cerlox-bound collection of five original fairy tales I two-finger-typed for my mum’s birthday, with illustrations by my dad. I still remember the little volume vividly (it had a red cover), and that it took forever to type. I don’t remember much about the stories themselves, other than they had actual fairies in them. I don’t write about fairies anymore.

2) I’ve loved writing so much for so long, I couldn’t stomach the idea of going to university for anything other than word-play and imaginary worlds. Ergo, I’ve been the proud holder of a BFA in Creative Writing and Theatre for *mumbles* years now. OK. Next!

3) My day-job involved writing and editing in the corporate world. Fascinating stuff. Well, no. Not even remotely, really. Yawn-worthy, in fact. But it paid the bills. And it turned me into a revision-maniac and a big fan of grammar. Also, that’s how I met Wonderful Husband, who’s still a kick-ass corporate writer, alpha reader extraordinaire and eagle-eyed proof-reader.

4) At university writing workshops, I was nicknamed the Queen of Rewrites (yes, my first drafts suck THAT bad. Luckily no one has seen one of those in years and no one will ever again. Not even Wonderful Husband).

5) I’m in the middle of a two-year “Writing Sabbatical.” This pretty much means that the bulk of my time and energy are currently devoted to writing, revising, revising, revising,  rewriting, revising and revising.  Oh, and querying and researching and more revising. It’s substantially more work and more emotionally-charged than any day-job, which means I’m probably insane for having chosen to do this.

6) I write YA because the teen years are the most heart-wrenching, horrific, wonderful and agonizing time of anyone’s life. Every emotion is felt tenfold, which, IMHO, is the basis of all great stories.

7) I write YA with a paranormal and/or speculative twist because I don’t know how to make the mundane sound interesting. (Plus, as a reader, I always pick the book with ghosts or time-traveling over contemporary or realism. So I write the same kind of stuff I tend to gravitate towards as a reader.)

8) I don’t have a TV. I like it that way.

9) I’m generally not a vampire fan, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an exception to that rule and a timeless work of pure genius.

10) I’ve been dancing flamenco since the year 2000. It keeps me sane. Except when it doesn’t.

11) I have a puppy and she’s the smartest, cutest, awesomest black Labrador Retriever in the known universe. IMG_0251

(Also, she’s dog-size now, but still manages to almost make me die of cuteness whenever I zero in on those warm brown eyes of hers.)

IMG_0374

12) I don’t particularly like talking about myself, but love talking about (with?)  my imaginary friends… erhm…  characters. And with my cute dog-size puppy.

13) Writing is my life and it would be nice to be able to share that with the world someday.

Supplement (by The Lab) —  Another bunch of reasons why you should pick my Mommy:

She gives excellent belly rubs and really knows how to scratch behind my ears.

She’ll stop in the middle of her writing to give me a wonderful warm cuddle just when I’m starting to think I’d like one.

She runs all her plot ideas by me. I think her book is pretty cool, even though it features absolutely no Labs or dogs of any other kind (I’m trying to convince her to change this in her next book, but she’s a little hard to get through to… Humans! Sigh.)

Other awesome potential mentee bios:
http://dcmorin.blogspot.ca/2013/12/pitchwars-mentee-contender-bio-blog-hop.html

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The marvels of social media

Since my last update was a bit of a downer, I figured I’d write another post to offset the whine whine whine feel of the blog. (Plus, it’s kinda lame to have a boo-hoo post as a first impression).

So… On the positive, it has been a fantastic 10 months. I’ve had the opportunity to play with my puppy and with my imaginary friends (You know the ones? I believe the politically correct term is ‘fictional characters.’) Now the puppy is dog-size (her brain is still teen-pup-size) and a whole new cast of characters is slowly taking shape in my mind.

I’ve also been recently floored by the power of Twitter. Today, I have 37 followers. I know that for most people, that’s an almost laughable tiny grain of sand in the biggest friggin’ beach on the planet. But consider this: I’ve never met a single one of those 37 followers. When I decided to open a Twitter account, I made a conscious decision to not invite everyone I knew to follow me right away. I have Facebook for that. That’s my personal social media, so I wanted to make Twitter my writing social media.

I have learned a lot in these past few months and, as naive as this may sound, I still marvel that complete strangers have started thinking my tweets, retweets and favourites might be of interest or use to them. For someone who basically joined Twitter initially to lurk, then to watch and learn, 37 followers is just unbelievable. Like hitting 200,000 for someone moderately famous, I guess.

So, there you have it: A positive post–admittedly, not the most fascinating one ever, but still… Not bad for a Monday while I’m in the midst of serious writing/querying ennui.

Oomph, I will recover you yet!

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