Tag Archives: getting published

never, never, never, never give up

I misquote Churchill, because “never give up” galvanises me more right now than “never give in”. Though maybe the latter is more constructive. Maybe this is war.

After a couple of weeks of productive writing (which coincided, without coincidence, with me doing all my dishes every single night) I have hit a general, across the board wall. No surprises, then, that the wall applies equally to my blog, and that I found a large-ish cockroach in my kitchen the other day.

I have noticed a feeling of quiet confidence in me. Actually, quiet is the wrong adjective, because it’s more stubborn and immutable than quiet. It’s not trumpeting from the rooftops or anything (who used to trumpet from the rooftops, anyway?), it just is.

The confidence says: If you keep writing, keep progressing, keep learning and breaking it down and polishing it up, you will be published.

We’re always being told this. The main reason people don’t get published is that they give up. It seems like a pretty straight-forward equation: just keep writing. So it’s amazing to me how even with this sense that I’m on my way towards what I want, it quite frequently feels impossible.

For right now, then, writing is an endurance sport.

happy happy happy

I have been talking a bit about my new novel teacher – the strange creature who understands my genre. After tonight’s class she deserves yet another mention.

My teacher is Toni Jordan, a Melbourne-based writer whose first book, Addition, did extremely well here and overseas. Her second book was released last year. We studied Addition last year, and I didn’t love it. But Toni’s “I’m going to turn you all into professional writers” attitude I do love.

So tonight I workshopped again, and she asked me to see her after class. I walked up to her, she put her hands on the desk, looked me squarely in the eye and said, “What’s your plan for this book!?”

She went on to say that it was just right for the genre, “You get that this is really, really good, don’t you?” and just wanted to check that I knew what I had on my hands, and that I had a game plan for it.

I know this doesn’t mean I’m getting published, but the positive reinforcement is bloody brilliant. I’ve fought my way through the learning curve of last year, and I feel like I’m just re-emerging with the dedication and motivation that come from feeling like getting published – actually in real life – is a real possibility.

(If you’re curious about the piece that I was workshopping, it’s the first chapter of my novel, which you can find here.)

write. out. loud.

I’ve been reading the insider’s guide to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Yes, it’s completely daggy. But that’s just how this series is – once you’ve read all the books there are to read you’ll take any way back into the world you can.

(There’s a hilarious review of Dark Lover here. What I love most about it is the self-conscious comments from readers who just can’t help themselves.)

There’s a section in the guide that’s J. R. Ward’s advice to writers. She says a couple of things which really got me.

1. Writing and getting published are two very distinct things. Being published and having people buy your book are not the only things that validate you as a writer. If you write, you are an author.

2. Do the best you can do now. This bit of advice is great, huh? Ward gives a really warm, funny account of when it was first passed on to her. I think you know when you’re pushing your own boundaries and it’s relaxing to think that that’s enough.

3. And the one that spoke to me most: Write out loud. By this she means – push your ideas as far as they go. Write what’s in your head without concession to readership/market/internal censor or inhibitions. You can edit it back later.

This last piece of advice is also what I think has made her series so stratospherically successful. Her characters are big, cheesy and far too much. But they are so unrestrained, so true to themselves, that you fall right in with them.

the pitch

today we had an acquiring editor come and visit our novel class, and ask for a pitch from each of us. It was a pretty interesting scenario, because she had asked to come and meet us, rather than being asked herself.

I had no idea what to expect, but she was very warm and interesting, and more than that interested. I was very impressed with the way she listened to the pitches, really helping to clarify for a lot of people what their audience might be, or what the hook or point of interest is in their work.

The best part of the experience for me was getting a sense of the “real life”ness of the actual publishing industry. The way she responded to people came from a desire to find something of worth for herself and her company in what we were saying.

So, when I mentioned that I write romance she didn’t bother saying her publishing house would be interested, because they don’t know the first thing about how to properly market a romance novel (her words). And it wasn’t negative feedback, it was her dealing with my proposition seriously.

(She actually went on to say she knew an agent who would be very interested in me – whether anything comes of that or not, it also shows that she’s listening for what’s available and possible.)

Puts things in perspective, in a good way.

the poor artist

There was an article in The Age today about how poor artists are. It’s great that the issue’s being highlighted – and good god yes, bring on more funding.

But also…I kind of wanted to get out of there and disassociate myself with the pity-fest. I think the sentiment in that first line:

the pursuit of an artistic vision, rather than a bankable salary, characterises the true artist

has so much to answer for.

Art is a kind of compulsion for people – a passion that goes beyond the pursuit of money. But I suspect that if you ran that line by any artist committed to creating and maintaining a profession and a sustainable career in their field, they would be offended by the assumption that a “bankable salary” isn’t an important part of what they do.

I am.

See, I’m committed to being the breadwinner in my family by my 30th birthday – and I fully intend to be a professional writer. I want to support my husband to go back to uni, and to give us the security we need to start thinking about kids.

And the thing is that this commitment adds motivation and dedication to my artistic craft, rather than detracting in any way from it. The idea that art is allergic to money is absolutely ridiculous. Writing doesn’t need a solitary garret and an enlightenment of spirit to be great art.

I think most artists committed to being professionals wouldn’t agree with this article. Its ideas seem so outdated to me that it’s almost a surprise to see someone writing it. My fear is that the more this idea of art is reinforced the more people – including artists themselves – will accept that this is the way it is.

I’m not saying it’s not hard, because it really is. It takes a lot. But the idea that art is separate to worldly things is a defunct and offensive one.

the rejection book

hey, sorry to be stuck on a kind of depressing subject, but I got another rejection letter yesterday (right after that last post. Honestly!) and it had to be dealt with.

And besides, this post is all about positivity!

See, getting the letter was really quite depressing, so of course I found myself in my favourite bookshop trying to make it all better by buying books, lovely books. And then I thought:

This is going to keep happening over and over throughout my career, and I can’t just fall apart each time! I need some effective way to deal with it.

So I bought myself a notebook and started a Rejection Journal! And it immediately made me feel better. This is what it looks like:

It may sound a bit defeatist, but the whole point is to acknowledge rejection. (And it makes rejection look fun!) (Sort of.)

My feedback for Kristin Nelson Agency. (I printed the email and put it in an envelope, so that it’s really like a letter.)

Feedback for Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary Management. (This one was fresher, so there was more to say/rant.)

And these two are still possibilities/disappointments in the making.

I love my rejection book, because it puts each attempt in context, and it makes it feel more professional – like getting rejected is part of a process that I document.

rejection is hard

So. I started this blog by recounting a certain mini-life/writing-breakdown I had. The instigator of said breakdown was a lovely, encouraging letter I got from Kristin Nelson saying she didn’t think my manuscript was right for their agency. My reactions were:

a) brilliant! I have a real life rejection letter, ergo I am a real life writer!!!; and

b) it’s quite disappointing I suppose, but they were very positive, and if I’m not for them, then they’re probably not for me either.

Then there was the reaction that worked on my subconscious like a deep, sucking tide, which was:

c) here lie the dark pits of abject despair (or: Oh dear, I’m never going to be published).

I have since dragged myself back up, and recognised that although it’s important to be positive about rejection, it’s also important to acknowledge disappointment.

So I’m back on the horse, working my way through words and structures and plot and characters. Then today I get back 2,000 words that my lovely tutor Sonia Orchard had marked up.

If you’ve ever had a piece marked up by a pro, you know how confronting that is. All the “I don’t know what you mean”, “the gap between his eyes, or her lips?” and “I’m completely confused about the seating arrangement”s.

It’s not that she was harsh or unfair – and that’s kinda the problem. It’s that most of what she said makes sense to me, and it’s so incredibly exhausting looking at this writing I’ve already spent hours on, knowing that it’s only just an outline really, considering all the rewriting I have to do.

(Look at that long, convoluted sentence! No wonder she accused me of overwriting!)

So. What I’m saying is this:

We all know writing and becoming a writer is really, really hard. But that is a completely different thing to it actually being hard – to this feeling right now that everything I’m working for just might be impossible. And maybe I should make my way to the closest bank branch and fill out an application form.

Like any act of faith, perseverance is most difficult right when it’s most necessary.


how to write a query letter

First: what is a query letter?

It’s the short letter/email you send to either agents or editors to see whether they would be interested in seeing your manuscript. Some agents/editors will ask for a certain amount of chapters with the query, but they will outline this very clearly on their website.

Which leads me to the first piece of advice: Read every agent/editor’s guidelines carefully and make sure you follow them exactly. These are busy people, and they ask for things a certain way for a reason.

Now you may be wondering why you should listen to advice from a random blogger like me – good question!

I spent months researching query letters before sending a whole lot of them out. Every agent I’ve heard back from so far has requested pages, which means that, totally separate to my manuscript, my query letters are doing exactly what they’re meant to. So take it or leave it, this is what i’ve learnt:

A query letter should be no more than a page long (they sometimes say 1-2 pages, but trust me, they mean 1 page) and should roughly follow this format:

intro – begin by telling them why you’re querying them specifically. They like to know you’ve done your research and that you haven’t just randomly picked them. (And hey, a little flattery never goes amiss!) Also state the title of your book, its genre and word-count (to the nearest thousand). Ask for representation. You can briefly go into why you think your book would work well on their list etc, but definitely be straight-forward here about what you want. Like I said, these people are busy.

hook line – this is where you need to sum up your book in one line…I know, easy peasy! This will probably take you a while, but it’s very important to have this one line that intrigues them. Mine was: “The most awkward possible place for a duke to meet the love of his life is in her bed…when he’s in hiding dressed as a woman.” It doesn’t tell you any plot specifics but it gives a good idea of what drives it.

blurb – don’t give a synopsis of your novel here. You want to write a one paragraph blurb of your novel, just like what you’d find on the back of a book. If the blurb would make you want to read that novel, it’ll make the agent/editor feel the same. I had a lot of trouble with this part and what I found really helpful was to read lots of romance novel blurbs until I had a good feeling for the tone/construction of them. Do the same with whatever genre your book falls into. Keep rewriting/reading aloud/showing to friends until you’re happy with it.

bio – introduce yourself here, but don’t waffle on. They want to know anything that relates to writing, eg. any previous works published, degrees in writing, other experience. If you’ve never been published just be up front without making a big deal about it or in any way belittling yourself. This is very important. They’re looking for a professional, positive attitude. Show that you know a bit about the market, eg. which books are similar to yours, which publishers you’re interested in. (Not necessarily essential, but shows you’ve done your research.)

sign off – make sure you thank them for taking the time to read your submission!

I was very glad in the end that I worked on my query for a couple of months, because I knew I had made it as good as I was able. Having said that, it’s so important to actually send your queries off! Agents/publishers are looking for potential, not a perfectly polished letter.

And this sounds a bit obvious, but I think we sometimes forget that good writing sells itself. Motivation and perseverance are a huge part of becoming successful as a writer, as is the ability to manoeuvre bureaucracy (such as writing a perfect query!). But if good writing lands on an agent/editor’s desk, they are going to be interested. It’s what their work is all about.

So go for it! Get your work out there, get people looking at it and giving you feedback on it. For me, finding out about query letters was a revelation – it was the leg-up into the murky world of publishing. I could never imagine, before, how I could possibly go from little old me writing away at home, to published-author me. Well, this is how.

Literary agent Kristin Nelson has an excellent section on her website about writing query letters, with a link to her blog discussion looking at specific query letters she was impressed by. I highly recommend visiting it!