Yesterday I went to Stirling for the Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect competition. I didn’t win or get any interest from any of the publishers or agents. The standard of competition was very high and I’m looking forward to reading the other novels that were pitched. I’m sure most of them are going to be published. I also attended the Graduates event where some of the former pitchers who now have published novels talked about the experience and read from their novels.
It was a useful experience. I got to meet other writers, some published already and some not published yet. It was nice to meet other people who’re going through the same stuff and it was encouraging to meet those who are already in the industry. I also got some useful feedback on how to tweak my query so I’ll have a better chance of landing an agent.
However it was also discouraging. I am really starting to feel like I’ve got no chance of getting a traditional publishing deal. I’m just too weird. My stories are too weird. The panel said my story was “really creative” and said that they’d “never heard anything like that before” but that didn’t seem to be entirely a good thing.
I’m also feeling like a mug for following all the writing advice I’ve seen. Because the most common writing advice is “finish your novel”. I keep hearing that no-one will take you seriously without a finished manuscript but there were 8 people pitching and I seemed to be the only one who was pitching a finished manuscript.
So where do I go from here? I’m not ready to give up on Singularity yet. I’m going to tweak the query letter and keep sending it out. I’ve been challenged by a friend to try my hand at writing more mundane crime fiction on the grounds that once I’ve been published people might be more willing to take a risk on the weirder stuff. I’m thinking about it.
I’m also thinking about self-publishing Singularity but I will regard that as admitting defeat because there’s no way I can do it professionally enough. I lack both the money and the skills. It’s going to feel like I’m failing my novel.
This is a brief FML update.
In theory I should be starting my diet in earnest today but it kind of seems pointless because the scales are broken and I can’t weigh myself. I can’t afford new scales. How do I prove to the doctors that I’ve been sticking to the diet if I can’t tell them how much weight I’ve lost?
I’m too tired to come up with a solution to this problem because I’ve not been sleeping because I’ve been in a state of abject panic about the upcoming Bloody Scotland pitch. I’m panicking in part because I feel like I’ve got no business pitching my weird multi-genre mess at a crime writing event. Somebody is bound to call me on it and what am I going to say? I am now old enough that ‘it wasn’t my idea’ is not a valid excuse for anything.
I’ve also spent two days not phoning the salon for an appointment for a much needed haircut. If I don’t get my undercut trimmed before Sunday I’m going to be delivering a presentation looking like I’ve been attacked by a toddler with a strimmer. I hate making phone calls at the best of times but my anxiety is out of control at the moment.
I think this is all a preemptive reaction to the expected rejection from the pitch. I’ve recently discovered something called rejection-sensitive dysphoria which is common in people with ADHD. Basically it means that it’s not just my imagination. I do have an extreme reaction to rejection and criticism. It’s not because I’m weak or oversensitive. It’s part of the way my brain is wired. Which is a tiny bit of a relief but also means that I’m not going to ever just get over it.
Yay for self knowledge.
There’s a quote that’s been running through my head all day. It’s from Doctor Who, from the 11th Doctor, from the episode The Wedding of River Song.
“My friends have always been the best of me”
This afternoon I was listening to music on my headphones and trying to plan my pitch for Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect and thinking about that quote.
I was listening to the Correspondants, a band I only know because a friend showed me a bunch of their videos. Then I thought about how many of my musical tastes have been formed by a friend sharing the music with me. Dragging me to a concert, sending me a video, giving me an album or otherwise putting the music in my head where it becomes part of the way I think.
I was planning my pitch for an event I only signed up for because a friend nagged me into it. It probably won’t lead anywhere but at least it feels like progress. Sometimes the illusion of progress is what you need to keep you going.
I’m pitching a novel that I couldn’t have finished without my friends. They encouraged me, they believed in me and they walked the path beside me working on their own projects. One friend pointed out how confusing the opening of the first draft was. Another helped me see that in the second draft I’d woven the two main narratives together in the wrong order. One friend did a detailed read through, fixed all my typos, helped me come to terms with my raging apostrophe problem, corrected my medical terminology and gave me the confidence to pitch and query.
And then there’s my other half. More than a friend or a husband. A muse. The person without whom I probably wouldn’t be a writer. Because even though I’ve always written I never thought being a writer was a reasonable ambition for me until someone else believed that it was.
My friends have so much faith in me that I find it confusing. How can they be so sure? I’ve never been that sure of anything in my life. Except for my friends. I’m sure of them. I believe in them. I can’t wait to see the things they’ve made
Last year I took part in a pitch event at Xponorth in Inverness. I only sent in the initial submission as an exercise in getting used to rejection. I was surprised to be selected to pitch and and even more surprised at how well it went. I was shocked and stunned to be asked for a full manuscript by a publisher. It didn’t work out but that is the lot of the writer.
Next month I am getting back on the pitching pony again. A friend (Vanessa Robertson) bugged me into applying for Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland. It’s kind of a big thing. It’s been going for years. People have been published as a direct result of it. I got a phone call today (Thursday) saying that I’m pitching.
I just hope that my weird novel doesn’t piss off a panel that’s looking for the next big thing in crime fiction.
Keeping you all up to date on the things that I’m doing.
I’m continuing to experiment with vaping CBD oil for pain management. I’ve had two problems. The disposable vape pen I was using started to leak and I’ve had a major pain flare up.
Fortunately CBDlife* dealt with my complaint in a speedy fashion. I was going to buy a reusable vape pen anyway and they offered me a free oil cartridge as a replacement for the leaking pen and delivered the order the next day.
The pain flare up is a semi-regular thing where I get a muscle spasm in my upper back or neck that spreads to my arm (usually the left one). It’s horrifically painful and requires several days of painkillers, exercise and not using my arm for anything other than the special exercises. The CBD oil does seem to be helping with the pain so that’s something.
I’ve been working on one of the sequels to the novel I’ve been querying. I’ve now finished draft 1.5 and I’m going back and writing the extra scenes that I’ve realised I need. I reckon I have maybe 20,000 words of extra scenes plus one entirely new character that needs to be added.
My friend,Vanessa Robertson, has persuaded me to enter the pitch perfect competition at Bloody Scotland. I’ve been working on a 100 word pitch for the ‘finished’** novel. There’s a part of me that thinks it’s a bad idea because I can’t stick to a single genre and Bloody Scotland is for crime writing. She pointed out that I have nothing to lose and that my novel does have crime in it.
Querying has stalled because most agents are on holiday. However I do have my sights on two agents that I intend to query in the autumn. Both are as a result of personal recommendations.
I also recently got some idea of how steep the mountain ahead of me is. Vanessa was recently offered representation by an agent and she told me what the numbers are like. In a single year her agent will receive thousands but take on only a handful of new clients.
Can someone remind me why I ever thought writing was a good idea?
*If you use that link to buy stuff I will get a percentage back as store credit.
**I’ve decided to start calling the novel ‘finished’ because it can’t really be finished until it’s ready to be published. It’s currently as finished as I can get it without help from someone who knows more about editing than me.
I have decided that maybe it’s time to give my completed novel a rest for a bit. Maybe it’s the wrong work to query? Maybe I was thinking too big, too long, or too crazy?
I’m going to concentrate on another story. As it stands it’s a complete first draft of a novella but I think it could be more. I think it could be a short novel. It’s smaller in scope than the novel I was querying though I think it will get a bit bigger as I expand it. Maybe it’s more what agents are looking for as a first novel? I know that the setting will be easier to pitch to Scottish publishers and easier for them to sell to readers.
Of course it’s probably displacement activity. It’s easier to write another novel than it is to query the finished one. The novel has to be finished before someone can reject it and, by extension, me. Writing is the bit that I know I’m good at. Well, think I’m good at. Most of the time.
It’s something a bit different for me. The narrator character is disabled. Writing stuff that’s too close to home is something I usually shy away from. It feels like cheating somehow. But I keep seeing agents and publishers asking for diverse storytelling and diverse characters. Maybe they actually mean it. And if they don’t I’ve got this other story I can whip out when they tell me that they can’t sell a locked room mystery set in Aberdeen where the central character is an unglamorous disabled woman.
I had a conversation on Facebook during which I expressed the opinion that the process of querying agents and publishers sucks balls. The person that I expressed this opinion to asked for more information. I was going to tell him more via an IM but then I realised that if I just tell him then the next time someone asks I’ll have to say it all again.
Talking about querying is almost as depressing as querying. Fuck that noise. I’d rather put down a definitive answer here and then refer people back to here. So here they are my top fifteen reasons why querying sucks balls (in my personal experience).
- There’s no universal agreement on the name of the genre I’m querying.
- But it does appear to be regarded as the red-headed step child of genres.
- It’s hard to find Agents who like the sort of thing that I’m querying.
- When I do find them they tend to be representing things too similar to the thing I’m querying.
- Agents usually want a synopsis. The shorter the better. If I could tell the story in 500 words it wouldn’t be over 100,000 words long.
- Often you need to pitch before you can query. In 140 characters or less. See above reason.
- When they want an extract from the novel it can be as little as 5 pages. It’s over 600 pages long but only the first 5 count.
- You need to write a query letter.
- “Please read my novel. I worked really hard on it.” doesn’t count as a query letter.
- Some agents want a CV. How do I write a writing CV? What’s going to be on it? I write lots and I once got an article published?
- Agents are too busy to explain why they didn’t like the novel. So if there’s something obviously wrong with it I can’t fix it because I don’t know what it is.
- When someone does like your novel you have to do a background check to make sure they’re not a scammer or a crazy person.
- I did a pitch event where my pitch was very well received. There were two people from traditional publishers and one from a digital only. The two from the trad publishers said, “We like it but we have no idea how to sell it.”
- The guy from the digital only asked for a full manuscript when he got back from his summer holiday. I sent it on the appointed day and he got back to me half an hour later to say the publisher had decided they were now only interested in crime fiction and romance fiction.
- Every time I send in a pitch or a query or a submission it costs me a lot. I have to fight my fear of failure, my fear of success and my terrifying self esteem issues every step of the way. And then nothing happens. Sometimes you never hear back. Sometimes you get a one line rejection. Sometimes they ask for more but so far that’s just been life setting me up for another kick in the teeth.
And there you have it. None of these are the fault of agents or publishers. They’re not being unreasonable. It’s just how things are. It seems like a terribly inefficient system but we’re all stuck with it unless we’re going to forget it entirely and self publish.