As I write this* I just hit send on a query. I feel sick. It’s a mistake. You only get one chance to make a first impression and I must have done something wrong. I’ve definitely done something wrong. I always do something wrong. My heart is pounding and my breathing is messed up and I am having a full-on fight or flight response.
All I did was send a fucking email.
Perhaps it’s time to let go of any hope of getting an agent or getting published and just view each query sent as another box I can tick on my way to the inevitable 100% failure. It’s like a rite of passage. All writers go through it. This novel is doomed.
Which is a pity because it’s really good. I would refer you to my beta readers but we all know that I’m far harsher on my own work than they could ever be. It is legitimately far better than I thought it could be at any point in the creative process after the point at which I actually started typing.
Of course compared to the perfect citadel of prose that I visualised before I started typing it’s a piece of shit but that’s probably unavoidable. The idea of a story is perfect but the idea is also an illusion. Until you pin it down and turn it into an actual thing the idea is nothing. I don’t regret killing my perfect idea.
I’m still regretting hitting send on that query but I’ll get over it. It’s the same thing really. In my head I could assemble the perfect query letter and synopsis and I could imagine them landing in the agent’s inbox announced by choirs of angels. The moment I hit send rejection becomes a possibility.
*I wrote this in the middle of the night. I’ll schedule it to go out at a more reasonable time.
I’ll be honest. There are very few Harry Potter references in this post*, just some JK Rowling quotes**.
A friend pointed out an excellent agent for my novel. I’ve decided that I want to query and they are currently open for submissions. This agent has made statements that would tend to suggest that they might actually welcome the kind of genre hopping, funny/dark thrillers that I write. There are literally zero rational reasons for me not to query this person.
It’s been more than two weeks and I still haven’t written the query. There are no rational reasons for this delay but there are about a million irrational ones. I haven’t had time (I do have time I’ve just been avoiding my computer unless I have some other task to do on it). It keeps slipping my mind (it only slips my mind when I’m using the computer). The agent is definately going to reject the novel so what’s the point (I’ve got nothing to loose by the wrong agent rejecting the novel and if they’re the right agent they won’t reject it). I’m scared (I don’t know what I’m scared of). I might I fail again (in this instance failure will cost me nothing).
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” J.K. Rowling
She’s right of course. Not querying the agent is a far bigger failure than querying them and being rejected would be. I know this intellectually so why is it this hard to accept?
The most confusing thing for me is that rejection is something I should be used to. I’ve been rejected all my life. As a fat, disabled, middle-aged woman I am pre-rejected by society. It doesn’t want me and it’s not afraid to say so loudly.
Maybe it’s because I know that society’s rejection of me is meaningless. Society isn’t rejecting me it’s rejecting the false version of me constructed by prejudice. When someone rejects my novel they’re rejecting the product of the best part of me doing it’s very best work and that is meaningful. That is personal. That really fucking hurts.
* By very few I mean none.
** By some I mean one.
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.
Today’s displacement activity is obsessing about genre. Again.
I should be writing or querying. Instead I’m obsessing about which genre I should be describing my completed novel as.
I know that the books that it most closely resembles are usually described as urban fantasy or contemporary urban fantasy. Except for when they’re magical realism but there’s at least two contradictory definitions for that. The urban fantasy thing isn’t quite right because the magic in my books is too subtle and I also have some weird science. There’s some alternative history but it’s not alternative history because it’s set in the present. There’s some advanced technology but not enough to make it science fiction. It’s quite dark but I don’t think it’s dark enough to call it horror.
The opening paragraph of a query letter should tell the agent you’re querying what genre the work is. How do I describe my weird, dark, slightly magical, detective thriller so that the right agent will actually read it?
None of which solves the problem of finding the right agent in the first place. They say that if you think an agent is right for your novel you should query them regardless of their stated genre preferences. Ok. I could do that. How would I find that out? I only have so many hours in the day. I’m not stalking every agent in the English speaking world until one of them expresses a fondness for ghosts and detectives and demons and magic and artificial intelligence all in the same book.
So, obviously, I should employ the scattergun approach and just query every agent in the English speaking world because I’ll eventually find the right agent that way. Right? Except you’re supposed to tailor the query to the agent. And tell the agent what genre you’re querying.
Why can’t I just be a sensible writer and write in a sensible genre?
One of the most frustrating things about my combination of mental and physical disorders is that sometimes my brain just can’t. I know I’m not thinking clearly and I hate it. I don’t know exactly what causes it. I don’t know how to avoid it. I don’t know how to make it better when it happens.
It’s like someone packed my brain in cotton wool or bubble wrap. Some people with Fibromyalgia call it fibro fog but to me it feels denser than fog. I also don’t like assuming that it’s caused by the Fibromyalgia. I suspect that it’s more likely to be caused by depression or anxiety or information overload from pain or perhaps some horrible combination. Of course it could just be Executive Function Disorder in disguise.
I have a bad case of it at the moment. It’s affecting everything but it gets worse whenever I think about querying. I know that there are steps that people do. I assume that step one involves working out which agents to query but I can’t remember how I did that before and I can’t work out how to do it now. The more I try to drag my mind back to that task the harder it becomes to get it to do anything at all.
I’m hungry as I write this and soon it will be a meal time but I have no idea what to do about it. There’s a meeting that I should be going to tonight but there’s no chance of me going anywhere. There are definitely chores that need doing but I can’t remember what they are or how to do them.
I’m not entirely convinced that this post makes sense. I’m going to schedule this several days into the future in the hope that before it goes out I’ll be together enough to edit it. Of course I could forget all about it. So if you’re reading this and it’s full of typos and homophones and sentence fragments then I’m probably still too foggy to have checked it over.
This week I have not been a good writer. I wasn’t a good writer last week either. I have not been working towards my writing goals. I’ve only done a couple of proper writing sessions. I haven’t queried the existing finished novel. I feel like I’m not going anywhere.
On the other hand I’ve written a few blog posts and played a lot of World of Tanks. I had fun doing both but they don’t really take me anywhere.
I feel guilty about the lack of progress. But I also feel like there’s no point in working towards those goals. What’s the point in querying if rejection is guaranteed and the rejection just makes me depressed? What’s the point in pushing myself to write when no-one else is going to read what I’ve written? If I’m only writing for myself then there’s no hurry.
Is rejection guaranteed? I don’t know if it is but it certainly feels that way. It feels like I’ve already been turned down by the agents most likely to actually want it. If getting a deal is a 1 in 100 chance then I don’t feel like I’m working through the 99. I feel like I’ve already tried the agents that were a 0.5% chance and a 0.3% chance and a 0.1% change and with each new agent I try I’m just adding zeros before the final digit.
It’s hard enough to motivate yourself to face rejection when you know that your chances are slim but when your chance of failure only increases every time you try it does make the whole thing feel kind of pointless.
I try to tell myself that it’s not hopeless. People get agents all the time. Novels get published. Readers buy books. Writers make a living. These are things which happen. There’s no reason they couldn’t happen to me. Well, no reason apart from that it’s me. And when good things happen to me it’s only because life is setting me up for a kick in the teeth.
So I might be feeling guilty but as soon as I’m done here I’m probably going back to shooting at virtual tanks.
You’d think that dealing with rejection would get easier but it just keeps getting worse. Every time it hurts more. I don’t know how many more I’ve got in me.
This week I heard back from a New York agent who doesn’t want my book and found out that I haven’t won the Dundee International Book Prize. I had no real expectation that a US agent would be interested in my very British book. I only queried her because she liked a pitch tweet I made as part of a pitch event. I didn’t expect to win the prize because they’re really looking for literary fiction.
Theses rejections shouldn’t hurt. Right now I should be preparing a pitch for a pitch event by a London based agency and a query for an indie publisher that also liked one of my pitch tweets.
But what’s the point? Whatever mad spirit of optimism persuaded me to finish the thing and send it to people has foundered on the rocks of reality. Nobody wants it. It’s the wrong sort of thing.
It’s a familiar feeling. Which is probably why it hurts so much. Because I’m the wrong sort of thing and I always have been. Every time I get an “I don’t love your book enough to represent it” reply I’m reminded of every time I’ve seen that look of disappointment on someone’s face because I continue to be me.
I think that I was into my 30s before my parents stopped expecting me to somehow, magically, turn into a daughter they could be proud of. One of my brothers learned to be good at disguising that look and the other one stopped talking to me. I don’t see my parents-in-law very often but I often hear that note of disappointment in their voices on the phone. On bad days I see that look in the mirror.
When I was a kid that look confused me. I couldn’t understand why my parents and teachers kept expecting me to be anything other than I am. I realised later that what I am is a colossal fuck up and they were still hoping that I would grow out of it. More fool them.
Now I have to ask myself how many more rejections I’ve got in me. How many more times can I hear “no” before I flip out completely? Do I just need stop trying for a while? Will I be able to go back to pretending that I can deal with rejection like a normal adult if I just have a rest? Or is it time to throw in the towel? As time goes on the book is only going to get less relevant. Maybe I should just sit on it and if I live long enough I can publish it as a historical novel?