Since writers don’t have employers we don’t get handy annual performance reviews to tell us how we’re doing. So I’ve decided to do one for myself.
My primary focus for the last year has been to move toward getting published. So that’s a fail then. I have queried some agents. Not as many agents as I could have so that’s something that I could improve on next year. All the ones that have replied have said no. There’s still one I’m waiting to hear back from but I don’t expect to hear anything now until the new year. I did pitch my finished novel at Bloody Scotland and while I got some useful feedback to improve my query letter it hasn’t led anywhere.
Since my main focus is about being a professional writer rather than simply publishing one book I’ve also been writing. I’ve been re-writing and editing a sequel to my finished novel. I wrote the first draft of a novella and for NaNoWriMo I wrote the first draft of a straight crime novel. That’s pretty good but there’s room for improvement. I think I should aim to write at least one first draft and move at least one novel to the completed stage every year.
My secondary focus was to build the skills I need if I have to self publish. I’ve have been moving in the right direction but not nearly far enough. I’ve taken up calligraphy, which can be used to do cover art, and I’m improving my design skills. If I absolutely have to I could probably create a professional looking front cover.
I also wanted to build up this blog. I think that’s been fairly successful. There are more people reading it regularly, I’ve been posting at least 3 times a week most weeks since the beginning of April. Hopefully if I do publish a book at least one of you will actually be willing to pay to read it.
Since July I’ve been trying to get something, anything, done about my Lipoedema. After 4 Doctor appointments and 2 nurse appointments at my local practice, a trip to the leg ulcer clinic in Dunfermline and another to the Lymphoedema clinic in Kirkcaldy I may be only a couple of weeks away from trying on my first compression garments.
Since September I’ve been dieting because apparently you have to if you want to get your Lipoedema treated even though calorie restriction isn’t a treatment for Lipoedema. I’ve lost 11.5 kg and I’m hoping to get back into weight training. I’m just waiting for my equipment to be delivered.
So I haven’t been entirely useless this year but it still feels a bit unsatisfying. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that this year has felt like someone raised the corpse of 2016, decked it out in leather and spikes, stuck it behind the wheel of a steamroller and then pointed it at democracy.
Every year I write a first draft in November and every year I try to learn something new while doing it. This year’s first draft was a straightish crime novel with the working title Project Cecil. The name doesn’t mean anything I just had to call it something and one thing I’ve learned in previous years is that I suck at titles.
This year’s big lesson is that I can write a novel without relying on fantasy, science fiction, or the supernatural. I’m just not entirely sure I want to. It’s really too early to tell if the story is any good. That wasn’t the point. A first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. But I am starting to question the logic of writing it.
I wrote a straight crime novel because a friend challenged me to write it. She challenged me because my attempts to get an agent or a publisher are hampered by the kind of stories I normally write. It’s not that they’re bad it’s just that they’re hard to market because they don’t fit easily into any single genre. My friend suggested that if I could write a regular crime novel I would have more chance of getting an agent or publisher interested and once I have something published I might have more luck with my weirder books.
My friend might be right. But I’m starting to think about the long game. My ultimate aim isn’t to get a single book published or even to get paid for a couple of manuscripts. My aim is a career as a writer and to do that I need to concentrate on the books I actually want to write. I like the story I’ve been telling but it’s not representative of most of the stories that I want to tell.
Of course it might still be worth taking this novel to Bloody Scotland next year and pitching it. Even if it doesn’t lead to the career I want it might at least lead to enough money to pay to self publish the other stories well enough to build a career that way.
This doesn’t mean I regret this experiment though. I’ve met some interesting characters while writing this story and I think I’ll probably come back to them at some point and finish telling their stories properly.
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.
The title of this post comes from my favourite episode of South Park. It comes from the Underpants Gnomes and their three point business plan.
- Collect underpants
As a writer I understand the Underpants Gnomes on a deep, spiritual level. For a long time I wasn’t a writer but I kind of, sort of, wanted to be one. I thought that I was smart enough and good enough with words but I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I thought that if I just had a story that I wanted to tell then maybe I could be a writer.
Like everyone else who isn’t a writer I thought that the idea bit must be the hardest bit. Or maybe the actually sitting down and writing. I knew that there were a lot more people talking about writing than actually writing, therefore the writing bit must be really tough, but I also thought that it was probably easier if you had a really good idea.
In the time before being a writer I did write. I wrote in my diaries when I couldn’t not write. I wrote forum posts. I wrote on usenet (does anyone else remember usenet or was it all a fever dream). I wasn’t a writer yet but I was practicing to be one.
I got a lot of practice writing journals for my therapist. It drove me nuts that every week I would sit down in his room and he would ask me how I was and I would say… “Fine.” I was not fine but when there was actually someone there asking me to talk about all the ways in which I was not fine I couldn’t find the words. So I wrote in my journals whenever things were going badly and I took them with me and he would read a week’s worth of misery while I was making coffee and tea.
One source of misery was the feeling of not knowing what I should be doing with my life. My therapist would hint that he thought I had a talent that I should pursue and that it was obvious to him what it was but that he wasn’t going to tell me what I should be doing because it wasn’t his choice. I’m pretty sure now that he meant writing.
But the thing about writing is that it’s kind of like the Underpants Gnomes. Sooner or later you run into the big question mark.
- Have an idea
- Write a first draft
- Tidy up the first draft
- Throw out most of the first draft
- Write a second draft.
- And possibly a third
- Find a Beta reader
- Find another Beta reader
- And possibly a third
- Discover massive hole in the plot
- Write a bunch of new scenes to fill the hole
- Tidy up the scenes
- Find a new Beta reader to look at this latest version
- Tidy it up some more
- Declare it finished
- Start pitching
- Start querying
I know what in theory there’s a bunch of steps that fit where that question mark is. Either you pitch and query till you get an agent and they get you a publisher or you get the publisher yourself or you cut out both of them and publish it yourself. But how?
How do you keep going in the face of silence or rejection? How do you find agents and publishers that actually want the thing you’ve written? People talk as if self-publishing is easy but even self-publishing badly is a lot more than hitting the print button and doing it well requires money and skills that I just don’t have.
My other half self-published 8 short stories last year and saw less than $2.00 in return. That doesn’t sound like profit to me.
A friend recently posted this link, in which Alan Moore advises new writers to self publish, on Facebook and it set me thinking. It mainly set me thinking about a talk on professional self publishing that I attended at XpoNorth.
On the one hand I hear Alan Moor, respected author, wizard and wild man, telling me that self-publishing is the future because publishers suck*. On the other hand I hear Ben Galley, respected author and self-publishing consultant telling me that in order to self-publish professionaly I need to hire people to edit, and design, and do cover art, and typeset/layout the book and that it will “only” cost about £1,500.
If you are a young writer reading this and you are still in education and you have any hopes of some day making a living from your writing then I suggest that you make a list of skills to learn as soon as possible. I suggest that this list should include touch typing, typesetting, book design, web design and spreadsheets. You’ll need to learn how to do your own website and you’ll need spreadsheets so you can track sales etc. If you have any artistic talent at all then learning how to do your own cover art would probably be good. Having these skills will save you a lot of money but you’ll still have to spend hundreds on an editor or two because you can’t properly edit your own work.
None of which helps me. My problem is one of lack. I lack the money, the time the skills and the spoons to self publish professionally. Writing takes so much out of me that if I’m writing I can’t also be learning any of these skills. I can’t afford to buy in the skills and I’m certainty not going to try to persuade someone to do it
for free for exposure. I could barter with the skills I do have but if anyone else valued those I’d have enough money to pay.
I suppose this is all just a long winded way of saying that no matter how good I am at writing I’m not very good at being an author. I should be self-reliant and practical. I should be managing my writing like a business. This is just one more failure in a lifetime of failure. Once more I am forced to admit that my best is just not good enough.
*Please note that I am not saying that publishers suck. That is the opinion of Alan Moore. I am merely reporting his opinion.
Sometimes I look back at my life and realise it’s been a long string of nope. When I’m not being rejected I’m rejecting things because I think they’re not for me.
I get rejected a lot. I don’t really want to go into my long history of not being good enough except to say that after a while you internalise it and then it doesn’t matter if people are rejecting you or not because you’ve already pre-rejected yourself. Unfortunately it never stops hurting and it never stops feeling personal.
For a long time I thought I could never be a writer because being a writer used to mean that you had to persuade someone to publish you. I was sure I’d never be able to do that because I’m so easy to say no to. Things are different now. Now I’m half convinced that I can’t be a writer because I lack the business sense to self publish.
My heart sinks at the thought of all the self promotion a writer has to do, regardless of how their work is published. I actually feel ill when I contemplate asking people to buy something I’ve written. Why the hell would anyone want to do that? It’s not that I think that my writing is bad or that it’s not worth the money. I’m sure it’s good. I believe that all artists deserve to get paid. I believe that my work is worth paying for it’s just that I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me. Asking people to pay me money is dangerously close to asking for help and asking for help has always been a bad idea for me.
When I try to express my fears it mostly comes out sounding like arrogance. “Self publishing isn’t for me,” sounds exactly like “I’m too good for self publishing.” “I don’t want to promote my work,” sounds exactly like “My work is so good it should sell itself.” “I’m going to have difficulty finding the right publisher/agent,” sounds exactly like “I’m too special for most of them.”
I have this deep and abiding fear that new and more horrible rejection is waiting just over the horizon. This fear of rejection alone probably means that I shouldn’t be a writer. But maybe I can manage the rejection? Maybe I can deal with it in stages?
For anyone still reading this these are some of the reasons you might decide not to continue reading.
- I am disabled. And not in any interesting, heroic or photogenic way.
- I am fat. Not curvy or voluptuous. It does not look good on me. I am not cute or fashionable.
- I will not be engaging in fat shaming anyone else. I’m always amazed by how fabulous and stylish other fat people look.
- I am female but I am neither pretty, young, nor available.
- I am not wealthy. In fact by British standards i’m fairly poor.
- I have been through a lot of horrible shit in my life but none of it makes for an interesting story. It’s messy, mostly self inflicted and doesn’t make much sense.
- I’m Scottish (which is not currently popular in the rest of the UK).
- At some point in the future I may promote my own work in forms that you will have to pay money to enjoy.
- I complain a lot.
I might be alone now but I can handle alone.