The invisible wall

It feels like there’s an invisible wall between me and my novel. Some part of me doesn’t want to work on it and I’m not sure what it is.

It’s not because I don’t know what to write, or because I’m having plot problems. I know where the story is going and how to write it. It’s not because I don’t like the novel or because I’m tired of the characters. I like it and them as much as I ever have.

It feels like I’m scared of something. Or at least reluctant. Could it be that I’m scared of finishing it because that would mean I’d have to query it and that would mean more rejection?

I’ve invested a lot of hope in this novel. I’m hoping that, because it has a better opening, it will have more chance of attracting an agent. I think the opening is good but it doesn’t solve the problem of writing that doesn’t fit easily into any genre. Agents just don’t seem to be looking for the stories that I write. I’ve been trying to build contacts but so far the contacts that I have don’t link up with the kind of stories that I write.

There’s also the problem of my, apparently, terrible grammar. I say apparently because every grammatical problem that gets pointed out is stuff that I can’t see even after it gets pointed out. I know there are rules to formal english but prose isn’t formal. In prose you’re allowed to break the rules. Unless I’m wrong. Unless I should be following the rules of formal English just so that agents will know that I know what they are. Are agents laughing at my terrible comma usage?

It’s tempting to just give up on the idea of ever getting paid, stick a plain cover on it, self publish and then try to find something else to do with my time. It is just so frustrating to put all this work in on stories that nobody wants to read. I believe in them but I don’t know how to communicate that belief in any useful way.

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Shop of Doom announcement

My experiment in e-commerce, The Shop of Doom, will be closing on May 8th.

I’d like to keep it running but it’s not paying for itself. That’s not so much a failed experiment as a negative result. One of the benefits of e-commerce is that it’s possible to fail experience a negative result relatively cheaply, but only if you have the discipline to resist the sunk cost fallacy.

What I’ve learned from this experiment is that I suck at self promotion and I have virtually zero reach. This tells me that if I do ever decide to self publish that I shouldn’t invest any money in it, because I’m not going to sell any books, because I suck at self promotion and I have virtually zero reach.

That information is probably worth the small amount of money that I put into the Shop of Doom. Therefore I declare it to be money well spent. Therefore this experiment was a net positive result.

Yay for me. I do not regard this as the latest in a long line of failures that invalidates my value as a human being. I am definitely not depressed about it. I am totally fine. Please enjoy this complimentary image taken from the Shop of Doom.

IMG_0186.jpg

Yeah it’s not convincing me either.

Epic displacement activity

In my ongoing quest to avoid rewriting part 3 of my current novel in progress I have finally discovered the ultimate strategy. I set up an online business.

I set up an online shop. I designed t-shirts, mugs and tote bags. I put together a website. I may even add a blog to that website so that I’ll have two blogs to avoid writing for while I’m also avoiding writing my novel. With so much work to avoid I’m bound to accidentally get stuff done.

One thing that I have proved is that I have to stop saying that I lack all the skills necessary to be an an indie author. If I can design a pleasing t-shirt that people will actually buy then I can design a book cover that will persuade people to read the blurb.

Working on the designs did make me think that maybe I should post more visual stuff here. So far I’ve posted a lot of words and not much else but other people’s blogs usually seem to have more pictures or videos. Would that be an annoying and pointless change or would it be refreshing and welcome? Or both to different readers?

Anyway, here’s a link to the shop:

Madame Q’s Shop of Doom

And here’s a picture that you can buy on a t-shirt.

My tarot deck keeps telling me that I’m trapped by indecision

It’s not wrong.

I have done very little this week except vacillate on the subject of my writing “career” and I’m no closer to a decision than I was last week. I still have a novel that I was querying that I don’t know what to do with. I still have the novel that I was working on that I don’t know if it’s worth finishing. I still have many potential future novels and no idea where I want to go.

Back in 2016 when I pitched my finished novel at XPOnorth it was greeted with a great deal more enthusiasm than I had been expecting. So much enthusiasm that it led me to believe that it was good and that people liked it and that my pitch, and therefore any query letter I wrote based on it, was persuasive.

That was the last time I got any positive feedback from anyone in the publishing industry. Everything since then has been form rejection. If there’s something wrong with my novel then I’ve already blown it’s chances with the best agents to represent it. I have one beta reader telling me that there are massive problems with the first chapter that need to be fixed or I will never sell it and one telling me that it’s okay apart from a couple of spelling mistakes. I’ve got no idea if there are any agents left who’d be interested in it even if I could fix it.

I decided to concentrate on finishing the novel I was working on and then fix the other one later once I’d worked out what I wanted to do. Only now I find that working on this novel seems pointless. It has the same setting as the other one and though I could tweak it slightly and make it the first book set there I’m starting to wonder if the problem is the setting. Or if the problem is me. What if all my books are too wierd? What if they’re just not sellable?

I started thinking that if they are too weird to sell to an agent or a publisher then that’s not necessarily the end. I could self publish. Only I’d be doing it badly because I still can’t afford an editor, or a development editor, or a designer, or cover art.

Maybe the answer is to write stuff that’s less weird. I did try that for NaNoWriMo 2017. I wrote a first draft with nothing magical or supernatural or sci fi. It was ok. I’m not sure the novel has much potential but I wrote it. Maybe I should concentrate on that. It would be much easier for me to break into the industry via crime. But then I would be stuck writing that sort of novel. I’d have built the wrong career.

So what do I do? I’ve got a finished novel that isn’t really finished. A work in progress that might not be worth finishing. A bunch of weird first drafts that I might never be able to interest anyone in. A not weird first draft that I’m not ready to work on and that might be a move in the wrong direction.

Should I just drop the lot of them in a drawer somewhere and try writing something different? Maybe I could write some generic fantasy? Maybe I should give up on selling, give up on re-writing, and just stick them all on the internet for free.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a right decision or if they’re all equally wrong. I don’t know what I want to do either.

All I know for sure is that I am spectacularly, incandescently, outrageously angry.

Rejection yet again

And so we close out the year with another email from an agent who isn’t passionate enough about my novel to represent it. More than a year of querying and I haven’t even got a detailed rejection yet.

I know that there are famous writers who got rejected a lot before they got their first agent/publisher.  I also know that there are a lot of deluded people sending terrible novels to every agent and publisher on the planet and wondering why no-one is backing a dump truck full of money up to their house to publish it. It’s getting harder to believe that I’m in group one and not group two.

From here I think there are three options. Keep querying this novel in the hope that further down the list there might be an agent who’d be interested. Give up on this novel for now, finish something else and query that. Give up on traditional publishing and self publish it.

There are problems with each of these options. I’ve already queried most, maybe all, of the agents who’d actually be interested in such a weird novel. It’s the first in a series and most of my other novels are in the same story universe. If I can’t interest people in the first one they’re unlikely to care about the rest. I really don’t want to self publish and once I’ve self published the first in a series I’m unlikely to find representation for the rest unless the first one is a huge success. I don’t have the resources to ensure that success.

Am I nuts? Could it be that I’m just not very good at writing? Are my novels bad? Have I been deceiving myself? How do you know if your novel is bad?

Art and work and money

I am very bad at turning work into money. It’s a terrible flaw for anyone but it’s particularly bad for someone who has as much trouble getting any work done as I do. I’d say it was a problem with turning art into money but it really does apply to all the work I’ve ever done. It’s just that it’s even harder with art.

It feels impossible but I know that it’s not. There are people who make money from art. A few of them make a lot, some of them make a living and there’s a lot of people who make something.

I’ve been writing novels for more than a decade and writing has been my main focus for two years and I have made precisely fuck all. I don’t even feel any closer to making money. At least it’s not costing me very much. I spent about six years making jewellery and while I did sell some of it I’m pretty sure that I never actually turned a profit. I probably made a loss. I spent more than 10 years painting and I never sold anything to anyone I wasn’t related to.

I have to admit that I was never much of a painter. I tried hard but I wasn’t very good. I was much better at making jewellery but my physical limitations didn’t help and I was too poor to afford the best quality materials.

I am good at writing. There are no financial or physical limitations keeping me from success. But somehow I still can’t seem to make any money. I’m not saying there’s no money to be made. I’m saying that I don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body.

I’ve said in the past that I didn’t want to self publish and I’ll reiterate that it’s not because I think there’s something wrong with self publishing. It’s because I don’t want to spend time that I could be writing on all the other stuff that goes with self publishing. I want to be a writer I don’t want to run a business. Traditional publishing is an effective way to subcontract all the work involved with turning a manuscript into a book without having to pay people up front. Self publishing means either doing it all yourself, or paying people, or guilting people into doing it for ‘exposure’ but fuck that noise.

I’ve looked into a Patreon to support this blog and thought about setting up a Kickstarter so I can publish my first novel but I don’t think I have enough followers to make either work. And I am shitty at self promotion.

So here’s to another year of writing for free in the hope that I’ll learn the alchemy of popularity that turns art into gold.

Performance review 2017

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.

Lessons from NaNoWriMo 2017

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.

The Bloody Scotland Pitch

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.

??? Profit!

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.

  1. Collect underpants
  2. ?
  3. Profit

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.

  1. Have an idea
  2. Write a first draft
  3. Tidy up the first draft
  4. Throw out most of the first draft
  5. Write a second draft.
  6. And possibly a third
  7. Find a Beta reader
  8. Find another Beta reader
  9. And possibly a third
  10. Discover massive hole in the plot
  11. Write a bunch of new scenes to fill the hole
  12. Tidy up the scenes
  13. Find a new Beta reader to look at this latest version
  14. Tidy it up some more
  15. Declare it finished
  16. Start pitching
  17. Start querying
  18. ?
  19. Profit

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.