Back On the Horse

When I was a teenager, we lived several miles outside a town in Africa, in an area where most of the properties were farms. The farm next door was a favorite haunt of mine, because it contained two teenage girls and five horses. The girls had both qualified as riding instructors in Scotland, and were eager to teach me how to jump.

The prospect of jumping on a horse simultaneously thrilled and terrified me. They put me on the horse they felt was the most reliable jumper, a gelding named Brandy. Brandy and I cantered right up to the jump and then Brandy changed his mind quite suddenly, as horses are wont to do. He stopped abruptly and I kept going, sailing gracefully through the air before landing in the dirt with a thud.

Were my friends concerned about me? Not at all. All they cared about was that I get right back on the horse and attempt the jump again, for both our sakes. If Brandy thought he could get away with throwing his rider, they’d have no end of trouble ahead of them. And if I was allowed to freak out for even a few minutes, I might not get up the courage to try again.

So I had to climb right back into the saddle and try again. I was thrown again, a little less violently. And yes, it was right back into the saddle for the third attempt. This time Brandy and I made it over the jump together. After two failures, the successful jump was exhilarating.

In my writing life, I’m still waiting for that successful jump. My recent submission has already been rejected. No specific criticisms, other than that they just didn’t “connect” with the story. Of course they were right to reject it. No one wants their book published by someone who is lukewarm about it. The search continues for someone who DOES connect with my stories. Rather than wait months to submit again, I’m trying to make a priority of getting right back in that saddle . . .

The Rule of Three, Addendum

Yesterday got off to a depressing start when I saw that the short story I submitted two days ago has already been rejected. However, a quick rejection is much better than a slow one, and the editor took the time to tell me what he liked about the story and what he thought I could do to improve it. So at least I have some guidance when I put it through another round of revisions. In other words, this was a “good” rejection, as rejections go.

I have some general remarks to make about writers’ conferences, and this seems to be the best place to make them. I have tried to anticipate questions you might ask, and here I will give you my answers, based on the fourteen conferences I have attended.

~If you are an aspiring novelist, should you go to a writer’s conference even if you don’t have a finished novel?  Absolutely. Go to learn and meet some fellow writers. Pick a local conference where you might meet others from your “neighborhood.” You’ll enjoy it so much more without the stress of pitching something at your first conference.

~If you do have a finished novel, should you be ready to pitch it at your first conference? No. Let me say that again. No. I was given this advice over and over before I went to that first big ACFW conference. I ignored it, because I figured I was only going to get to go three times, so I needed to make the most of it, right? That was a huge mistake. It would have been so much better and so much less traumatic if I had just gone to learn and figure out how the system works. All those people who said I shouldn’t pitch at my first conference were right.

~What if “mentoring” or “critique” appointments are offered? I say jump on them, but only if you’ve read a large enough sample of the mentor’s writing to know you’re on the same page when it comes to style and tone. These types of appointments can be very helpful. Or devastating. Or both.

~Are the big expensive conferences worth the extra expense? I can’t answer that for you. If you want access to a bigger choice of agents and editors, then you’ll have to go to big conferences. Generally the quality of the classes is high. If you can afford to spend thousands of dollars a year going to conferences—and many people can—why not go for it and learn as much as you can? It may speed up your journey to publication.

~What if I’m just a terrible writer and that’s why no one has ever wanted to represent or publish my novels? What if I’m truly that bad and can’t see it or don’t want to admit it? Valid question. Sometimes I think maybe I really am that bad. As a writer, I may not be Nobel Prize material—but I’m certainly not terrible either. I have read many books, including some that sold very well, that were crappily written compared to mine. As an avid reader for over 50 years, as an English degree holder and English teacher, I think I have enough experience to know true garbage when I see it, and my stories do not fall into that category. People who have read them seem to love them. So, logically, I have to assume I have been begging at the wrong door all these years. My writing has improved tremendously during that time, but the response from the “gatekeepers” has not. I believe I’ve been knocking on the wrong gates, and it would be stupid to continue doing so.

~Why didn’t I apply for a scholarship to Realm Makers this year? I had several reasons, actually. I feel that asking for a scholarship would be like canceling out my donation of a cloak for the raffle. I feel that there are bound to be young writers who might actually have a chance of making it in the Christian publishing world, whereas I do not. I want them to have that chance. And I also believe I would not qualify for a scholarship. We always seem to fall into that limbo where we can’t afford stuff (like medical care) but are still too “rich” to qualify for assistance. I hope I make it back to Realm Makers someday, but I hate to think that the only way to do it is to be a charity case.

So, I’m still feeling a little sorry for myself, especially as all the photos are pouring into Facebook showing everyone having the time of their lives—but I’ve accepted the fact that it would not have been helpful for me to go this year. I would have loved the classes, but I know I would have struggled with the emotional impact of not being able to pitch my six novels to anyone who might have the remotest interest in them.

The Rule of Three, Part I

Eight years ago, I made what was for me a momentous decision. I had been told, over and over, that the road to publication lay through writers’ conferences. I had two “finished” novels and I badly wanted to be published, so I saved up all year and that September I went to my first writers’ conference: ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). ACFW is huge—the biggest Christian writers’ conference in the country. This is kind of like deciding you want to learn to swim and somehow getting into the Olympics.

It was (and is) very expensive. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone at all if I had realized at first that the conference fees did not include lodging at the fancy hotel. (I really was that clueless). By the time I paid the registration fees, paid for a hotel room, and bought my plane ticket to Denver, I was out close to $1000, which was a real hardship for us at the time or any time since.

I was so excited about going. I had talked it over with my husband and had told him I would plan on going to that conference a maximum of three times. If I didn’t feel I was benefiting from it by then, and if I hadn’t snagged an agent or editor, I would stop going.

That first time, though, I went in with very high hopes—not necessarily that I’d find an agent or editor, but that I’d make a bunch of new friends. Writer friends. I packed tea making supplies and my two favorite china mugs, so I could share tea with my new friends. I had been part of a “newbie” email group for a few weeks, and one other lady in the group had offered to meet up with me shortly after I arrived in Denver. I couldn’t wait.

I met up with my new acquaintance, and I could almost see her thoughts. She saw I was fat, and also old (compared to her) and she lost interest instantly. She never spoke to me again.

It turned out that was a portent of things to come. All the fabulous friends I was supposed to make already had friends and didn’t want more. As an introvert, I put forth massive amounts of effort to talk to people and get them to tell me about themselves. I was summarily brushed off over and over and over. If there was an agent or editor at the table, everyone focused on sucking up to him/her and I had no hope of even having a “hello” returned.

To make matters worse, my appointments went very, very badly, especially one with the YA editor who told me that I had not written a YA book and that in fact my story was unpublishable. “There is no market for this book!” she said in her perky little voice. That phrase reverberated through my head for weeks afterward.

The classes were excellent, and I learned a great many things that I needed to know. I learned them while feeling utterly rejected and lonely, but I did learn. Many, many tears were shed during that conference.

I did finally end up making one new friend—on the shuttle ride to the airport, but the reality was that weekend was one of the most emotionally devastating experiences of my life. When my husband asked if I’d had a good time, I had to say no. However, I was not sorry I went. An experience does not have to be enjoyable in order to be valuable, and that conference was very valuable. I learned many things about writing and publishing that it was crucial for me to know.

So, I went to ACFW two more times. By then I was much more experienced and I had an actual friend to room with and I kind of got included in her friend circle enough that I didn’t feel so much like an outcast. But during my third ACFW conference, I realized that three times was enough for me. Despite my efforts to fit in, these weren’t “my” people. Most of them were romance writers. Those of us who write speculative fiction were on the fringe, and it was difficult to find an agent or editor who would even be interested in my stories.

If you write mainstream Christian fiction or romances, you would probably love ACFW. After three tries, I realized it was not a good fit for me. It’s not as if that’s the only writing conference around, though . . .

Down & Up

A few days ago, I received my first Realm Makers rejection for this year. It didn’t sting as much as it sometimes does, because I hadn’t really expected anything to come of that particular contact. Nevertheless, it was frustrating and discouraging. One more instance of the prize being eternally just out of reach.

Recently, I have been wondering about the fate of a story I submitted during my early summer submitting frenzy. All the others I submitted had been rejected, but this story had been “short listed” and I thought I would have heard by a month ago whether or not they had decided to publish it. I checked out the website and didn’t see anything helpful.

This evening, I checked my email, and there it was. My story “Dragon Moon” is going to be in the Fall 2016 issue of The Colored Lens, an online fantasy magazine. I have no idea if I’m actually going to be paid, but I’m pretty excited nonetheless. Dragon Moon is one of my favorite stories and I really hoped that someone would want to publish it. This was my fourth time to submit it.

What’s ironic to me is that for this story I broke one of my self-imposed rules, which is not to write about dragons. True, it is hardly a typical dragon story, but it does have a dragon! I will of course shout it from the rooftops when the fall edition of the magazine comes out.

Meanwhile, you can still get the Realmscapes Anthology  on Amazon. It contains my story “Doomsafe.”

Bad News, Good News

I haven’t updated here for a while. The last few weeks have been insanely busy, so rather than report on every detail of my writing life, I’ll just hit the highlights.

  • I attended the DFW Con (a writers’ conference) for the second time late in April. I had three agents request my work. Two asked for the novel I was officially pitching, and the other for a novel I asked for help with. One agent rejected me within hours and I have yet to hear from the other two, but it hasn’t been ridiculously long yet.
  • One of the fellow writers I met offered to critique the beginning of a novel I was having trouble with, and she gave me some very helpful feedback which made revising so much easier. Furthermore, she got back in touch with me recently to ask how things are going. I really appreciate that.
  • While waiting to hear from the other two agents, I decided to send out some short stories a week ago. One was rejected quite quickly—but I was invited to submit again, so I believe that means the quality of my writing was acceptable.
  • Today when I returned home from church I found an email from the editor of a publication I had sent one of my stories to. She likes the story but asked me to make a tiny little change, which I was happy to do because she was right. She is seriously considering it and will let me know if I make it “in” sometime in the next few weeks. This is good news!
  • I have some teenage girls reading that new novel beginning I worked on, and am eagerly awaiting their feedback.
  • I am also working on improving the class I’ll be teaching at a local writers’ conference next month. My daughter is helping me put together an image that I dreamed up to help people remember the basics of world building.
  • I am gearing up to plunge into writing the rest of the first draft of the book I started during National Novel Writing Month. I am really jazzed about this story. I can’t wait to get back to it.

So, as you can see, although I might have been silent on this blog, I have not been idle! I am encouraged by the fact that I seem to be making at least a little bit of headway. I have several other short stories that I intend to send out over the next few days. I am going to try to commit to sending stuff out on a continual basis, in hopes that eventually some of it will be accepted.


Have I Made My Million Mistakes Yet?

Let’s pretend you are going on a hike up a mountain. It’s very important to you to succeed. You know it’s going to be a difficult and steep climb, but you believe you are up to the task, and so you set off with confidence. The path is steep, but it’s only one mile to the top, and you know you can make it.

It turns out the path is much steeper than you thought, and overgrown with vines and blocked by fallen logs, but you keep going. Finally you think you must be almost there, but when you check your GPS you find that you are only at the halfway point. Still, that means only half a mile left to go, and there is plenty of daylight left.

If you thought the first half of the distance was difficult, you were wrong, because now it’s so much harder, and you’re no longer fresh. The sun is low in the sky when you again pause, thinking you are just about at the summit. Nope. You have again halved the distance, which means you only have one quarter of a mile to go. On level ground, this would be an easy five-minute walk.

You set off again even though you are weary and you now have to carve out each step with your pickaxe. You put your all into the effort to reach the summit, even as you realize you will be coming down in the dark. When you are at the end of your strength, you check your location again, only to find that you still have an eighth of a mile left.

You begin to think that the mountain is playing tricks on you. Every time you put forth effort to reach the summit, you get halfway from where you started off. If this trend continues, you will still be one-sixteenth of a mile from the top next time you stop. After that it will be one-thirty-second, and so on. You will be getting closer to the top, theoretically, but you will never actually reach it, because the distance can always be halved again, and at some point the distance from your destination will be so infinitesimally small that you no longer have any meaningful understanding of how far away it is—just that it is out of reach.

This is what it’s like to try and get published, if you’re an unknown and don’t have any connections in the industry, and if you are extraordinarily stupid and slow to learn, which seems to be the case with me. After ten years of effort, you know you’re a lot closer, but you begin to suspect that you will never, ever, be close enough. It is disheartening, to say the least. And of course, when it comes to publishing, there is no GPS to tell you how close you are. You never actually know. There is no way to find out. You hope and assume you are getting closer, but there is no proof and no reward for “almost” making it.

Furthermore, when you’re my age, you start to wonder if you’ve even got ten more years left in which to continue failing.

So yes, in case you haven’t guessed, I got rejected again this week. I’ve had my day of mourning. (I give myself one day to sob and moan, and one day only.) In this case, once I had achieved some level of equilibrium and reread the rejection, I felt that it was not as harsh as I feared at first. What made it hard was that the primary complaint about my manuscript was that I had failed at something I actually thought I was rather good at. *sigh*

However, I also got some great feedback and perceptive comments on my manuscript, which are thought-provoking and I believe will lead to improvements in the story before I send it out again. I am glad, if I had to get rejected, that it happened now when I still have two full months before my next writers conference. I’ve got time to do some revising and deciding which projects I should pitch.