The Cold Dark Winter of the Soul

Yesterday I shared with you the actual events of the Realm Makers conference I recently attended. Today I’m going to go deeper and darker, because I try to be honest here about the struggles I experience on my journey, and this experience was a struggle.

Before I left for the conference, I kept telling myself that I should squeeze every last drop of enjoyment from it, because I knew it was in all likelihood my last conference. The problem, as I soon found out, is that it is easier said than done! It is surprisingly difficult to enjoy an experience you know you have no hope of repeating.

Then, I arrived in Philadelphia after three grueling days on the road, only to get lost and spend an hour trying to find the right building before I could check in. What little confidence I might have had began to leak away. The next evening, after the early bird class, I was a basket case. I posted on my personal blog that maybe the time had come to let the dream die. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to succeed.

I wrote that because, as I say, I try to be honest, and that’s what I was feeling at the time. I kind of hoped someone would read it and say something to encourage me. Anything! I longed to hear that at least one other person believed I can do it. A “hang in there” or an “I know you can do it” would have made a world of difference to me.

Instead, there was silence. In my compromised state, the message seemed clear: you are delusional if you think you can succeed as a writer, because everyone who knows you knows you can’t. Stop kidding yourself.

I think you can probably see this is not a great mindset to have going into appointments. I didn’t have to fake enthusiasm for my projects, because, so help me, I still believe in them. What I had to fake was hope, because I don’t have any.

This Realm Makers was my fourteenth writers’ conference in seven years. I have been writing seriously for twelve years. By any measure, I am a failure (and yes, I’ve read all those inspiring articles about famous writers who received a jillion rejections). I was told, by many people who should know, that the road to publication leads through writers’ conferences. I believed it with all my heart. My first writers’ conference was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, but it was also a big and necessary and valuable reality check. I learned so much from that experience, much of which I might not have learned otherwise.

Now, after seven years, I have attended dozens of classes. I’ve been told over and over to “show, don’t tell.” I’ve learned a lot, and my writing has improved as a result. I’m glad my earlier submissions weren’t accepted, because my writing is so much better now. But am I any closer to publication? I don’t think so.

We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. That’s where I am right now. Seven years of cheery appointments with agents and editors. Seven years of them showing real interest in my work, only to reject it once they actually read it. This past weekend I realized that nothing has changed, and I have no reason to believe that it ever will. Having submitted material in the wake of the conference, I am simply waiting for the rejections to roll in.

My first response to this realization was despair. Clearly, I don’t have what it takes to ever be accepted by even a small independent publishing house. My writing may have improved, but it will never improve enough to make it past any of the gatekeepers in the publishing world. Despite the fact that my target audience (teenage girls) seem to love my stories, it seems unlikely that the decision makers will ever agree with them.

This is not a dig at the countless editors and agents who have rejected my work over the years. They know what they like and what I write isn’t it. I have no argument with the fact that people have different tastes. That’s what makes life interesting, right? The other huge issue is that editors and agents know what they can sell. They have certain contacts in the publishing world, and they know the kind of things those contacts are interested in, and if my story isn’t a good fit, they’re not going to accept it even if they do happen to like it personally.

So, what all this boils down to for me is this: I see myself as having two choices. I can give up. I can turn my back on all the stories that are waiting to get out of my brain and walk away. I believe this is the choice that most of my close friends and family want me to make. It’s probably a sign of my profound stupidity that I am not willing to do this yet.

So what’s the second choice? If the current approach isn’t working, maybe I should try something different instead of doing the same thing over and over. Maybe, the pool of agents and editors I’m exposed to at conferences is so small that I’ll never find one who is a good match for me. Maybe the time has come to cast my net wider, to send out queries to large numbers of agents and editors, in the hope that my work might resonate with one of them. Maybe it’s a good thing I can’t afford to go to any conferences for the time being. It will force me to pursue my goals in different ways.

Does this mean that if my circumstances change and I actually have the option of going to the 5-year anniversary of Realm Makers next year, that I’ll stay away? No. But if I go, I’ll go with the understanding that the real value of Realm Makers for me is the fellowship and the inspiration and the new knowledge. It’s a wonderful thing to get to hang out with likeminded people, and I think I could really enjoy that if I no longer have any expectation that someone there might want to publish what I have written.

 

Realm Makers 2016

Last weekend,  I was at the Realm Makers conference in Philadelphia. I drove 1500 miles to get there, which took me three days. Of all the various writers’ conferences I’ve been to, this one is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it’s specific to the kind of writing I do, which means that no one thinks  I’m weird. Everybody else at this conference is just as weird as me, and some are considerably weirder. I went to this conference in its very first year, and have only missed it once. This year was the fourth Realm Makers.

This time, though, I went with mixed emotions because I knew it was likely to be my last writers’ conference for the foreseeable future. We have lost a big chunk of our income and there will no longer be any “discretionary” funds available. So in a way, it was hard to enjoy it fully because I knew there was no future to look forward to.

On the surface, it was a great conference for me. I had three appointments instead of only two. Both publishers and the agent requested material from me, and I have been busy sending it out since arriving home. No one had any interest in my time travel story set in Africa—but I expected that. I have always assumed that at some point I will have to publish that myself.

I enjoyed the classes I took and I really enjoyed getting to know my roommates, who included an editor, a very successful author, and a “wanna be” like me. They are all wonderful ladies.

I had a plan to help me meet new people at this conference, because when you’re an extreme introvert, you really have to have a plan. My plan was to offer tea to anyone who wanted some, as coffee is more the focus of the caffeinated offerings at the conference. I announced my intention ahead of time and received an enthusiastic response. However, despite the fact that I skipped breakfast both mornings in order to make myself available for tea lovers, only one person came. My clever plan was an abysmal failure and my assortment of tea-making supplies remained unused by anyone but me. *sigh*

My bookmarks were also not a hit at all. I guess I’m the only one who loves them!

It’s not that I didn’t socialize; I did. I greatly enjoyed the conversations I had at mealtimes and during classes. I love hearing about other people’s stories and discussing nerdy stuff with them. I enjoyed the costume dinner even though I didn’t have much of a costume, having put all my effort into making the Desert Assassin Cloak for the raffle. I was so tickled when my friend Lelia won the raffle. She is such a sweet lady and was so excited about her new cloak!

So, as I said, on the surface it was a great conference. Tomorrow I’ll talk about why I am still struggling to come to terms with my experience.

Meanwhile, I can share with you something positive that came out of last year’s Realm Makers. Last year there was a story contest and my story was a finalist, which means that it was included in the anthology which has just been released this week! All of the stories are excellent. Here’s the link:

https://www.amazon.com/RealmScapes-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-Anthology/dp/1938499174/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470320821&sr=1-1&keywords=realmscapes+anthology

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.

 

Pitch Practice

Yesterday I went to a lot of trouble to attend a writers’ workshop in Dallas. It was actually two separate classes taught back-to-back. The workshop was free, but it was a three-hour drive to get there. The primary topic being handled was how to construct your “pitch” for when you interview with an agent or editor at a conference.

I am a conference veteran now and have pitched my work many times, but I figured a review wouldn’t hurt, especially since the DFW conference is coming up next month. That by itself wouldn’t have warranted a drive to Dallas, though. My secondary motive was to meet one or two other writers and establish enough of a relationship with them to feel like I knew someone at the conference.

This will be my second time to attend the DFW conference. Last year, I enjoyed it and found it very useful–but I did not know a single soul there and it was a rather lonely experience. Outgoing, gregarious writers are always talking about how you can’t help making friends at a conference. They make it sound like you will be mobbed with people dying to make your acquaintance, and that many of them will become your new best buddies.

I have never experienced this phenomenon. As an introvert, spending large blocks of time in a room crammed with strangers is my definition of “hell.” One or two people I can handle, but not large herds. So I thought maybe at the workshop I’d meet one or two others and be able to strike up a conversation.

This turned out to be what happened. Because I was late, I was seated at the very end of one of the long tables, next to a lady with gorgeous rainbow hair and across from another lady of my generation. We talked a little during the course of the afternoon, but the real chance to connect came at the end when we had a pitch practice activity.

We each had a form to fill out. We had to get three other people to pitch to us, and we had to write down their name, genre, and what stood out about their pitch. So of course the three of us pitched to each other. I had not come actually prepared to pitch, so I had a moment of panic, but I just did the best I could pitching a novel I have pitched in the past. Both of my new acquaintances will be attending their first conference and pitching for the first time.

Here’s where it got interesting. I’ve been at this for so long now that even with no notice, I was able to come up with a coherent pitch giving the kernel of what my book is about. Both of my associates tended to ramble and bring up nonessential details. I had almost forgotten how hard it is in the beginning to condense your book down to the bare essentials for a pitch. It is a very important skill. It is also hard to learn and (for me) no fun at all. You have to learn how to do it, though. If you can’t tell an industry professional what your book is about in a couple of sentences, they are unlikely to be interested in it.

We rounded up another lady to participate so that we could all fill out all the slots on our forms. It was really interesting! Then the forms were gathered up and there was a drawing for a bonus free pitch session at next month’s conference. One pitch session comes free with conference registration, but normally “extra” sessions cost in the neighborhood of $50. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when my name was one of the ones drawn. Now I will get to pitch my stories to two different agents.

Then came the big surprise of the day for me. One of my new friends came up to me and told me that it was worth coming to the workshop just to hear my pitch. She said it was so clear and compelling it gave her a great example to follow—and made her want to read the book! That made my day. It never occurred to me that just hearing my pitch could be helpful to another writer.

 

The Game is Afoot!

Well, it’s time to kick this blog into gear! I’ve got that class to teach at the writers’ conference this weekend, and I, uh, signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. If you’re not sure what NaNo is, it’s short for National Novel Writing Month, and it is always held during the month of November, because the organizers are heartless and sadistic trolls.

I mean, seriously, November? With Thanksgiving and trying to wrap up the fall semester and start planning for the holidays? Somehow I’m supposed to also write 50,000 words? I’ve done it once before, but on that occasion I don’t think I signed up for it officially on the website. This time I did. I have also in the past written up to 80,000 words in the month of July, so I know I can do it.

I’ve had a bunch of stuff in my idea file for some time, but none of it screamed “write me!” until this August, when a writing exercise at Realm Makers yielded a story idea that I really want to get going on. I can’t start until Sunday, obviously, but that’s a good thing because right now I need to devote my full attention to preparing for the writers’ conference!