Archive for the ‘submitting’ Tag
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
It’s been a while since I posted anything in this series of posts. Part of the reason, if I’m honest, is a crisis of confidence. When you have no faith in your own writing, you feel you have no right to lecture anyone else.
However, that sort of thinking is unhelpful, and I’m going to come back to that a bit later in the series. For now, though, it’s time to pick up where we left off in the Ten Commandments of Writing. So you’ve written your manuscript, you’ve polished it until it shines, and now you’re ready to send it out into the world. So what’s next? You have to submit it.
Things have moved on quite a bit from when I first started submitting to agents and editors, back in the 1990s. In those days the submission instructions were fairly standard – the first three chapters and a synopsis, with a stamped self-addressed envelope, which involved spending my lunch hour standing in line at the post office to get my envelope weighed, buying return postage to include on the return envelope before sealing up the package, only to have it land on my doorstep a couple of days later in an envelope with my own handwriting on it.
Nowadays most submissions are made by email, but the instructions can vary widely. Firstly, you have more options, because there are far more small presses out there who are willing to look at unsolicited manuscripts, so you are not restricted to submitting only to agents. But some publishing houses might not want attachments in emails for fear of viruses. Some might have old machines that can’t deal with certain types of software so they can only accept submissions in a certain format. Some don’t like fancy fonts. In the old days of postal submissions, everything was pretty much written in courier or Times Roman. I still write all my manuscripts in Times Roman. It has a bad press in the business world these days, but I have a fondness for serif fonts that are clear and straightforward and easy to read. None of this sans serif font business where a capital ‘I’ and a lower case ‘l’ are indistinguishable (and the font on this blog rather illustrates my point!)
Anyway, here is Commandment #8, and it is important: read the submission requirements carefully, and follow them to the letter, and this is about a lot more than ensuring that the publishing house you are submitting to deals with the genre you write in. Are the instructions asking for the first three chapters and a synopsis, or the whole manuscript? Do they ask for a blurb and the first chapter that must be embedded in the email, and do not under any circumstances send attachments? Do they want the whole manuscript, in 10-point courier font, single spaced, using paragraph auto indents instead of tabs and no page numbers? Then that’s exactly what you send.
Read the guidelines carefully, prepare your submission equally carefully, and double check everything before you hit ‘send’. And then, if you’re anything like me, you check your email box obsessively every half an hour until you get a response.
But at least your work will be Out There, and that’s what counts. Good luck!
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
When I started shopping DEAD COOL to publishers, I made mention of the fact that it was the second book in a series and that the first, though published, was due to have rights revert back to me fairly soon. This was entirely true, but I had no idea whether or not the information would help. I didn’t think, at the time, that any publisher would be interested in taking on a book that was effectively a back list title. In fact I’d already started thinking about possibly self-publishing DEATH SCENE when the rights came back. What else was I going to do with it?
And then when MuseItUp Publishing took on DEAD COOL they also expressed interest in the first book in the series when the rights became available.
And so it is that DEATH SCENE, though not currently available, will be released by MuseItUp later this year. Before DEAD COOL, as it happens.
DEATH SCENE is to be released Spring/Summer (which I gather can mean any time between March and August), with DEAD COOL scheduled for release in Autumn (September-November). Once I have a better idea of dates, I will of course publicise this.
The irony in all this is that the when I was shopping DEAD COOL around to publishers, at the same time as my horror novel, the amateur sleuth novel was the one I was least confident about. And yet, in the end, not only did I get a request for a full manuscript from every single publisher I sent the first three chapters to, in the end it got picked up first. Thus proving that sometimes writers get far too close to their own work to be able to offer a balanced viewpoint.
So the Shara Summers books are now officially a series. And with books 1 and 2 having a home together, I’m seriously thinking about writing book 3.
Up to now Shara’s been largely ignored. Let’s hope that with her first two adventures being released into the wide world this year, she’ll finally start to make an impact. I think there’s life in the old girl yet.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
The rise of the e-book has led to an increase in self-publishing. Never has it been easier to self-publish your book. In fact all you actually need to do is format your manuscript correctly, add a cover image, upload it to Kindle and there it is, available to download to whoever wants it.
This is a pretty controversial subject. A lot of people in the publishing industry are of the opinion that every self-published book is badly written and badly edited, and anyone with any modicum of talent will eventually be picked up by a “proper” publisher.
The self published authors tell a different story. Most of them have been discouraged by years of rejections, convinced that their book is not necessarily bad, but not marketable enough to be picked up. Sometimes there is truth to this belief. Of course there are a lot of delusional people out there as well, but that’s digressing a bit.
When I first started submitting novels to publishers, over 25 years ago, the process was very different. To get a publisher you had to get an agent. That meant sending in the first three chapters, by mail, including a stamped self-addressed return envelope. To get the latter meant standing in line at the post office with your open envelope, having it weighed to find out how much postage would cost, buying that amount twice, then having to remove the SAE to put stamps on it, seal your envelope, and then put stamps on the outer envelope. And then a couple of weeks later you’d get home from work to discover a brown envelope with your handwriting on the doorstep, and your heart would sink because you knew that it was another rejection.
And after all that, the pages would come back having been all creased and curled in the mail, and not in a fit state to send out to anyone else and so as well as having to buy so many stamps you were spending a fortune on paper and ink (I had an Amstrad PCW in those days – it used a dot matrix printer).
Vanity presses we knew to avoid at all costs, and self publishing wasn’t a terribly attractive option, because you had to lay out costs for printing and typesetting, and find somewhere to store the finished product, and anything self-published was perceived to be of insufficent quality to find a publisher
The publishing industry has changed since then. There are a lot more small independent presses around willing to take a chance on new writers, and you don’t need an agent to submit to them, but it seems to be getting harder for new writers to break into the big established publishers – unless they are showing signs of being the next JK Rowlings or Dan Brown. And online e-publishers like Amazon and Smashwords are making it far easier to self-publish e-books.
I have to admit my tune has changed on the self-publishing front. If you get bored of being told what you’re writing isn’t going to sell, then self publishing becomes an attractive option. But it is true that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are badly written and badly edited, and really aren’t helping to dispel this notion that all self-published books are rubbish.
In my opinion, there are three crucial things that a writer should do before they even consider self-publishing. In order of importance, they are:
1. When the manuscript is finished, send it to some beta readers to read and comment. Heed their comments and re-write the manuscript. Criticism can be hard to take, but most writers are too close to their work to be able to judge it obectively. A writing group is really helpful for this. If you can’t find one locally, go to an online writers’ forum like Absolute Write. You’ll pick up valuable advice on the writing process anyway, and you will undoubtedly find a few helpful souls who are willing to give you an email crit.
2. Pay a professional editor to edit your manuscript. This can be expensive, but you need to invest in it, and it will set you apart from the rank amateurs. No matter how good you think you are at spelling and grammar, there’ll always be something you overlook. Just about every self-published book I have ever read contains at least one instance of “it’s” when should be “its” – for the record, the former is a contraction of “it is”; the latter means “belonging to it”. If I come across this in any published book, I’ll be grinding my teeth and probably won’t finish reading it.
3. Ensure your book has a professional looking cover. And this does not mean you playing around with clip art and a graphics programme for half an hour. Pay an artist, or someone with professional experience in creating cover images. If you don’t know anyone, ask around your social network for a recommendation.
There’s nothing wrong with self publishing your own book as long as you’ve done these three things. Yes it means forking out cash, but you are investing in your reputation as a writer, and if readers buy your book and enjoy it, they are likely to recommend it to others – and nothing beats word of mouth when it comes to book sales.
If every self-published author did these things, we would go a long way towards changing the perception of self-published books as all being rubbish. There are some brilliant self-published e-books to be found in the Kindle Store. But sometimes you have to sift through a lot of mud to find the golden nuggets.
Let’s work towards a world where there’s more gold than mud out there to find.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
I am currently in the position of having two completed manuscripts and no publisher. One is a horror novel, the other is the second book in the series about amateur sleuth Shara Summers.
I’ve started submitting these two and I get a strange feeling of deja vu. Between 2007 and 2009 I also had two novels to submit – one horror (SUFFER THE CHILDREN) and one crime (DEATH SCENE), the first Shara Summers book. Then Lyrical accepted SUFFER THE CHILDREN, followed by DEATH SCENE, and the rest is history.
But now I find myself riding the submission/rejection train again, for the first time in quite a while. Though actually I think ‘rejection roundabout’ is a better metaphor. You feel like you’re going round and round in a circle.
I can categorically say it doesn’t get easier. I’ve only just started this journey again, with each novel being sent out to only one publisher so far. Unfortunately it happened that the responses arrived at the same time, in spite one novel being sent out quite a while before the other. The rejection for the crime novel arrived on Monday; the rejection email for the horror novel on Tuesday. So it’s not been a good week.
Before I was published I held this fantastical idea that being published would make it all better. That once I had one novel accepted, everything else I wrote would automatically get accepted, and I would never again worry that what I was writing wasn’t good enough. But that’s not the way it works. Just because someone accepts one novel doesn’t necessarily mean they – or anyone else for that matter – will like everything else you write. And you don’t stop with the writer insecurities. Instead of fearing I’ll never be published, now I fear that the first two novels got published as a bit of a fluke, my creativity is spent and I’ll never write anything of publishable quality again.
But the same rules apply to all writers, no matter how much or how little experience you have. When the rejections come, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. So I’ve crossed the first names off the submission list for these two manuscripts, and getting ready to go down the list.
For the time being, though, I’m still smarting from the double whammy of being rejected twice in two days. I’ll be over here in the corner for a while, quietly whimpering.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
I have finished my new horror novel! This is a cause for celebration, and time to start submitting it.
The novel is about a group of LRP-ers who unwittingly unleash an undead magic user onto the world whilst performing a ritual during a game, which proceeds to wreak death and destruction on those involved in the game. The finished draft has come out at 69,000 words. I’m aware that this is a very short novel. In fact, to some it’s only half of a novel. The majority of people in the T Party Writers’ Group are fantasy writers. Most of their first drafts start off with over 150,000 words.
I’ve never really ‘got’ how you can stuff so much into one novel to make it so long. I am the opposite. I end up with 50,000 word first drafts and then I have to pad them. Only that’s what it looks like – padding. I used a fair amount of padding in the version of DEATH SCENE that got submitted to Lyrical Press. My editor promptly stripped out all the padding, saying – quite correctly – it was superfluous to the plot.
I remember that lesson when I write novels now. Is this scene moving the plot forward in some way? Is it revealing something about a character, or a plot point that becomes important later on? If the answer to all of these is ‘no’, the scene has no place in the book. So this is a very short novel. But it doesn’t have much padding, and I think I’m going to keep it that way.
I am a voracious reader, as anyone who follows this blog will know. I read quickly, and I like strong plots, but I read so many books I don’t retain plots of books I’ve read for very long. I like clear beginnings, middles, and ends. I don’t like subtle hints, I don’t like ambiguity (my attitude to this is if the author couldn’t be arsed to work out what was really going on, why should I?), and I like satisfactory endings. If it’s a horror novel, the horror should be resolved. I don’t mind if all the main characters die – that’s acceptable in horror. But if it’s a crime novel the killer must be caught. If he or she gets away with it, that’s an unsatisfactory ending.
I do most of my reading on the train, going in and out of London to the day job. I have about 40 minutes at each stretch. On my journey home I want to be able to pick the story up again from where I left off that morning. I don’t want the plot to be so complex that I have to re-read the last 10 pages to remember what’s going on. I don’t want to be re-introduced to a character who had a brief appearance 100 pages ago and I’m supposed to remember that, because I won’t. And I like chapters to be short. When I get to the end of a chapter at Clapham Junction I will be checking to see how long the next chapter is, and if I have time to read it in the few minutes I’ve got left until the train gets in to Victoria station. If it’s only five pages, I will keep reading. If it’s 20, or worse, I will put the book away at that point and put some music on instead – because I hate finishing a reading session mid-chapter.
I am aware that my writing style reflects my reading preferences. I write plot-driven stories, I focus on a few main characters and the peripheral ones are never really fleshed out, I don’t complicate the story with lots of sub-plots, and I write very short chapters. The vast majority of them are between 1,000 and 2,000 words, and I have been known to chapters less than 1,000 words long.
Consequently I tend to write very short novels. But you know what? Maybe that’s just the way it is. I’m never going to win any literary prizes for fiction, and maybe I’ll never write the kind of doorstopper that hits the best sellers list.
But that’s OK. I write what I write. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and I get that. But I know there’s a few people out there that like what I write, and the way I write it.
And so this new novel is for you. It’s short, but it’s finished, and it’s about to go out into the big wide world to find a publisher.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Whenever anyone asks me when I started writing I say, “age six”.
That was the age I was when I learned how to form words on a page. That’s when I began to learn how to write my stories down. I had been telling them before then. I was making up stories in my head from the age I learned how to think. From when I first began to talk.
I was about ten when I started telling people who asked me what I wanted to be when I left school that I was going to be a writer. I was eleven when I wrote my first novel.
I don’t think I was particularly advanced. I just believe that I was born to be a writer. That’s all I ever wanted to be. In truth, it’s all I’ve ever been any good at. I was always hopeless at sports – I can’t run, I can’t catch, I am clumsy, and I have absolutely no hand-eye co-ordination. I was always last to be picked for the teams in gym class.
I’m no good at crafts – knitting, sewing, and the like. It’s that hand-eye co-ordination again. I can’t cook. I can’t cultivate plants – they all die on me. I’m not even very good at computer games. Yes I like them, and I play them a lot, but my aim in taking out those zombies is abysmal and it takes several goes to get through a level. I have no maternal instincts – when I play The Sims my virtual children get taken away by social services. Lord knows what would happen if I was let loose on any real-life children. It’s probably best for everyone if we don’t find out.
The only thing I’ve ever been able to do is write stories. It’s the only thing I’ve ever felt I’m any good at. And at particularly dark times of my life, I’ve thought writing stories is the only justification for my existence. The only thing I contribute to the world.
Being a writer. This has been my focus for my whole life. I had a goal to be a published novelist by age 30. My 30th birthday came and went. No publishing deal wasn’t for lack of trying – I had two completed novels by then that I had been submitting for years. I decided to modify my goal, and aim for a book contract by age 40. As 40 approached I thought I would have to modify it again. But then, a couple of months before my 40th birthday, the contract from Lyrical for SUFFER THE CHILDREN arrived.
This was, as I have mentioned before, the beginning of the story instead of being the end. I have now had three books published and I am proud of that, but there are times when it’s not enough. I have met authors who make enough money from their writing to get by day to day. That’s not so for me. Since the day I got the first cheque for “The Top Floor” in 1989 from FEAR magazine up until my last royalty statement, a period of 24 years, the gross total of money I have earned in all that time from writing equates to less than what I earn in a month in the day job. Sometimes I fear I am a mere drop in a very big ocean in the writing world. I haven’t even found my books on any pirate e-books sites. Let me make it clear that I fiercely disapprove of e-book piracy. It’s stealing, from people for whom every penny counts. Every time I see a message on a forum from a writer saying something along the lines of, “this new pirate site has appeared, I found my books on it, be sure you check for yours and get them to take it down. What cheek!” I diligently go look for my books. To date I have never found any of them on a pirate site. Now, writers get very upset when their books are pirated, and understandably so. But when you’re not even considered important enough for pirates to think your books are worth stealing, you can’t help but feel rather insignificant.
I would like to be able to make enough money from writing to do it full time. I’d like to land a deal with a publisher who can get my books into Waterstones or Barnes & Noble or another major book store chain. I’d like to be approached by Con organisers to be a guest or a panel member instead of my going to them and begging.
When you’ve had one focus all your life and it always feels a little bit out of reach, you do sometimes feel like you’re the donkey with the carrot on the stick tied to its ears, constantly trying to get to something you will never be able to reach. But still, you don’t give up.
Maybe these things will happen one day. But maybe they never will. For now, I guess I just keep reaching for that carrot. Because I am a writer. That’s what I am, first and foremost. Whether anyone knows or cares who I am in the future doesn’t really matter – I know who I am. I am a writer. That will never change.
Today I am pleased to have writer and editor Dan O’Brien as my guest. Welcome, Dan!
A Writing Perspective from the Other Side of the Fence
By Dan O’Brien
Life as a writer can be hard sometimes.
Success is elusive; fans shift as often as a summer wind.
Yet, we persevere, writing into the late hours of the night and waking in the early hours of the morning to log the hours and enter, for a time, the worlds we create. When I first started writing, more than a decade ago, it was because I loved the idea of immersing myself in a place where I could construct the narrative; walk through dense forests and to the tops of mountains. Over time the process became more about writing as a tool to move through emotions and languishing memories that required catharsis.
Writing takes on many forms, for many different writers, over the course of our lives.
For me, the process is the reward.
I love to write.
When I ask myself that silly question of what I would do if I had all the money in the world, the answer is always quite simple: write. Now more than a decade later, I have a renewed sense of purpose and have become quite adept at balancing the spinning plates of responsibility.
Recently, between being a full-time graduate student and writer, I joined Empirical magazine as an editor – among other responsibilities. A national magazine similar in spirit to Harper’s or The Atlantic, the magazine is firmly rooted in a West Coast sensibility. There is a little something for everyone, and honestly, the hope is that everyone will take a look. Contributors to the magazine come from around the globe and cover everything from politics to fiction.
Working at a magazine, especially at this point in its maturation, is a wonderful experience. There are so many moving parts that enliven your day. Sometimes I spend the day sorting through fiction and poetry submissions, searching for that piece of prose, or perhaps a stanza, that ensnares my imagination. Other days I am editing, constantly referring to the Chicago Manual of Style to ascertain the correct usage of an archaic sentence structure. As a writer, the prospect of editing and rummaging through the work of others might not sound exciting, but there are some wonderful consequences:
1. You learn to become a better editor of your own work
2. You begin to recognize redundant sentence structures and overused phrases
3. Your grasp of language grows exponentially
However, the most important component for me is:
4. You get to help others bring their work into a public forum
For many writers, and certainly for me early in my writing career, the notion of being picked up by a magazine or a small press was foremost in my mind. It was that distant promise of publication and everything that goes with it that pushed me forward. When I got rejection letters, most of which lacked a personal touch, I would get down on my writing, denigrate my ability.
The years passed, during which thousands of rejection letters amassed, and I realized that the pursuit of writing for a purely extrinsic reward was dooming myself to Vegas-style odds. I became clear to me that I needed to write because I loved it, and then find a way to share it with others – even if it was not through traditional routes. I found that I was more comfortable with my writing when I did it for the pure joy of it.
Now that I am on the other side of the fence, so to speak, I have noticed a few myths about submitting to paying publications that otherwise mystified and frustrated me prior to becoming an editor and being responsible for interacting with first-time and established authors.
I have decided to provide a humorous, but serious, collection of things you should do and things you shouldn’t do when submitting and entering into a discourse with a publication – sprinkled, of course, with some anecdotes. And without further ado (or perhaps slight ado if you count this sentence here):
Things You Should Do
1. Read the publication you are submitting to before sending an email. This one sounds obvious, I know. However, it happens so often that it warrants mentioning. If you have written a brilliant piece of prose that is about zombies, it is quite likely that Popular Mechanics will not be that interested in it. Pick up an issue of the magazine you are interested in submitting to and familiarize yourself with the kinds of stories they publish. The next part is the hardest part: be honest. Does your piece fit with what they publish?
2. Read and follow the submission instructions. Again, a no-brainer. If you are thinking that you don’t know where to find the submission instructions and you just have an email address, be prepared for disappointment. Your email might go to submission purgatory with a one-liner response about having received your correspondence – if you’re lucky.
3. Address your submission to the appropriate person. If you are thinking that I am giving you the obvious pointers, then you are quite right. With that in mind, imagine that I still receive hundreds of emails a month that manage to ignore these simple suggestions. If you are writing a stunning expose on corporate greed, the poetry editor is probably not the best destination for your work.
4. Edit your work. I tell this to students a lot, so I will mention it here as well: spell check in Microsoft Word is not sufficient. I am not saying that you need to be a copyeditor to submit to a magazine, but do yourself a favor and read it out loud. If it something sounds funny when you read it, you can only imagine how it will sound to an editor who is choosing among thousands of articles and stories to determine what goes to print.
5. Be cognizant of turnarounds. By this I mean, the amount of time between when you sent in the work until you hear back from an editor about the status of your submission. Nothing will send your work to the bottom of a slush pile than to send a follow-up email the day after you submitted, wondering whether or not you are going to be in the magazine. Most publications will post how long it takes to hear back from them about the status of a submission, and an amount of time after which you should contact them if you haven’t heard from them.
Things You Shouldn’t Do
1. Send an email telling an editor that they would be stupid not to publish your work. It always surprises me when I get an email telling me that I need to publish a story, poem, or piece of nonfiction because it is the next best thing. Top this off with letting me know that I would be a fool not to accept it, almost guarantees a trip to the trash can.
2. Send a photocopy of your story by registered mail. If you want to have your story in a magazine, start by giving it to editors in a format that they can actually use. By sending a faded and blurry photocopy of your forty-word poem and declaring that it is a soul-searching masterpiece does not inspire as much confidence as you would think.
3. Contact an editor on a frequent basis about the status of your submission. I have to sort through hundreds of emails a day, edit for the current issue, and work on editing an anthology; not to mention a thousand other intangibles. We posted a time table about getting back to you for a reason: read it.
4. Be discouraged by a form rejection letter. This is a bitter pill to swallow for many writers. They think the form rejection letter means that the editor didn’t read their work, or simply had things already planned and was stringing writers along. The reality is on any given month I send out hundreds upon hundreds of rejection letters. There is simply not enough time in the day to offer feedback to every single person. This not to say that I do not offer feedback, or that editors do not offer feedback in general, but instead the process is streamlined so writers can be responded to in a reasonable amount of time.
5. Call the magazine to find out about your submission. This is subsumed by not contacting an editor about the status of your submission before enough time has passed, but I thought it warranted a special mention considering it is really going the extra mile in terms of being an irritation. If we haven’t gotten back to you yet, calling us is not going to suddenly make us more accessible.
6. Send another email with corrections. Read twice, send once. If you don’t think what you sent is ready for publication, then please don’t send it. You get one chance at a first impression, and nothing speaks to being underprepared and unprofessional than sending a draft and immediately following up with another draft. If your piece needs work, note that in your submission, but don’t send a series of emails chronicling the different stages of the edits for that story. The exception, of course, is if you have already been accepted and you have been asked to make edits.
7. Contact the magazine to air your frustrations about not being selected. I say this with all seriousness. It is very likely that you got rejected because the piece was not a good fit and not that the magazine has decided to order a hit on your writing career. Please don’t treat it that way. Lashing out at a publication for sending a form rejection letter, or passing on a piece you have written, reeks of a lack of professionalism and could impact your ability to publish elsewhere. Many editors are friends, especially in the digital age, and word spreads fast.
8. Contact the magazine to ask if you think a story you are working on would be a good fit elsewhere. I can appreciate the sentiment. A lot of editors are writers themselves, and they love talking about the process and the product. I find myself building friendships with writers, those we publish and those we do not, and often I will give them suggestions about their work. However, if you don’t know me personally and have never been published or solicited in any way to use me as a sounding board, then do not contact me and ask if a poem or story would be a good fit at another magazine. If you think it is ready for publication, then submit it here. An obvious exception would be if the writer knew the story would not be a good fit and asked because they were uncertain in venturing into new territory.
I could probably keep listing things you shouldn’t do, but I will wrap it up there. I encourage you to keep trying and keep writing. Things only get better with time, and time is all we really have. I love to hear from other writers and potential readers, so please stop by and say hello.
A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, Dan O’Brien has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, Deviance of Time, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, The Twins of Devonshire and the Curse of the Widow, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter or visit his blog. He also works as an editor at Empirical, a national magazine with a strong West Coast vibe. Find out more about the magazine at www.empiricalmagazine.com.
To learn more about Dan’s kickstarter project, check out its website here.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
When I was a little girl, there was a game I used to like to play with my dad. We called it the ‘Hand Stand Game’. He would lie on his back on the floor, arms above his head, palms up to the ceiling. I would plant a foot in each one of his hands. Holding onto my feet he would slowly raise his hands, then sit up, then get up into a standing position, all the while with me balancing on his hands. Besides what it says about my dad’s upper body strength (I know I can’t stand from a lying position without using my hands), I think we gave my mother heart failure whenever we played this game. As a four-year-old, I ended up pretty high off the ground. And yet I did this with confidence, and without fear. Until I got to about nine, and then suddenly I lost my nerve and I couldn’t do it anymore. I had acquired fear.
Fear is a learned emotion. We don’t possess it as children. Two things teach it to us. Firstly, we learn fear through consequence. If you get stung as a small child by a wasp, you learn to be afraid of wasps. If you touch a flame and burn your finger, you learn than fire is to be feared. The other way we learn fear is because the adults around us teach it to us. “Don’t play too close to the water; you’ll fall in and drown,” they say. “Don’t climb to the top of the climbing frame. You might fall off and hurt yourself.” The concept of falling hadn’t occurred to us before then. But once someone plants the idea in our head, it’s there forever.
It is the same with writers. Why do so many of us get discouraged? We fear failure, perhaps. As a child, I happily wrote story after story. I wasn’t really thinking about whether or not they were any good. I wrote them because I wanted to, and I didn’t really mind who read them. But then I hit puberty and my self-confidence took a pummelling. What if the stories I wrote really weren’t any good? Like George McFly in “Back To The Future”, I decided it was better not to let anyone read them, than have to deal with rejection.
I had to overcome this, of course, because I’d decided I wanted to be a published writer. I had to face my fear of rejection and start sending stuff out. I learned that rejection hurts, but it doesn’t kill you. I also sought to learn how I could improve my writing, and thus increase its chances of acceptance.
I think it’s this acquired fear that holds many of us back. We fear what we’ve written isn’t any good. If you’ve got one book published, you then fear that you’ll never write another one of publishable quality. You fear your book won’t sell. You fear you’ll never finish the one you’re working on. There are so many things that we fear. But we have to push on despite that fear.
So we are afraid of falling. That shouldn’t hold us back. Yes, we might fall. But if we do, we can get up and try again. Fear of falling shouldn’t stop us from the climb. After all, we might not fall at all, and in addition discover that the view at the top is spectacular.
At the point at which the publishing contract from Lyrical Press arrived last year, I had two finished novels working the submission/rejection circuit. One was the horror novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN, finished in 2004. The other was the amateur sleuth novel DEATH SCENE, finished in 2007.
SUFFER THE CHILDREN took ten years to write, as I’ve mentioned before. I was somewhat dismayed to discover, when I did finally finish it and send it out on the submission circuit, that in those ten years the popularity of horror fiction in the UK had taken something of a nose dive. When I consulted my “Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook” for 2003 (knowing the novel was nearly ready to go I decided an up to date version would be in order), I discovered virtually no agents that were listing horror as a genre they dealt with. I decided to start describing my horror novel as ‘dark fantasy’, and began to send it to anyone who said they looked at science fiction and fantasy.
America still seemed to have a horror market, however, so I also sent it to American agents. I kept my eyes on the independent press market, as every so often a new small publisher would pop up, willing to consider ‘dark fantasy’.
But it kept racking up rejections. At one point I almost got a bite, when I sent it to a new editor, formerly an agent, who was starting up her own publishing company. She was very enthusiastic, and wanted SUFFER THE CHILDREN to be one of her first books, but sadly before her publishing company got off the ground, she became ill and the project never happened.
Eventually, I ran out of people to send SUFFER THE CHILDREN to and I got discouraged and put it back in the drawer. I decided to focus on the amateur sleuth novel instead. I reasoned that with the number of crime novels on the market, there had to be plenty of places to send that.
It turned out I wasn’t quite right on that point. The big market in crime novels is for police procedurals and thrillers, featuring gritty alcoholic loner detectives. What I had was a ‘cosy’ crime novel featuring an amateur sleuth.
I started sending it off to agents who said they dealt with crime and mystery novels. The rejections started rolling in. Some agents said there was no market for amateur sleuths, and although they liked the novel, they felt they wouldn’t be able to sell it. At least one agent said it wasn’t actually a ‘cosy’, as cosies are historical, preferably set in the ‘golden age’ of mystery novels (ie 1930s/40s). My sleuth is contemporary.
And then, at some point, horror seemed to take off again, but wearing a new face. In the guise of urban fantasy, featuring kick-ass female protagonists and sexy vampires, suddenly undead beasties were trendy again, and all over the place new publishers were popping up wanting to look at horror novels.
So I hauled out SUFFER THE CHILDREN, dusted it off, and prepared to send it out once more. I can’t remember how I first came across Lyrical Press – I think perhaps it was mentioned on one of the online writing forums I follow. But I took a look at their website, as I always do before I submit something, and was reassured to see that they had a number of horror novels on their list already. And their submission criteria was to send the entire manuscript as an email attachment. So, no queuing up at the Post Office, and no printing out of pages required. Another bonus.
I sent off the email with the required atachment and cover letter, made a note on my submission database, and continued researching other places to send SUFFER THE CHILDREN, for when it got rejected again. I was, at this point, keeping one list for places to send the crime novel and another for places to send the horror novel and my aim was to have at least one of them, preferably both, out on sub at all times.
A couple of weeks later when an email from Lyrical dropped into my inbox, I opened it fully expecting it to be another rejection.
I was at work at the time. I had to read the email three times before I digested what it said. It was not, in fact, a rejection, but an acceptance. With contract attached. There were a couple of conditions attached to the signing of the contract, the most significant of which was the fact that Lyrical wanted me to raise the age of the main character to 18 and not 14, as they felt it was a Young Adult novel as it stood, and they don’t publish YA. But the contract was real. I printed it off and stared at it for quite a long time, trying to digest the concept of what it meant. I don’t think I got much more work done that day.
I had been working 30 years towards getting a publishing contract for a novel. Sometimes the dream had seemed so unobtainable, I had begun to believe it was never going to happen.
But it did. There it was. And I knew that in that moment, life had changed. Not in any outwardly noticeable way – I wasn’t being offered a huge advance, and I wasn’t about to become rich and famous overnight. But in a hundred tiny ways, initially imperceptible ways, life did change.
And that will be the subject of the next post in this series.
I joined the road paved with rejection slips in 1987, when I started sending out my early horror novel TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD (mentioned in an earlier post). So by the time I received the publishing contract for SUFFER THE CHILDREN last year, I had been travelling that rejection road for over twenty years. And I’ve noticed some changes in that time.
I learned fairly early on that there was no point in sending your manuscript direct to publishers. You had to have an agent. I also learned that between UK and US agents, there was a difference in submission requirements. UK agents want the first three chapters and a synopsis. If they like what they see they will ask to see the full manuscript; if they don’t, they return the pages to you in the required SAE. There is one extra step with US agents, as they want a query letter first, then a partial if they like the query, then eventually the full manuscript (if you’re lucky).
In the early days, everyone wanted hard copy. I have spent many a lunch hour over the last twenty years queuing up in the Post Office, with my envelope containing my first three chapters or my short story, unsealed so when I got to the counter I could get it weighed to find out what the postage was going to be, get the equivalent amount for return postage, stick the return postage on the SAE before sealing the envelope, sticking the other stamps on the outside envelope and dropping the whole thing in the post box.
Having the pages returned to you, though, is often just a formality. When your pages come back to you in the SAE, they are generally in less than pristine condition and not really fit to be sent out to anyone else. After all, you don’t want to make a bad impression with agents and editors by submitting dog-eared and coffee-stained pages.
Submitting to international agents was even more of a challenge. Once upon a time you could send an international reply coupon, but over the years they became unpopular. It became easier to buy stamps whenever I went to the US, to use on SAEs when I submitted to American agents. But because I only visit the US once every couple of years I tended to stockpile the stamps, which would generally mean US postage would increase before I’d used all the stamps up, resulting in the necessity of trying to get hold of a load of 5-cent ones to make sure my SAE had the correct postage on.
But then, a few years ago, things started to change. We began to see an increase in small, independent publishers, who were happy to look at unsolicited manuscripts from new writers. Often they wanted to look at the whole thing, not just three chapters. Sometimes they were even happy to have the file sent as an email attachment.
The new writer is no longer limited to sending their manuscript to agents. The number of independent publishers continues to grow, and most of them are still happy to look at unagented writers. And nowadays it’s not just the new publishing companies that will accept email submissions. Many agents will accept emails also (but not all – there is still a need to check the individual requirements carefully before submitting).
Email submissions are far better for the writer. No more queuing up in the post office; no more small fortunes being spent on stamps, printer ink, paper and envelopes.
There’s an old saying about most writers having enough rejection slips to wallpaper their office with. I still have that old file, labelled ‘rejections’, but I haven’t added anything to it for a while. But not because I haven’t been getting rejections. My most recent rejections are all saved on the PC, in a sub-folder of my email inbox called ‘rejections’.
And this is another advantage of how technology has made submissions better. Electronic files don’t bulk out the folder the way paper does. If you can’t see the rejection folder getting visibly fatter, you get far less depressed.