Participants: Sandy Stuckless, Rik Lonsdale, Kathleen Marple Kalb, Gerald Hornsby, Julie Chang, Maria Johnson, Kathryn Barnett, Ellie Holmes, Kirsten Hesketh, Deborah Klée
Please introduce yourself and if you are happy to – share your writing hopes and fears for 2021
I’m Kathleen Marple Kalb, weekend radio news anchor, weekday mom, and FINALLY trad pub author of the Ella Shane historical mystery series at Kensington.
I’m Julie from Lancashire. Hopes, to finish two novels, currently working on no two. Fears, finding out my writing is crap and no one likes it!
I’m Sandy, science fiction and fantasy writer extraordinaire! Okay, I made that last part up. My hope for 2021 (goals) is to finish at least 3 short stories and two novels. Much of the drafting for the novel is done, it’s just getting them polished. Fears: Hitting a 2020-like wall and not finishing anything. No one reading/liking my stuff (this one is ongoing…).
Rik: Hopes: Begin and complete edits, then push on to submission of my novel, currently sitting on my desk being ignored until Monday Fears: It’s utter rubbish, of course.
Ellie from Essex. Hopes – to carry on the extraordinary year I had last year. Fears – the fear of failure. Nobody pushes me harder than I push myself and managing my expectations is the key.
I’m Gerald and I’m in Essex. Hopes: to write/edit/publish four novels this year, plus a non-fiction book Fears: none. I’m fearless
Hi I’m Maria, based in NW England. Goals for 2021 include proofreading my 3rd historical fiction novel by the end of March (hope to submit in April) writing 1st draft of my 4th historical fiction and participating in nanowrimo events as well as looking at old nano projects.
Kirsten: This people hating our stuff seems to be a common fear – I’ve just written exactly the same.
Deborah: When we discuss a book at my book club there are such mixed reactions that it is clearly a subjective thing. We can’t expect everyone to love our work.
Rik: That’s so right. And often we hear the phrase ‘who are you writing for’. I guess this sums it up, there are many different types of ‘reader’ out there.
Maria: I’m not sure it ever does for some writers (fear of failure), but it certainly lessens over time. Having positive feedback really helps you gain confidence as a writer
Deborah: Since the early days I copied and pasted all the good feedback I got and pinned it by my desk. I still look at this when my confidence ebbs
Rejection letters from agents and publishers can be hard to cope with especially when you have had high hopes. What strategies do you have for coping with rejection?
Kirsten: When I was submitting, I always tried to have five ‘live’ submissions. As soon as I received a rejection, I would send another out, so I always had five chances of success.
Kathleen: A rejection (I got more than 200 before my conventional pub debut!) means “Not this, not today.” That is ALL it means. It’s painful, but you have to remember it is a judgment on one piece of work in one moment, not on your writing career…and definitely not on you.
Sandy: Yes, never rest on your laurels. Take a day or two to breathe, then get to work on the next one. I keep a detailed Writing Project Matrix with all my active projects on it so I have a good idea what to work on next.
Deborah: I once read that successful writers receive on average 200 rejections. Every rejection is. another step closer. I started a countdown.
Bradley: Rejection letters are guaranteed so let’s not focus on how many you receive. Try to focus on being one OUT of a million submissions instead of feeling like one IN a million submissions. Where your focus goes, your energy flows.
Deborah: This is what we say in yoga – where your focus goes your energy flows. I love the way you have applied this to focusing on success not failure.
Gerald: I don’t submit to trad, I only self-publish. But when I was writing (trying to write) literary short fiction, I did plenty. However, the group I was with prepared me for rejection – “they are not accepting the words, not rejecting you”. Same applies to critiques.
What do you take into account before deciding which agents, or publishers to approach?
Sandy: This should go without saying for anyone serious about getting published. Read the submission guidelines thoroughly. It does no good to submit to a spot that doesn’t read your thing. I also check to see who else they represent and what they’ve published.
Kirsten: For me it was personal recommendation and people I’d seen/ interacted with on Twitter/ at conferences. Not very scientific.
Maria: Consider what path will work for you best and what you want out of it. Do you want to keep all creative control and have ownership of all aspects (self-pub) do you want to have a trad publisher attached, or more collaborative/somewhere in between (small press)? You do you!
Deborah: I looked for novels that were similar to mine and then approached the author’s agent. As a result I was signed by Madeline Milburn and got a fantastic response to my query letter.
Kathleen: I queried VERY widely. I’d like to say that I carefully selected my agent because he’s an opera buff (my MC is a Gilded Age diva) but that was good luck. You have to stand out in the storm for lightning to hit!
Bradley: I always consider, why would they (agent/publisher) be interested in MY work, not just the genre/area I’m writing in. Do they (Agents) have a personal background that makes my story resonate with them? Does my story fit into the titles they (Publishers) publish?
Julie: How would you know someone’s personal background ? Please can you give an example of what kind of thing you look for?
Deborah: Look for interviews with the agent.
Sandy: Follow them on SM. What an agent posts on Twitter, Insta, or FB is a good indication of their interests.
Bradley: I check Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL). An Agent’s/Publisher’s Twitter will also tell you a lot about their background/interests. Interviews as Deborah suggested are an AWESOME approach. Remember, if they aren’t for you, doing research tells you in advance.
Deborah: I think it is like finding the right job. You have to find a good fit and that requires some research.
Bradley: It sounds cliche, but research ALWAYS leads to better results. A point of note: as you research more, it becomes easier to pinpoint who to approach. Writers have just as much power to CHOOSE who they submit to, as these entities have to choose whose work to reject.
Kathryn B: Yes that’s so true I was thinking that after my agent rejections last year but thinking about it how much research was I doing before querying I now know I need to do more particularly as mine has a specific storyline and setting.
There are different types of rejection letters. What is the best and worst you have received? What changes have you made to your work or submissions as a result?
Kirsten: Personalised rejection really is gold-dust. I rewrote my debut on the back on one letter!
Kathleen: Totally agree. I re-ordered and re-wrote the first half of my debut based on a rejection from my now-agent: “I love these characters, but nothing happens for the first 100 pages.” Best feedback ever.
Bradley: Any rejection letter received should be considered the best type. It gives you answers on if that entity is interested in your work. Post rejection, I try not to overly personalize/harshly edit my work for entities unless I plan to resubmit. I change my approach.
Ellie: That’s great advice. People can get hung up on rejection letters and overthink every word.
Bradley: I think that’s the nature of the writer to evaluate text. We have to remember, we are marketing our work after we finish writing. The rules of engagement are different once we start that process. It is simply, is this the opportunity for me or not?
Sandy: Once I was able to take the emotion out of it and see the feedback for what it was, I could move forward. In all cases, the feedback helped.
What advice would you give new writers who are finding it hard to cope with rejection?
Maria: It can be really hard to do, but recognising that the negative feedback isn’t addressing you (or if it is, there is no place for it and that is entirely on them!) Take the constructive stuff and try to chuck out the rest. That being said, we are all human.
Rik: ‘Welcome to the club! It’s a rite of passage and now you can carry on just like every other writer you’ve ever heard of.’ Only I might spend a bit longer than a tweet on saying it.
Deborah: I always feel anxious when writers tweet about getting a full MS request. It is great to celebrate but not to rush ahead with imagining what might be. I had seven or more full MS requests across three novels. Not all ended with a contract.
Gerald: I do worry for some would-be authors. There are many stages, as some of us know, between the full MS request and the publishing contract. Even getting the agent is just one of the steps to the contract. And contracts are rarely generous to a new author.
Deborah: Absolutely you can have a top agent and not get a publishing deal as I found. Particularly in this climate. You have to believe in yourself and never give up.
Gerald: Get used to having different people give their opinion on your work. Believe in yourself, but also be open to constructive criticism on your writing. Be aware that your writing isn’t perfect, and some people won’t like it. And there are many reasons for rejection.
Sandy: A couple of things: First, take the emotion out of it, if you can. Remember, rejection doesn’t always mean bad. Second, unfortunately, in this business, a thick skin is required. Rejection is part of the game and you’re going to have to get used to it.
Deborah: Other advice. get on with the next thing. More query letters and/or writing your next novel. Don’t brood or waste energy feeling rejected. Allow yourself to be miserable for one day – 2twomax. Then get over it and soldier on!
Kathleen: It’s part of the deal, and it’s just plain awful. It is absolutely OKAY to be hurt. You are doing a very hard thing. Take a little time to grieve, then get back out there. No matter what happens, you will never have to wonder what-if. That is worth A LOT.
Gerald: A professional author is an amateur who didn’t quit. We all need resilience and determination.
Deborah: Resilience and determination are as important as writing skills!
Bradley: It takes an amazing amount of determination to create, let alone FINISH a manuscript and then polish it. It requires even more to submit and regularly deal with rejection. BUT, If you’re already THAT determined, why stop before your story is heard?
More information and links from our guest Bradley Galimore
I am actively doing editing work for writers with a live edit option (utilizing Google Docs) including detailed critique and discussion about “voice”.
For more info writers can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Editing Inquiry”.
I also do poetry book reviews/writer interview hybrids that are going to be released starting next year via (thepoetryquestion.com). If writers have poetry books they want reviewed, they should contact either me or @poetryquestion and be prepared to send a review pdf.