The Fear of the Known World

In case you aren’t aware, this year’s Harlequin/Mills & Boon sponsored mega writing contest, So You Think You Can Write, begins taking submissions of first chapters and pitches on Monday. As you may know, I entered one of my inspirational romance WIPs in the contest last year on the very last day that you could submit, not expecting much. I didn’t make it into the top 50, but I made a ton of writing buddies. I threw myself into NaNoWriMo with a completely different type of manuscript and started taking the possibility of a writing career seriously. It was this contest that started it all for me. One year and a slef-published Christian non-fiction book later, and I again have the opportunity to enter. I’m a year better and wiser. I have a new WIP that scored high in a contest this year and that all of those judges are confident would catch an editor’s eye. You would think I’d be falling all over myself to hit the submit button. Except…

…the sales of that four year labor of love, Altered before the Altar, aren’t exactly soaring. I have no idea what I’m doing, marketing wise. No one is buying it, and I don’t know how to fix it. The things I do know to do, I can’t seem to get myself into position to do–get reviews, garner attention through guest posts, host giveaways, etc.

…I’m a nobody. Nobody knows about my blogs, twitter, facebook, or Instagram. No one is beating down my door to represent me or buy my books. The people who matter in publishing have no idea that I even exist. I haven’t gone up in followers/friends very much in all of my posting and commenting. I’m just as stuck and below the radar on social media as I am in real life social situations.

Of course, none of this has any real bearing on my reluctance to participate in SYTYCW2014. All of this was true last year, minus the book I can’t seem to give away, let alone sale. So let’s get to the real reasons, shall we?

…I’ve racked up three rejections and an almost contest final in romance submissions. That’s a real stab in the gut. All of the feedback for the submissions is the same: promising, but not quite there yet.

…I have an even greater chance of not making the second round this year. Instead of a Top 50, SYTYCW2014 has a top 25. My chances are half as good as last year for getting to the second round. If the same number enter as entered last year, that’s over 650 authors vying for 25 spots, or a 1 in 26 chance.

…The timeline is much tighter. SYTYCW2014 will announce a winner nearly a full month sooner than last year. If I make the second round, I have less than a week to get the complete manuscript turned around. There’s not as much time for revising and editing and such this time around, so whatever I enter has to be written, revised and edited before they pick the top 25 October 6, or about 3 weeks from now.

…I know what to expect. I know my work will be seen by editors and other participants. I know that feedback can be brutal. I know I can get to the Top 25 and not make the Top 10, or make the Top 10 and not win. I know that they could still contact me after the contest if they want me to submit my full, revise and resubmit or etc. I know how hard, how improbable, but still so possible all of this really is. I know what needs to be done better this time around in my writing. And it’s scary me stupid.

…I am still finding things in the story I need to fix. There are still places where the motivation needs to be clearer, the conflict stronger, still places that can be wrung out for more emotion. There are still a couple of places I don’t want to go with it but I have to go with it to make it a real contender. I don’t know if I have it in me to take it to that next level.

But there are some good reasons for me to enter this year:

…my writing is stronger.

…Everyone who has read even a chapter or two of this story loves it. I knew from the moment I had the idea for this story that these characters were the kind that don’t let go. The idea feels fresh and the conflicts feel impossible to overcome initially. It has the makings of a great story.

…because all of the judges in the Valerie Parv Award Contest think this story should be in front of an editor (even the published author, who pointed out the areas for improvement as well as the things I nailed).

…because of that contest, I already have a synopsis (and pointers on how to make it stronger).

…because this might be one of those defining moments where everything changes and nothing is like it was before.

…because I know I’m not going to give up on this dream. If no other copies of Altered before the Altar get sold, or everyone hates it; if I don’t sell a romance for another five years, and when I do the reading public pans it; if the only thing about my writing anyone could say at my funeral is “at least she isn’t writing anymore”–I’m going to keep writing and reaching for this dream.

So, anyway, I say all of this to say: I’m entering my first chapter in SYTYCW 2014 this year.

XOXO,

Erica

The Best to Get Over a Rejection…

…is to get under a new WIP.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a writing post up here. You might think that this is because I am wallowing in rejection, but you would be wrong. I am not wallowing. I don’t have time to wallow. Aside from the reviews I post here (mainly from Entangled Publishing because they give me books), I also review for Harlequin Junkie. This month I am also reviewing entries for my chapter’s writing contest, Touch of Magic. My critique partners have been through edits and revisions with their contracted books and are starting to send chapters from their latest WIPs. I’m buried under reading, people. Buried, I tell you.

But despite all of that, and the crushing disappointment of not selling Delivering Justice on the first try, I am writing. I put #MrLastNameBasis on hold for a while after the rejection and said I would focus on reading through some old words, but what I ended up doing was writing some new ones.

Remember my goals for the month of March? I’ve been making a lot of progress on them:

  •  start getting the Enemies book written.  You won’t believe this, but I have 7,714 words typed for this book, plus however many are in my notebook that I got down at lunch today. I polished up the first chapter and gave it to my beta reader and my critique partners and they are intrigued and hungry for more. Quentin is my favorite hero yet (but every time I work on a book, that hero becomes my favorite).
  • finish most of #MrLastNameBasis. Not a word since DJ was rejected.
  • get feedback from Delivering Justice submission. Got great feedback that you can read about here, but was ultimately given an “R.”
  • work on marriage kit book and get it ready for publication. I’ve been playing with some ideas, but nothing concrete yet.
  • further develop my writing routine. Umm…no comment. Haven’t done a smidge of work on this. Need to protect my writing time better.
  • Start and finish at least one writing craft book. I started Leigh Michaels’ On Writing Romance, and so far, so good.
  • Get all of my March reviews done. Ha! But I am actually on track with this. Only 2 more books to go, and three April books so far for HJ. I have to post a review here as well. Then I’m done.
  • Work on one super secret project. Done and done.
  • Get materials ready for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Umm…this depends on what project I decide to do during NaNoWriMo I have an inkling what I want to do, and I’m ready to meet my goals with it.
  • Finishing outlining and start Luka’s story before Beta Reader kills me. I started writing Luka’s story–well, saying it. I dusted off my digital recorder and have been rattling off a few scenes while I drive to and from work and working to transcribe them into something that makes sense later.

So you see, I’ve been a busy bee, getting words down on three WIPs, reviewing my face in, and setting Delivering Justice aside while I figure out my next steps with it. I’m not giving up on my dream of publication. I’m not wallowing. I’m chugging along. I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m getting ready to get out there again.

XOXO,

Erica

ATGGT…

When I was in high school, I got a scholarship to attend a private school along with several other kids in the Horizons-Upward Bound program. One of those other students was a musical prodigy who played several instruments and was a talented singer. She wore a leather bracelet on her wrist like they make at Cedar Point at that leather making shop that read “ATGGT.” Given her interests, it didn’t take me long to figure out what it meant: And the Grammy goes to… It served, I believe, as motivation for her to keep pursuing her dream of becoming a recording artist and getting that top industry honor.

As I’ve watched her journey through websites, the occasional IM chat, Facebook & Instagram posts, I’ve often thought about that little scrap of leather and whether or not she still looks at it for inspiration. Is it still like a talisman, a physical reminder of her dreams, or is it just a piece of leather shoved into a drawer and forgotten? Is it even the phrase she dreams of hearing her name attached to anymore?

With the recent Oscar ceremony (that always falls around my birthday) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest brush with the golden trophy, I’ve been thinking about success and almost getting there but somehow landing just shy of the mark. Someone I follow on twitter said it best: even though Leo has four Oscar nominations over twenty years, he still has the same number of Oscars as I do. Ouch. It must hurt to have worked so hard and end up with the same result as the girl sitting home on the couch whose never even made the attempt.

Well, I can say assuredly that it does, in fact, hurt. Yesterday I received a very lovely rejection letter from the editor I submitted Delivering Justice to a couple weeks ago. Even though she had many positive things to say about my writing, she didn’t think it was a good fit for them. Even though I had crafted a good enough pitch to get an editor’s attention and wrote well enough to garner a few points of praise, I was still just shy of the mark for closing the deal. I now have the same number of manuscripts purchased as the person in living in the jungle who’s never seen a book. Ouch.

Here’s the thing: I can choose to drown in the negative, put DJ away and never submit a manuscript again, or I can focus on the positives of the situation. Since the latter is the only choice that will add to this entry’s word count, let’s go with that one.

During the last six months, I’ve entered three writing contests, wrote and revised a full manuscript, wrote three successful pitches, learned to write a query letter and synopsis, made a ton of writing friends, joined some writing groups, found critique partners, and written more than I have in years. In less than six months of taking this writing thing seriously, I got a full request for a manuscript for an imprint of my dream publisher. Instead of getting a form rejection, I was complimented on having a great premise, snappy dialogue and a well done heroine. I think I’ve found my voice; now I have to find my place.

I told the online writing community of my rejection yesterday. Twice a week we share ~100 word flashes from our current WIPs dealing with a specific topic. I suggested that we do a flash on rejection. The group agreed and the flashes have been pouring in. What I realized in reading and commenting on the flashes is that a) everyone experiences rejection b)rejection comes in many forms, and c) our characters suffer far worse rejections in our stories than we do of our stories.

I’ve decided to put DJ in a drawer for a while and not look at it (although I may allow my beta reader to read a copy of the version I sent out to the editor; she’s earned it for reading through the awful first attempts) until I’m ready to try it again. I’m stepping away from writing new words this week. Instead, I’m unearthing old words–words from when I was a teen and pre-teen and just wanted to get the story on paper. Words from when my classmate’s bracelet set off dreams of NYT Bestseller, Pulitzers, and the Nobel Prize in Literature for me. Words from when nothing was out of reach.

How do you deal with rejection? What keeps you going in the face of rejection?

XOXO,

Erica

Write, Revise, Repeat

I have to be honest: I was crushed when my entry wasn’t chosen to be in the top fifty. I thought my entry was amazing, and it was–just not for the place I submitted it. All of that advice that led me to believe I’d started the book in the wrong place, that the opening line wasn’t strong enough, that there was too much backstory, and that the hero and heroine didn’t meet soon enough was great advice for the publisher I was targeting. When they announced some people had to pull out or were disqualified and they were choosing a few more, I saw a chance at redemption. Perhaps someone had liked my story enough to take a chance on it. In the end, this wasn’t to be, either. So I had a decision to make: revise to fit the publisher and try again or work towards getting a different publisher.

At some point after a rejection with no more explanation than a form “not what we’re looking for at this time,” the author has to decide if the manuscript itself needs fixing or if they are targeting the wrong agents/editors/publishers for the manuscript. Looking over what I wrote in the frenetic time of the competition, I realized that my book wasn’t targeted to the wrong line; it was just bad.

Pleasure’s Payne is a great story. It focuses on a young woman who has recently lost her father and may lose the company he worked so hard to build to a board that doesn’t believe she can be a leader. Her father’s best friend and former fiancée are plotting against her. She is just trying to preserve what she has–until she meets the hero. The hero doesn’t want to get involved with another damaged woman after what happened last year. He knows that the heroine wouldn’t be interested in him if she knew about last year, and his association with her can add fuel to the incompetency fire regarding her ability to lead the company, but someone has to help her. The things they face together while trying to restore their faith and find meaning in their shattered lives brings them together in such a sweet way. The story excites me so much. Too bad it needs a LOT of work.

It turns out those editors are right. There IS too much backstory at the beginning. It DOES start in the wrong place. There are also some plot inconsistencies, shifting POV confusions, and sequence problems that need to be worked out in the revision process, not to mention some extensive editing to fix the tense in some areas and make better word choices in others. Being defiant and self-publishing my masterpiece in its current state wouldn’t do me any favors.

Learning how to incorporate constructive criticism, give yourself time to revise and edit to a polished work, and writing queries, pitches, and synopses that will hook the right person is not an exact science, and neither is knowing when to self-publish. I’d like to think I’m learning how to make my writing the best it can be, and send it in where it should be sent. This time I only got it half right, but someday soon, I’ll light upon the right combination that leads to getting my books in reader’s hands.

How do you decide to revise, self-publish, or discard? Any tips for writers new to submitting?

XOXO

Erica

We Had a Good Run…

The results are in, and your illustrious writer…did not make the top 50. 😦

Although this news was disappoining, I wasn’t exactly shocked. I’m glad that the contest brought me back to this story that I love so much, and got me up at 5am to get words on the page. I’m glad I was able to add nearly twelve thousand words to my manuscript in just five days–and quality words, at that. I received some very encouraging comments that confirmed my strengths–characterization, description, dialogue–and made me more aware of my weaknesses–shifting POV at random times, not starting the manuscript in the right place, etc. I’m grateful for my personal cheerleaders who are STILL proud of me and are still sure they will be getting an autographed copy of my book when it’s released someday.

I still have hope that maybe one of those editors saw something in me that has intrigued them, that they will reach out to me once the competition is over and ask for a full or partial. The editors have gotten the email addresses of people they want to follow up with from whom they were strongly considering requesting a full manuscript. The major takeaway for me was that I put my work out there to be seen by 50 editors and I didn’t die. I wrote my first pitch and I didn’t die. I don’t know how far I got in the selection process before I was cut, but editors sat around somewhere discussing my story, my characters. Hopefully the story and characters stick with the right person and I hear something, but if not, I have gained a few tips for revising from some of the tweets and posts of the editors in the last few days.

Another great takeaway from this experience is to follow my instincts. I wrote in my last post that I wanted to have the manuscript start somewhere else, but I didn’t have time to revise it before I posted it. I wasn’t as confident in where it started, and I knew I needed a couple of days to make it the best I could. I even contacted the contest help people to see if I could revise the first chapter if I was picked to submit a full because I knew that the opening this book needed wasn’t the one it received. I was right. I now know that I should listen to my instincts. I’m a really good writer. Years of awards and A’s on English assignments can’t be wrong. I can be impulsive and occasionally get somewhere because of it, but I know that revising wisely is what takes my writing to the next level.

Yesterday in the shower (where all the best thoughts/ideas originate), before the finalists were announced, I remembered something my favorite English teacher Mrs. Jackson said to me about a paper that was eventually published in Prize Papers. I gave her my initial paper to critique for me, and she laid into it. I had never seen so much red in all of my life. I was so dejected. She wrote on that paper “this is good, but you’re a better writer than this. Go deeper.” She said that I was holding back and wasn’t being honest. I walked around with a sour face for the rest of the day, but I knew she was right. So I rewrote that paper and not only received an A, but the teacher asked if she could share it with the class, and encouraged me to submit it to Prize Papers. In the shower, I realized that there were still some depths to plumb in this story. I needed to go deeper. Now I have that chance.

I say all of this to say, I am not giving up hope. I’m using what I’ve learned to make my manuscript better and I’m pushing forward. I hope that anyone else who has experienced rejection or didn’t make the cut will do the same. Revise. Rewrite. Start over. Go deeper. Do whatever it takes. Just keep going.

XOXO

Erica

The Green Eyed, Pen Wielding Monster

green-eyed abyssinian

I'm battling the Green Eyed Monster...No, not this one... Image via Wikipedia

I’m fighting the Green-Eyed Monster this Monday morning, my friends.

A person I went to high school with, who may have been mentioned previously, has been published. She’s a self-proclaimed theater geek, someone who loves the production side of putting on plays. I have no idea how long she’s been writing, what inspired her to write, or when her first two books were accepted. I wasn’t there for the journey, just the facebook updates.

The latest facebook update, that her third book is being published, was met at first with a wonderful rush of good cheer and congratulations. I love it when people are achieving their goals and moving forward in life. I’m the type of person that can be happy for other people, even when my life is worthy of a good flush and a few floral scented sprays from an aerosol can. I’m happy when my friends are happy.

But then, a soft, insistent voice began speaking in my ear. “But, why isn’t that you? You’re a great writer. You’ve ALWAYS wanted to write for a living. She’s living your life, and you’re happy for her; that’s cool. I don’t understand it, but whatever floats your boat, right? But when’s it going to be your turn?”

I try to tune it out, but the thing is, the Green-Eyed one has a very attractive voice (he should really consider a career as a voice over artist). He’s also very observant. He’s seen me at my computer perfecting piece after piece. He’s seen me send out three separate pieces and receive three identical rejections. He knows exactly which emotional buttons to push to get this writer all riled up.

But I’m fighting him off with work. I’ve done two marriage kit interviews in the past week. I’m knee deep in work on this college preparatory course (to be turned into possible eBook). I’ve set goals for myself to send off one piece and finish a chapter of another. I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading inspiring quotes and blog posts and listening to empowering messages. Yet, somehow I still feel I’m on the losing end of this battle.

As hard as I’ve been working with all of these blogs, the readership is still low. Even with fresh, well-executed ideas for new content, design tweaks, promotion on Facebook and Twitter, guest posters, a full digital recorder, and most of my creative energy and positive thoughts focused on it, the readership still hasn’t grown much. Despite giving these endeavors my best, I’ve made little to know progress. How, then, can I expect my fiction and memoir writing to make any waves in a much bigger pond?

This morning, I’ve been tired. I’ve filled as much time as I could taking in post from other writers, gathering to myself suggestions to shake up my writing life, but I still feel bereft of any real motivation to write anything. Instead, I just feel a weak pulse of jealousy mixed in with fear of rejection, insecurity, and discouragement. My writing self is on life support…

The Green Eyed Monster is about to claim another victim.