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

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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

Writer’s Remorse

I’m not a very experienced submitter. I have only submitted writing to a handful of competitions–poetry and oratorical contests in middle school (where I won every gold medal/blue ribbon known to man), Prize Papers in high school (where a story about one of the biggest rejections of my life was won, ironically), the literary awards competition in college (where I ate the dust of an MFA candidate), and two literary magazines competitions (neither of which I won. One was for Crazy Horse and the other was for Boulevard). With so little experience with submitting work, and never giving myself too much time to think about what I am submitting when I submit, I often have a writer’s form of buyer’s remorse about my submissions.

I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but once I submit something to a teacher, a workshop group, an honest friend, or a competition, I am plagued with writer’s remorse. The moment the piece leaves my hands, I am overcome with doubts about the choices I made and the quality of the material. This time is no different. Even before I pressed the submit button, I wanted to change the opening of Pleasure’s Payne. I knew where I wanted the manuscript to start, and that I should blend the things before the beginning into the story, but I wasn’t confident enough in that option to pursue with only 4 hours left until the deadline…while at work, where I’m supposed to be working on what I’m paid to do. In the end, I ended up closing my eyes and pressing submit.

I know that the opening is still strong as is, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been better. It certainly didn’t help that the very thing I was going to do was tweeted as a warning by one of the editors reading the submissions. She was saying that if you don’t get selected for the top 50, perhaps it’s because your manuscript started in the wrong place. My first reaction was “Oh, my God! She’s reading my submission! She’s talking about me! I’m dead in the water already. How could I let this happen? But they’re judging on the content and voice and the quality of writing as well, right? I know the writing is good. Can’t they forgive a little misstep like giving a teeny bit too much background at the beginning?!” Yes, friends, I freaked out at an ambiguous twitter posting.

I’m so tempted to change the beginning now and continue on with it all “chopped and screwed,” but if I do manage to make it to the next round by some miracle, is that even allowed? I don’t know. Besides, I’m supposed to be finishing the book, but now I’m paralyzed with fear. I wrote another 3,000+ words after I entered it Thursday, but I wrote zero words yesterday. I know where the book is going, what needs to happen, what characters will be introduced, how they will get over their issues and find love with each other, but my pudgy little fingers are a little dejected right now. So help me snap out of it.

Have you ever had writer’s remorse? What happened? What advice can you give to a novice submitter?

XOXO

Erica

So You Think You Can Write?…I Did!

You guys, sorry for the LONG hiatus, but I’ve been busying doing a few writer things I think you should know about. First, I’ve been writing reviews over at HarlequinJunkie.com. I have loved Harlequin romance novels since I was a teenager, and I jumped at the chance to review their books on a site. I get at least nine books a month to review, which means my plate is always full of exciting new books to read and review. You can find my reviews by looking for reviews with a tag of “Erica.” My latest review is of A Beauty Uncovered by Andrea Laurence. I will be establishing a page where I will provide links to my reviews, etc.

Secondly, I did something slightly spur of the moment and submitted my 2011 Camp NaNoWriMo romance to Harlequin Mills Boon’s So You Think You Can Write Competition. There are over six hundred entries, and only 50 full manuscripts will be requested, so I don’t know how far I will get, especially since I didn’t let myself think too much before I wrote the pitch and hit submit on the last possible day, but I really believe in this story. If it doesn’t win and I don’t hear anything back from editors by the time they have followed up after the contest, I will publish it here. If you want to read the pitch and first 5000 words (and leave me some comments!), you can read it here. Stay and check out some other first chapters; I’ve read a few really good ones myself.

Lastly, I have been trying to finish my final edit for the book before I pass it to an editor for the final FINAL edit. It’s hard letting go, but I can see that the parts I’ve finished have been polished as much as they can be before I cross the line into over editing. I am hoping to have it turned over in another week or two.

Between all of this and increased work responsibilities, I’ve been neglecting my blogs, but I wanted to let you all know what’s going on with me and pledge to be a much better blogger. I will return at least once a week for Writer Wednesdays, to share progress, ponder writer issues, and just hear all about what’s going on with all of you. Promise.

XOXO

Erica