So sketchy

Every day, I post a very short story on Twitter for the #vss365 writing prompt. My daughter is an artist, so I did some digging to see if there was a daily prompt for her.

I discovered:
#Sketchtember (a sketch a day)
#Inktober (an inked drawing a day)
#NaNoDrawMo (50 pieces in a month)
#Drawcember (a drawing a day)

And more (a wiki list of art challenges)

I’m not an artist, but my daughter’s excitement is infectious. I’m going to give Sketchtember a try.

Digging in

Two years ago, my uncle told me a fantastic (and real) tale of adventure in Bombay that took place 50 years ago. The story had me, my husband, and one of my best friends spellbound.

So that will be my next novel. A fictionalized historical set in Bombay in 1970 involving my uncle, my grandmother, a runaway princess from a neighbouring country, a wannabe Bollywood star, and an abandoned infant.

I’ve started doing the research. And OMG it’s a helluva lot of fun. I wish I could write full time.


After half a dozen query workshops and tons of advice from friends who are published, I’ve taken that leap! I’m querying my novel.

I braced myself for a long, hard fall, and then discovered that I have a little parachute that’s helping me gently float — manuscript requests!

It feels so incredibly good to wake up in the morning to a full request! Someone, somewhere, wants to read a little bit more of something I wrote.

I started querying early August. So I’m not that far in yet, but I’ve learned that I have a query that gets responses. That feels like a big win, because marketing has always been a mysterious and frightening thing for me.

More lessons to come, I’m sure … but for now, I’m so grateful for this parachute that’s slowing the terrifying free fall.

Turning Rejection into Motivation

Once again, I turned to the 88 Cups of Tea podcast to continue to explore the subject of rejection. I listened to Episode 139 – An interview with Rachel Heng.

Pro Tip: “Don’t take it personally… The literary world is about rejection.”

Rachel Heng, award-winning author of the “Suicide Club,” shared her path to publication, which involved over 300 rejections.

She approached writing from more of an academic angle, so most of her 300+ submissions were to literary journals. She also talked at length about pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree, and how she received her acceptance to a university program at the same time as she got the publishing contract for her first novel.

I assume she’s in Europe somewhere, because she said repeatedly that no one should have to pay for a degree and that if you keep pushing you’ll be able to get into a fully-funded program, and that’s kind of unheard of where I live. Sadly, we’re just not that progressive here.

Getting back to rejection…

To get published, you have to put yourself out there. The literary world is about rejection, and you have to get used to it. Don’t take it personally.

Aim for 100 rejections a year.

After the first year, she learned that rejection often has nothing to do with the quality of the story. If you are getting soft rejections with personal notes, then it’s likely your work doesn’t match the “theme” or “subject” the agent/publisher is looking for, or they may already have 5 stories on that topic. There are so many factors. The quality of the story is just small part of it.

Rachel recommends writing classes, courses, and conferences. One story that had been rejected 27 times got picked up by a journal after she workshopped it. And that story was later nominated for an award.

For pushing on, it is absolutely crucial to have writing friends who understand what you are going through and can tell you honestly when your work is good enough to submit. Your other friends may love you, but they won’t really get where you are coming from, and they won’t understand how to help you.

Rachel is a strong advocate of continuing education and pushing on to improve writing skills. In competitive programs, with low admission rates of 1-2%, many writers need to apply 2-4 times to get in.

Don’t give up. Spread your net wide. Write, apply to programs, keep pushing on.

She also offered advice on writing even when you don’t feel like it. She suggested writers find a routine that works and stick with it.

“There’s a really fine balance between pushing yourself through discomfort and not giving up but also like being kind to yourself and knowing when it’s not working, and then stepping back and giving yourself time and space to refuel before you go back to writing.”

When she was working full time and also writing, she aimed to write 500 words a day before she went to work. That would get her to a draft within 6 months. She prefers consistent and small steps.

But some work the other way. I am one of those people. I write in bursts and that works for me. Find what works best for you.

When asked about writing advice, Rachel said people shouldn’t worry over what famous writers say to do or not do.

“Don’t beat yourself up over it. If some famous writer says you need to do XYZ and I tried it and it didn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean that you can’t write. It just means you work differently, that’s all.”

She closed the interview with query tips. She didn’t offer any advice that was new to me, but it was still good to hear it, because it confirmed what I already know.

“Do your research and aim high. It’s easy to say there’s no point submitting to a particular agent, even if they are like your dream agent, but you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Do it in rounds and aim as high as possible. Even higher than you think you can get.

Don’t self-sabotage. Aim for agents who represent the work you love or who you think would be a great advocate for your work.

Try to learn as much as you can about the agents and the tailor your query to them.”

Resilience – Pushing past rejection

Today, I listened to the 88 Cups of Tea podcast, Episode 155, an interview with Julie Dao on pushing past rejection.

Pro Tip: “Get back to loving writing.”

“You can be the best writer ever, you could write the greatest story, and still be told no over, and over, and over. So you have to separate that being a writer and being an author is not always about talent – it’s about perseverance. It’s about wanting something more than anything you’ve ever wanted before and letting that desire to overcome help you push past all of the rejections.”

This interview begins with Julie’s story, her path to becoming published.

I won’t delve too deeply into that part of the interview, except to say that writing fanfiction had made her feel like becoming an author was actually possible.

In this one respect, my (short) journey mirrors Julie’s. I doubt I’d be brave enough to attempt novel writing had it not been for the incredible support I received from fanfic readers and writers.

It’s an amazing feeling having people you don’t know love your work and clamour for more.  

Julie didn’t have an easy go of it. She’d been writing for 8 years before she landed an agent, who she met through PidMad. She’d written 6 full novels before her her first novel was purchased by a publisher.

The hardest part for her was the year just prior to an agent offering to represent her work, as she had 15 agents sit with her full manuscript for over a year. She became depressed and started thinking about giving up on her dream.

Julie hit rock bottom when an agent asked for an R & R (a revise and resubmit). The agent called, didn’t offer representation, but gave Julie ideas for revisions. Julie took all those ideas to heart. She worked for 6 months on revisions. Then, after all that work, the agent rejected the story because she didn’t like it anymore.

During that year of hell, Julie found that all of the marketing parts of becoming an author had worn her down. She decided to get back to loving writing.

Julie explained, “Authors have to be marketers, but writers can just love words.”

“Being a writer and being an author isn’t always about talent. You have to separate that out. It’s about perseverance. It’s about wanting something more than anything you’ve ever wanted before. And … [use] that desire to push back all of the rejections. Because we all get rejections. No one is agented on the first try or published on the first try.”

Julie said that things got a lot easier after she realized that “rejection is an inevitable part of our business. Once I learned that being told ‘no’ is a natural and normal thing, it became easier to keep pushing on.”

While those 15 agents sat with her work for over a year, she decided to stop querying altogether. She took time to write a story just for herself. And that was the mindset that she was in when she wrote the book that was eventually published.

Julie shared that one of her mistakes was in thinking that it was smooth sailing after she had representation. The book that scored her an agent wasn’t purchased by a publisher. She received 30 rejections from publishers in the months that followed.

So, even though she’d gotten in the door, there was another series of doors that kept slamming in her face.

She said it’s incredibly important to write something for yourself first. A story you love, even if no one else ever wants it.

Julie closed the interview with this advice: “The day you give up could be the day before your dream comes true. Another day could bring something completely different. Each day is full of possibilities that you don’t know existed before.”

“So when you go to bed, and you feel dejected, just remember that the next day could bring something new. Be proud of what you’re writing and have confidence in your own work.” 

An Agent’s take on Dream Authors… and so much more

Today, I listened to the Beautiful Writer’s Podcast interview with Laura Yorke, Agent at Carol Mann Agency.

Pro Tip: “Getting published isn’t the be all and end all. It may seem like it… It can be the start of all sorts of incredible things… but if you don’t enjoy the writing in the moment while your’e doing it, then you’re wasting your time.”

I can only touch on what’s discussed because this interview is overflowing with information.

If this post intrigues you, listen to the full interview.

Some of the topics discussed:

  • What an editor needs from the author to take on their book
  • For an agent, what makes a dream/nightmare client
  • At least 50% of non-fiction books are ghost written, maybe more; likely 30% of memoirs are too.
  • If you want a job writing, be a ghost writer.
  • How often agents have to say no, and how they decide
  • How publishing has changed — it’s more like the music industry
  • The advantages of signing with a small publisher
  • What makes a best seller
  • General advice for success in the publishing industry industry

So these are the bits that either grabbed me or blew my mind.

What an editor needs to take a book

Editors need to really believe in the book that they are publishing. Not just the message. The writing too.

Even if it is an incredible and gripping story, if the writing doesn’t pull the editor in, they will pass on it. If the editor isn’t fully in love with the work, then it won’t make it past the editorial board.

An agent’s dream client

A dream client is aware of the industry. The author knows what it’s like today, not how it used to be because it’s changed a lot. The author is aware of other people’s time limits — because both agents and editors have so much material in front of them all the time, it’s insane.

And if they don’t already understand what that kind of overload is like, then they listen to the agent and they accept it.

For instance, with fiction, it can take months for an agent to let you know if they are going to represent you or not. And it can take months for editors to come back to you with a response. A nightmare client is one who is bitching about that.

When you get rejections, a nightmare client refuses to think that maybe it has something to do with their writing, or maybe it has something to do with other books that are out there on the market right now. 

An angel client says, “Well, thank you so much for trying. I know that it doesn’t always fly. It’s the way that it goes.”

A dream client is someone the agent can dialog with. It doesn’t have to all be pleasant. Just open and honest. Hear the agent out and believe them when they say they are doing their best. A dream author listens.

Some interesting facts about the publishing industry

An author is the person’s whose name is on the book. The writer is the person who wrote the words. Often the author has the market, platform, and experience, and the writer has the writing skills.

At the time of the interview, Laura estimated there were only 5,000 ghost writers in the US. She said it’s a great career. Ghost writers are always needed.

Laura estimated 50% of nonfiction books are ghostwritten.

Laura’s take on an agent’s job

Laura sees herself as a matchmaker. She puts a good author and writer together. The same is true for an author and an editor. It’s a critical part of the job. Being able to match people correctly. She does this by really listening to what her clients have to say. 

How Laura chooses clients

She said 95% of her clients are referrals. It is extremely rare for Laura to take something cold (blind).

Laura’s advice to writers without connections

Laura said, if somehow a non-referred pitch were to come her way, To even look at it, your pitch has to be well written, short, to the point, and so strong in its writing that I go, ‘Huh,’ this is (a) a really interesting subject and (b) this person can write. Those are the only two things that are going to make me pick something up cold.”

Nothing reaches Laura’s desk unless its vetted

Her agency has a stable of interns who go through all the mail that is submitted. Nothing gets to an agent unless it would be of interest to them.

Laura can’t even explain how that system works. She can’t say how many things come in a day, but about 40 pitches are sent to her from that team daily.

Authors have to sell their work

One of the first things she’s asks a client is, “What are you willing to do? Are you willing to get freelance publicity?.. .Do you have a company that’s willing to buy that book, at 10,000 or so?” She needs that info to pitch to publishers.  

The industry has changed

Publishing has become somewhat like the music industry because of digital publishing and blogging. People don’t buy books as much as they used to, and they want shorter books than they used to.

Passion used to drive this industry. Now, if an author doesn’t have a platform, it’s going to be a hard sell. “I’m sorry to say that so bluntly, but it’s just the fact of the matter. If you can’t give me ammunition to sell, then it’s hard.”

Smaller publishers, like Skyhorse, can offer partnership in building a platform, as long as you come to the table with something beautiful. 

Identifying best sellers

Sometimes amazing books that are really great aren’t best sellers. And it’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault.

There are so many variables in this industry that you can not control, whether you’re the author, the editor, or the agent. All you can do is keep trying and do your best. Put all your effort into it and believing in the book.

This comes back to being that dream client. A dream client will say to her agent, “Whatever happens, I know I’m in the best hands that I could possibly be in.”

Even in the face of rejection, a dream client would say, “This sucks, but it’s nobody’s fault. I’m frustrated by it, but I know everybody’s trying.” A horrible author is one that blames the publisher, editor, or agent.

Laura says she’s still surprised by books that don’t work that she was positive would hit the best seller list. Sometimes it’s because another similar book hit the list just before it. 

Laura’s secret to success

Laura says her success comes her ability to remain present. She offers the following advice to authors.

“As much as you can, stay in the moment, and do not let anticipatory anxiety take over your work. Writing is such a wonderful and fun thing. Enjoy writing. Just enjoy it.”

“This isn’t the business you go into because you want to become famous or to do for money.”

“People say, ‘I can’t quit my job. I thought you were going to get me that kind of advance.’ What century are you living in?”

“Stay present in your work and love writing. Love it. And you will get rewards.”