When Publishers Pass You By

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When I was much younger and just beginning to realize that I wanted a future as a writer, I had starry-eyed notions of a major publisher recognizing my talent and jumping to offer me a contract (with a generous advance, of course). Yeah, not so much. Instead I have a pile of rejection letters, mostly of the form variety, some with encouraging words about how my writing is good (just not quite right for them). I had to learn the hard way that being a good writer isn’t enough to get published. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be able to write at all as long as you have a big enough name to guarantee sales. Depressing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

A recent article in the Washington Post shares how Madeleine L’Engle and other well-known writers have suffered rejection over their careers. So how to deal with it when it happens to you?

Like L’Engle, stick to your vision. Don’t compromise your work to suit the industry’s sometimes narrow definitions of salable. Your readers are out there, even if your book is genre defying and a little odd (something readers are a lot more open to than publishers).

Like J.K. Rowling, keep persisting. Just because 12 publishers reject your book doesn’t mean 13 won’t be your lucky number. [Edited to add: Also like J.K., if you’re a woman, you might want to submit under initials or a gender neutral name instead of an obviously feminine name–especially if you don’t write romance or “women’s fiction.” Sexism in publishing is real, and I wish I’d realized that years ago.]

Like Beatrix Potter, do it yourself. Self publishing has been around a long time and is only getting bigger. When traditional publishers have let you down (or you don’t even want to bother with them in the first place), don’t be afraid to go the indie route (which is what I did with my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding–and what I will also be doing with the new novel I’m working on).

Whatever you do, don’t let rejections get to you. They are common, they are inevitable, and they don’t reflect the quality of your work or you as a person. Just remember: a good story will find a way.

How do you deal with professional rejection? Share in the comments.

[This was originally posted on 13 March 2018. Re-posted with minor edits.]

It’s Okay to Hate Your Work

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If you’re creative at all, you’re well familiar with the feeling of hating your own work. At some point you’ll be 100% convinced that everything you’ve done is garbage. It’s not fun. It’s also probably not accurate. More importantly, just because you hate your work doesn’t mean anyone else does or will. Need proof? Here are some famous writers who hated their own work…

Anthony Burgess regretted A Clockwork Orange, claiming the misinterpretation of it (partly from the way it was presented in the film) would “pursue me until I die,” and also calling it his “little squib of a book” in his introduction to a later edition.

Stephen King thought his book Carrie was such a waste of time that he threw the manuscript away. His wife fished it out of the trash and encouraged him to keep trying.

Leo Tolstoy ended his life regretting and being ashamed of having written both War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy scholar Pavel Basinsky claims it’s the Russian way to renounce everything they’ve done before. It might also be the writer’s way.

Speaking of Russian writers, Vladimir Nabokov got so disgusted with Lolita that at one point as he was working on it, he fed the pages into a fire. His wife, Vera, saved as much as she could and Nabokov ended up completing the novel.

Peter Benchley so regretted the paranoia toward sharks caused by his novel Jaws that he because a shark conservationist. He claimed in an interview that he could never write a book like that again, having learned about what sharks are actually like. Maybe hating your own work isn’t always a bad thing.

How do you cope when you hate your work? Share in the comments…

To find out more about these and other writers and the books they’ve written and hated, check out LitHub and Goodreads.

[This was originally posted 5 March 2018.]

16 Butterflies (and a Turtle)

As we head into the holiday season, I thought I’d share some favourite posts from the past. This was originally posted on 12 February, 2o18…

Recently I paid a visit to the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory (Ontario, Canada) and I’m so glad I did. Besides being the perfect respite from the freezing weather, it was a magical experience being surrounded by butterflies (many more than 16). I highly recommend it. I thought I’d share a few of the photos I took…

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Basking in the sunshine

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You’d never guess what this butterfly looks like with its wings open….

Continue reading “16 Butterflies (and a Turtle)”

10 Ways to Get Your Creativity Flowing

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Everyone has times when they need to be creative (even those of you who swear you were born without the creativity gene). Whether you’re trying to turn random ingredients into dinner, or are writing an epic novel, creativity is part of life. But there are times when the creative energy seems to burn out and your perspective on your current project has gone stale. If you need help getting the inspiration flowing again, here are ten things you can try to renew your creativity…

Don’t Force It: No matter how often people claim to work best under pressure, stress doesn’t produce quality results. Unless you’re aiming for quantity rather than quality, trash those arbitrary goals (1000 words every day!), take a deep breath, and relax. Don’t be afraid to walk away for a bit (whether it’s for a five-minute break, an hour-long nap, or to start a new project entirely), if you need to. It’s amazing how well the ideas come when you’re not forcing them.

Try Something New: When your comfort zone feels tapped out, it can help to look for inspiration elsewhere. If you’re a painter, try listening to (or playing) music. If you’re a writer, bake something. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s something out of your ordinary. Creativity begets creativity, and being creative in a new way can spur you on in your usual field.

Take a Walk: Interrupting desk (or wherever you do your best work) time with a walk may seem counter-intuitive, but a Stanford study found that a person walking, whether on a treadmill or out in the world, “produced twice as many creative responses” as someone sitting. The benefits continued even after the walk was over. The next time you need to brainstorm, consider doing it on the move.

Travel: Ideally this will involve foreign shores and exotic cultures, but it doesn’t have to. Go as far as you can, even if that’s just a few streets over. Check out a part of town you’ve never been to. Try a restaurant that serves a kind of food you’ve never had. Meet new people. Go exploring. Be open to new adventures and see how far you go, even if the actual distance is short.

Be Inventive: Try this exercise: take everyday items and come up with as many unusual uses for them as you can. What else can you do with hair ties, forks, or a shoe, for example? Imagine yourself in different situations (desert island, post-apocalyptic…) trying to make the most use of everything in a world with few resources. This re-inventing of common items is a form of creative thinking that can then lead to more creative breakthroughs.

Get Inspired: Enjoying other people’s work and ideas can prove inspiring. Spend time in museums, art galleries, and libraries, going to concerts, taking classes, reading new or favourite authors, or poring over your favourite websites and magazines. Even people watching can be a great source of inspiration.

Create Without a Plan: When you’re stuck, start making something, even if it’s “just” doodles or stream-of-consciousness journal entries or putting together fabrics you like. As you create aimlessly, ideas will start coming to you and you’ll likely be inspired to complete an old project or start something new.

Be Prepared: Ideas can happen anywhere, and often when you’re in the middle of something else. Make sure to always have with you a way to record all your ideas: a sketchbook, notepad, app–whatever works for you. If you have to, drop whatever else you’re doing to get everything down while it’s fresh (the Muse doesn’t linger and you will not remember later, no matter what you tell yourself!)

Work Somewhere New: A change of scenery can sometimes be all you need to light a spark. If any part of your work is portable, try taking it to a park, coffee shop, or anywhere else that appeals to you. Or try rearranging/redecorating your office/work space.

Change Your Perspective: Consider your project as though you’re someone totally different (whether someone specific, or just a generic “character”). How would that person approach the project? What might they see that you don’t, and what would they do about that? See your work through their eyes.

Have you tried any of these techniques? What did you think of them? Do you have any other suggestions to add? Please share in the comments 🙂

 

 

 

The 4 Responsibilities of Writers…Maybe

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Phillip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, recently wrote an essay on the responsibilities of writers (the essay appears in his new collection Daemon Voices). Four of these key responsibilities were summed up and illustrated by Nathan Gelgud, and after reading them, well, I’m not so sure I agree. Here’s the list:

  1. Make money.
  2. Protect language.
  3. Have tact.
  4. Service the story.

On the surface these seem more or less reasonable, but when Pullman expands on each point I start to take some issue.

Make Money: Pullman states that we [writers] have the responsibility of “doing it as well and as profitably as we can.”

Yes and no. Of course writers should be compensated for their work–because it is work. It’s a little shocking how often writers, who spend many lonely hours creating even the shortest pieces, are expected to give their work away for nothing. And now there’s a whole slew of indie writers who routinely give away their first novels free, hoping to hook readers with cliffhanger endings and sell them the next installment in the series. These authors are selfishly making it harder for the rest of us to earn a living by devaluing all our work in the eyes of readers. But successful authors like Pullman are speaking from a rather lofty position when they announce that writers have a “responsibility” to be as profitable as possible. Easy to say for a lucky few.

Profit also shouldn’t be a writer’s main priority: that should be the writing. Making money is good and necessary (yes, those of us in the arts have as much right to earn a comfortable living as anyone else), but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the art.

Protect Language: At first this one sounds okay–until you delve into it a little more. Pullman states that those of us who use language professionally “are responsible for looking after it.” Looking after it how? Protecting it from what? Should we fight the inevitable changes that all languages undergo? Should my characters speak in stilted dialogue so that the language isn’t sullied by the more relaxed slang that most people use in casual conversation? And what language should we be preserving, exactly? Language as presented in textbooks? The language of the majority that’s spoken right now, or the language spoken twenty years ago? Fifty? A hundred? I agree–some “innovations” in language are beyond annoying (using “gift” as a verb springs immediately to mind), but language is a living, breathing, evolving thing. It’s preserved by being used, no matter how or by whom. The only truly protected language is a dead one. Maybe Pullman wants us all to write in Latin.

Have Tact: On this responsibility, Pullman explains, “We who tell stories should be modest about the job, and not assume that just because the reader is interested in the story, they’re interested in who’s telling it. A storyteller should be invisible…”

As an introvert I would love to be invisible. But since when have writers not named Anonymous ever been invisible? We’re expected to provide pictures and bios, to give interviews, go to events, interact with readers. I won’t even get started on social media. From what I’ve experienced, readers want us to share, not just about our books, but about ourselves. Still, anyone not interested can feel free to tell me to shut up. I will happily oblige.

Service the Story: I thought this would be the one responsibility I fully agreed with–until I read Pullman’s description. He says that as a “good servant,” he has to keep regular hours, stay sober, and stay in good health. Not what I was expecting. It’s great if doing these things helps Pullman write the best possible story he can, but that doesn’t work for everyone–and why should it? Those in poor health can still write, and even write brilliantly. I’m not suggesting anyone crack open a bottle of Merlot before hitting the keyboard, but writing under the (slight) influence can stimulate creativity. Service the story your own way.

Responsibility is a heavy word, and I think Phillip Pullman may have taken it too lightly. Writing is difficult enough without feeling obligated to burden oneself with someone else’s ideas of what’s necessary. What writers are responsible for is to write, to get their words out, and to do it whatever way works for them. As someone wise once said: do you, boo. Do you.

What do you think? Do you agree with Phillip Pullman? Share in the comments…

You can see the original article with Pullman’s quotes here.