Version 2

Determination’s gotta win, right?

Yesterday, I got an amazing email.

An agent sought me out (from the PitchWars contest), and I’ve been following her on Twitter and keeping up on her for literally years. When she asked for pages, and then a full, I was on the floor in hysterics. SO. Excited. It felt right. It felt like after all this time, the door I so badly wanted to open was beginning to let in some light.

Yesterday, that email came. As my husband and other lovely encouragers and CPs have pointed out, it’s a very positive rejection (if such a thing exists). She said she loved the story and details, it was well-written, and the way the music themes were woven into it is something she looks for in her authors. That’s the most I’ve received from any agent in the way of positive feedback. But I couldn’t see that. In fact, right now, all I can really see if that she didn’t connect with my characters enough, or the pacing didn’t grab her and keep her on the edge of her seat (well, it’s not a thriller, but I get what she’s saying she prefers, I guess) the way she’d like.

Lots of agents do R&Rs. At worst I thought she’d do that, and I’d tighten it and tidy it according to her suggestions and the world would be an amazing place. I began writing this story in 2006. I’ve learned SO much through it. It’s a part of me, in so many ways, and I’ve put hours beyond counting into making this what I want it to be, but also what I hope others would enjoy. So when she didn’t ask for an R&R, I pretty much felt like the world turned dark and crumbled around me.

Basically how I've been feeling for the past 12 hours.
Basically how I’ve been feeling for the past 12 hours.

It’s my dream to be published, to write books with my life and focus wholly on that. Part of that dream is also to have an amazing agent who gets what I’m trying to say, who loves my voice, and who helps me better myself. So while an offer to publish from a small publisher came through PitMad, I decided to turn it down. That in itself is a huge encouragement that my story has some zing to it that somebody likes. I gave it careful thought, but I really do want to work with an agent, and that publisher and I weren’t the fit I was hoping for, so as honoured as I am, it’s not right for me.

I’m determined to reach my dream. Several times in my life, I’ve had my heart set on something, and as preposterous as it might’ve sounded to those around me, I reached for it, and got it. It might not have had a happy ending, but it melded into my personality over the years to stay determined and I could reach what I was really trying for. There’s no bigger dream than finding others who enjoy and believe in my writing, and making it the THING THAT I DO. It’s not just a hobby to me.

But there’s more to it than that, and I’m ashamed to admit it but we’re all friends, right? Since graduating at the top of my class as a mature student in 2010, I felt like nothing could stop me when I put my mind to it.

Some of you know that a LOT has stopped me since then. I’ve applied endlessly for jobs I can totally do, and most of the time not even received a response to my application. For 2.5 years. Writing AND applying for jobs?

inconceivable

And yet, that’s what I’ve been doing. My long-time favourite author, Simon R. Green, has a story that’s stuck with me. If you don’t know who he is, check him out. I’ve been reading (and re-reading) his books since I was 12. He’s the New York Times Bestselling author of the DEATHSTALKER series, an amazing space opera, and my personal favourite, BLUE MOON RISING, and the HAWK & FISHER series.

He had years and years of rejection letters before all his success, and then, after 3.5 years of being out of work, just TWO days after he finally got hired at a book store in Bath, he sold SEVEN NOVELS. In one year.

Granted, those were very different times for the publishing industry, but the idea stays the same. The man was struggling big time, but he was determined. I guess in my silly old head, I’ve been dreaming that some similar story would happen to me. That all this time trying to find where I fit in to the world – despite the 1st class degree and hard-work-pays-off uni experience that mocks me endlessly now – would not be for nothing; that it would have to have a happy ending.

I still believe it will. It doesn’t change the fact that I cried for about 2 hours last night, but I’m really thankful to the CPs and friends who’ve read some/all of my ms and told me not to give up. Besides, I’ve still got another year to catch up to Simon. (right?)

I know that my attitude right now is having a little freak-out and I’m not feeling on top of the world like I did when the agent and I were exchanging emails, and she was saying how excited she was to finish reading. I feel worse than I can remember feeling. But I need to suck it up, so hopefully by the end of the day I’ll start to get back on top of things, and know she just wasn’t the agent for me after all (despite what every cell in my body was telling me two days ago). So… this:

riker

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Version 2

Why receiving online feedback is fantastic. And why it can suck.

Oooh, controversial!

I recently posted the first few paragraphs of MS#1 online, on a website whose lovely writer host features regular contests that not only get agent attention, but allow readers to add their own feedback.

I know that I, more than anyone, need feedback to progress and grow as a writer. I’ve no shame in admitting this because it’s absolutely true! I need all the help I can get! High school English was a long time ago. I’m no grammar wiz. Often I make foolish mistakes and although I *know* better, my brain rushes through it without considering. I think a lot of writers do this. (Maybe? Or is it just me). Especially when we’ve written some parts so long ago that we don’t even properly see them anymore. Can I get an amen?

In this day and age we writers have more opportunity than ever before for exchanging feedback. There are thousands of websites for writers out there, with forums and mailing lists and match-ups for betas and CPs. Twitter and Facebook and other social networking sites help us find people who will tell us what we need to hear, in the way that helps us the most. I’m SO grateful to the people I’ve met so far, whose writing inspires me, and whose feedback pushes me! (You know who you are :))

But I’ve decided one arena in which a writer can trade feedback is not for me. The “contest.”

No one likes to receive flippant criticism. When someone tells me they think something needs to change, I’m delighted to understand where they’re coming from and make the change because it improves my story. I’ve had another person point to the same paragraph (possibly for the same reason, but I’ll never know) and basically say, “This sucks, I don’t understand it. I couldn’t get past it.” That doesn’t help me make it better.

So in this most recent contest, several of the comments I received were complimentary and encouraging, pointing out things they might change to improve, offering advice but also saying what they liked–all so very much appreciated. “This is where I tripped up, but maybe try this.” In leaving my own feedback for others, I chose genres and styles that I like to read, so that I could more easily suggest ways to improve. I don’t read much crime, so I skipped those.

What I don’t like is that contests like these are reciprocal. If your entry gets in, you are kindly asked to comment/critique on so many other entries as well. While this is requested in a spirit of fairness, it can backfire. It can cause pointless feedback because some people out there are just there to get feedback on their work and couldn’t give a flying patootie what other people do (and while I think the writing community is mainly generous and kind, those sorts of people exist everywhere). So they do it in a half-hearted, snippy, flippant way. And not only have I seen these responses confuse and frustrate other writers, you guessed it, it confuses and frustrates me. It’s easy to let emotions get in the way of clearly seeing work that is our heart’s expression. If someone says “this sucks”, then it must suck, right? Who am I to argue with Random Person X? And when you go down that trail, you’re liable to cut entire chapters out for no reason other than frustrated shame and self-doubt. But if that person is sitting across a coffeeshop table from you, typing an email, or responding in a forum, it’s much more comfortable to say, “Well, can you tell me why, and how you would change it?”

I went back and re-read a lot of the comments left on others’ work, and saw a bunch of similar feedback. It makes me want to go around to each and every one, clarifying what that person might’ve meant but didn’t say. Because nothing is more frustrating than thinking something’s wrong, but having no idea what or how to fix it. I can relate to this!

While I love getting my head down and charging full speed ahead, I need others along the path to see what I can’t see. Preferably others who *like* to help.

As a friend pointed out, often times these public critiques nurture bandwagon-mentality. “Yeah, I agree with Jane Doe up there. That paragraph is so out of place!” Well, did you think so when you first read it, or did you think so because Jane Doe said so? And I ask that in all seriousness. I need to know. I want to grow as a writer, but I find that situations like this cause more doubt than they do assurance that change is needed (or not).

And because these comments are sometimes made out of obligation, to tick off the numbers, they’re often things like, “Well, I don’t like this genre,” or “I can’t read books written in this tense.” Well…I don’t expect everyone to like the genre or tense I’ve chosen, and this is a contest for a variety of genres. It doesn’t help me to know that Joe Blogs doesn’t like present tense. I’m not going to change *that*. Sorry!

While I’ve gratefully received some beautiful gems in the feedback in this and past contests, I think the wrong mentality can easily be applied. In a forum, people aren’t given restrictions (usually) on how much to comment and critique. I tend to believe their feedback is genuine, and because their name is linked in the forum to their own posts, I can easily click to see what they’ve submitted. I think it’s safe to say everyone appreciates honest, helpful, friendly feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to swallow it, if it means making major changes. Tough; that’s life. And we want to grow, right? But it’s so much easier to anonymously post feedback on something because you have to, knowing that your identity isn’t linked to your OWN writing (in most cases).

I hope I don’t sound bitter! I’m actually happy because this means it’s one less avenue for me to explore, and makes it easier to focus on the blogs and avenues that I know do help me: one-on-one critiquing and specific forums. I feel much more at ease giving feedback in an email or chat or forum without feeling like 400 people just read a flippant remark and nodded, “Yeah. She sucks. NEXT!” I don’t need the world to see my writing before it’s published. Just the people who can help me make the changes I need to make to get there 😉

I will still love reading these kinds of posts and commenting on other brave souls’ shared work, because I know how good it feels to have someone put a finger on the things you’ve been unable to name, or for someone just to give you a pat on the back and say, “I like this; maybe try this here; clarify this; and keep at it!”

What feedback experiences have been the most helpful to you? Have contests worked for you? Specific online forums? Face-to-face groups? Emails between betas/CPs? I’d love to hear how other people seek out their feedback, and seek to give it. I LOVE reading others’ work and feeling like even one thing I suggest can help someone improve their story. It’s not always easy to receive, especially when you’ve poured years into something, but I don’t think it can be a truly solitary venture. Even if you work alone and never see your CPs face-to-face, it’s a fact that we get so close to our own work that we have to have others show us what it looks like, by lifting that mirror and telling us the things we’re not able to see with our own eyes. But I also think it works differently for everyone. So, sayonara, contests. Thanks for showing me how I work best.

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