Obligatory “lessons” year-end post

 

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I’d put in a meme, but… I don’t feel like Ripley right now. I feel like I’ve been buried 6 feet under.

There are days when I would rather gauge my eyes out with a rusted spoon than retrospect. I know it’s rich, coming from the person who gave you Stories for Lent, and also a Whole Lotta Other Personal Content, but there are times when being open and vulnerable just feels like too much.

And I already feel like I’ve overshared enough on this blog.

Still, it won’t be a complete year without me getting all close and personal One Last Time before the ball drops and we wait to see what horrors 2017 brings. In past blogs (and past nicknames) I’ve shared about all the stories I started and never finished, all the projects I wanted to tackle, all the Positive Lifestyle Changes I wanted to make (but never how those changes ended up messing with my head even more), and other random goals that were too ambitious and yet I set them myself anyway.

(Note: if you think setting yourself ambitious goals is a way to get you out of a rut, power to you and rock on. For me, personally, that stuff tends to backfire because I set too many of them and then I feel bad when I can’t keep all the balls up in the air. Still, if you always wanted to run a marathon and you think 2017 is the year, go for it and may the Force be with you.)

Anyway, while I started querying my novel in 2015, it’s 2016 when I really went for it. It’s also in this year that I opened my Red Bubble shop, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting around, picking my nose for 12 months.

Proactivity doesn’t come without mistakes, though, so here are some I’m about to give myself a dollar for making:

1. I queried every agency under the sun with Orpheus. Every. Last. One. (In the genre.) And you know what? I’d do it again. You think querying a lot of people reeks of desperation? Then I embrace my identity as a Desperate Lady-Writer (TM). I wrote a book, I queried the book. No agent is going to ride up on their white horse (or white Mercedes, or whatever it is that the top means of transport is these days) and recognize me as the gem they’ve been looking for if I don’t first put up a sign. I ain’t getting any younger, kids, and contrary to what the fairy tales say, I’m not about to sit here, twiddling my thumbs for 100 years before the form rejection arrives.

Speaking of which…

2. I queried twice. Not everyone, just those who were nice enough to send me encouragement. So here’s a lesson to you, agents – don’t be nice. People will bite your hand off for it (or at least return to your inbox with a Revised. Better! iteration of the project.)

3. I carried my MS around with me. I edited, I asked for opinions, I badgered my friends to read it. Most people managed to stall until I gave up, which was very smart of them because after a year of query and revision, it’s pretty obvious this project is not meant to be. (At this moment. In this market.) I did get a really nice consultation with an agent at the SCBWI retreat this year, which was really helpful – not least because it reinstated in my mind what the value of an agent is in the first place. So there you go – it wasn’t all that terrible.

4. I waited too long trying to make the book perfect. There ain’t no such thing as perfect, and I don’t know if I would have been able to make the book as strong as it was four years ago, when I first started writing it. I grew a lot as a writer. I changed. But the market also changed, and while I don’t believe we should consider current trends while writing, there is something to be said about sending a book in the vain hope that “fairies migth come back in fashion.” The only thing that happened is that my emotional investment grew, so when the inevitable rejections came, they stung a lot more than they should have.

5. On the subject of stinging, no, I was not always rational. Rejections came. In fact, nothing but rejections came, and while I held off from actually writing back to the agent, I would lie if I didn’t flip both middle fingers up at my computer screen, then forward the worst of them to my best friend so that we could bitch about it together. (I think my favourite one was when an agent used their form rejection to advertise their in-house literary consultancy for me. At the bargain price of xxx pounds, I too could be told all the reasons why my MS sucks, and maybe get a second chance of being represented!) I’m not saying that nobody should vent in private. I’m saying, I spent too much time doing that, when I could have been writing a new book.

6. I queried different people in the same agency. That happened once, and I was invited to do it, but I really should not have gotten my hopes up. If one rejected me, chances are, everyone else saw the query and shared the reasons for the rejection. I suspect it was a matter of market/other writers/other things beyond my control and not the story itself, but again – wasted time was wasted. And energy, and emotions, and whatnot. Bah, humbug!

7. I was not query-savvy. Lesson learned. Tailor the query letter better. Moving on.

8. I wrote what I didn’t know. And I continue to do so. Anybody who has a problem with that can go and behold the field in which I grow my fucks.

9. I queried under my real name (when I suspected I’d want a pen name anyway). Let me put this out there for you: If you are in love with your name and you want it to be on your work, then it should not matter how strange or hard-to-pronounce it is. And, as Jaron Lanier says, we should own what we write. But there are legit reasons why authors choose a nom-de-plume, and in my case, there are several factors at play. Hard-to-pronounce and thus hard to search for? Check. Plans to write in multiple and highly diverging fields? Check. Unfortunate associations? The root of my surname means “rotten” in Turkish, so I guess?

Was there ever someone who read my query and thought, “This person is not a native speaker, it’ll be hard to work with them”? I don’t know. It’s a possibility. I know that I have been denied work in the past (non-writing work, at that) because a prospective employer doubted my English skills (even after they interviewed me). This post isn’t about Writing Against Cultural Prejudice, because if you want your passport name to match the one on your book cover, no amount of arguing on the part of Savvy Publishing People is going to sway you.

Me? I’m a PhD candidate. It’s safe to say YA urban fantasy is not the only thing I will write. It’ll be confusing enough that my future employers will find this blog when they Google my name. (I don’t swear in front of my students, I promise.) I can’t imagine any prospective fiction readers being enthralled with my doctoral thesis, although who knows? I read some academics in my field like I used to read Garth Nix as a teenager.

 

 

Ultimately, none of these “mistakes” are mistakes if they are what you want to do, and you own them. Going forward, there are some things I will change. There are also some things that I will continue to do.

So here’s to 2016. Inspirational in the cruelest of ways.

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