Two – count them! – spectacular things happened to me today. First a package arrived on my doorstep this morning. What could it possibly have contained? Oh, just the PROOF COPIES OF MY FIRST EVER PUBLISHED NOVEL.
Sorry, sorry. Got a bit excited. I’ve turned the caps lock off now.
I am not complaining. It’s actually kind of humbling to know people are excited to read something I wrote. I’m ecstatic, as well. But when I opened that proof copy today and saw my words – my very own words – all lined up on the page of an actual book, well, I had a moment. I got a bit trembly.
I just hope that I can go some way to fulfilling the hopes of those people who are excited for this story, and they will love it at least a little bit as much as I do. *crosses fingers* *closes eyes tight* *wishes hard*
My big news this week is that the printed proof copies of The Beast’s Heart have arrived in the London office of my publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, and a small pile of them will soon be winging their way into my waiting hands.
To say I’m excited is putting it mildly. Up until those photos were tweeted, I had only seen the front cover, so I’m still swooning a bit over the detail on the spine and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when I read the lovely words they’ve put on the back.
Seeing my name on the 2016 Aurealis shortlist a couple of weeks ago was pretty bloody thrilling. There is a writing goal I’ve had my eye on ever since the moment when I first held a copy of Winds of Change – the anthology in which my first-ever published story appeared – in my hot little hands.
What made the nomination even sweeter was seeing how many of my really good writing buddies were on that list with me. The Australian Speculative Fiction community is pretty small and (in my experience anyway) a really collegiate, supportive bunch of people. I know a fair few people on that list now. But, among all the nominees I know and admire, it was very satisfying seeing how many of my fellow Canberra writers and members of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild appeared on the list:
Ian McHugh (nom for Best Science Fiction Short with The Baby Eaters in Asimov’s)
T R Napper (nom for Best Horror Short with The Flame Trees in Asimov’s)
Dave Versace (nom for Best Fantasy Short with The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat in Aurealis)
Shauna O’Meara (nom for Best YA Short for No One Here Is Going To Save You in In Your Face)
Kaaron Warren (noms for Best Horror and Best Sci Fi Short for 68 Days in Tomorrow’s Cthuluand Best Horror Novel for The Grief Hole)
Simon Petrie (nom for Best Sci Fi Novella for All the Colours of the Tomato in Dimension 6).
Echoing these sentiments, my mate Tim (aka T R Napper) tweeted:
(i critted five of the stories shortlisted for the @aurealisawards – think I picked the right writer’s group)
Which got me thinking about the important role my writing community has played in getting Pretty Jennie Greenteeth this far. In fact, in getting all of my stories published.
Just looking at Pretty Jennie Greenteeth, I found out about Belladonna Publishing and the anthologies they were producing through my writing group. Someone (I think it was Dave Versace) pointed me at their submissions call for their Black Apples anthology, which they knew was right up my alley. I didn’t end up getting a story into that anthology (damn), but I was instantly on it when Belladonna put their next call out. That willingness to share information about opportunities is something invaluable about my writing crowd, the CSFG. Especially to a rank rookie writer who had no idea who was who or what was anything. And not only did they help me figure out where in the industry I needed to be sending my submissions, but they also helped me figure out how to submit.
Start at the top. Work your way down. You’re never going to know what level you’re writing to if you don’t start at the top.
– Ian McHugh
^^That’s one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given. Submit to the best markets first. Where do you want most to be published? Go there first. You just won’t know if your piece was good enough for them if you don’t send it.
Then there’s the frank and fearless feedback offered by the CSFG critiquing circles. I’ve had my work critiqued by almost everyone on the list of nominees above. In fact, these guys are basically my go-to peeps outside the organised critiquing circle, especially when a deadline is looming, or I just want to sit & talk through a piece and really hash out the issues. Pretty Jennie Greenteeth went through CSFG’s short story critiquing circle. I got some really useful feedback on it, including, from memory, advice on dealing with a continuity issue, comment on a difficult-to-pronounce name and warning flags on cliches. But a good critiquing partner will also tell you where you’re going right. We’re all suckers for metaphorical pats on the head in this business, but damn it feels good when someone whose work you admire says they like your story. (Thank you Dave Versace and Tim Napper in this case.)
Then there’s what happens after your story gets published (if your luck is in & you get that far.) Tim Napper, in particular, is fairly tireless in his commitment to spruiking stories by Australian authors that he rates well. He regularly posts about good Australian fiction he’s read and he put this great post up recently with his recommendations on Australian stories that came out in 2016 that are eligible for the Ditmar awards (these are Australia’s fan-voted genre awards, the Aurealis awards are the juried awards). Even if you’re not necessarily eligible to vote in the Ditmars, it is worth checking out his list, because he’s recommended some fantastic fiction. (If you are eligible, you should get your skates on and vote – noms close tonight, 19 March, 11.59pm AEDST: list of eligible works, online voting form.) Full disclosure: he’s recommended one of mine, Breathing (Aurealis #95). But I am far and away the junior partner on that list, so I have no hesitation in adding my voice to his exhortations to read the others’ work.
I’m far from the first to point out writing can be a lonely business. And trying to judge for yourself whether your piece of fiction needs more work or is ready to send out into the world is a tricksy business. Finding your writing community, the right writing community for you, is a gift of incalculable worth. And it can make bringing your stories out into the world just that little bit easier.
I know it’s a cliche to compare producing a novel to having a baby, but bear with me for a moment.
I am gearing up to start sending query letters out into the world for Novel Project #1. I’ve spent a lot of time researching how you’re supposed to go about this, finding likely agents and preparing my stuff.
As I was doing my last minute ‘am-I-really-ready-for-this’ checks this morning, I found this blog post from Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) and a whole new aspect of the novel-as-baby comparison occurred to me.
I’ve got two kids (they’re gorgeous, don’t get me started, we’ll be here forever.) I worked as a nanny for a couple of years in my 20s, for a number of different families with children aged from 3 months to 9 years old. So, even before I had my own, I was better prepared than most. I thought had a fair idea of what having my own kids would be like.
I had no idea. There’s no way you can. Every now and then you will find something that gives you a little window into what parenthood will actually be like. But nothing can really prepare you for the amount of work it takes, the impact on how you live your life, the sudden lack of control and complete inability to set your own timetable for anything. (There are, I should add, many indescribably wonderful things about parenthood, too.)
Reading Erin Morgenstern’s post about her novel’s journey from when she started sending out query letters to when she accepted her agent’s offer of representation gave me one of those worrying little windows on the journey to novel publication. (And, I note, Erin kinda had a dream run.) I’m not completely new to this writing gig. I’ve got a few short story sales under my belt now and I’ve spent the last few years learning as much as I can about the publishing industry. I feel like I’ve done what I can to understand what the next stage of the journey will be like.
Even so, when I read Erin’s blog post I thought “Oh God, am I really ready for this?”
Probably not. But, like parenthood, I don’t know if you can be, so maybe that’s not the question to ask.
I love getting edits. It’s like having someone else brush my hair.
I love having to focus on a word or a sentence or a paragraph and really think about what I wanted it to do. What is the meaning I want it to convey? What is the feeling I want it to build? Which other bit of the story do I want it to point to? Which pieces of information do I want it to connect?
Of course I try and do that anyway, when I edit my own work. But there’s something about having someone sift through your writing and point out a fumble or a piece of fuzziness that is like having a skilled masseuse find out a bothersome knot in your shoulder and work it away.
I sent my most recent story out a couple of weeks ago. I’m really happy with it, and I wrote it for an anthology being put together by a publisher whose work I admire. It’s a great concept for an antho, and I’d love to be involved. However, I have found myself a little torn.
You see, being a realist, I have to acknowledge that, despite the clear genius of this particular story, and my brilliant interpretation of the anthology theme, this publisher may reject it. There’s a smorgasbord of reasons why this might happen (including that my estimation of this story’s awesomeness may be wildly subjective). So, being an optimist, I have had a bit of a think about where else I might send it, if it bounces, and now I’ve come up with some ideas that I’m really quite excited about.
So, now I’m feeling torn!
It would be just as awesome to be picked up by Publisher B as it would be by Publisher A. C, D, E & F aren’t bad either.
I have to say, this is a preferable situation to be in, than having to face the inevitable despondency that comes with rejection cold. At least now I’ve got a backup plan.
One of the most useful things my writing group, the CSFG, has kicked off in recent times (probably about a year and a half ago), is a thing we affectionately call ‘Rejectomancy’. I think Ian McHugh coined that title. The idea that is that those of us participating set ourselves a submission goal for the year, acknowledging that rejection is the norm, and we’ll probably rack up a fair few. You might go with a formula something like: 5 submissions per story before it gets picked up. If you have 3 stories in your trunk, and you reckon you might write another 4 that year, that would give you a goal of 35 submissions. Of course, if that seems overwhelming, you can adjust it up or down.
We then report back to the group on the number of rejections we’ve had to date. It’s actually kinda fun & takes the sting out of every ‘thanks but no thanks’ email.
(I set myself a goal of 25, and I’m failing miserably, having made only 10 subs and it’s August already. However, I’ve got the best excuse ever, being that I sold 3 stories early on and much, much quicker than I’d anticipated.)
Rejectomancy has given me several things.
I feel much more OK about rejections now. It’s no longer soul-destroying (well, not always, shall we say) and I’m much better able to just see it as part of the professional process.
It makes me put together a bit of a submission plan for each story. If I’m going to do 5 subs on Story X, where are those subs going to be? I make a list of the markets I think will suit it best, and go from the top down. (That’s another bit of advice from Ian McHugh. Start at the top. Always.)
It means I almost always have a few out there, doing the rounds. It’s like buying a lottery ticket. Your chances of winning are small, but they’re non-existent if you don’t buy a ticket. As long as I’ve got the story out there, in some editor/slush-wrangler’s in-box, my dream of it being published is still alive.