Thursday, 9 April 2009


Interesting piece on BookBrunch here. The woman who button-holed Trevor Dolby is making the same mistake as some unpublished authors - believing that there's some kind of conspiracy amongst agents and publishers not to publish good writing. (Er, hello, can someone please suggest a single sane reason why such a conspiracy might exist????) It's another deluded idiot symptom and will get her nowhere. (Understandable though her frustration is, and I really mean that.)

Such people also seem to think that no agents or publishers would know a good piece of writing if it came up and spat at them. No, sorry, it's we the authors who are the last people to be able to be objective about our own work - though we need to try - and the sooner we accept that the opinion of our desired readers, including the professional and multi-experienced ones, matter more than our own, the sooner we will become published and enjoyed by the reading public.

And here's the thing: all the agents and publishers who rejected me during my now well-documented and shameful 21 years of failing, were RIGHT. And I am even grateful to them. (Though at the time, I'd probably have stuck pins in a few publishers' wax models if I'd been any good at fashioning passable likenesses in wax.) See, I believed I was good enough a writer - which we have to believe, in order to keep going, don't we? And yet at the same time, we also need to recognise that there's something about what we're doing that isn't yet good enough. That's the dilemma, the razor-edge we have to walk along. And all that is why I'm deeply grateful (and not even through gritted teeth) to all of them for not publishing my substandard stuff.

I don't know about you, but much as I desperately need to be published, I more need to be read and enjoyed. We don't write in a vacuum, or even in a nurturing bubble occupied only by our family, undiscerning friends and pets: we write to be read and heard. Don't we? Therefore, we simply have to listen carefully to those who might read and hear us and those who might have a fighting chance of taking our words to the wider audience.

And if no one wants to listen to our words, then we should either shut up or write better.

Woah, crabbit or WHAT today??


Paige Bruce said...

Thank you for your blog. Seriously, I'm so happy I found it. As an aspiring writer, the information you're talking about is -incredibly- helpful and I love that you're not going to beat around the bush about it! I want to learn how to write, and how to write stories worth publishing - I don't need anyone to hold my hand!

TOM J VOWLER said...

Yes, great blog, though perhaps more colours could be used to brighten up the text a little.

Tongue out of cheek now...New writers (shall we agree a definition?) shouldn't be allowed to submit to agents/publishers. Apprenticeships - though not necessarily 21 years in duration - should be compulsory.

Nicola Morgan said...

Now, Tom, are you complaining that I put a little colour in your life?? I like colours - and I can't be arsed to spend time finding the pretty pictures that you have on your excellent (though B&W) blog.

Seriously though, oh, new writers certainly should submit - but when they are rejected they should do what management-speak calls find the "learnings". If I'd found the learnings a bit earlier, I'd have saved myself a load of grief. (Because at the time I wasn't glad to be rejected for so long - only in retrospect, which isn't much help at the time.) What a shame I can't put colours in comments - it would be so much prettier.

And thanks Paige and good luck!

Rebecca said...

"Woah, crabbit or WHAT today??"

Nah--just speaking the truth. Thanks for that!


Tam said...

I agree that new writers need to learn the meaning of constructive criticism but they should still be allowed to sub.

I started writing last year, wrote my teen novel in six weeks, found an agent for it six weeks later and a publisher a few months after that. I'm indebted to my agent for her comments and revision suggestions, and also to those publishers who liked the novel but rejected it with helpful comments. If I hadn't been allowed to sub, I'd never have had any of that feedback and my novel wouldn't be at the stage it is now.

Sally Zigmond said...

Wow, Tam. You must be a pretty great writer to achieve success so quickly. I may be in touch soon for some tips! (to put on my blog, that is.) I bet you wonder what the rest of us keep bleating on about.

Whilst I am of the opinion that hard work, determination and good writing are the means to achieve publishing success rather than luck, I still have to hope you realise just how lucky you are and just how rare your experience is. Well done. Oh dear. I've just turned a very ugly shade of green--not good...

Nicola Morgan said...

Sally - (Tam, close your ears - this is not personal!!) - Sally a) you don't need to be a shade of green: your novel comes out in June this year (yay!) and b) as you very well know, because you know as much as I do about such things, if writer A gets a contract before Writer B, it does not mean that Writer A is a better writer, just that he/she write a book which a publisher saw a market for. Writer A and Writer B are different writers aiming for different markets with different books. If I'd got published more quickly, it wouldn't have made me a better writer.

Tam - open your ears now - well done! And good luck with book number two. Because, as you know, it doesn't end there. Though actually, for many people it does. Gloomy thought for the day. But if you carry on writing passionately and well, and being lucky, it won't. Happy thought for the day.

Eric said...

As usual, this is great information and helps an aspiring newbie writer like myself keep grounded. While I do believe that my writing is decent, I know in the rational part of me that there's always something I could do to make it better. This is a necessity I think, because who wants to read crappy writing? I don't know about you, but it bugs the hell out of me. Thats not how I'd like to be remembered as an author either.

Nicola Morgan said...

Um, I think I meant "wrote" not "write" somwhere in that but my hands are cold and "i" is way too close to "o" on the keyboard, which is a serious design flaw.

Also, I should point out that sometimes (often) it's not that someone isn't good enough (he/she may be stunningly brilliant) but often that this book isn't the right vehicle or any of many things isn't right, despite the brilliance of the writer. I have covered this somewhere, and will no doubt do so again.

Eric - your attitude is hugely healthy and likely to get you a very long way, and entirely possibly to publication and critical acclaim!

Tam said...

Sally - Congrats on your forthcoming book :-) No, I don't wonder what everyone is bleating on about - I got my deal fast but still suffer from the same insecurities as every other writer.

Nicola - You're right, the second book is all important and I'm glad mine is out of the way and doing the rounds with publishers now (it's not a teen book so can't go with the same publisher). Book three, now that's proving a challenge and my internal editor is whispering it's nowhere near as good as the others...which goes to show it doesn't get any easier!

Sarah said...

Congratulations, Tam, and all the best as you wrestle with book three!

It's so important to distinguish whether we're writing for ourselves (which is just fine!) or others. I used to plink on a piano, and I was fine with that because my brain could fill in what my fingers lacked. Most importantly, only I had to fill those gaps; I wasn't playing for anyone else. The trouble comes when we write for ourselves and expect others to enjoy it.

I want hundreds and hundreds (not quite confident enough for thousands yet) to read what I write, so I keep working at it. I don't think I've ever looked at my MS and thought it was as it should be-and I've been right. I'm fortunate to be part of a critique group (go Slushbusters!) that help me see all the ways I can improve my writing. So I keep at it.

Sally Zigmond said...

Blimey. I hope I didn't give the impression I was complaining about Tam's book deal per se; and I can assure you that the 'is she a better writer than me?' question never entered my head (she writes YA and I write traditional historical novels so there's no comparison, anyway.)

No. The only thing I'm green about is the speed of her acceptance compared with mine which was glacial! (I was a sweet young lass when I began and now I'm an grey-haired old witch.) And I was writing in a light-hearted way. That's the trouble with the Internet--tone of voice and facial expressions can't be seen. Time for another double espresso...

I wish every other writer all the luck in the world. We all need it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Oh no, Sally, you didn't give that impression at all! What I was referring to was the possible assumption speed of book deal = skill of writer. (Which it may well indicate in tam's case, but in general doesn't.) I also didn't mean to indicate anything else.

I know all about envy - I did it all the time. But grey-haired witches make just as good/successful writers as younger ones!