Saturday, 29 August 2009


After my last post (excuse the pun), you all shared so much about your dead / dying / comatose books (and I loved Donna's image of divorcing her WIP, citing irreconcilable differences!) that I thought I'd reply in a separate post and pick up your points.

First, though, Bookmaven - thank you for your flattering suggestion that I turn the blog into a book. I have sometimes thought about it a bit but have pretty much decided that I love the blog format. (Shame I can't earn any money through it ...) Penny Dolan made the point too. Thing is, I feel that this blog is more than just my words or voice - if this blog is any good at all it's all your voices that have helped make it that way. I think the quality of commenting on this blog is outstanding. I'm delighted to have well-known authors such as yourself (Bookmaven, for those who don't know, is the very successful Mary Hoffman), as well as editors and agents, and a fabulous standard of unpublished authors who seem to be doing all the right things to propel themselves towards publication. I think that blogs sometimes have the edge over books - the sacrilege! - because they are moveable and malleable and mutual. More like a guided group sharing thoughts and knowledge than a figure on a stage lecturing and then disappearing without taking questions.

(Candy - of course I need your comments, and not like a hole in the head! And yes, I know I haven't replied to your email - I'm on the case. Thank you!)

So, no plans for a book (though I wouldn't turn down a fabulous offer ...) but I am thinking of doing some talks around the country. I'd be happy to hear from anyone who'd like to set something up. Crabbit Old Bat on Tour? Crabbit Old Bat Comes to a Town Hall Near You? (Note to self - could be an excuse for serious investment in shoes. Definitely tax-deductible. Note to Penny Dolan - jealousy is an occupational hazard of a writer so if you're only jealous of shoes, you've getting off lightly).

Meanwhile, your excellent comments on 222ing books.

I am in awe of how you've all taken positivity from rejection. (As Caroline said, rejection is information. I like that.) Your thoughts are worth quoting from. And literally everyone was positive.

So, Ebony McKenna (recently published - yay!):

"I finished six manuscripts (and didn't finish others) before I found my groove with Ondine. Two of those manuscripts *might* be fixable, but if they never see the light of day, that's fine with me. They were not a waste of time because I learned so much in the process." Exactly!

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Juliet Boyd:

"I find the best way to deal with it [rejection] is to quickly open the envelope and see reject. Then put it away for a week to let yourself accept the rejection. After that, you can go back and read the feedback given with a rational mind and if you're honest with yourself, you will often agree with what is said." Juliet, If you can put it away for a week, you're a stronger woman than I am ...

Iain Broome said...

"I've been lucky so far and managed to get an agent at the fourth or fifth attempt, but I know plenty of people who have struggled and struggled with their novel. I think it's made all the more difficult because our work came out of our time on a Masters programme (Sheffield Hallam), so the investment, in a sense, has been financial as well as emotional, time-related etc." Iain, I wonder if it's not so much the financial aspect but the fact that going on an MA course is a fairly public statement that "I am going to be a Writer" so any "failure" to achieve that is a more public failure. When I was struggling to get published, I didn't tell many people so the anguish was more private.

Donna expresses it perfectly, even though she hasn't got to the point of submitting, let alone rejection! Great attitude, Donna. She says:

"... I do understand the reality that maybe, just maybe, this best book that's ever been written in the history of the world may not ever be published. Do I have the strength to sign a DNR form? Probably not. But I think I could bring myself to sign divorce papers (citing irreconcilable differences, or course). That way, I can officially move on... but I can entertain the dream that maybe a long way down the road we can reunite. It's a slim-to-none chance, but I'm the kind of person that needs the "slim."

The important part of Andy Duggan's experience is highlighted in red:

"I've been through all this as well, but maybe I can give some figures that might help: I've got a collection of approx 50 rejections from agents and publishers. In spite of this, my novel 'Scars Beneath The Skin' was eventually published by Flambard Press. There was a major rewrite somewhere amongst those 50 rejections, though - prompted by constructive criticism from a writing group."

Focus on the red high-lighted parts of Suzie F's comment, too. This is what I mean by the quality of comments. Her point about self-doubting voices is crucial - these are the voices we have to learn to listen to. They so often speak sense. (Except that she had doubts about whether to write at all - the more important doubts are the ones about THIS book, Suzie. Always continue writing if you love it enough - though if you're not good enough, you may not be published ...) Suzie says:

"Today's post hit home with me as I'm currently facing the fact that my current WIP isn't going anywhere. Well, maybe somewhere, like a deep, dark desk drawer. This is actually the second time - my first attempt at a novel was dropped at approx. 10,000 words but I was heading into NaNoWriMo with a fresh idea. ... I was infatuated with my two MCs but got myself into a plot jam. I've been stuck ever since. Then the self-doubting voices began whispering in my ear and I struggled with whether or not I should continue writing at all. Instead, I decided to use this WIP as a learning experience. Editing, rewriting, tightening, researching and reading a ton of books in my genre (MG and YA). I love the process so much and am starting to develop two new ideas." Hooray and triple hooray!

David Griffin gives an insight into the anguish of the writer, and many of us will identify:

"I had the services of an agent for just over a year, quite a while back now. And because the agency were unable to place my novels, we parted company. ... Since then I've tried only a handful of agents over the years, in a sort of half-hearted fashion, really. (i.e if one reputable and well-known London agency didn't want to represent me anymore, why would any other? Silly, I know, but it's taken a long time to get over that thought)." David, silly but understandable - thing is, you are probably a better writer now, writing different things - perhaps you are more publishable now. You have to try.

"So in a way, lacking confidence and motivation in trying other agents, I've attempted to "smother my children" by simply not getting them out there." God, we're into murder now! Eeek, what did I start?

"I'm developing habits of a writer who is committed to writing now, writing every day .... I'm going to try agents with determination and give it up to maybe 20 rejections. Only then will I occasionally read from the POD versions of my novels, with the odd sigh, knowing that not many other people will read them; and try the third one (when it's finished). "Grief, who would be a writer? (Millions of us, I know)."

Indeed ...

DanielB said...

"I have had to "slap a 222" on a novel in the past when the publisher who I thought would be "my publisher" (a reasonable assumption, as they'd published two of my novels) turned it down. ... It's still in cryogenic suspension, awaiting that revolution in medical science. Parts of it have been siphoned off and used for stem cell research to grow bits of other novels." So, not wasted at all. Excellent! And I'm partly including your comment because it's interesting for people to see that even successful writers like you can have temporary probs with publishing and [see next para] with writing ...

"That's the second situation Nicola mentions - and I am a little worried that I may also now be facing the first as well! Damn it, I'm supposed to be one of those "experienced writers". It isn't meant to happen to us..." Ah, yes, unfortunately it does, but I am confident that you've spotted it earlier and stopped yourself sooner than if this was your first. For info of others, the second situation Daniel refers to is when you're halfway through a book and you become aware that it's going towards a dead-end fast.

Sue Hyams and Rebecca Knight seem delightfully happy at declaring the deaths of their beloved works. They say, respectively:

"Oh, how timely! Just yesterday I decided that 222 was the only way forward - only I didn't have a name for it then - for the novel I've been working and working and working on for the past 18 months. The decision had been whacking me on the back of the head for some time but I tried to ignore it. Now, it almost feels like a relief. Almost. Great post - thank you!"


"This is a fantastic post ... I've had to do this with my book, and it was all for the best :). I received two rejections that got me thinking, stopped querying immediately, and got to work! I can safely say that what I have now is 10 times better than my previous book, and all because of the criticism I received. Thank God for rejection!"

To be honest, I'd say thanks to the writers who take rejection so constructively and leave God out of it, but I know what you mean ...
I want to finish by referring to Catherine Hughes' comment. I'm not putting it in full here because this post is already long enough. Do go back to it on the post below this and see what you think because she's asking you all a question. My instinct is that she should be writing another book, because she has been told she can definitely write, but this vampire book (even if it is really really really different from other vampire books) has not been taken. I think we deserve better than another vampire book and I think Catherine can do it!

However, I also want you to notice that Catherine discovered (from the rejections and feedback) that she has a fatal flaw in her writing: not knowing at which point of the action to start the story.

I have two things to say to that:
  1. I'm going to do a post about starting stories. (Catherine, you will have discovered from your search that I haven't talked about this yet). It's a great idea for a topic.
  2. I have good news for the patient: this is not a fatal flaw. There is a cure! Hooray for illnesses with cures!
Catherine (and others who may be tempted) - you want to revoke your 222. I suggest you don't, at least yet, but I do suggest you take DanielB's suggestion and opt for cryogenic suspension. You may still eventually decide to turn off the life-support but on the other hand a) you may find the cure in time and b) vampires may be back once more. Yes, I do think the agent is referring to you writing something else, but yes you should also hang on very tightly to those words of praise. They don't come often or easily.

Meanwhile, you and we all simply need to remember the most important point of my orginal post, and one which none of you commented on substantially: that whether our WIP is curable, mildly rheumatic, terminal, comatose or cryogenically suspended (or awaiting divorce proceedings) we should be doing one thing regardless: writing and falling in love again.

Because that's what being a writer is.


BuffySquirrel said...

ELLE--Enter Late, Leave Early.

Start the story at the very latest possible point.

Lacer said...


Come to Kingston's Readers Festival! I would love to see you speak but can't afford the train fare! Seriously though, I've heard some great writers talk about writing there.

Catherine Hughes said...

Wow - thank you, Nicola.

I've written a post on my own blog (that links back to yours about being 'nice') regarding my plans and my way forward.

In a nutshell, I agree with you.

That novel is - ta da! - now in cryostasis (yes, I write and read a lot of ScifFi)! My alien vampires (I was so chuffed with my scientific explanation of how they came to be vampires - not a shred of magic involved!) are awaiting rejuvenation technology and I am going to shake myself down and really get stuck in to my new WIP (which is about 50% finished and there is also an agent who has asked to see it when it is done, after reading but rejecting the vampire one).

Which is exciting, isn't it? There is no time for grief over the other one - onwards and upwards I shall go.

I'm glad you will be posting about making a start; I am looking forward to that. I'm also feeling extremely fortunate, both to have had those words from an agent at precisely the time when I really needed them, and also in that you have been kind enough to give me an opinion on my dilemma also.

I will keep you posted on the fate of my WIP (and the two other novels that are part-completed but sidelined (sleeping?) for now).

One of them is going to make it!

Thomas Taylor said...

These last two posts are very helpful – thank you. I'm trying to decide whether or not to switch off the life-support machine on my own current effort, which was sent back by my agent as -- though she didn't use these actual words -- not good enough. A very deflating reaction.

the problem is, though my confidence has grown back somewhat, and though I have plenty of ideas, interesting characters and (I believe) a strong premise, the story needs to change radically and the whole thing be rewritten. But I can't honestly say I care enough to do that, at least not right now. That's really depressing -- to fall out of love with my own work having once been so excited about it. I feel too oppressed by everything I have already written. Can I really travel back down the same path with different shoes on?

At the very least, it's reassuring to find I'm not alone. Maybe what I really need is something new. Teenage Ninja Vampires perhaps? Or something else;-)

storyqueen said...


How lovely it is to wake up on a Saturday morning and start the weekend thinking deep thoughts about writing!

Unfortunately, I find is kind of easy to 222 a book if it is rejected too often. It's not that I don't love it anymore, just that maybe it's the wrong time and it needs something that I can't give it right now.

Looking back on dead manuscripts, I can find only a few that I think are worthy of resurrection......most R.I.P.


Daniel Blythe said...

I love the acronym WIP. MY WIP may not be RIP. I'm off to whap the ass of my WIP and get it into shape.

(Apologies for the American spelling of "arse" here. It just seemed to fit better. For once.)

Lynnette Labelle said...

That's always a difficult moment. I was finished my first draft when I realized (through online courses and my critique group) that my manuscript broke most of the "rules". So, I cut 3/4 of it and am in the process of revising it. I have to say, I like this new version a lot better. As hard as it was, it was worth it.

Lynnette Labelle