The Writing Break I Had to Have

Hi all, and a huge welcome to 2018,

sunset 2

The sun set on 2017 with me in desperate need of a creative recharge after a busy year of writing, editing, querying and travelling. When you’re a mother of three juggling work-from-home commitments with a family life reminiscent of an out-of-control octopus, the brain can feel a little fried come December – especially when you top off your year with a NaNoWriMo 50,000-word burst. Just to add more to an already full plate. 

Sorry to complain but, come December, I felt that I’d done a bloody lot of work with minimal result, other than a spreadsheet of queried agents for one manuscript (not to mention 50,000 words requiring major editing for the next).

You see, there was the querying for my completed YA novel. I’d extensively researched the publishing industry and picked agents I believed (and still believe) to be the best fit for my story. I’d prepared query letters specific to each agent, detailing why I was querying them, and had sent accompanying manuscript pages to those who preferred them. I’d received some partial and full requests for my manuscript, much to my excitement, and had promptly sent them off.

Fast forward to today: I’ve yet to hear back from several of the agents who requested my material, even after a polite follow-up many months after it was sent. Other agents have responded, all with a pass, but many with comments that implied I was close, soooo close. Two commended me on the strength of my writing, asked if I was working on anything else, and followed that up with a request to read my next work when it is ready. Positive stuff. But still a pass so far for my queried manuscript.

As the end of the year loomed, I sat back and thought about all of the work I had done in 2017 and on what had, and had not, come to pass. So to speak.

And I realized something.

For the first time in years, I wasn’t enjoying my writing. I wasn’t having fun. Why? Because my year had centered around output: what I produced, how much I produced, how many agents I queried. Yes, I’ve had many stories and feature articles published, but I yearned to be a published novelist. Writing became a pursuit of this goal, a goal I have yet to attain. It simply became work. And all work, no play, does not a happy writer make.

I remembered writing the first draft of my YA novel. I’d head to the library or cafe with no preconceived ideal of what I would achieve, not in terms of word count or completed scenes, not in terms of viability and publishing. Although I had an outline, I wrote the detail of my story from the well of inspiration that bubbles to the surface once words start to form on the page. I wrote for sheer joy. (Actually, most of my published work to date has been written from this place.)

I missed that experience.

And I realized something else. I wasn’t reading half as much as I used to – between researching and querying, there was little time for that. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading.

So I decided to take two months off, two months away from my self-imposed treadmill. Other than a couple of blog posts, I have not written ANYTHING since November. Or queried any more agents. I’ve done other things – celebrate Christmas, for a start, and take an interstate family trip. Things that remind me I am not only a writer.

And I’ve read. And read. And read. I’ve read a stack of novels, for the first time or the second, for fun or to examine. I’ve read writing books and taken notes on key points. I’ve also consolidated agent comments, and pinpointed areas in my writing to strengthen. And bookmarked upcoming conferences and workshops to help rectify weaknesses as well as build on my existing writing community.

I’m reminding myself what I love about writing.

I’m doing all this as, at the end of the day, any book of mine that is published is nothing without ME. It’s nothing without someone who relishes what she has created, who is confident in what she has created, and who enjoys the process of creating it.

Kallista sunset

When the sun rises on February, I’ll return from my self-imposed exile. I’m reinvigorated. I feel I’m ready. And I plan to have fun.

I hope you have fun, wherever your creativity takes you,

Rebecca

P.S. Apologies – this post is longer than most, but it was important to say 🙂

Have you ever taken a break from your writing or other creative pursuit? Why did you take it, and was it beneficial?

 

 

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2017 – the Year I Accelerated my Leaps of Faith

Whew!

It’s hard to believe that the door will soon close on another year. For me, 2017 has many highlights, mainly because it’s the year I’ve accelerated my leaps of faith, trusting myself to take chances I’d previously hesitated to take.

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My watershed actually occurred in August 2016, when I traveled from Australia to New York to attend and pitch my first novel manuscript at the Writer’s Digest Conference. It was the first time I’d actively promoted my writing and myself as a writer, face to face, to industry insiders. My publishing success up to that date had all come from submitting articles and short stories via email (let’s face it, it’s easier to put yourself out there when cyberspace is between you and those you hope to impress).

I made countless friends at the conference, and learnt soooo much about the world of writing and publishing. I also realized how much more I needed to do, to practice, to learn.

And how much I wanted to do it.

Upon my return to Australia, I made a conscious effort, wherever possible, to eliminate the negativity that had previously attacked my self-esteem, and threatened to derail my hopes and dreams. I actively connected with writer friends, joined Facebook groups, attended more workshops and conferences, and discovered the world of podcasts.

Climbing into the query trenches, I sought strength from passes on my manuscript, considered constructive comments, and experienced joy with positive feedback and offers to consider my next work.

And I’ve continued to write.

Blog posts.

Short stories.

And a new novel, middle grade this time. I thrashed out its outline a few months ago and wrote most of a first draft during NaNoWriMo in November. I’ll revisit it – hopefully with fresh eyes – in the New Year.

The writing community, within Australia and abroad, has been wonderful in its willingness to support, advise, and encourage emerging writers such as myself. In turn, I have tried to pay it forward, offering whatever help I can to others on this roller-coaster journey. We’re all in this together.

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This time, my trip to the Colosseum included a visit to the dungeons and the third (top) tier. Incredible.

My other leap of faith this year was deciding the bills could wait and revisiting Europe, nineteen years after my first jaunt there and nineteen years after I met my husband (also there). We returned this time with our three kids in tow!

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The view from our Paris apartment – a special surprise for my daughter.

On this glorious seven-week trip, I met a nephew for the first time, re-experienced architectural and natural wonders through the eyes of my offspring, and even found some time for writing research 🙂

Leaps of faith can offer wonderful opportunities and experiences, even in a year where parts of the world appear to have gone mad.

Hope your year has been memorable, and your 2018 brings you everything you desire.

Chat then,

Rebecca

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Canal boat cruising across the Pontscyllyte Aqueduct in Wales, the highest aqueduct in the world. Cheers, while my fifteen-year-old son steers!

 

 

 

 

The Procrastinate-Busting Power of Podcasts (Yes, Podcasts Can Bust Procrastinating)

Hi all,

as you may be aware, I recently finished National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Last week, I wrote about my experience here. NaNoWriMo was a success for me, not simply because I wrote the 50,000 words necessary to “win”, but because I created (most of) the first draft of my middle grade WIP.

However, NaNoWriMo did take its toll. By the time I hit 50,000 words on 27th November, I was exhausted. My brain felt like a fried egg and I fell into a literally heap.

I may have won NaNoWriMo but I had lost my will to write any more of my NaNo work.

I could think of nothing worse.

A break was needed. A distraction, something to recharge my enthusiasm for my project.

So for the next week, I mindlessly surfed the biggest distraction of them all: the internet…

procrastinating…

one day after the other…

…until I stumbled upon a podcast guest hosted by an agent I met during last year’s trip to New York City for the Writer’s Digest Conference.

This agent’s insightful feedback and advice struck a cord with me then, and has remained with me since, so I was interested to hear what he had to say. In this podcast, he spoke about what makes characters entice a reader to read past the first few pages: who the characters are, how they got to where they are, what they want, and what stands in their way. It was all stuff I’ve heard before but, for some reason, hearing it again from him had a profound effect on me.

My brain woke up. It was like my characters knocked on my head yelling, “Hey, what are you doing? You heard him. We have so much more to say. Your characters are your book. Get writing!”

The podcast reignited my interest in my project.

Now I’m a huge fan of podcasts on anything to do with writing, whether that be on an aspect of the craft itself, on the business and marketing front, or as a guest speak with one of my favourite authors. There’s something special, almost intimate, about podcasts. It’s as though the speaker is only talking to you.

And in our time-poor world, their ability to educate, inspire, and empower – whether you’re on the commute to work, or while you cook, clean, or exercise – makes them a fantastic multi-tasking means to an end. We all get stuck at times with our writing but by listening to podcasts, at least you feel like you’re doing something about it. Well, don’t you? And maybe one might just be the thing you need to get moving again.

The Write Life recently updated their list of  twenty inspiring podcasts for writers. If you haven’t introduced yourself to the world of writing podcasts, this is a good place to start for a bit of binge-listening 🙂 (Or if you’re in a literally heap 😦 ) And my favourite of the Australian podcasts is the Australian Writers’ Centre So you want to be a writer podcast, with Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait.

Hopefully, you’ll hear something on one of these gems to pull you out of any procrastinating slump.

And fulfill your writing goals.

Until next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

Are you a fan of podcasts and, if so, which would you recommend to writers, and why?

And have those who NaNo’d this year been able to maintain momentum after December 1st hit?

NaNoWriMo 2017 – the Surprises (and the Real Win) for Me

Hi all,

yesterday I passed the 50,000 word mark on NaNoWriMo, three days before the deadline, meaning that officially I have “won” NaNoWriMo 2017 – yes, that’s why things have been so quiet on the blogging front this month; I’ve been kinda busy writing and counting words…

For those not familiar with NaNoWriMo, I explained what it is, and what I was getting myself in for, in a post I wrote last month. Check it out here: NaNoWriMo – I’m Looking at You 

Now this is the first time I’ve tried this marathon of the brain, and it has surprised me, not because I actually managed to write 50,000 words (I can be pretty dogged at times – just ask my husband), but in what I discovered along the way.

So here is a quick run down:

  • That no matter how much you plot and plan (I spent the previous two months outlining and preparing for NaNoWriMo), there will be deviations in your story in ways you least expect. For example, while writing a key scene with a major supporting character, I realized this male character should be female – pity it took me all the way to the story’s climax to realize this, a few days before I finished. Major rewrite ahead.
  • That no matter how much you prepare, life can, and will, throw curveballs at you, whether it be in the form of sick kids, unexpected work (who doesn’t need to put food on the table?), school and sporting commitments going into overdrive, and attacks on your health.
  • I should have written some “side” and “back” scenes, as I like to call them, from the point of view of supporting characters before November 1st. I wrote these scenes two-thirds of the way through the month when I ground to a halt. Thankfully, they were instrumental in getting to really know my characters and helping to get me back on track to bring it all home. My original character outlines, it turns out, did not have enough depth.
  • NaNoWriMo made me accountable to the only person who really mattered in all this: ME. It didn’t matter to my family and friends if I reached 50K or not, their opinion of me wouldn’t change in the slightest. But it mattered to me, my writing matters to me, so I was determined to see it through (there’s that dogged nature again).
  • Saying that, the level of support I received from family (none are writers) was something I am eternally grateful for – okay, now this sounds like an acceptance speech. Hand me the tissues. But it’s true, especially from my husband. And given that he does not write nor fully understand through no fault of his own how HARD it is to write a novel at the best of times, makes me so appreciative of his willingness to pick up my slack while I banged my fingers (and, at times, my head) against the keyboard for twenty-seven days straight.
  • The level of support from friends who are not writers. They know how important writing is to me and were there to cheer me on and encourage me to reach 50K, even if some thought I was crazy for trying 😉
  • And, of course, the level of support from other writers, whether they are undertaking NaNoWriMo themselves or not. I already knew writers to be a generous bunch, but was still pleasantly surprised by the extent of the support and well wishes I received. For instance, I joined a Facebook group established by fellow Australian writer, Anna Spargo-Ryan, and the friendship and camaraderie that developed within this group in a very short time frame was priceless. We held virtual hands through bleak periods of self doubt, exchanged suggestions when writer’s block reared its ugly head, and cheered each other on when stepping-stone goals were achieved. Reaching the official 50K milestone became secondary to achieving individual goals, whether that be completing an emotional scene or getting back on track after a major plot setback. And now? We’ll support each other in finishing our manuscripts and through the rewrites and edits that, no doubt, must be done.

The community spirit I experienced through NaNoWriMo 2017 was the real win for me 🙂

So for all those NaNo’ing this year, I hope the experience has been an uplifting, and maybe a surprising, one for you.

And whether you write 50,000 or 5,000 words during November, you’re all awesome for giving it a go. There are many too fearful to try.

Next next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

When Scammers Infiltrate Modern Publishing – Emerging Writers Beware

Hi all,

this is concerning, to say the least:

Scammers used to operate at the edges of the publishing business, but have wormed their way into its heart. And the entire industry is in denial. An unintentionally revealing aspect of the tiresome Amazon-Hachette dispute was a series of statements from an organization purporting to advocate for authors’ rights. One of the heinous crimes Amazon […]

via This Is The Modern Publishing Business — David Gaughran

Things I Took Away From the NSWWC Open House with Penguin Random House (Apart From Valuable Manuscript Feedback)

Hi all,

Last Friday, I attended the New South Wales Writers Centre (NSWWC) Open House with Penguin Random House Australia (PRH). I thought I’d share some of the key points I gleaned from this day, as I know there were some who, unfortunately, were unable to attend due to the limited number of seats on offer.

After the introduction of representatives from the departments of publishing, editorial, sales, marketing and publicity – including an overview of their respective roles – the group launched into a mock acquisition meeting. Those stating their case on why a book should, or should not, be given the green light included (from left to right in the pic below):

  • Catherine Hill, Deputy Managing Editor, Random House Books
  • Belinda Connors, Key Account Manager, Penguin Random House
  • Karen Reid, Publicity Director, Penguin Random House
  • Sarah Hayes, Editorial Assistant, Random House Books
  • Lex Hirst, Commissioning Editor, Random House Books
  • Tom Langshaw, Editor, Random House Books, and
  • Meredith Curnow, Knopf Vintage Publisher, Random House Books

This session was very insightful – and entertaining! Key points included:

  1. When a manuscript reaches the acquisition stage, a lot of work has already been done to get it to the level required to offer (of course, this doesn’t mean the author will accept any offer made, and a project can still be shelved by PRH for a multitude of other reasons. So while a lot of work has been done, there are no guarantees, my friends!)
  2. An author’s ability to adapt is a definite plus when determining whether to acquire his or her work. Have they demonstrated this adaptability already?
  3. An editor may be passionate about a book, but if the sales or publicity team don’t share that enthusiasm, things can get interesting.

But saying this, acquisition meetings don’t usually end up in a war of words or a brawl on the carpet. Participants are really quite friendly to each other 🙂

The next session discussed children’s publishing with Laura Harris, Publishing Director with Penguin Random House Young Readers. I could have listened to Laura speak for hours, she was that enthusiastic about kids’ books. I was also interested to hear that Laura has worked with Mem Fox, Melina Marchetta and Morris Gleitzman, three of my favourite Australian authors.


Laura Harris

Key points Laura made:

  1. PRH receives about 3,000 children’s submissions per year in Australia, and publish about 100 (to be honest, the latter figure is higher than I thought it would be but I assume it includes agented submissions – I didn’t think to ask for clarification, sorry).
  2. The top four books for 2016 were all children’s books. And all for middle readers.
  3. Four times as many middle reader books were sold last year in Australia compared to YA (yet YA gets the lion’s share of attention in the children’s book sector).

Then it was on to discussing the editorial process, with Catherine Hill, Tom Langshaw and Lex Hirst returning to the stage to discuss books they have worked on. Key points included:

  1. A “really, really good book” can still require pages and pages (15 was mentioned in the example) of initial editing notes.
  2. Cover design should never be underestimated – it should communicate in a glance what the book is about.
  3. Editors love spreadsheets and graphs. Or so it appeared 🙂

Next was the art of promotion, with Karen Reid back in the chair. The key message for me from this was “SUB PLUS THREE”. What does this mean, I hear you ask? It means that the most effective time to promote your book is from submission until three months after publication. It’s much harder to achieve good results after this time. Something to do with modern society’s short-term memory problem, perhaps?

Now, where was I? Oh, that’s right. Karen’s other key points were:

  1. Authors must be able to speak in front of an audience, and must be able to describe their book succinctly. They should also have a professional photo taken for inclusion in promotional packs, review pieces, etc.
  2. Sale projection numbers influence the extent and breadth of any book tour to be undertaken.
  3. Never underestimate the influence of SEO (search engine optimisation)/SEM (search engine marketing) and Google ads.
  4. Write other pieces to place in newspapers and magazines – remember what was said about adaptability above? Include your blurb at the end with your online contact details. It’s another way people can learn more about you and your work.

The last session before lunch covered rights and distribution with Nerrilee Weir, Senior Rights Manager for PRH.


Nerrilee Weir

Nerrilee had a key message of her own: that your narrative must resonate with readers world-wide. You must “find the universal” in your work, so that it is able to travel. Other points I took away from her talk included:

  1. Selling rights to international publishers is all about pitching. This involves a lot of rejections which read similar to the ones you or I may receive as authors such as, “We didn’t fall in love with the voice” or, “We didn’t feel passionate enough about it”. Sound familiar?
  2. Audio is everywhere now and the Australian film industry is on the rise, providing other avenues for income.
  3. There are clauses in contracts to ensure that “lost in translation” issues do not arise when rights are sold to non-English language markets.

After lunch, I sat in a YA break-out group with four other YA writers, where we had an informal 30-minute chat with Zoe Walton, YA and children’s publisher with PRH. Zoe would have to be one of the nicest publishers I’ve met – and I’m not just saying that because she had good things to say about my writing in our individual session (see below). Anyway, in the group chat we discussed:

Offers – her recent YA offers are split 50/50 between agented and non-agented submissions, and most are contemporary by nature. Fantasy offers are scarce.

Synopses – she recognises how difficult synopses can be to write, and dislikes the style of All Caps when introducing a character’s name for the first time.

Trends – doesn’t see any dominant trend at present.

Individual fifteen-minute sessions followed the break-out group chat. One month previous, I had been asked to submit the first twenty pages of my YA manuscript, along with an author bio and synopsis, to Zoe. Although my manuscript is geared toward the US market, I was keen to hear Zoe’s thoughts on its merits.

I was extremely pleased that Zoe took the time to prepare assessment notes, which she discussed with me during our session and gave to me at the conclusion (thank you again, Zoe!) Her wonderful feedback was fairly consistent with that from US agents, who had received partial or full requests of my manuscript following my pitch to them last August. For those who don’t remember, it was at the Writers Digest Conference in New York City. Read more about it here:

https://rebeccajchaney.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/the-biggest-thing-i-took-away-from-the-writers-digest-conference-and-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-sessions-agents-or-networking/

So, where to now?

Zoe’s comments spur me to continue riding this roller-coaster life of writing. Although I’m still to hear back from three of the agents in NYC who requested partials/fulls of the same YA manuscript, I’ll continue to refine this piece and query elsewhere in the US market.

I’ll also complete my current WIP, a middle grade novel with a very unreliable narrator, to say the least. As Zoe seemed to like my writing style, I might even submit this project to her in due course 🙂

For now, and until next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

Does a Writer’s Gender Matter When Querying Agents?

Hi all,

I came upon the below post quite by accident but, as a writer with a manuscript currently out on submission, I found it very interesting. Read on to find out why…

In a perfect world, agents and publishing houses would judge authors based solely on syntax, characterization, plot, and other aspects of writing. But our world is far from a perfect one, and an author’s race, gender, and sexuality can still play a role in who is published. In particular, some of the recent discussions about gender […]

via Finding an Agent: When Gender Matters for a Writer — Kristen Twardowski

Six Words of Wisdom on Running a Crowdfunding Campaign

Hi all,

as someone not brave enough, at this stage anyway, to venture into the world of crowdfunding (I did recently pass on a publisher who raises capital to produce their books through crowdfunding means, but that’s another story), I thought I’d share the below post from a writer friend of mine who is.

So if you’re toying with the idea of running your first crowdfunding campaign, I suggest you read this post. And if you have used crowdfunding to achieve your goals, writing related or otherwise, I’d love to know about your experience.

And best of luck, Sara, on your upcoming trip to Iceland!

Until next time, happy writing,

Rebecca

Wow. Was it really two months ago when I launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for my trip to the 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat? Now, the “promotional” period is over (it ended this past Saturday), and thanks to people’s generosity I raised $2274. This falls short of the $3500 goal – but you know what? That’s still […]

via Six Words of Wisdom on Running a Crowdfunding Campaign (Plus, the “Final” Total for My GoFundMe for the Iceland Writers Retreat) — Sara Letourneau’s Official Website & Blog

What to Do (And Not Do) After Attending a Writer’s Conference

Hi all,

Attending last August’s Writer’s Digest Annual Conference is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my writing. Not only did I expand my knowledge on the craft and business of writing, but I met wonderful writers from around the world, and formed lasting connections with agents and other industry personnel. And I explored New York City for the first time!

top-of-the-rocka

Unfortunately, I am unable to attend this year’s conference but if you are (or are attending another), the attached post is worth a read – especially if you are pitching your work to agents and editors.

Literary agent Irene Goodman of Irene Goodman Literary Agency http://www.irenegoodman.com/ shares insider do’s and don’ts about what to do after you attend a writing conference to get the most out of your experience.

Source: What to Do (And Not Do) After Attending a Writer’s Conference

Until next time, happy writing,

Rebecca

The Gray Area Between Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

Back in 2010, Mary Kole, who was then a literary agent, wrote a post called “Is it MG or YA?” on her excellent site kidlit.com.  I should note that the publishing market has changed between 2010 an…

Source: The Gray Area Between Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction