Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What To Do With Yourself After #PitchWars Is Over

Whether you read my last post or not, you're probably here right now because you're participating in #PitchWars (or maybe hoping to get into some other contest) this year.

It's been a year since my own Pitch Wars experience. I've learned a lot since then. I also, I think, made quite a few mistakes. For one thing, I let my lack of success in the contest get in the way of my writing. I'm STILL struggling to get over that.

For another, I stopped working on new things, dragging all my old manuscripts out for another trot around the block. There's nothing inherently wrong with this except that maybe there's a good reason they all were in the drawer in the first place? I guess I thought I could fix them if only I tried. Maybe I can. Maybe someday I will.

But for me, the joy of writing has always been in the Shiny New Idea. Whatever captures me at the moment is the journey I want to be on at the time. I LOVE getting Shiny New Ideas. Except for the last year, I didn't. I had one idea that I really loved. To put that in perspective, usually I get about 4-5 Shiny News in a year and have to pick and choose between them.

But I'm not blaming that on Pitch Wars, or anything else I did last year. I'm blaming that on me.

Anyway. Back to the part about you. Whether you get a lot of requests today or not, or whether you get an agent in the next week/ month/ six months, or not, here's the thing:

This contest (or any other) does not define you. It does not define your writing. It does not mean you will make it, or you won't. I've seen people in contests get 10-15 requests and still not have an agent a year later. I've seen people get 1 request and find the agent of their dreams and a book deal and so on and so forth.

That thing people keep telling you about publishing being subjective? They are not broken records, nor are they just saying that to make you feel better. It's SO TRUE. Nothing can be everyone's cup of tea. I know people who didn't like the Harry Potter series, for crying out loud.

Today they are judging you on your pitch and first page. Not even what you would send in a query letter. That is a very, very small portion of your work to make decisions on.

But, just making it into the contest means there is something special about you. THAT is a success. No matter what happens today and tomorrow, you've done something incredible. Rest on that for now, and try not to let the agony of waiting get to you. (As The World's Most Impatient Person, I am well aware of how that feels).

And, to take another Industry Advice Cliche, perhaps most importantly, keep writing. Why? Because you deserve to do that for yourself.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013, or, the Year I Felt Like a Sham

It's really no secret that 2013 wasn't a great year for me.

In fact, I had a hard time hiding how terrible last year was. Lots of professional, personal, and social disappointment made me cranky at best and otherwise morose at worst. I tried to stay away from social media once I realized how whiny I'd become even there, but I also didn't want to be silent, so I still visited now and then.

That could have been a mistake of its own. 

I won't list everything that happened in 2013, even here in this post, because frankly, most of it you don't have any context for, and the rest of it you don't want to know. There are a few highlights I'll mention though, because together they show why, exactly, 2013 was the year that made me feel like I didn't know what I was doing, wasn't worth much, and would never amount to anything.

They also show why, despite all that, I have hope for 2014 and won't ever give up, and why you shouldn't, either.

In January of 2013, the agent round of Pitch Wars happened. (Go check out the blog post tag #PitchWars in the sidebar to understand what I'm talking about). I'd been lucky enough to be picked for the contest in December 2012 by not one but two mentors, and after choosing Cupid-- a truly delightful lady-- we worked hard to get my neolithic Romeo and Juliet manuscript into shape. In my head, I really thought this was it-- my time had come. Two mentors had wanted me so much they hadn't been able to let me go, surely the agents would feel the same way!

Except they didn't. I got a couple of requests from awesome agents, but was mostly ignored. I felt horrible. I'd chosen Cupid, she'd gushed over my work and went above and beyond my expectations to fix it. She'd worked her butt off to help me-- and still did, long after the contest was over, I might add-- and I'd let her down. My lovely, kind mentor.

After Pitch Wars, I entered a different YA manuscript into another contest in April/ May, called The Writer's Voice. I was absolutely stunned when I was once again chosen by more than one mentor and again had to pick. This time I chose Monica Bustamante Wagner. Monica is one of the sweetest people I've had the fortune to work with. She helped me whip my MS and query into shape and once again I headed for the agent round with my head full of stars and my heart full of hope. 

Only to have the Exact. Same. Thing. Happen. Again.

I let Monica down, too. My lovely, kind mentor. 

At this point, I sort of began thinking I was cursed. I mean, come on. But I'm not a terribly superstitious person-- though I do believe in a good story-- so I was a bit frustrated, too. 

I didn't write a lot of new words in 2013 (with one big exception). I spent most of my time re-working and editing my old MSs, mostly because I truly believed in each and every one of those books. Perhaps that was my mistake. 

Perhaps my mistake was deciding I was a bit fed up with waiting and losing patience and breaking the rules by querying more than one MS at a time. Perhaps my mistake was caring so much and not having enough distance from my work to realize that the market was wrong, or the story was wrong, or the voice was wrong, or the category was wrong, or yada yada yada. The feedback I did get varied widely and directly contradicted itself, telling me either everything was wrong with my work or something intangible was wrong with my work.

In my real life profession, I faced many similar situations trying to secure a better position at my zoo. Phone calls, interviews, hope, wonder, joy-- disappointment. Perhaps my mistake was that I could get into the race but not finish it. 

Whatever the deal is/ was, there's no one to flat out tell me what I'm doing wrong. Sometimes, there isn't anything wrong with me or you, per se. Sometimes, there are just better options out there. For all of 2013, I was not the best option. 

But someday I will be. Even if I have to make myself the best option. I have other things I can focus on-- a big change is heading my way this year. I can self-publish and take control of my writing life. I can start my own horse-training business and forget worrying about advancing at the zoo. I have pretty good building blocks in my life already: my husband, my pets, my friends, my family, and most of all, I still have writing. 

I think that needs to stand out: I still have writing. 

At the end of the day, I write for one person. Me. Sure, I'd love to share my work with the world through a large publisher and see my book on the shelves at B&N, but the most joy I get out of writing is just DOING it. I still love all my books because I wrote them because I loved them. 

So no, I won't quit writing even though I feel like a failure. A fake. A sham. Forget that. I'm going to keep writing.

And you should, too.