Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The unvarnished stuff....

I'm suffering from an acute attack of impatience. It's itchy and annoying and just won't go away. It ain't helped by the cold (the only good thing about winter is soup), or the fact that while my SO recovers from his knee surgery I get to do 10x more of my least favourite thing - driving. I had thought myself very cunning in sending out lots of submissions at regular intervals, the theory being that there would be responses at regular intervals to keep me from going completely crazy. Over the last 9 months I have sent out probably 15 plus submissions and I am still waiting on more than 10. The responses are either too quick (efficient rejections) or too slow (sadistic rejections). Yes I have had a yes in there and this is a crumb I am clinging to but it is not a publication crumb and is therefore smaller and a little more crumbly. Like the fairytale of the three wishes granted by the genii that don't quite go as planned, I have used up all my enquiries (less than the number which labels you a stalker) about my submissions and am none the wiser. Now I can't enquire again and all I can do is sit on my hands (so i don't scratch that itch) and wait. It is doing my head in, just like when I think about quantum physics or what an infinite universe looks like.

And then something happens like a major publisher from NY googling the title of a book of mine and visiting one of my blogs and all i can think about is 'what does it mean' and my SO helpfully reminds me it probably means nothing. Rats! Sometimes information can be a bad thing. All I have now is more questions which cannot be answered. Ack.

Here is some of the things I said last week at the talk I gave for Kiwiwrite4kidz.

I have always had an obsession with books. Not too strong that I fill up every spare space with books and buy books instead of food and electricity, or the kind where I stroke them like Gollum stroking the one ring, and not too mild that I don't know the difference between James Joyce and Joyce Carol Oates, or that Tolkien is not a scandinavian currency. I was always pretty good at English in school. Actually I was good at Science and Maths too, so when I started sucking at English in 6th and 7th form (I never ever suspected the teachers might have been the problem - it might have been better for me if I'd blamed them whether they deserved it or not) I focused on the other subjects and then went and did a Masters in Science at University and got a job in Hospital Administration when they let me out. But the trouble with administration is a need for organisation and this was never my strong suit. I realised I was in the wrong job and started an English degree part time as an extramural student. Then I started a family (1993) and as much as children can take away some of your freedom, mine provided me with the perfect cover to surreptitiously try writing. I kept on with the degree, I attended a week long continuing education course in writing, and went to Wellington for a weekend writing course with Fiona Kidman. I discovered the Tom Fitzgibbon Award, and Storylines and started submitting manuscripts and attending Storylines AGMs. I eavesdropped on my children. Then I did the Writing for Children university paper. I've blogged about this paper before. This was a breakthrough for me because I wrote a couple of short stories for an assignment which looked and felt like the real thing. The lecturer was not overwhelmed when she marked the assignment but the editor told me I could write when I submitted these to Learning Media. I cried. I sold some short stories. I had a picture book, Clever Moo accepted and I joined Kiwiwrite4kidz. I was awarded a mentorship on the NZSA's programme in 2005 and wrote my novel Jack the Viking with the guidance of my mentor Barbara Murison. I was shortlisted for The Joy Cowley Award in 2006 with my story being Joy Cowley's favourite (although this story is still, as yet, unpublished). Then I wrote the picture book The Were-Nana and Scholastic accepted both this and the novel. 2006 was an exciting year. I had my foot in the door at last (little did I know they are always leaning on the door with all their might from the other side). Both novel and pb came out 2008 and some booksellers weren't too excited about The Were-Nana. It was dark and scary and the mean brother didn't get punished sufficiently. Sell in wasn't spectacular. Then it was shortlisted for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards. While I had some great reviews, one reviewer commenting on the NZ Post picture book shortlist couldn't see which age group would like this book and felt that it might win the category against their better judgement. Needless to say when I got dressed for the awards I felt like i was going to make up the numbers. I didn't do much preparation for a speech - I wasn't going to need it - and apart from not wanting to embarrass myself completely I didn't limit my drink consumption either. Once Roadworks deservedly won best picture book I relaxed, sat back and forgot the threads of a speech i'd mulled over in my head for a couple of minutes. Of course when they read out the top polling books for the children's choice award in each category I suddenly got very excited. other people probably thought I was having apoplexy. While it's not guaranteed, the award usually goes to a picture book. The Were-Nana was top polling picture book and sure enough we won. Children did like the book. In fact the book was popular over all the different primary age groups. And what did the award mean for me? It meant children liked the qualities which some adults were worried about. Publishers would give me the time of day but sadly were no more inclined to say yes to new work from me then they had been before. The big change for me has been my raised profile in the wider community. Schools request me to come visit them and other groups have asked me to do talks and workshops. I did a radio interview. And the win taught me that I had reached my target audience. Children wanted to read my book. I sold more books too. It will always be an edgy little number but the kids have embraced it. And I try not to get upset or worried so much about reviews now: better to be talked about then not talked about, whether the comments are positive or negative.

So how do I stay sane in this difficult and crazy business that operates like few others? I say sanity is overrated. Be a little crazy. Try different things. Trust your instinct. I keep my eye on what's happening in the industry and try and have something new/available to throw at competitions or new publishing opportunities. Be brave. You will survive the no's. Make sure you have some writer friends because no-one else will know like they do, the trials and tribulations you will have to go through as you traverse a career in writing. Get together with them regularly to winge about the difficulties and share the good news and the industry updates. Take holidays from your writing when you feel anxious, burnt out or frustrated. Distract yourself with a new book, or tickets to a movie when the impatience and frustration become overwhelming. Because we aren't paid a regular salary, which even if it comes without praise is still recognition of efforts made, we are at risk of devaluing our own hard work. Treat yourself when you've reached a writing milestone. Written ten thousand words? Finished that picture book? Had a breakthrough? Submitted a story? Give yourself a pat on the back and a nice reward.


Old Kitty said...

Oh wow. What a lovely, lovely, lovely post!!! I loved every word - thank you so so much!!

And doesn't it just help to be a little crazy, a little off the edge and over it too maybe?

Good luck with your submissions!! I do hope your hubby gets better soon so you won't have to do so much driving!

take care

Chris said...

Great advice yet again Melinda, I love reading your blogs.

Hope your 'yes' crumb becomes more substantial and you soon get the sort of responses that will brighten up your winter!

Maureen said...

Just finished writing my own blog post and so I pop over to see what you are writing about and...we must have been drinking from the same bottle of cough syrup...

Thank God for the crumbs...it does keep you hoping for the cake...