In a somewhat bewildering turn of events, I’ve signed an actual contract. My first novel is to be released by amazing indie publisher Urbane.
Title, release date, cover, and details of a very special art collaboration of which I’m completely thrilled will all be announced later, but just writing these words is forming a reality I can barely believe exists. I will have my novel. On paper. In my hands. In your hands, hopefully.
I can’t tell you have pleased I am to have found a publisher willing to take a risk on my book. It’s a difficult project, but the conversations I’ve had in the run-up to this announcement have shown a perfect understanding of what I was trying to achieve. As the trillions of “perseverance” sound-bites have it, it only took one person to say yes.
I don’t really have anything else to say. Braindead happy.
Another of my short stories has been published in the last few days. BABY SHOES: 100 STORIES BY 100 AUTHORS is now available on Amazon in both the UK (£3.19) and US ($4.99). I think there’s a discount on the American Kindle edition at the moment. The paper versions cost £16.08 and $24.99.
The story, CALL THEM, centres on the stresses of financial difficulty. Let me know (in the comments below or on Twitter) if you pick it up. I’ll touch you on the virtual bottom in thanks.
I had a story long-listed for the 2015 Short Fiction Award last month. The short list has, unfortunately, erased proof of my heroism as I didn’t make it to the final six, but I’m so happy to have been chosen from the initial round of more than 650 entries. Baby steps. Frankly, getting any kind of result from this year’s output is fine. I feel safe in chalking it up as a win.
Motivation isn’t a problem for me at the moment. Getting stuff done feels light. The need to strengthen some basic skills has been nagging for a while, so I’ve committed to some long-term college training, and I’m working on another short story, potentially the last of the year, to sub to various lit mags later this month. I’ve started preliminary work on my next novel (the reason for holding back on too much more short fiction in 2015), and I may finally have a lead on a professional mentor. Nothing’s certain yet, but I’m crossing everything. This could be amazing for me.
I’m also involved in another writing project I can’t talk about right now, but, from a personal perspective at least, it has the potential to be hugely exciting. More on that soon.
Everything’s up! It’s brilliant how even the slightest element of acceptance can buoy a writer, and equally unbrilliant how endless rejection can flatten one. The solution’s simple: write more. Write more write more write more. The more you write, the better your chances of success. Have to run. Writing.
My fiction gets rejected a lot. Almost all of the time, in fact. I’ve been submitting short stories to literary magazines this year as a sideshow to editing two novels, and none of them have been accepted. I’ve no idea how many I’ve sent. Ten, maybe? I’m still waiting on some, but, statistically speaking, they’ll be negatives. I have submissions to several competitions outstanding, too. The chances of them returning anything positive are close to zero. I’m a hard sell. All writing’s a hard sell.
And that’s fine.
I actually enjoy receiving rejections. Each shaky-head email means I’ve successfully completed and submitted copy, and I certainly prefer someone turning me down to never responding at all. Fiction writing’s a grind slow and grueling enough to shame even the most repetitive MMOs, and it’s something you have to accept if you have serious designs on achieving any kind of recognition. It’s part of the job, an indelible aspect of writing life.
Fortunately, being rejected becomes easier the more frequently it occurs. Every kindly declination is an arrow in the eye when you first start subbing, but the disappointment deadens as they pile up. Years ago, when I was sending my first novel to agencies (on paper!) and the dreaded self-addressed envelopes started hitting the mat months later, each syllable was torturous, the destruction of a dream. Hope elsewhere. Thank you allowing. Doesn’t mean.
Now, though, I just shrug. I can tell what it is without even opening the mail. Only curiosity forces me to read them before releasing them to trash, just to see how that specific publication or agency frames their let-downs. They’re usually nigh on identical, for the record. The last one I received (yesterday) started with the words, “Thank you for giving us”. That only ever means one thing.
Frequency certainly does soften the blows of rejection, but I’m also lucky enough to run an editorial business and have experienced the other side. I’ve personally rejected many hopeful game writers. I understand why I have to do so, and therefore have at least some insight as to why the editors and agents who keep knocking me back have to do the same. These are pragmatic business decisions, and I’ve learned to see them as such.
There are three main reasons I reject a pitch. VG247, my day job, is a games site specializing in news, news-related features and guides. The queries we receive are usually instantly dismissible (“Do yu hove any psitions writing news? I’d be really good it!”), but some are great. We reject almost everything. Here’s why.
- It’s the “wrong” content. This is the primary reason we reject writers. The pitch may be strong, and we have faith in the writer to produce good copy (even if we don’t, we can always edit), but we just don’t care about the content. Will it bring us traffic, revenue or acclaim? No? Then we can’t buy it.
- It’s a base we’ve already covered. We get this regularly, especially from established journalists working for smaller sites. “Do you need anything on Game du Jour?” We do, but it’s in hand. Thanks, but no.
- The writing sucks ass. Any long-term editor (any decent one, anyway) can tell immediately if someone can write. By “write,” I don’t mean “win a Pulitzer”. I’m talking about relatively accomplished grammar, punctuation and sentence construction. Creative flair is a secondary consideration. I know grown adults in the games media still incapable of using capital letters correctly, and don’t get me started on commas. Video game journalism is generally bad, but we do try to keep the bar as high as possible on slim resources. You have to be able to write decent English to interest us.
I’ve never been involved in the selection process for a literary magazine or agency, but, based on the endless notes I’ve read from agents on submissions and why they reject, it seems the reasoning behind saying no (and yes) is similar. There’s little personal about it, at least in the realm of the debut author. People either want the words or they don’t, and they hardly ever want the words.
That’s just the way it is. No piece I write is a waste. Every rejection is increased experience, because I had to create something to receive it. As long as I’m writing, published or otherwise, I’m taking another tiny step on the ridiculous road to publication. Someone, somewhere. is reading the words, even if they only make it through the first few sentences before engaging their stock rejection machine. It doesn’t matter. I wrote and someone read. You made it to the end of this, right? Thank you. I’d call that a win, however small. And sometimes that’s acceptance enough.
It’s normal for writers to succumb to the style of the books they read. Logically, most (all?) readers and writers will have “road to Damascus” moments as they work the way through the early part of their reading careers, whereby certain books will become life-changing events. The novels I read in my early twenties were especially influential to my formative writing, almost to the point of claustrophobia. Certain authors trapped me, jailed me. So authoritative were they in relation to my lack of experience and education, and so enamoured was I with their work, that avoiding them in my own writing was impossible. They were in control. I had no choice.
The drawling vocabulary and laconicness of Queer, Junkie and other early Burroughs novels, for instance, left such an impression on me that my fiction would be forever marked, not specifically by content, but by the emotional impact and thrill of passages about a gay heroin addict spending his days staring at the tip of his shoe, or by the baffling construction of Interzone. I couldn’t believe these books even existed. The excitement of discovering Jack Kerouac left me similarly breathless, as it did with Brett Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, Tom Wolfe, Patrick McCabe, Cormac McCarthy and the predictable rest. These authors, with their violence, ambiguous sexuality and relentless maleness, kept me locked in a cell for years. Being a twenty-something man trying to write in the face of something like Naked Lunch is a humbling experience.
Me-tooism is hardly restricted to writing, of course, but the form of a young writer’s first books and stories will likely be moulded by the media they consume. It’s hardly surprising that so many novice authors attempt to write “the next Harry Potter,” or have aspirations to “be” another Stephen King.
But not me. I don’t feel trapped anymore. Over the last three years I’ve written a large body of fiction (relative to my own previous output, of course), and the amount I read continues to balloon. I now submit copy very regularly, whether it be short stories or novels, and I probably read more widely than ever before in terms of genre (or lack of it). I’m reading J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace at the moment, and while I’m enjoying it more than most books I’ve read in the last year (it’s as amazing as it’s supposed to be: read it if you haven’t), I have no desire at all, subconsciously or otherwise, to attempt to follow its path. There are no feelings of awe or jealousy or fear as I read, as there were with American Psycho and On the Road twenty years ago, and any negativity has been replaced with a glow of pleasure, of having the wherewithal to be able to consume, and ruminate on, a genuine work of art. Stepping into the dungeon of another writer’s experience now comes without the dread of the slamming door. The exit is open. I love the book, but it isn’t me, and that’s partly the reason I’m able to enjoy it so much. I’m free, in a way.
The quality of the literature I’m consuming hasn’t changed, even if the quantity has; I feel differently towards the book, not the opposite. Years of focus on expanding my knowledge of books and writing has put me in a different place to the young man, freezing in a bedsit, being blown away by the Beats. I have no problem admitting I have influences, but the novel I’m now editing and the stories I’ve been submitting this year feel different. This is my work, not something created in a damp corner of solitary confinement under the gaze of twentieth century jailers.
I didn’t even realise the prison’s gates had locked behind me. And now there’s sun on my face. It’s an unexpected turn, but it feels like progress.
Good news (for me, at least). The Baby Shoes flash fiction anthology has achieved its crowd-funding goal, meaning my next short story, titled CALL THEM, is confirmed for release. Four days remain on the Kickstarter, so you can still secure a discount copy at $5. It’ll cost $10 if you wait for launch.
CALL THEM is painful for me to read, as it focuses on financial instability and resultant family pressure. While compact, it does raise some of themes running through my current novel work, which is becoming less opaque in its blurring of fiction, memoir and potential near-future extrapolations. If you want to get an idea of what to expect from my longer pieces when (if) they appear, this would give a decent hint.
CALL THEM will be my second published piece of fiction. My third, a horror-action story based on the Achtung! Cthulhu universe, will be made available in the coming months.
This guest post was written by author and journalist Dave Owen. His debut novel, PANTHER, releases later this year. If you’re a fiction writer, aspiring or otherwise, and you’d like to contribute to Misery Guts with an entry about writing, the writing process, agents, publishers or whatever else, drop me a line.
The hardest thing about being a writer is feeling like a fraud at every turn. Whether you’re hammering out your finest words in the suspiciously damp corner of your bedroom or reading from your published novel to a room full of people, it’s rarely possible to silence that nagging whisper insisting that you, in fact, suck.
Although I had been carelessly stringing words together for many years, my writing career began in earnest when I started a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing at The University of Winchester. This largely entailed sharing my writing with twenty other people day-in-day-out, sometimes work that was improvised on the spot, incredibly rough, or woefully ill-advised.
That’s when the whisper started. You suck, it said with the malicious glee of a Disney villain. Everyone can tell.
It taunted me as I progressed into the second and third years of the degree, even as my grades got steadily better, as tutors singled me out for praise, as I began to wonder if I could make a real go of this writing thing. The whisper was always there. You suck.
I decided to stay on at Winchester to take a Master’s in Writing for Children, despite having to work 50 hours a week in a pet shop to finance it. In the two years it took me to complete the MA I saw my writing objectively improve. I attracted kind words – though nothing more – from some agents. Still I wondered daily if pursuing writing had been a spectacularly poor decision.
I kept working. I kept reading. I kept writing. You suck, said the whisper. But I refused to let it stop me.
Toward the end of the MA I was asked to help out with teaching first year students on the same BA I myself had taken. At first this was as assistant to the main tutor, but eventually I was given a few classes of my own.
There is little more effective way to make you feel a fraud than standing in front of a room full of teenagers and presuming to tell them how to write.
I saw nothing but disdain in their eyes as I delivered my supposed wisdom. I imagined them meeting in huddles outside of class, cursing my name, bemoaning my lack of talent and knowledge, wondering how in heck they had been saddled with such a hack for a tutor.
In front of 30 students, the whisper found my ear. You suck.
Let’s skip ahead for the sake of brevity. I stopped teaching, but I kept writing. I got an agent. My writing was sent out, rejected (you suck), torn apart, edited, rejected again (you suck), started afresh, until eventually I found myself with a book deal. My debut novel, Panther, will be published on May 7th.
Last week I returned to The University of Winchester to give a talk to the current MA crop, and some members of the public, about getting my book published. I was ecstatic to see a bunch of familiar faces, students I had taught in their first year who had decided to take their studies further. I hadn’t sucked badly enough to put them off writing forever.
I talked about my book. I read a chapter aloud to people for the first time. Nobody fell asleep or hurled faeces. There was even a smattering of appreciative nodding.
I sat in the same place where I had been an undergraduate, a postgraduate, and a teacher, convinced of my own fraudulence at every step, and read from my published novel. This time there was no whisper.
After the reading a young lady approached me. ‘Your writing made me feel sick,’ she said. ‘In a good way.’
And for the first time I felt like a real writer.