Poetry

Emerging from a fortnight-long hyperfocus on manuscript revisions.

My eye sockets are deeper than they were before,

I’m peering out from the backs of tunnels that are so long

it’s a wonder I can see at all.

The screen and its grey words (the font colour may state black,

but it’s never as black as the type on a printed page)

have attempted to stamp themselves into my pupils

for hours every day over the past two weeks.

I’ve seen them in my sleep, within a blink

and those frequent moments staring into space.

Think the code in the Matrix films, but horizontal –

only after intense study does it form a picture.

But I think I went beyond that

and started picking up the letters and rearranging their parts

while at the same time

they were rearranging me.

And now I’m awake again

attempting to shift back to my usual self.

It’ll probably take me a week to find all the misplaced parts.

Perhaps I put them in the teapot; seems as good a place as any to start.

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Keeping up hope

Trying to find a literary agent can be a long process for many authors, and I’m no exception. I’ve been querying agents with different manuscripts for about four years now, and though I’ve eventually found homes for those books with a small publisher, it still gets me down that none of them fit with the lists of the agents I queried.

Rejection after rejection can make authors numb to it after a while, and the hope that each query or submission sent out is a potential offer of representation dwindles until it starts becoming something done out of habit rather than real intent.

I start out querying a project with all the enthusiasm in the world, but six months later when the answer has still been no, self-doubt creeps in. My usual method to combat this oppressive feeling is to simply get on with the next book, but this year something else happened that re-ignited my hope.

A writer I know, who’s also been querying for a long time, finally found representation with an agent. (And they’re raving about how good her book is on Twitter, which is awesome to see.)

I was so happy for her that it was almost as if it’d happened to me, and the reason why I think I felt that way is because I knew how hard she’d worked to get there, and all the rejections she’d faced. It was like someone had plastered a sign on the wall in front of me, saying ‘See, it is possible!’.

So now when I feel that imposter syndrome trying to take over, all I need to do is think of that, and I know I’ll pull through.

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Thoughts on the past year

Hi everyone, as it’s that time of year when many people take a moment of reflection on the past year and think about the future, I thought I’d take a moment to do the same.

Last year was a mix of good and bad. On the personal side, I had a long bout of depression and autistic burnout, had frequent meltdowns and shutdowns, and suffered from intense imposter syndrome regarding my work. But I also learnt a lot about my neurology, began implementing coping strategies to reduce meltdowns and shutdowns (like using ear defenders, sunglasses and fidget toys to help with sensory overload and not doing too many tasks in one day) and celebrated a year and a half with my partner and, in November, actually moved in with him.

I also realised that I’ve achieved an awful lot with my writing, too:

  • I did my first edit of my YA sci-fi, Unsung.
  • I put together my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, which comes out this February.
  • I re-edited my Half-Wizard Thordric trilogy to catch all the continuity errors that had slipped through.
  • I wrote a middle grade fantasy involving time travel.
  • I edited two poetry collections and submitted them to my publisher.
  • I did my first author visit at a school.
  • I did another edit on Unsung, and prepared a query and synopsis for submission to literary agents.
  • I put together a poetry pamphlet and a children’s poetry collection for submission to an independent press.
  • I wrote (and illustrated) a bespoke story that the client had won at a local school fair.

Writing it all down in a list like this gives it a lot of substance that I can’t ignore, because it wasn’t until I started writing this post that it fully hit me how much work I completed. When I think about how unmotivated I felt for most of the year, it’s incredible that I managed to do so much. I suppose it does make sense though, because no matter how hard writing can be, it’s the one thing I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do, and is the way in which I express myself best. I know a lot of the poetry I wrote released a lot of frustration and helped me to accept who I am, and writing fiction let me live an adventure I’d otherwise never know.

For this year, I haven’t made any strict resolutions. I simply intend to keep the same goals I always have: to keep writing, appreciate the small things and (this one is slightly newer) ask for help when I need it. I’m sure there will be times when I get distracted, overwhelmed and stubborn, but as long as it’s not too often, I know that’s all okay.

So, here’s to a new year full of self-care, appreciation for those who support us, and determination for whatever it is that we wish to achieve.

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End of year thoughts

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, because I have many long term goals that I’m simply going to keep working towards, so I thought I’d take a look back at the good things that have happened in 2017 instead.

I started out this year determined to be published before I was 27 (my actual words to everyone were ‘by the end of my 26th year’. Perhaps it sounded more achievable if I spoke about it like a prophecy). I had two ways to achieve this: find a literary agent and get a publishing contract VERY soon after, or approach a smaller publisher directly. Because I was impatient, and running out of time – this was a goal I’d set myself some years ago – I did both. For my older manuscripts, I sent them to small publishers, and for my newer ones, I sent them out to literary agents. While I had some interest from agents, none have taken it further so far, but as I recently finished editing one of my latest manuscripts, I can still query with that one. I did, however, have an offer from a small publisher for my middle-grade book, Unofficial Detective, with interest in its sequels, and that was published in late August. As my 27th birthday was in September, I just about achieved my goal of getting published before I reached that age. And I’m quite proud of that, even though it’s only the beginning!

I also really wanted to start a blog this year, and keep it up by posting regularly. Initially, I was going to write posts purely on writing and about my journey to publication – so detailing the query trenches, my work methods and habits – but the process of querying takes so long that it can be months before hearing back, meaning my posts on that subject would be few and downright boring. I decided to share some of my short stories and old, highly questionable poetry to fill space. Yet I soon ran out. So I had to write something new, and that’s when I discovered my love for writing poetry, which if you’ve been following this blog for a while, is probably what you see most of. As I tend to post everyday, I consider this particular goal fully achieved.

Starting a YouTube channel wasn’t something I’d planned to do from the beginning of the year, but in an attempt to increase my author platform, and because I love watching Booktube videos, I thought I’d try it out. What surprised me is how much I like doing it. It’s just nice to talk about books and express my enthusiasm. I don’t really get to do that otherwise (though my husband has recently got heavily into reading, so now we rave to each other about different books. Yay!).

On a non-book related topic, my husband and I moved and now have our own flat. It’s fantastic to finally have a space for just the two of us (four if you count our feathered family members). And it’s so peaceful. Considering we’d been living with my parents since getting hitched in 2013, this was a long time coming and very much overdue. My mood has increased dramatically, and I feel good about the future.

Which brings me to my final note of saying that over the last few days, my book has been doing rather well, reaching some of the highest rankings on Amazon that it’s had so far. Also, book two has been accepted by my publisher and the manuscript has been proofed, and I’ve been asked for ideas on what I want to feature on the cover. Which means that the book itself should be released early next year, hopefully around February or March, if all goes well.

So next year, I’m going to keep writing, keep blogging and keep striving to find a literary agent so I can get published by ‘the big guys’. More work, but work that I want to do, and I honestly wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

Kat out.

Poetry

Off you go, heart dream.

Quick, a new one is seeking!

Use the great weight of anxious pride to condense

Every detail of your precious work into a paragraph or two.

Ready? Are you sure?

Yes. Okay, hit send.

Inhale. Breathe. Don’t faint, it’s done.

Now to move on, distract yourself for a while.

Go and dive back into the wonderous wordyness of words.

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Cool hashtags that help

So I was in the query slump again recently, where I wait and wait to hear back and end up losing hope that my books will ever get picked up. This happens quite a lot (every time I send out a new round of queries, in fact (and by round, I mean I make a list of 12 agents and then send off to them individually, but usually all within the space of a few days)), so I know by now that I’ll get over it.  Mostly it’s by hearing stories by other authors about how they got picked up by agents or publishers (there are a few of these in the Writer’s and Artist’s yearbook, and of course, if you look at author bio pages on the web, you’ll find them there too) and copious amounts of chocolate or cake, or simply chocolate cake…

This time, though, I discovered the hashtag #500queries, which shows you queries from an agent’s point of view (in this case, Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary agency), which may seem harsh at first, but after reading a few it really helped reassure me that my query wasn’t a total shambles, and also showed me what needed to be improved, too. There’s also a #10queries/#tenqueries version, which is equally helpful.

I also recently discovered #MSWL which is a great tool to find agents interested in your genre, and a few other cool hashtags that help with querying, like #pitmad and #PitchCB (Curtis Brown’s twitter pitch tag).

So, even though I’m sure I’ll slump out again, for now I’m feeling more positive about all those queries and submissions I sent out.

Still rather impatient, though.

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Musings

Having finished the third draft of my fantasy novel, ‘The Curse of Earthias’, last night, I find myself in that post writing depression that always happens the day after ‘completing’ a project. At the time, I was super happy at completing it at last, but now I wonder ‘what next?’.

Of course, given the amount of other manuscripts I have that need work, I know full well what needs doing next, but I still can’t get over that sense of feeling lost. I also put it up on Inkitt so readers can read it for free and rate it depending on whether they liked it or not, but I really don’t know if that was the right thing to do.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that even though writing and striving to be published is something I’ll never stop doing/give up on, it is damn complicated and stressful. Still, I’m waiting to hear back from lots of agents and publishers on queries I’ve sent out, so I always have hope that one of them will like my work enough to request to see more.

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Do you buy books more from bookshops, or online?

While pondering whether to stick with my plan of querying agents for six months (a plan formed on the advice of a literary agent who I had the chance to have a short one-to-one with about the publishing industry; she suggested that I query twelve agents a month for half a year, and then consider my options after that time if I was unsuccessful) or to simply save up and self-publish/ try a small press, I  keep thinking about where I want my book to be sold.

I love the idea of walking into a bookshop and seeing my work, but the reality is that unless I do hook an agent, and then if the agent hooks one of the big six, that idea is nothing but a fantasy. Then I think to myself, if my book (however it’s eventually published) sells well online, does it really matter if it’s not in brick and mortar shops?

I certainly know that while I like to mooch around in a bookshop for several hours, I tend to only find the ‘popular’ books by authors I like (such as Diana Wynne Jones’ ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’- whenever I check my local Waterstones, that’s the only book of hers I find), and so I end up ordering the rest online.

So the question is, should I really be worried about only seeing my book for sale online? After all, it wouldn’t make me any less of an author…would it?

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Querying, yay!

Now by ‘querying’, I don’t mean to raise a series of questions, I’m talking about the other type of querying. The one that means sending out your precious manuscript (or a least a synopsis and the first three chapters) to a literary agent in the hopes that they’ll love your book so much that they’ll drop whatever they’re doing and shout from the rooftops about just how good it is, and then offer to take you on there and then.

At least, that’s what most people querying an agent hope will happen.

Sadly, as many, many writers will tell you, it isn’t that easy. Firstly, most reputable agencies have a well established client base already, so they’re reluctant to take on anyone else so that they can focus on building the careers of the authors they’ve already got.

Secondly, they always watch for trends in the market and keep in mind what books their authors are already working on. This means that if an agent rejects you, it’s probably not because they don’t like your work, but because there’s no call for that type of book at the moment or your idea is similar to one they’re working with already.

As an example, I had an agent send a rejection email the other day saying that although she was impressed by my work, two of her clients had books in the same genre, and she didn’t want to create competition by adding another. Being rejected (yet again) was disheartening, but it was nice to hear her reasons. (Also, if you get a more personal response rather than a form rejection, take it as a good thing. It doesn’t happen very often- agents receive hundreds of queries a week, it’s almost impossible to respond in detail to them all.)

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, is that even if an agent takes you on, they can’t simply wave a magic wand and get you a super publishing contract. They have to fight for your book, to champion it to editors, and if they don’t fully believe in it, then that makes things very difficult. What most authors overlook is that agents get their pitches rejected from publishers just like authors get manuscripts rejected.

So, how can anyone beat all those odds?

The answer is, quite simply, to query as many agents (or publishers; small presses often have periods when they welcome unsolicited manuscripts) as you can and remember that if you really want to be published traditionally, then you have to have the drive to never give up no matter how many rejection letters you get.

A good thing to think is that there are lots of writers going through the same despair of being rejected by an agent or publisher (or, perhaps worse, not hearing back at all or going through long periods of silence where you check your inbox every ten minutes hoping for any news at all, even bad!), so even if you find yourself being overwhelmed by it all, there are always people you can reach out to who are going through a similar experience. Like me, for example.

So talk to other authors. Laugh, moan or cry with them. And, if one or all of you are successful, share it so that people can still see that it is  possible. Fight on!