A Bridge to Nowhere

April is eight days away. Have I planned a project yet? No.

My vague plan was I’d have the outline of a serial for The People’s Friend ready to go. Or my next pocket novel. The truth is I’ve got several ideas but nothing concrete. One of these ideas – adapting my Mills & Boon runner up romance – is underway, but I’m not sure where it’s going. The plot will need to change substantially, and I’m not sure how to work the required elements into it.

When I walked into the next village to go food shopping yesterday, my route took me past a decrepit mill that has been up for sale forever. It’s a building I’ve been dreaming about as the setting for a serial where a long lost Canadian relative buys it, befriends a local interior designer who’s been desperate to get her hands on it, and the two uncover a mysterious family past.

But what past? That’s my sticking point. As always, plot let’s me down.

But I digress. As I was passing the mill yesterday, I noticed a bridge over the river that flows past it, the track over which now disappears into the modern road bridge. This was not easy to take as it was a very bright day and this part of the garden was in shade.

The light area towards the left is sun shining on the path over the old bridge. As you can see, the garden is now horribly overgrown, though I can remember flowers when the last owner, an elderly man, was still living there.

I read somewhere about the complicated structure of this area which gives rise to frequent subsidence and sewer problems. There’s a bridge over a bridge over a bridge or something. There’s certainly a river and a canal running through there.

What a fabulous ‘what, when, why…’ situation. I am unable to find where this old track led. Into the village where I was going, perhaps. (turn right over the new bridge, these days). Why didn’t they just knock the old bridge down when they built the new road?

This is definitely a story starter, but can I finish it?

Staying Positive

Last month, I hit my career record for publications. On April 12th, my second pocket novel was published. Over the next few weeks, I also had stories in Spirit & Destiny, My Weekly, The People’s Friend and The People’s Friend Special! But that’s it for now – haven’t sold anything else yet.

My story in My Weekly

This week started with a rejection. Actually, I’m pleased about that. It’s one of those I submitted to The People’s Friend well before lockdown and my editor couldn’t tell me anything about it. I, unfortunately, could tell him a lot, such as in retrospect, the structure was terrible and I was sure it would be a rejection.

So, it was good to have that confirmed as it allows me to get back to it, improve it and submit elsewhere.

However, while I have stories out, I have no definite successes. Some of those stories have been out a long time. The longer time goes on with no positive news, the higher the chance is I will not sell that story.

The state of play at the moment is:

  • Sent > 6 months ago: 3 (all to the People’s Friend, so not a write off just yet.)
  • Sent 2-6 months ago: 2. A children’s story to Ireland’s Own and a romance to Woman’s World
  • Sent <2 months ago: 2

The best chance of success is those two I’ve just submitted. Both left my desktop only this week. The one I have highest hopes for – because it’s a favourite of mine – is a 3000-word gentle romance set in New England in the fall. I originally wrote it during camp nano of 2018, when I set myself a target of 15K of short stories. This one started life as a 5K story aimed at Woman’s Weekly. But I dragged my feet and, as recently pointed out in much overdue submissions guidance, they don’t take stories that long anymore.

So, I cut and cut and ensured every word counted. The revised version is more focused with a stronger plotline. Consequently, I feel it is more engaging. I couldn’t have done this without feedback from my womag critique group.

That story has been sent up to the senior team at The People’s Friend by my editor, who is very good at letting me know quickly whether it’s a definite no or if a story has potential.

The above figures tell me, though, that to sell more, I need to submit more. But how do you keep your motivation up when you’re not getting feedback and stories are languishing in the black hole of ‘still out somewhere’?

That can be difficult, but what I do is:

  • Talk to writer friends – they will help you to feel better, especially when they tell you what you are going through is completely normal. Writing is a solitary activity and it can be easy to feel a bit down.
  • Accept you will go through lean spells – it’s the nature of the game. A good spell will come around, as long as you keep writing.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others: I touched on this in my last blog. Some womag writers seem to be in every mag every week. But some womag writers are prolific. One regularly published writer admitted to writing 10,000 words a week. Do the maths. She only has to sell one story in five to have a 2K story in a magazine every week of the year.
  • Keep writing and get feedback. Like everything else in life, the more you practice, the better you get
  • Keep reading your target market.

Of course, if motivation is at a really low ebb, you might need to step away from your word processor for a while and do something completely different. Take a holiday from writing. Come back refreshed, or perhaps come screaming back with a brilliant idea you just have to get down right now!

Either way, enjoy what you do and don’t let rejection get you down. It’s normal for this job!

Share Your (Bad) News

In this month’s Writing Magazine, *Simon Whaley writes an excellent article on comparisonitis – that natural tendency writers have to compare themselves with the success of their fellows.

It leads to overwhelmingly negative feelings and, as Simon says, can cause writers to stop writing. I know – it’s done that to me in the past.

I’ve been banging on about the tendency writers have to only share their successes for some time. It has to stop.

Last year, I entered a Harlequin blitz. This is a call for books in a specific romance line. If submitted within the brief open period for the blitz, the author is guaranteed a response within just a few weeks (it normally takes up to four months or more). These are really popular events, and the Write for Harlequin Community Facebook page opens a specific thread for those who enter to follow and feed back.

When authors started sharing their results, they were overwhelmingly successes – the eds had asked to see more of their work. After some weeks of this, and thinking my rejected entry must have really stunk, I plucked up the courage to ask, ‘I’m I the only person who got a no?’

Of course I wasn’t. But those who were unsuccessful didn’t like to mention it. I suggested it was important to share failures as well as successes for the mental health of everyone concerned.

Know what? Next blitz, there were more noes than yeses! Result! I felt normal in being one of the masses, and perhaps those who got a call felt even more successful when they saw how many failed.

Social media is particularly prone to this sort of pressure. I’m not going to go on Twitter and say ‘yet another rejection’ every time I get a no. Why should I? But it does get wearing when my feed seems full of authors who have just released a book, who’ve just made #335 in some ranking or other, or who’ve just signed another deal. I’m afraid I had to mute one author recently who was so high on her new release, my feed was completely clogged up with her banging on about it.

I’m happy for authors who have good news, but just now and again I’d like to see someone who got a no, just to make those of us who haven’t yet snagged that agent, or who got three rejections in the email this morning feel normal.

I do spot these ‘fails’ (or challenges, as I prefer to call them) from time to time, and I always try to ‘like’ and respond in a supportive way. Social media shouldn’t just be there to brag and sell: it can be there to support as well.

So let’s start a trend. You don’t need to publicise every failure, nor feel sorry for yourself in public, but maybe post an update now and again. “Agents contacted 16, acceptances 0”, “Short stories subbed – 2, disappeared into the black hole of being considered – 1, never heard of again – 1” or something.

I’ll start. I just reviewed this year’s subs to date. I’ve got:

  • 5 projects from last year I’m still waiting to hear on – most of those I suspect will be noes, or I’d have heard by now.
  • 5 short stories unsuccessful with
  • 3 still awaiting a response
  • 1 short story sold
  • 1 pocket novel subbed and awaiting a decision
  • 2 first drafts published of 4 sent to Writer’s Forum.

Alternatively, you can follow Aeryn Rundel’s Rejectomancy blog where he keeps a running commentary of his (mostly) failures.

*Simon Whaley runs a very useful blog called The business of writing.

Never give up on a good idea

This is my second pocket novel, published on Thursday 12th April – so you should still be able to find it in the shops.

I subbed this book as Fingers in Pies, so it took me a while to realise this was, in fact, my book, even though Georgia on the cover there is wearing a shirt of mine…

But there’s murder and there’s a bakery, so that says it all.

I’m pleased with this pocket novel as it was the first-ever crime novel I wrote. It’s the one that was rejected by an agent three days after I first subbed it, which was depressing. I submitted the first 100 words to critique at Writing Magazine and they concluded the writing was ok but the idea was probably unsalable. Unfortunately, I agreed – for mainstream publishers anyway.

Fortunately it was perfect for a pocket novel. All I had to do was add a romance.

This seemed an impossible task at first. After all, the wannabee PI Georgia really does not get on with her irritating boss Mike. The point (an important point if you are writing the first in a long series of novels set in the same detective agency in the rhubarb triangle) was that they rubbed each other the wrong way.

As a standalone book, it’s the perfect set up for happy ever after. And so I added the thread that turns Mike from a taciturn, nearly bankrupt, computer-phobic boss, to the person Georgia’s actually been looking for all her life.

I didn’t have the skills for that when I wrote it, as I hadn’t joined the Romantic Novelists Association new Writer Scheme and served my time learning the romance business.

But it just goes to show, if you’ve got a good idea for a book, it’s worth sticking with it and finding the right market for it no matter how bleak things seem.

Research the Market

This post was triggered by a People’s Friend blog by Abbie, one of the editors. It states the obvious, really, that before you submit a story to a magazine such as The People’s Friend, check that it’s suitable for them.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen posts on social media along the lines of ‘I’ve written a short story, I might send it to People’s Friend as they take women’s stories, don’t they?”

Yes, they do. But if you are unfamiliar with the type of story they publish, I would bet good money that your story will be sent straight back with a ‘thanks but no thanks’.

Abbie suggests checking the market after you’ve written your story. I would go a step further and say you should do this before you put finger to keyboard. Write the sort of story the market wants, not vice versa, at least if you want to make money.

I sent several stories to The People’s Friend without success before I sat down and read several issues of the magazine cover to cover. The next story I sent to them sold. Why? Because I wrote it in a different way, one which I figured would appeal to the readers, using the editors as proxy.

Obviously, there’s still an element of lottery as so many good writers submit stories to magazines. Yours might be a perfect fit, but if they’ve just bought one like it, if it doesn’t quite fit with the mix of stories they have planned, or one of many more very good reasons, it might not sell this time.

But if you haven’t checked it’s a People’s Friend/Woman’s Weekly/Albedo One (or whatever) story before you submit, I can guarantee it won’t sell.

Today I’m working on a story they rejected a year or two ago. In retrospect, I can see why – it’s far too negative. The tone is downbeat, especially in the second half. Yes, your character needs to overcome obstacles, but not with a sense of despair or tone of overwhelming gloom.

For womag stories, you need a strong character with a can-do attitude. And you need to be able to describe your story with a positive adjective – uplifting, humourous, poignant, moving.

Even innocuous negative phrases can affect the whole tone. I was surprised when I did a search for “n’t” in my story: in one part there seemed almost one per line and all those can’ts, won’ts and don’ts add up to a lack of optimism! Womag readers don’t want that require more positivity.

Look at all those red negatives

Generally, these “–n’t” phrases can be rewritten as a positive. For example, “I don’t know what to do,” can be rewritten as “What can I do?” and “Can’t your mum go?” could become “I’m sure your mum would love to go.”

These might seem like insignificant changes and, on their own, probably won’t turn a rejection into a sale. But many small parts make the whole, and womag stories are no less crafted than literary stories, they’re just crafted in a different way.

So, go on. Look at your latest work in progress and see how many negatives you find. You might be surprised.