Tag Archives: publishing

In pursuit of popularity

We moved on to the third series of Black Mirror this week, which began with the slightly too close to home satire of Nosedive.

I say too close to home, but actually as I was watching (and judging) the protagonist as her picture-perfect life descended into chaos after her pursuit of people’s approval became just that bit too obvious I spent most of my time thinking how glad I was that I had managed to avoid getting sucked into the social media cess pit that already bubbles just beneath the surface of our society.

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Sure, I have a pretty active online presence. There’s this blog of course, and the instagram and twitter and Facebook accounts that go with it. But I don’t strictly use them as promotional tools. I mean I use them to promote my posts sometimes of course. But not exclusively, or even mainly. And the rest of what I post is just observation or record-keeping. I don’t really care if anyone reads it, or if I get more followers as a result.

Not much anyway. At least I don’t think I do.

I mean, I don’t even know my Klout score.

I’m not even sure I really understand what Klout is, but that’s what I thought of as I saw Lacie delight over the positive reviews she received and despair as her rating began to plummet. And if you’re serious about blogging, or social media in general, then of course you have to come out on top, right? Of course people have to like what you do the best, because otherwise why would anyone want to invest in you, to use you to help sell their brand and bestow on you all the perks that come with that?

I guess it is different in that ultimately the things being rated are brands themselves, yes? It’s not the people who are being judged, even if sometimes it’s tricky to tell where the person ends and the brand begins. And really that’s the whole stamp of a successful brand in this personality-driven blowing culture I’m dipping my toes into – it needs to be authentic, to have integrity. Otherwise what’s the point?

Anyway. I’m not doing that. That’s not what this blog’s about – it’s not what my social media presence is about. I don’t care about my ratings. It doesn’t matter how popular I am. I just want to write.

Except…

A few days ago I heard back from the administrators of the competition I’d entered one of my novels into. It was a standard response – exceptionally high standards, yada yada, I should be proud of even finishing a novel, yada yada – the upshot of which was that my novel hadn’t made it through to the next round. It hadn’t even been longlisted.

And I reassured myself that it was the response I’d expected, obviously. I hadn’t thought I’d hear back so soon, had figured I’d be able to hold on to my optimistic imaginings for a little while longer, but I hadn’t really dared hope that my novel would get anywhere.

Except of course I had, because that’s why I’m still doing this. That’s why I’m still writing, and editing, and submitting, because one day I believe that someone will pick up one of my books and declare it a masterpiece.

But not this time.

And really, why should it bother me? It’s just the opinion of one person after all. One more person, who admittedly counts for rather more in this fickle world of publishing than your average reader, and in fact is one of the gatekeepers who decides whether the average reader ever gets to make their own mind up about the book I’ve written, but still just one person.

And it’s not really about me. It’s about my words – my work. Except I haven’t quite mastered the art of separating that out from the very essence of my soul quite yet.

Ultimately I guess there’s less than I thought that separates me from Lacie, and that whole slippery slope of the popularity game. I could ignore it completely I suppose, just write because I love it – because I do love it. But if I’m honest I’d quite like people to read the stuff I write, and to like the stuff they read.

So I’ll keep on keeping on, nurturing my corner of the internet whilst not being too bothered if it sometimes seems a bit littler than I might like. Writing the things I feel like writing, occasionally reaching out to the gatekeepers who might help me find a bigger audience but trying not to mind too much if they don’t respond.

It’s all a bit of a minefield this aspiring author business.

I think I might need a holiday…

 

Writing Bubble

The waiting game

I’m in a bit of a quandary over where to take my writing at the moment.

Having decided to stick with pursuing the traditional route for now as far as publishing’s concerned, I have released my third manuscript into the ether for (hopefully) some useful feedback before another round of submissions.

And I guess to be honest if the feedback is not hopeful, then it will give me a mission in terms of either working on a redraft on my own or (and?) searching for other places to submit it.

But for now I am waiting – for the verdict on my latest novel, for the outcomes of a couple of competitions I’ve entered myself into – and it’s making me feel quite antsy.

(Here’s a beautiful picture of the seaside to induce some calm…)

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There is – obviously – plenty to fill my days with. Blogging for Connecta Baby Carrier, grant applications for my beloved local lido, continuing along the unschooling journey with Arthur. It’s not writing though – or at least not WRITING writing.

It’s times like this I feel very grateful for my own blog, and even more for the wonderful What I’m Writing community. It gives me focus, support and accountability without which I might not think twice about letting the WRITING writing slip.

But instead I have spent the last couple of days dwelling on a focus for my #whatimwriting post, and in the process have realised that I need to find a focus for my writing itself.

I thought it might be competitions, but it turns out that besides the Mslexia novel competition that I entered recently there’s very little out there for unpublished novelists. Which I suppose makes sense. I’ve found one other to have a go at – and admittedly haven’t got round to it yet – but that’s not going to be all that much of a step forwards.

Because what I really want to be doing is writing – writing something new. I don’t want to make a start on another novel. I don’t have a pressing idea anyway which makes that option highly unlikely – but I feel like I need to make some headway with the first three (or at least one of them) before I get caught up in another. So I am coming back, in stolen moments of potential creativity, to the idea of short stories.

It was supposed to be my project over the summer. But, you know: summer. It didn’t happen.

Now though? I reckon it might be time. And – exploiting that aforementioned accountability – I am determined to have at least the start of something by this time next week.

I cannot wait to get stuck in to writing something – something new!

 

Writing Bubble

Across the cultural divide

I have wanted to write this post for a while, but as I’ve worked on drafts in my head I have kept finding myself stumbling over clumsy expressions about an issue I really don’t want to get ‘wrong’. I find myself coming face to face with assumptions I have made in the past which make me question whether I really understand the area I am tip-toeing around at all. The reality is that I am an outsider in this territory, and the urge to turn away and run is strong. But that is not really how I do things, so I won’t.

The issue I have been grappling with is, essentially, the authenticity of my first novel. And when I say authenticity, I am talking about the thorny area of cultural appropriation: my protagonist is of mixed heritage, Bengali and British. The folk tales of Bangladesh are woven into the fabric of the plot as it unfolds, and the challenges facing Bengali people carving out their lives in Britain are integral to the journeys of several characters.

Now I lived and breathed that story and those characters for the several years it took me to write a first draft. My protagonist, Lili, borrowed much from the young women I taught at a school in Tower Hamlets. And in fact the first tentative steps from plan to prose were made at an Arvon writing retreat that I attended with a small group of those young women: I discussed my ideas with them, asked their advice on elements of language, listened as they told me their stories.

As the draft developed further, I read copious research files on the experiences of different generations of immigrants from Bangladesh on settling in East London. I devoured Bengali recipe books, and tales of the mythology that reached back into Bangladeshi culture.

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And eventually I had a novel of which I was proud: the culture that I was borrowing from was part of it, but by no means all, and I had worked hard to avoid stereotypes. Lili was complex and engaging, and the London that I knew and loved was intrinsic to every page.

I got an agent on board, we made a few tweaks, and then went out to publishers. And then things sort of stalled: almost all of the feedback we got was positive, particularly around the multicultural elements, but there were no takers. For a while I wondered whether this was in part a response to the monocultural bias that is clearly evident in the publishing industry, particularly when it comes to books for children and young adults. I latched on to a campaign that had been established to encourage more diverse books, and wrote about it to try to explain why diversity was so important to me. But the people I reached out to appeared to have no desire to engage with me: sure, my book was diverse. But I wasn’t.

Nothing overt was said, but my enthusiasm for that first novel dwindled. I still loved the characters and their story, but thinking about them made me feel guilty. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the source of that guilt, but in a creative landscape where the smallest excuse is enough to give the self-doubt demons all the strength they need to inflict silence I decided it was time to focus on something else.

Fast forward two years, and I found myself reading Lionel Shriver’s address to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival about cultural appropriation. And whilst there were elements of what she said that I couldn’t help but agree with, I was embarrassed by the crassness of her refusal to engage with the very real concerns of those whose culture had been exploited. And I began to wonder whether maybe the book I’d written was part of that entitled, white exploitation that can only come from a position of privilege.

I began to wonder whether Lili’s story was actually mine to tell at all, whether in trying to push out my interpretation of the challenges facing a mixed heritage family in East London I was standing in the way of more authentic voices that might be trying to do the same.

But then once I’d started off down that rabbit hole any claim to integrity began to dissolve entirely.

Because it’s not just Bengali culture I could be accused of appropriating. There’s a question of class too, one which is perhaps much more central to the novel that I wrote. Am I not, as a comfortably-off graduate from a middle-class background appropriating the struggle of working class families? And there’s an important theme about the status of elderly people in society – and teenagers for that matter. Are their stories mine to tell?

These are not exact parallels, but they are still examples of where I am using someone else’s truth to build a narrative. And all of these groups of society lack the privilege that is inherent in my existence as a thirty-something, white, university-educated woman.

Except it is here that I grudgingly accept some of Shriver’s points: without stealing other people’s stories there is very little left for the novelist to do. Interestingly the protagonists of the two novels I’ve written since are much closer to me in terms of social and cultural background. That wasn’t a conscious choice I don’t think – and whilst I’ve enjoyed exploring a world that is closer to my own I can’t guarantee that my ideas in the future will not be influenced by a more global outlook. As a writer I am drawn to the outsider – and culture is often a big part of that.

There is also the argument that if we want more diversity in our literature then that needs to come from all quarters – not just from those writers who are themselves ‘diverse’.

And so on balance, despite my reservations about Lili Badger, I am still proud of what I’ve written. And I don’t want to shy away from giving voice to people from different cultures in my writing in the future.

I will continue to endeavour to be respectful and avoid stereotypes – a courtesy I would hope I extend to all of my characters, not just those whose culture is different from my own. But the bigger the gap, the more work there is to be done to find authenticity and integrity – and the more difficult the challenge of convincing others that this really is a story that you can tell.

 

Writing Bubble

All change

At the start of the summer, I thought I knew where my writing life was going. I was certain in fact: I had discovered Mslexia’s brilliant guide to Indie Presses, and I had resolved to find a home for my writing through one of those.

And then…

I picked up the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook Guide to Getting Published, and my resolve weakened. The approach it advocated was much more traditional. It didn’t reject independent publishers entirely, but it cautioned against them as a way of launching a career.

My personal jury is still out on the pros and cons of the various routes into getting my words in print, but I was forced to acknowledge that there was a third book, waiting on my hard-drive in its unpolished state, that might still hold the key to the prized arrival on the literary scene that resided in the enclave of the bigwigs in the publishing world.

So I read it.

And I really enjoyed what I read.

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From what I could see at first glance, there were none of the obvious roadblocks that my first two novels contained within their pages: the question over cultural integrity in my young adult novel exploring my experiences as a teacher; the doubts over a generic home for my slightly obscure hybrid between psychoactive thriller and mental-health steeped realism. In fact this third novel reflects much more of where I’m at now, of my life by the sea with its echoes of the city. The characters are ones which resonate with my own experience rather than one I’ve observed, and though the path they choose is unconventional it is not unbelievable.

So I decided to give it a chance.

Having read through my words in print – a much more satisfying print, incidentally, having tried to approximate an actual novel in the way I presented the words on the page rather than just the standard sheets of A4 – I returned to Scrivener to tweak the narrative to one that rang true.

And then today I sent it to my agent.

Who knows whether her optimism will match mine, but right now I’m feeling pretty positive about our prospects.

This change of heart has been made all the more possible by a change in my circumstances that I’m just starting to get my head around. Leigh has finished his medical school training, and launched into his career as a junior doctor. This might have spelled the end of any time to myself, but we decided as a family that the next phase of his training would be better carried out part time.

So suddenly I have two whole days a week when he is taking the lead in parenting. Two whole days a week where I can focus on my council and freelance work, and on my writing.

It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have a three year old to entertain at the same time.

Now, having submitted that first draft, I am looking forwards. I haven’t yet written a synopsis of novel number three, so that is top of the list. And then there’s a short story competition which perfectly resonates with my love of outdoor swimming, and a children’s novel competition that I am going to bite the bullet and submit my first manuscript to.

I’m feeling pretty positive about it all, despite the fact that my agenda has undergone such a major u-turn. It’s a writer’s prerogative, right? To follow the thing that feels true?

It’s hard to know for now how that might change again in the future, but finally I have the time to really work out the best way forward for me – and for my writing.

 

Writing Bubble

The perfect fit

So I have finally this week managed to begin the process of getting my head around this whole getting published malarky.

It hasn’t been easy: my to-do list seems to be expanding almost as enthusiastically as my veg patch, and I am still finding the political car crash so horrifically compelling that it is taking almost all my energy to secure the headspace to think about anything else.

But part of my post-Brexit survival plan was to be just a little bit selfish, and with that in mind I sat down in the garden one sunny afternoon with the two books that have sat forlorn and unopened since they arrived in those innocent pre-referendum days and took a look at what they had to offer.

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A lot, is the answer.

I started with the Mslexia guide to Indie Presses (thank you Teika for the recommendation). The world of independent publishers is fairly new to me, so I was keen to see what was out there. I scoured each description, marking any that seemed a good fit for either of my completed novels to come back to later.

Once I was sat at my computer, I started a spreadsheet. I wouldn’t normally be quite so rigidly organised about something like this, but the careful structure of the columns and rows helped to still my chaotic mind, and made me believe that I might just possibly be able to do this.

For each publisher, I noted down their web address, the relevant genres they were interested in, submission guidelines, and whether they were in fact currently accepting unsolicited submissions. That last column narrowed things down a bit, but of the ones that were left I explored their websites a little further, deciding which of my novels I would approach them with before adding that to the table. The final columns, yet to be filled, are for the date I submit, the date I intend to follow up, and what feedback, if any, I receive.

Its funny, but even just going over that process here has calmed and focused me again. If feels like a big thing, to be preparing to submit my work to people who might be able to help me get it out into the world. There is still lots to be done before I actually get to the point of submitting – honing and re-honing those crucial first chapters, reworking my synopses, crafting an elegant and engaging covering letter. The more I think about it, though, and the more I discover about independent publishers and why they are there, the more I believe it is the right route for me.

My writing is not mainstream. It is not easy to fit into a box. I can completely see why the ‘Big Five’ publishers might not think that my novels are worth the punt.

But I do.

And I’m sure, with time and effort and plenty of willpower, I will eventually find a publisher who is the perfect fit.

 

Writing Bubble