butterflies, Cracked Flash Fiction Competition, failure, humour, preview of work, Scott Reed, short story, social media, South Africa, success, Writers College, writers journey, writing, writing competitions, writing tips
I know people don’t usually share their tales of rejection (especially not when it comes to one’s profession). Perhaps if I’d had a happier, more upbeat tale to tell I would’ve won the Writer’s Journey competition. As it is… Well, one cannot make things better by waving a magic wand. But sharing one’s failures one can learn from it – and so can others. I wrote this story almost a year ago while I was still floundering about with outdated information. This isn’t a cautionary tale. (Really, writers are far too boring and cautious to have Hollywood-esque cautionary tales told about us. <grin>) But maybe you can learn from my mistakes. Enjoy.
I always wanted to be a writer. (I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true.) Even when I tried “grown-up jobs”, I still created stories filled with my fictional friends.
So I did research on everything from writing to publishing. Confident that I knew enough about books and writing, I set out to write my own stories while daydreaming about following butterflies. A few writing courses later…
I knew that the first three books I wrote weren’t good enough for publication – they were exercises on what to do and what not to do. Still, the third showed promise. So, after a bit of rewriting, I sent it out for a manuscript evaluation.
There’s nothing quite like having a professional read your work and give honest feedback.
Theoretically, I knew all the rules of writing. It was the application of those rules that I found somewhat elusive.
With fresh eyes, I viciously tore through my own work and rewrote it.
Tears, paper cuts and the beginnings of carpal tunnel later, my new glittering manuscript was only a ghost of its former self.
Cocky, I sent it out to agents all over the UK.
Form-rejections flooded in.
Furious – at who or what I had no idea – I sent the same manuscript for appraisal again. No longer could I imagine butterflies fluttering around me as I wrote…
A few notes and another rewrite later, I sent it out to the few local publishers who accepted email submissions. (I wasn’t going to send it to fools from the Dark Ages who destroyed thousands of trees a year on queries alone.)
But by now the market had changed.
I was advised to write something different.
Somehow I had missed the minute change in readers’ taste.
Damn it! Months wasted. As though writing a novel of 60,000 words or more happened while Mister Sandman jumped from rooftop to rooftop.
More market research – and incredulity that somehow substandard novels were being published all over the globe, smacking most writers in the face – I went underground again to write.
I aired a year later, perfect novel in hand.
Pleased with myself, I sent it off to the publisher who was so nice before.
Again I stepped into a bear-trap.
The publishing world itself had changed with publishing houses merging.
Besides all the atrocious grammatical and spelling errors on their website, now a big if stood before the genre and age group I wrote for. They preferred foreign writers over South African ones, I learned…
All the other South African publishing companies who were in this technological age had chosen to only deal with agents. And there were no literary agents anywhere in South Africa. At least, not any that I could find.
Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
Obviously I’m certifiable.
Still, I was not giving up.
Now I’d come full circle. Wearing my endangered rhino-skin-armour, I was again sending my work to UK agents.
And getting form-rejections.
What was wrong? According to all the reputable sources I used, I was doing everything right in my approach to agents. (All these sources said that SA writers should approach UK agents – it’s the same market.)
After staring into space, my mind whirring with data and ideas in the background, I realised a few things in the cold of winter:
- the data I’d gathered from reputable sources had to be wrong;
- I needed genre-specific instructions;
- perhaps my illogical fear of cyberspace was keelhauling my career.
So I typed in the name of a company whose logo was all over non-fiction books my parents and grandparents gave me – including huge dictionaries.
Astonished, I found that they had resources dedicated to writers. Everything I had learned had been outdated for this new age of publishing (it would’ve been fine in a world pre-e-book, though I wonder why nobody had updated their online knowledge to really help writers the way they profess to do?). This new resource even ran webinars and other useful tools for everything from genre-specific writing to how to build an author platform (and why it was necessary).
Everything I should’ve known about publishing since becoming a writer was suddenly available to me.
Using my new knowledge, I created an author platform with different social media tools and I joined an online writing group to re-develop my neglected Afrikaans writing skills. (It’s a whole different thing to write in two languages. Each has its own rules that shouldn’t be confused.)
It’s only been a few months, but already I have a following (however small, but growing) who regularly read whatever I write. My world is filled with butterflies again – probably something to do with spring.
And though I still dream of traditional publishing, I’m starting to understand the landscape of e-books and self-publishing a lot more. Maybe, when I don’t need training wheels anymore, I’ll try this thing called hybrid-publishing and conquer the world before dying of old-age. Wha-ha-ha (villainous laughter).
This was my entry for a competition (The Writers College International Short Story Competition – closing date 30 September 2015). I should’ve heard by now if I had won. So obviously not. (And really, they’re one of many competitions that ignore anyone who didn’t place first… But that’s a whole new post.) Perhaps I wasn’t inspirational/ quirky/ funny enough? Well, I couldn’t write anything but what really happened on my journey as a writer, now could I?
But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a lot further thanks to lessons learned about how to use the internet as a writer. No more hiding because it’s recommended (on websites that have no clue how to operate in the e-age). It’s time to step into the light and chase after butterflies…
Just last week I won a flash fiction competition that was live for only 24 hours. (Yay, me!)
“Choosing a goal and sticking to it changes everything.” – Scott Reed
Fellow scriveners: what’s your journey as a writer been like? Any similarities to mine? Something you’d like to share?