Surely it’s the time most writers dread: those weeks (and sometimes months) waiting for a reply from an agent. After analyzing the odds, the percentage of submissions rejected, I defy any writer not to be worried. Or to not feel despondent when the rejection does come.
Personally I’d reject most of what I see, not just from debut authors but a lot of professional writers. But then I’d make a bad literary agent: too quick to judge, not being open to something that seems unconnected with my life on any easily accessible level. In particular, science fiction (which, actually, I mostly read) can seem forbidding initially. And, perhaps like most readers, I also rely too much on reviews and reputation. The challenge these days is finding something new and special among the sheer welter of books.
Now that my own work is out there to be assessed by those who are still thought of as the gatekeepers to the literary world, I’m wondering if what i’ve submitted is going to be judged so hurriedly. It would be interesting to know the exact process of each agent: how much is determined by that first page, chapter or synopsis – where I feel I’ve already failed (see Synopsis Hell).
After my last book Time Over had been rejected a few times, I did some rewriting then self published. How tempting it is these days to just give up on the traditional route. Because rejections are troubling if not painful; you read into each word, wondering what s/he truly felt behind the polite or diplomatic language. Well, I guess I have more of that to look forward to in the near future.
Let’s be honest. What matters most is not how good you think your novel is but how others rate it. Now I’m not writing this as someone who received accolades for their work and can smugly pontificate. On the contrary, I’ve had some negative reviews, one even used the dreaded B-word (bored), a state you should try to avoid causing more than even offense. So how could this happen?
After a number of rejections I lost confidence in my second novel Time Over. The first book The Hidden Realm was also rejected, but the problems with it were clear and I mostly fixed them although in the days before self publishing became, er … respectable. So I cut my losses and put it out as a free download. It proved relatively popular, got a good number of likes. Only Time Over seemed to have no easy fix; I’d set up a simple premise, which then spiralled into something rather complicated.
The problem is, once you lose confidence in a project you focus on what’s wrong rather than the positive: a loose end here, an inconsistency there. You imagine a reader picking up on some implausible aspect (and in SF there can be a lot of those). So what you do is add more detail for verisimilitude. Dialogue can also be affected in this way, slowing down the pace. I’ve of course tried to address these issues. But regaining confidence: that’s something entirely different.
Still, you move on to the next project with a renewed faith. At least until the next rejection.
Time Over is free to download for a short while:
Reviews still welcome.
My other site: http://www.adriankyte.com/
For me, starting work on a new book has been easy. Getting beyond the first chapter – let alone to a completed novel – is an entirely different matter. Some might compare embarking on a new novel to falling in love … again: This is The One, at least you think that when it starts to take shape. Of course, all previous ones seemed exactly as special at the time – it was going to be your magnum opus, nothing was ever going to top that. Then reality hits. In my case in the form of reviews. Although some have been positive I always like to fixate on the negative. My initial reaction (in my head) is: But you haven’t read it properly; you don’t understand that character’s motivations or the underlying causes. In truth, I would get carried away with an idea. But – in science fiction – you can get mired in trying to unravel a complex theory shaping an event with an even more complex explanation. Brushing over it can seem like a lack of attention to detail or authenticity; the obverse seeming weighty and stymie the reader if not the plot. However, this type of insight has tended to be very much after the fact (when the book is out there). At least with an E-book it’s never really too late.
If I’m going to stretch my initial analogy, then think of that work-in-progress as a new relationship. You invest your all into it and expect to find answers very quickly. You are filled with hope but also troubled by insecurity, the latter tends to happen about a quarter of the way in. Life eventually intrudes: distractions, maybe personal events or outside that can make your big idea seem insignificant, irrelevant or inappropriate. At the start it might have been like living in a bubble. But when that bubble bursts is when you can truly get a handle on what your WIP will become. Not that there’s anything wrong with quixotic thinking at the outset, because the voices of doubt telling you to prepare for failure are rarely useful. Anyway, if you make it halfway (for me around 50,000 words) then there is that sense of having been on a journey with a possible destination, maybe not what you expected it to be, but still well worth continuing.
Time Over is now free to download for a very limited time.
The most commonly quoted advice, write about what you know, is often open to misinterpretation. I’m not entirely sure how much it refers to personal experience or general knowledge. But it’s generally accepted that experience of life is a good thing for a writer. That is, going out and travelling as much as possible, and just living. But should there be limits?
There have been times when I have forced myself to go on risky holidays where things haven’t worked out as I’d hoped. We’re not talking any life-threatening adventures here (I could happily brag about trekking along the Amazon or Gobi desert were it true). The only things truly threatened were my sense of morality and bank balance. Possibly this has helped my creativity, given a better perspective on my writing. Possibly.
I wonder, as a writer, the way of dealing with things that go wrong is different; you process them differently. Maybe it takes a while, and then: I could incorporate that experience for one of my characters. Even in science fiction, in my view good sf, you should bring something of contemporary life into whatever future. After all, it’s all about transposing … and it’s probably something I should have done more of. I’ve tended to avoid autobiographical writing in previous years; it had seemed somehow self-indulgent. But I guess there is always a way to finesse that into fiction.
It is said that the best writers are often the most troubled. Not an observation I entirely buy; I know of some seemingly very well-adjusted prize-winning authors. Maybe, though, writing is a therapy in itself, and without it those authors would be wrecks. Certainly with a novel in progress I seem to be at my most contented, even if there’s no knowledge of it ever being publishable. Otherwise writing this blog comes a close second. But without either would problems and worries become insurmountable? Well, I wouldn’t want to test that.
A question many writers ask themselves is: how much do reviews matter?
I noticed something curious when I recently withdrew a novel I wasn’t happy with, and also had some spare time to rewrite. The book could best have been described as an interesting failure, problematic in its creation. So I’d given up finding a traditional publisher and went with Lulu.com as well as putting it up on various other sites as a free download. Anyway, checking the Amazon UK page I was surprised to see there’d been nine reviews of the book, averaging 3 stars. So did that suggest mediocrity, or something more interesting? I think most writers would prefer to think – given that average – some hated their work and some loved it. But there was not that smiley face bar graph. Ok, so there were way out concepts in the book, stretching the science fiction to the fiction end at times. I half expected there to be some negative comments about certain sex scenes that were not exactly conventional (although not especially graphic). None however. Frankly, it was That Difficult Second Novel where I tried to expand my writing range, where I’d got a little too ambitions. You aim for the stars and end up getting three! It is pleasing though that even ten people (1 US) were motivated enough to write a review of a free book from a relatively unknown author, especially those who seemed just a bit disappointed. Trouble is, when you write a blog about writing you build yourself up to be knocked down. At least that’s usually the British way. But I’d be the first to admit there’s always room for improvement. It’s a constant learning process.
Well, I’ve republished Time Over on Amazon KDP. The price can’t be set at zero but is as low as possible, for now anyway. Will be interesting to see how it fails this time. I know there are those who have an aversion to paying for a novel that hasn’t been recommended or passed some threshold of star rating. But any starred reviews are welcome – if they’re well considered.
One of the basic rules writers are taught is make your protagonist believable. That can be interpreted as: make it easy to relate to them on some level. But it could also mean: give them an internal logic and consistency of behaviour.
But what if a writer invents a character for whom there are none of the realistic constraints associated with ‘normal’ people? Well, they couldn’t be human. You could not empathize with them, right? Even in the more morally simplistic world of video games the least sympathetic protagonist has some kind of flaw or disadvantage to overcome, otherwise there is no sense of jeopardy or challenge for them.
I once created a character who, though not possessing any superhero powers, was genetically engineered to be superhuman in some ways. Roidon Chanley was highly intelligent, charismatic and almost entirely without self-doubt …. and of course he had a lot of success with women. So he seemed like the writer’s enviable third-person alter-ego, having qualities I could hardly even dream of. One compromise was to not make him especially good-looking or tall; in The Hidden Realm, Roidon is described as having a striking, deliberate ordinariness (which was useful for him). Nevertheless, to have him as the main protagonist would be difficult to sustain. At best the reader could admire him, at worse they would think him implausible. For me it didn’t matter that he should be liked; even for for a first person protagonist that is not essential. Perhaps Roidon had become a writer’s self-indulgence, needing to be curtailed in some ways. Yet he lives on, in new iterations.
The Hidden Realm can be downloaded for free. http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/10887/the-hidden-realm-the-full-version
I’ve always been attracted to apocalyptic themes in fiction; these stories have resonance going back millennia, most notably Noah’s Ark and the great flood, whose origin pre-dates the Bible to ancient Mesopotamia. This idea of some great force eradicating all of existence represents humanity’s anxiety of some grand punishment for its sins; but also there are those (especially of the religious persuasion) who find a certain appeal in the notion that all will be wiped out except perhaps for a select few, who then rebuild and repopulate the land. This has also been a common theme in dystopian/ post-apocalyptic fiction. There is even an aesthetic appeal in post-nuclear landscapes, commonly featured in games: Chernobyl from STALKER; the eerie beauty of Half-Life 2, or the headily atmospheric Metro (based on a novel) with its corroded and rotting remnants of civilisation.
Although I’ve not actually read those ancient stories or many of the modern equivalents I did write a story – a novel Time Over – on a similar theme, in which planet Earth is faced with annihilation. Being science fiction it is set centuries in the future; the reason for the impending doom is not made entirely clear but suffice to say that an alien race has taken issue with humans and created the ultimate weapon to wipe out all sentient or technologically advanced life, evinced by a spreading wave that erases millions of years from star systems in its path. Meanwhile the people of Earth just go about their business oblivious to what’s heading towards them. Those few that are aware of the threat are persuaded to remain silent. But if they did try to tell the people, who would believe them?
So if we are faced with some catastrophe of biblical proportions and can do nothing about it, is it worth worrying?
Time Over is free to download: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/31889/time-over-limited-edition-free-version
My website: http://www.timeover-sf.com/