Saturday 14 November 2009

Where am I?

The last few posts have been strictly business. Today I’m going to get personal and chat about where I am on my own writing journey. In addition to keeping to my blogging schedule (be sure to check the sidebar under "Coming Next"), I’m currently busy with three writing projects.

Project A:

This has been a long arduous process, beginning with registering for my Master's degree in November 2005, dancing through The Rewrite Reggae , and culminating in its current phase called The Query Quandary. The Double-Q has as its core the question: when is enough enough?

The rejections are pouring in, and not one of them has been more than a form letter. Does this mean my story is awful? Or does it mean I’ve simply targeted the wrong agents?

I’ve had two publishing professionals (one an editor, who earned my undying gratitude by comparing my revised novel to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”; one an MD of a publishing company) tell me I’m talented, so I suggest my story can’t be as bad as the 60 or so form rejections (with 15 replies still outstanding) imply.

The agents I targeted are those whom I felt would most likely “connect” with my story. Do I do more agent research? Or do I say enough is enough? If this novel was meant to be published, surely it would have happened by now? And, as nothing has happened beyond rejection after rejection, I believe it’s just not this story’s “time”. It may lie in a drawer forever, unwanted by others (but never unloved by me, its proud author). It may one day be dusted off, resubmitted and (gasp) published. But that time is not now. Enough is enough.

Buuut...there are two more possibilities before I finally, for the last time, definitely can say “enough is really enough”.

As I've only targeted agents, I am turning my gaze towards approaching publishers directly. There are four independent (and reputable) publishing housing which offer a glimmer of hope. One in the USA; two in the UK and one here in South Africa. I’ve sent a query off to the USA publisher. I just have to decide whether I wait for their response, or do I query the others while I wait?

The other option is self-publishing. While I admire authors who have enough confidence in their work to put up the money themselves, I'm unable to overcome my own prejudices (there, I’ve admitted it) about self-published novels. I have wrestled with these prejudices, but am quite unable to overcome them (or my fears) sufficiently to go ahead and self-publish.

When all other avenues have finally been closed to this sad, unwanted manuscript of mine, I would rather post it free on the internet. The risk here is plagiarism. When the time comes for me to make this decision I will weigh up that particular risk against the satisfaction of knowing at least one reader - out there in cyber space – may gain some enjoyment and entertainment from my novel. That, surely, is better than having it lie, lonely and unread, in the bottom of a drawer. What do you think?

Project B:

I swore off writing romances in 2004 after the second rejection of a romance that I’d rewritten to editorial revision requests. Never, I said, will I ever write another romance. The moral of this story is “never say never”. My crit partners (lovely ladies, one and all) have nagged me into entering the Harlequin Mills and Boon Modern/Presents 2009 competition. I tapped out the first chapter in four days, submitted my entry and have since been steadily writing away.

Set in Johannesburg, the New York of Africa, my hero is a sophisticated self-made mining magnate and my heroine the privileged, protected daughter of an old mining family. He thinks he’s too old for her. She thinks he only married her for her family’s connections. Can Nicolo overcome his jealousy and fear of losing her as he lost his mother at a young age? Will Desiree realise that Nicolo wouldn’t have cared if she’d come to him in rags? Can these two very different people learn to trust each other again? Only time will tell if Nicolo and Desiree will live happily ever after!

I am having such fun writing this story. And it’s an excellent training ground for my Muse to ready itself for …

Project C:
This is where my writing heart lies.

Different in tone and style to both project A and project B, project C also takes place in South Africa. My protagonist is a white, South African male who fought in the South African Border War in 1980/81. Often called South Africa’s Vietnam, the complex moral and political issues surrounding the Border War take little or no account of the ordinary man who – brought up on the warrior myth – fought in a war that history has condemned. These soldiers were winning the war on the battle fields, but were called to surrender when the political arena changed. What effect did this have on these brave men who only wanted to be heroes, but whom history has called the perpetrators of evil?

At the moment, I’m conducting war research. This includes a long reading list of historical books of the Border War, personal accounts of soldiers who fought there and some of the more recent novels from the South African genre “Grensliteratuur” (literally, “Border Literature”). With the help of an old school friend of my husband, Colonel Young of the SANDF, I’ve completed a questionnaire and have begun the process of sending that out to ex-Border soldiers. Plot and character ideas are coming thick and fast, and by the time I’ve finished my research (Target Date: 15 February 2010) I should be able to do my mind-map. And then it will be time to go back to basics and the ABC of writing (Apply Butt to Chair)!

Left: "At Thy Call We Did Not Falter" by Clive Holt. One of the research books I'm reading on the South African Border War, the title is a play on words from the English translation of the old national anthem "Die Stem". The original line reads "Ons sal antwoord op jou roepstem" ("At thy call we shall not falter"). This national anthem enjoyed equal status with the struggle hymn "N'kosi Sikelel i'Afrika" until 1997, when both were merged into a new, hybrid national anthem.

There is no doubt in my mind that this story will be politically incorrect. To the victors the spoils, and that includes writing history from a single perspective. But history – particularly South Africa's complex and often misunderstood history – should by no means be a single-faceted record. I hope that I can add some understanding, perhaps even some healing (one of the many important responsibilities of stories), to the personal sacrifices of the soldiers – white, black and san – who fought on the “wrong” side of the South African Border War.

And that, dear blog readers, is where I currently am in my writing journey. Where are you currently at in your personal writing journey?


A Cuban In London said...

Wow! That's a busy schedule you have ahead of you. And I have just been to your other blog where it says to watch that space in 2010. I wish you success in all your projects, although if truth be told, I have never been a Mills and Boon person myself. Still, your project C sounds very interesting. Historical novels are definitely tricky territory and to me the conclusion is that you cannot please everyone. So, try to please yourself. :-)

Greetings from London.

septembermom said...

Good luck with all your projects! I would be fearful of plagiarism is you share your manuscript online. I wish I could give you some useful advice about publishing ideas. I'm a true rookie to this whole process. I would be tempted to do more agent research. I think that your gut is telling you to keep fighting for the voice of this manuscript. I know that it must be so frustrating to receive rejections. It's a battle and I know that you will overcome all these obstacles!

I love when you say "Apply Butt to Chair" - That's what I need to do!

Project C sounds really good! I'll be interested to hear how you are progressing.

Judith Mercado said...

Regarding your publishing trajectory, you could have been writing my experience. Regarding your project A, I would go ahead and query multiple publishers. Gosh, if you got more than one interested,auction time? I feel really excited about your historical novel. I love reading those because, if at all accurate, they usually teach me something worthwhile learning.

As for self publishing, I just today read the following about just that:

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Ann, ahhh, take heart! You are living the writer's life. Even published this is exactly what is going on in my be happy that you are getting the full experience. :)
Project A may be perfect- but not an agent's idea of a fast, fat sell. So, they pass. It's frustrating but true-they are in the business to make money- even if they love the book if they don't feel they can sell it and soon...most pass. (So, it's not you, it's them.) Send out to multiple publishers at once- it's Okay. (Please, please don't put it on your website as a free read. Try e-publishers first. Your book might simply not fit the current marketing plan of print pubs. E-pubs are more free to publish good work of all kinds. You and your work deserve to be paid-even a little- and appreciated.)

My advice. :) e-mail me if you need more sage wisdom and battered but not bitter writerly advice. :) hugs!

Ann Victor said...

CUBAN: I set the other blog up, just in case I decide to publish the novel “Shadows of Love” that I wrote for my masters degree. But I still need to explore other avenues before I make that decision. Mills & Boon/the romance genre are not to every one’s taste – but, as Terry Waite said on his release from Beirut in 1991(?) when asked how he felt about only having a Mills & Boon to read during his captivity (along with the Bible, I think), they are very good at what they do (which is sell the idea of romantic love). (that might not be the exact quote – I read that article a long time ago!)

Love in all its forms is my passion. I see my romance novels being about Eros, the first and most immediate form of love. The characters in “Shadows of Love” explore all the types of love: Eros (romantic love), Storge (family love), Phileo (brotherly love), and – most importantly – Agape, or compassion (Divine Love, or – in the language of the ancient mystics – the search for the Beloved). My new project C, is also about love – self-love (or, put another way, compassion for the Self), which my main protagonist will have to find after his experiences during the Border War of South Africa. And I’m sure that’s much more than you ever wanted or needed to know about my writing!! Thanks for the good wishes! And the excellent advice – a lesson I struggle with in life as well as in my writing! – that we can’t please everyone so we must please ourselves!

SEPTEMBERMOM: Yes, I’m also afraid of plagiarism. I’ve done some research on blogger and there is simply no way to prevent readers from “cutting and pasting” from one’s blog. I could put up a copyright notice, but how does one enforce it. And you’re correct – I do feel the need to fight for this manuscript, because I believe in it. I’m just not sure which direction to go in. I’ll keep everyone updated about Project C , I’m very excited about it!

JUDITH: :):) IF ONLY it were auction time!! No, the two editors found the story very interesting but didn’t have a place for it. The one editor (from Umuzi here in SA) said they don’t publish fantasy (although I categorize my story more as magical realism!) and the other (the MD of a publishing house in the UK) is a friend of a cousin who read it to see if he could give advice, but he only publishes non-fiction! So, right story, wrong desks! :( And thanks for the link. I’ve read of Brunonia Barry’s success story with The Lace Reader (an excellent book!) and William P Young’s success with The Shack also tempted me with the thought of self-publishing. But I truly have a psychological block with self-publishing; it is deep and irrational and I can’t break through it no matter what I try.

NANCY: Shadows of Love (Project A) is definitely not a fast, hard sell. But I seriously believe that there is a need in the collective consciousness for stories that deal with the search for spirituality in an easy and accessible way (look at the success of The Shack) that transcends specific religions. It is such a frustrating process knowing that publishing has become about the money more than about reaching people with new ideas and thoughts. Ah well! That’s life, I suppose, and, as you say, the struggle to get published is all part of living the writer’s life! Thanks for your words of wisdom – especially as a pubbed author you’ve lived through the experience yourself!

Helen Ginger said...

Before you take the book you've been querying to agents and give it away for free, I recommend you set it aside. Since you have other projects that excite you, set the manuscript aside for perhaps a year. Then read it again. You'll see it with a different eye and will be better able to judge if it's worthy of a rewrite, good as is, or chunkable. If you do rewrites, enough time will have passed that you could start querying again.

Straight From Hel

Ann Victor said...

Helen it's great advice to leave a book aside for a while and look at it with fresh eyes. I've done that once with this book (didn't look at it for over 8 months while it was being examined by the external examiners as part of my masters degree)and that resulted in a major rewrite. I'm not sure I have the inner strength to do it again! :O But, on the other hand, I suppose anything is worth a try...

Romy said...

I'm with you on the self publishing thing. It might work for some people, and I can understand why they do it, but I'd really rather have someone else do the marketing and pick up the tab!

I think you're right to put Project A away for a while. One day, the time and place will be right for it, and you'll find an agent or editor who believes in it as much as you do.

Good luck for Projects B and C. Getting the muse back is half the battle.

Have you read Tim Ramsden's "Border-line Insanity"?

If you're needing more test subjects feel free to send me the questionaire and I'll get my husband to answer. He's finally in counselling for some of the issues raised by that war, so it might even be cathartic for him!

Amanda Holly said...

When in doubt - do nothing. Don't try to force it and the way will reveal itself. It's the way of the universe.

Everything we write brings us closer to "the one" that will get us published so nothing is wasted. How much you enjoy writing the tale will always shine through and make the reading experience so much greater!

Remember JK Rowling with all her rejections because agents/publishers didn't know where to place her? Take heart my friend and enjoy every moment of frustration/indecision/joy/tears that is ... the ride!

lotusgirl said...

Ann! I want to read book C so bad I can hardly stand it. I think you will find an audience for it. There is more to any war than the "winning" side. Good luck with all your projects. I'll tell you that in my writing class this summer with Orson Scott Card he was a real advocate of writers sending queries to editors not agents. I wouldn't quit shopping around book A until you've sent it to editors and tons of them.

Ann Victor said...

ROMY: Self-publishing is a lot of hard work but, like you, I’d rather someone else did it! My reading list for project C is as long as my arm (and with all the interesting websites I’m discovering) getting longer everyday. Ramsden’s book is on the list, as several people have recommended it, so it must be good. Thanks for volunteering your husband – I’ll keep it in mind! :)

AMANDA: I’m constantly reminding myself of all the big authors who had to go through many rejections before finding “the one” who believed in them! But with Project A, I do need to do something different than (lemming-like) just repeatedly sending it out to more agents. I’ll try the publishers direct, but the general consensus seems to be not to post it free on the ‘net!

LOTUSGIRL: I think (hope!) there’s probably a bigger audience fro Project C than there is for Project A. The crazy thing about the South African Border War is that, in military terms, South Africa was winning, but they lost the propaganda war and then the political arena changed. So these soldiers made sacrifices only to discover that the cause they fought for (save South Africa from the communists) no longer existed. And thanks for the tip from your writing teaching. It makes up my mind to query those publishers direct! :)

Marilyn Brant said...

I loved reading about all of your different projects, Ann, and "C" sounds especially fascinating--and I know you're capable of bringing all the needed passion to it, too!!

Currently, I'm working on a proposal for a possible 3rd book (my option book for Kensington), and I have fingers crossed that (a) it will make sense when I'm done with it and (b) my editor will like it. There are no promises of either right now ;).

jdcoughlin said...

Any one of those projects would be enough for me. But I am of the, set things aside, opinion. I'm a big one for jumping in, but time is a good healer, a good friend, and a good teacher. Besides, I am a believer in, it may only take one more try.

Ann Victor said...

MARILYN: Thanks for your vote of confidence. :) I’ve just read a novel called “Heartfruit” where the hero’s experiences as a Parabat (the South African version of Navy Seals) fundamentally changed him (although he was pretty morose to begin with). It was a superbly written literary novel (and consequently somewhat intimidating) but had a terribly sad ending. I’m an advocate of a happy ending, no matter how serious the topic, so I hope my story will offer hope and healing. Good luck with the proposal for your 3rd book! I’m sure your editor will love it as much as he loved the delightful “According to Jane”. :)

JUDITH (JD): I hear what you’re saying! I think that’s why I’ve battled to put this aside – I keep on saying to myself “the next letter may be a YES!”

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

Hi Ann, you seem to have a full to overflowing plate at the moment. Approaching publishers is not a bad idea. I got a couple of them to reply to me. I know, I know, a reply is not an acceptance of my brilliance :-), but this is an indication that they pay attention to poor writers like myself.

About self-pub. I've done so. I haven't paid to get it done, but I'm pleased with the outcome. Of course the work is harder because you have to do all the marketing etc, but you get to keep the profits too.

Self-pub is not what it used to be. The taboo has fallen because everyone knows the publishers aren't spending money on literature these days. It's the page turners, well-written or not, that get MOST (not all) of the attention.

Check out Year Zero Writers (wordpress blog) and you may just change your mind. We're all writers self=pubbing our own work.

Ann Victor said...

ANNE: thanks for the info of Year Zero. I do agree that self-publishing (and digital publishing) are new directions that the industry is taking. I'm just don't think that self-publishing is something I could deal with (rightly or wrongly, I need the external validation in my work that comes from acceptance by a traditional publisher.)

Anita said...

Oh, you hear enough about my journey....let's talk about you!

For some reason, I am most interested in Project A and would love some specifics on what the agents are telling you. I KNOW the writing must be superb, so I'm wondering if they're thinking it's not marketable or what. Please share so that I may offer my unsolicited advice and solve all your problems.

Chiron said...

Ann, you really are an amazing woman. So many great projects going!

As to the rejections, let me tell you that I too received nothing but form rejections from agents yet when I sent out initial queries to pubs, the reaction has been much more positive and personal. I would hold on.

Also self-publishing does not have the same stigma that it once did and in fact can often lead to lucrative contracts. Check out Jenny Bent for an agent who has specifically stated her interest in successful self-published authors.

These days agents are hit and miss. Maybe it's just me but it really seems there's more of a race to find the Next Big Thing than a solid story that could sell well.

Jack London piled up six hundred rejections. Dr. Seuss, Richard Bach, Rudyard Kipling (told he didn't know how to use the English language), Poe, Madeline L'Engle (29 times!), H.G. Wells, the list of authors rejected whose books were amazing just goes on and on.

Mary Higgins Clark, whose book sales range to 60 Million, was told 'we found the heroine as boring as her husband did'.

The right editor, the right time, and it will all come together. Keep building your resume, keep submitting and keep writing!!

You can do it. *wink*

--Chiron O'Keefe
Weekly Motivation for writers at
The Write Soul:

Ann Victor said...

ANITA: Thanks for your confidence in my writing! :):) You’re correct in that the story is probably a niche story and, as such, not marketable to the general market. But, as I’m only getting form rejections so far, I have no idea whether that’s why the agents haven’t bitten yet. I thought I’d researched the agents well, but so far I just haven’t been able to get a match. I’ll put up my query letter on the blog relating to this novel and then you can give me your (now solicited) advice and solve all my problems! :):)

CHIRON: I do think that I need to focus on querying pubs now. I must just do the right research. I also think that, along with e-publishing, self-publishing is(as Nancy Parra so succinctly put it) the publishing new frontier: I just need to overcome my own difficulties with the concept. 600 rejections for Jack London?? Gasp! Well, I’ve still got some way to go before I catch up with *that* record!!! And thanks for the cheer-leading - your comments are as inspirational as your blog posts!! :):)

Anita said...

OK...I'll be looking for the query...didn't see it up yet.

Ann Victor said...

ANITA: Oops! The silly season has overtaken me and I forgot to put it up on my other blog. Have now put up the query letter and the first chapter for you. Thanks a lot - I will sincerely appreciate your comments! :):)

Robyn Campbell said...

Ann, your writing cannot be bad. Or even average. So I say you must be targeting the wrong audience. And I think that your idea to submit directly to publishers is a very good one. And all writers go through this. I should know. :)

Project B AND C sound great Ann. I can't wait to read your lovely romance someday when I pick it up and say, "Wonderful. It's Ann's book. I shall buy it and love every word of it."

Now C is another one that you must write. It sounds like it has the prospect of being extraordinary.

Please keep us updated. Ann, I love visiting with you. :)

Ann Victor said...

ROBYN: Thanks for your encouragment. It's much appreciated. :)