So I Thought I Could Write...

While a few of my indie author colleagues are quite over the idea of pursuing traditional publishing for their novels, the attraction of it, for me, hasn't gone away. It still lingers, in spite of three novels and one short story collection now indie-published. After the RWNZ Conference in Wellington back in August, I was even more enthused about pursuing print publication. So a few weeks ago I was following SYTYCW - So You Think You Can Write - on e-Harlequin and decided I might as well enter. I'd entered before and I'd entered the previous incarnation a few times as well - New Voices. It's where you submit a chapter or so on line, people can read it, comment on it, and the prize is a publishing contract. I completely dipped out in all those previous contests, and I've always been a bit wary of them as they appear to be popularity contests to some extent - if you're active on social media and round up all your friends and rellies to vote for you, you'll do well. (Assuming you have written a good book, goes without saying.) This time, though, at least initially, its not based on popularity at all. In the early stage, it is purely based, I understand, on editors liking what they read so that even if your entry up there on the website had no Facebook likes or comments or re-Tweets, if the editors love it enough to make the top 50, it'll get through. So I entered the first chapter of a book that I felt sure would get through. I polished it and was pretty confident actually. I had submitted part of that to a cold read that a Silhouette editor had read a few RWNZ conferences ago, and she'd blown me away by saying it was terrific, it had all the elements and she would definitely want to read more of that. Its testament to how important these things are that I was on a high that whole weekend on a Sally Field "she likes me" moment, even though it was anonymous and she actually had no idea who had written it. And so I wrote the pitch and entered this chapter in the contest, and followed the Tweets and the forums on eHarlequin as I waited. And waited. It was not to be. Once again, I dipped out completely. To be totally honest, I'm not massively disappointed by this. I've been writing and submitting for 20 years - yes, two rejection filled decades of my adult life - and amazingly as time goes by, you just kind of chalk it up. Yet another notch on the rejection belt, because yes, it is a rejection. It is a rejection. My rejection belt can fit ten morbidly obese people inside it now. But as in all experiences, one should be a grown up and take "something" out of it. The problem is, I don't know what it is I should take out of this one, really. It is sending a crystal clear message that Harlequin don't want this book. That's fine, but is it also saying, ever so gently, they don't really want anything I will submit to them in the future, that there is just "something" about my writing that a ton of editing won't even fix, that twenty plus years of submitting should be making clear? Of course, I'm also a realist, and am aware that maybe the story does totally suck and has no conflict, no motivation, no plot, no characterisation, no emotional punch, a sucky storyline, amateur writing, shocking grammar... However. In the words of Oprah, what I do know is this. Thank You Jesus for self publishing. Thank you Smashwords, thank you Amazon. Thank you Diana Fraser for telling me I should go ahead and do it. I have four books that I have e-published over the past year. Falling for Jack has 39 reviews on Amazon. There is one two-star, one three-star, 20 four-stars, and 17 five-star reviews. I can tell you that these are not friends and relatives as I don't think family or many friends, beyond one or two, have actually read the books. They haven't told me they have and I think they would have mentioned it. Then there's "Daniel's Bride". Daniel's Bride has 15 reviews on Amazon. There are 5 three-star, two four-star and eight five-star. That's not bad either. And that's not mentioning Good Reads, iTtunes, Barnes and Noble etc. So... What do I make of the whole SYTYCW experience, bearing in mind I'm not just some person whose submitted a few manuscripts to publishers and entered a couple of contests over the past five or ten years. No. I've submitted quite a few novels. Entered them in a lot of contests. Won a few, wanted to slit my throat at the results of others. I have, as they say, been around the block a few times on this one. So what to make of all this? Interesting question. And I'm not entirely sure of the answer at this stage, besides the obvious. Just write the next book. But I do know this. I shall clutch my 25 five-star reviews, and remind myself that in spite of dipping out AGAIN in yet another contest, despite there being better first chapters the editors liked better than mine... maybe, just maybe, I Can Write After All.

Comments

Carla said…
Feel your pain now and I will continue to feel your pain. There are other ladies out there that have one or more traditionally published books that also understand the let-down and disappointment..
Next week I am going to do a spreadsheet analysis of the top 50 and see if I can find any gems of wisdom. I have read thousands of Harlequin books. You would think I would know what they want.
I do know that the Harlequin heroine has a certain cookie cutter tone...and the writing has a certain tone...more well breed English than American/Canadian brassy Bi....ch... She is a heroine with a please save me tone and not a take charge ballsie type...and they need the hooks...more than one if possible...cowboys... babies...secret baby, marriage of convenience..etc.etc.
Good luck on your E publishing.. This writing is damn hard on the nerves and egos. Why can't we all be Nicholas Sparks? No fair..

Suzanne MacDonald
PrincessFiona01 said…
My last year entry for SYTYCW was requested by the editors after the competition and the rejection came back saying basically, this is very polished (I can write) but it didn't fit their KISS line. They thought my tone might suit Cherish as it is warm and emotional (I can write emotional..YAY.) But that particularly story didn't suit any of their lines. So what I got from that is that they are looking for stories they believe are commercial. I also have the impression that they are after stories that are more suited to a younger and in particular, professional demographic as all their new lines are targeting that demographic. So overall I think they are only going to request things that fit gaps they are looking to fill in their lines.
Joanne Hill said…
Thanks Suzanne and Fiona. Interesting and helpful thoughts. Crazily, the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me but good to know in a sick! way others are in the same boat. And am looking forward to seeing who make the next cut, too.
bberry said…
Hmmm, so it's not just me. Same boat, different oar. I have entered this contest three years in a row, and not even a flicker of interest from the editors. Not.A.Flicker. But out of the confines of the contest I have also had five requests for fulls, and one MS that bounced around the editors of Harlequin for a year while they decided where it would "best fit". In the end it didn't fit at all. And I can write. I am downright delightful. So, time to look at self publishing.
Joanne Hill said…
There a lot of us around! I say Do It! with the self publishing. Nothing to lose and it makes sense if our books don't fit the publishers guidelines - otherwise, where else will they go? Do it!!!