A Tale of Two Publishing Conferences: Part Two – Belfast

The second self-styled publishing conference I attended in recent weeks was in Belfast, organised by Writers & Artists/Bloomsbury Publishers and the Open University.

This one was different in a number of ways to the Dublin event. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. There were fewer people involved, for one thing; fewer attendees and fewer speakers (the event made up more of talks rather than panels), but still just as rich in terms of content.

The focus, I found, was actually less about publishing and more about writing. Paul McVeigh (author and playwright) gave a fantastic talk on ‘how to build a narrative’ by crafting the very best sentences, using foreshadowing and backstory; Garrett Carr (lecturer of Creative Writing at Queens) spoke on how to research a book (something I’m going to come back to and talk about in a separate post), and Geraldine Quigley (author of ‘Music Drugs Love War‘) gave us insight into how she creates her main character(s).

Lots of practical advice from all of them but, as I said, mostly focusing on writing rather than publishing. That came a little later, in the form of a joint talk by literary agent Laura Williams and editor Patsy Horton.

A while ago on this blog, I said that writing and publishing were practically two different animals, and I stand by that, but at the very heart of publishing is good writing. Therefore, I do not mean it as a criticism when I say the focus of the conference was here rather than on submission tips. You could follow all guidelines to a tee, but if your story isn’t up to scratch, you’re not going to get very far.

And speaking of submissions: one note I made to myself during the event is that, although they’re often called ‘guidelines’ they should be read and followed as rules. Agents and publishers get so many manuscripts they can barely read them all. Don’t screw yourself over by making yours an easy pass.

A Tale of Two Publishing Conferences: Part One – Dublin

In recent weeks, I have attended two publishing conferences: one in Dublin, and one in Belfast. Below, I’d like to compare and contrast what happened at each.

I’ve already touched on one particular take away I had from the Dublin conference in my previous post, so you might want to read that here first, but – putting that aside – the first event was part of International Literature Festival Dublin in association with Writing.ie. There was a ‘Date With An Agent’ element to the day for selected people, but I’m not going to cover that because I wasn’t one of the chosen few.

The day itself was split up into four main slots (not accounting the aforementioned DWAA) topped and tailed by comfort breaks and question & answer sessions. There was a panel with agents, one with editors, one with traditionally published authors, and a slightly more general talk by literary scout Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (who runs Writing.ie and Inkwell Group).

Vanessa was the event coordinator throughout the whole day. Her talk covered lots of practical tips about the submission process, particularly writing pitches, covering letters, and synopsises.

It was really interesting to hear the perspectives of agents, editors, and authors to see where they agreed and where they didn’t, but I think what was most interesting was not that the different groups had differing opinions with the others (agents with editors, or editors with authors), but that there were differing opinions within the groups, particularly the agents. This really underlined how things can be entirely different for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all path to publication. Continue reading

On Patience and Publishing

For some people, writing is an endurance sport. They wait around for inspiration to strike, then labour over the words, writing and rewriting and editing.

I’m not someone who’s ever really experienced writer’s block. I practically have ideas queuing up, yelling at me to hurry up and put them in order. Drafts also don’t tend to take a long time for me, once I get past the nonsense of procrastination.

Regardless of how long the writing takes, though, I think it’s getting published where the real work is. Being the best writer in the world won’t prepare you for it. It’s a whole different ball game and takes a whole different set of skills.

I’ve recently gotten some new perspective on this, having attended International Literature Festival Dublin‘s Getting Published conference last weekend.

One of the notes I took during the agent panel simply said, “Don’t rush.”

One of the agents elaborated on this saying, (and I’m paraphrasing here) it can take years to write a book, don’t get to the end of that and then screw up its chances by only putting five minutes effort into submitting it.

I needed to hear that. I get way too caught up thinking (and worrying) about time and how there’s not enough and everything takes too long. Part of the conference touched on the process of publishing. I’m going to write another post about the day more generally but, for now, it’s important to note the use of the word process. It’s not a one-time event. Continue reading

May Health Update

I had a blog post about publishing planned for today, but I’m feeling pretty rubbish and wanted to talk about that instead.

I’m on new pills from the doctor, and on new, special multivitamins, taking industrial-strength folic acid; I’ve cut out pretty much all of my caffeine intake, and I’ve cut way back on dairy. Which means I’ve actually stopped taking tea and cereal for the most part, because the coconut milk alternative I’ve been using has kinda put me off it, and the decaf tea bags we have aren’t great.

At this point, I don’t know if my diet is better off or worse, and I’m not sure which of these things is making me feel ill – maybe a combination of all of them, or maybe it’s psychosomatic because I’m trying so hard to get pregnant and feel like I’m getting nowhere – but I’m just so tired and tearful.

On top of that, I feel guilty for being a moany bint.

So things aren’t great. There’s not much of a point to this post other than to get that off my chest, but I feel it’s important to talk about life’s struggles.

Is anyone else having a rough time of it? Does anyone want to send me cute kitten photos? Let me know!

On Lack of Success, Taboo, & Transparency

This post has been brewing for a while and, in that time, some other people have touched on similar points. Linked here you will find a post by Kelly McCaughrain (which references a thread by Claire Hennessy) which talks about rejection.

Rejection is something everyone faces, but ‘creatives’ most of all. The more art you make, the more you put yourself out there, and the more you’ll experience the full spectrum of reactions, from awe to apathy to the aforementioned rejection.

Statistically speaking, the apathy and rejections will far outway acceptance and adoration. As Kelly and Claire point out, that goes for published writers just as much as those who have never been in print. It’s something you will need to make your peace with if you’re to carry on submitting.

We all have wobbles – days where we doubt ourselves and our work – but, personally, I’ve made my peace best I can. To do this, I have two things in my arsenal: regular pep talks and a philosophy:

Lack of success does not necessarily equal failure.

What I mean by this, is that for every publication and showcase and competition and whatever else, there are a finite number of winners. There are also, almost always, an infinite number of entries.

It is literally impossible for everyone to be accepted and, therefore, when your piece inevitably isn’t accepted, it means just that: it hasn’t been accepted. What it does not mean is that you and your work have been actively rejected.

Yes, that’s a semantic difference, but it makes sense to me and – most importantly – it keeps me sane.

When I don’t win the thing I’ve entered, don’t get shortlisted, or even longlisted, I am sad. Of course I am. But I know deep down it’s not the end of the world. I really recommend forging a similar attitude and/or coping mechanism for yourself, if you can. (Yes, it’s one of those horrible ‘easier said than done’ things.)

I also have a slightly more daring suggestion: be honest when you’re struggling. Talk about your lack of success. Insecurities thrive in the dark, so drag them into public kicking and screaming. We’d probably all be better for it. Continue reading

2019 Goals Part Two: Summer

Back in January, I changed things up a little and only set myself one goal for the entire year. That was my 2019 Goodreads challenge to read sixty books. By the time this post goes live, I should have completed twenty-two of those, which means I’m on track.

With regards to other goals, I wanted to focus on things in the shorter term so I decided to plan things a few months at a time and no further. Although it’s not fully accurate, for the sake of simplicity, I’ve split my 2019 into three segments which I’m calling Spring (January to April), Summer (May to August), and Autumn/Winter (September to December).

My Spring was pretty good, all in all. I had my second wedding anniversary in February and my thirtieth birthday in March. I spent a lot of January catching up on all of my accounts for my freelance work so I could get my tax return in before the deadline (which I did!). The rest of that month and part of February was spent doing voluntary work and, when I stepped back from that, I threw myself into decluttering the house following the Kon Mari method.

It felt good to get rid of things and, in the process, simplify my life (simplicity being a big theme of mine, the past few years). The end tally was: 4 bags of clothes (between my husband and I), 1 bag of bedding, 1 [big] bag of books, 8 boxes of komono/miscellaneous items and an untold number of trash bags and recycled things. I also paired down a lot of my social media profiles. Continue reading

On Believing Abuse Victims

I have just finished listening to the audiobook of Educated by Tara Westover. Once I started, I found myself taken over; not able to do anything else until I got to the end. It’s twelve hours long and I finished it in a day.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s a memoir: a personal account of an unconventional and abusive childhood alongside the story of how, as an adult, Tara came to terms with what happened and escaped the life of her family via going to college and getting an education.

This blog post isn’t about the book, as such. I gave it five stars on Goodreads and wrote a sentence-long review in which I said I had a hard time summing up my thoughts and feelings about the book, but that I knew it was important. The reasons I can’t sum up my thoughts and feelings is partially because I have so many of them and partially because those thoughts and feelings are tied to my own experiences of childhood. While my experiences and Tara’s differ in circumstances and severity, so much of it is similar. Someday, I plan to write a book about my own set of circumstances growing up. I have a title picked out, and an epigraph. I have started certain sections, but I am by no means ready or able to unpack much of it even yet.

This post isn’t about the book or my experiences, or a comparison of the two. That’s just a preface to what I want to say about some of the negative reviews Educated has on its Goodreads page.

Now, for the most part, the book has had an extremely positive reception. The negative reviews are few and far between. I probably shouldn’t focus on them, but it physically hurt me to read them and I need to talk about why. Continue reading

Goals for my Thirties

I turned thirty in March. As of right now, at the start of May, I have written two-and-a-half novels. When I think of what I want to achieve in the next ten years, those novels play a key part.

I’ve said before that, in the past, lists of what I wanted to do with my life quickly became lists of all the books I want to write. That hasn’t changed. Most of the goals I have are career based.

Here are the few that aren’t:

  • Learn to Drive
  • Learn Piano
  • Have a Baby

That last one’s pretty big. The first one is dependant on whether my dyspraxic self is actually safe to drive, and the middle one doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still something I aspire to. Continue reading

The Bittersweetness of being on Book Deadline

I’ve often found starting something to be the hardest part. It’s like I have two settings: no focus and hyperfocus. As such, deadlines are both my best friend and worst enemy.

My husband, as a gamer, is often trying to find games that I can enjoy as much as he does. One I had a go at, on his recommendation, was Fable II.

Now, for those who aren’t familiar, this particular game includes a few in-game mini-games. (For those who have no interest in gaming and are waiting to see where I’m going with this, hold tight a second. I’m getting there.)

So, as well as the main Fable quests you can make money on the side by chopping wood, pouring pints, and forging weapons. These are tasks you have to really grind at (a concept I hadn’t heard of before, in terms of gaming). To get anywhere, you had to get into the flow of repetitively doing the same action again and again for actual hours at a time.

When Steve first told me this, I was not impressed. “That sounds like work,” I said, “Not entertainment.”

He said he enjoyed it, so my first go ’round, I got him to do it for me.

By the time I actually figured out what I was doing with the game in general, I decided to restart it all from the beginning so as to get right some parts I now knew a little about. On this occasion – mostly because Steve was asleep at the time, and I was low on coin – I began to do the wood cutting myself.

Lo and behold, five minutes into it, I found a rhythm. ‘Maybe this isn’t so bad,’ I thought, and I carried on. Once I got my first star, I was encouraged. I kept going. Kept grinding. And by the time I had my full five stars in woodcutting, I also had a real sense of achievement.

It was rare that I would have stuck to anything that long – my attention span really can be an issue at times, have I mentioned that? – but I went on to complete the two other grind tasks as well.

Recently, I have been reminded of those times playing Fable as I work on book two in my trilogy, tapping on keys to hit a specific word count each and every night in a row. Continue reading

Thoughts on #OwnVoices

I am a bi/pansexual person with non-visible disabilities. Five years ago, I hadn’t come to accept either of those things about myself. In the first case, I was repressed, and in the second I was ignorant.

Ten years ago, not only was I not the feminist I am now, I was very vocal against certain rights for women. (Yes, I hated myself. It’s a potted history.)

Do you know what helped? For the most part, educational Tumblr posts.

Seriously. From the more liberal parts of the internet I not only learned some pretty key things about myself, but also a level of self-acceptance I had never experienced before.

As I hope these points illustrate, talking about issues outside of the ‘norm’ helps real-life people in real ways. Whether it regards race, sexual orientation, disability, disfigurement, or anything else.

Perhaps ‘issues outside the norm’ isn’t the best way to word that, but I can’t think of a better alternative.* Part of the problem regarding said issues is that the terms have become politicised. People don’t always have the right words. Other people get offended. It becomes a bit of a shitshow and the main points get lost.

A prime example of this has been the recent Twitter drama regarding the ‘Own Voices’ movement. Continue reading