Monday, 2 June 2014

Cure For Frustration

Over the last few days I've been doing a bit of research into being a literary agent and a book editor. No, not because I'm planning on moving to the other side of publishing. It's research for my serial. Laurie in Virtually Ideal starts off as an unpaid intern at a literary agency, and so I needed to know what exactly they do on a day to day basis, how networking with editors works, and what a new agent would need to learn. It's fascinating looking into exactly what they do, how much they get paid (or really don't) and how much work it all takes.

My research extended to include which parts of contracts agents need to be especially wary of, and why they need to double and triple check all royalty statements from publishing houses. (For all those without your own agent, or who want to understand some of the pitfalls better, I highly recommend you take the 10 minutes or so to read this article on Royalty Statements by Richard Curtis.)

Doing this research produced two effects in me. The first is that I feel sorry for publishing editors, but not at all sorry for publishing houses. The editors appear to be vastly exploited, working long hours for what is basically a graduate level pay. The publishing houses, probably their financial division, on the other hand appear to employ a number of very dodgy and at times possibly illegal activities. Between badly reported royalty earnings, misrepresenting sales, not declaring reserves and never paying back reserves, it all becomes a bit scary. I highly recommend all writers do their research into these things so they know what they should be looking for.

The second is something I've felt on a number of occasions; it is an overwhelming sense of frustration. Yesterday I found a perfect description of it by Adele Parks, now a best selling contemporary women's authors, in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2013:

"I clearly remember, before I was published, standing in a Waterstones bookshop on Oxford Street, London, literally weeping in frustration as I stared at the plethora of published works; I wanted to know, what was the magic ingredient? Why were those books published and not mine?"

Writing and then getting published is a long process. Even if you write very quickly, the editing process, then the production process, then marketing and getting people to actually buy the books takes time. Even with self-publishing. And that can be frustrating. Frustrating when other people seem to have it much easier, and their books aren't even that good! (I totally accept J.K.Rowlings, her books were wonderful, she turned them all out on time, and she managed to maintain the quality. Other people, however...)

Reading about the publishing industry, how much chance it appears to be, how difficult it all is, and how long it takes left me feeling like I would never eventually 'make it'. Even in self-publishing there is the same sense when reading about other people's successes, the sudden boom in sales and publishers knocking on their door. I wanted to curl up and cry and never look at my writing again.

Anyone else ever feel like this? (Don't worry if you don't answer, Adele has assured me I'm not alone).

This has plagued me on and off for all the time I've been writing. But finally, last night, I found a very effective cure.

In my last post I linked to a YouTube video on The Willpower Instinct (still highly recommend it if you haven't watched it yet. Is 50 minutes, but worth it). One of the exercises Kelly McGonigal recommends for increasing will power is to connect with your future self. Researchers found that students who were given the opportunity to 'talk' with their future selves, asking questions about how life turns out and realising that their future self will experience everything as they do, then showed greater ability to delay gratification in important areas such as setting up savings accounts, etc.

So I tried it. Last night I wrote a letter from my 41 year old self to me now. Ten years in the future, what did I want to say to the person I am now. It was an amazing message of hope and gratitude. In ten years my dreams of being a best selling author had come about. It might have taken longer than I thought it would, but the effort I put in when I was 31-32 now pays my kids' school fees and means I can take wonderful holidays with my family. Yes, it took a while to get a traditional publishing contract, but by building my collection of quality self-published work I had increased the value of that contract because of all the back sales. Taking that bit of extra time in editing meant that I was still proud of all the work I had produced. And the hours I spent at the computer rather than watching T.V. meant that I could now spend time playing with my children.

To your future self, after the event, it doesn't seem to matter if it happened after 1 year or after 5. The important thing is that you kept trying until it did happen.

So I highly recommend you try this next time you get frustrated. And yes, maybe I will need to keep writing myself letters of encouragement. I might need to be my own cheer squad for many years to come. But eventually I will be there, because I'm not going to let myself give up.

And having said all that, there are also sweet points along the way. I've received two reviews from individuals who won a copy of After The Winter, both 4 stars on Goodreads (which anyone who knows Goodreads will realise how great that is.) How sweet are these?

Rachael said: "If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, then you’ll love this book" (what more could an author ask for?)

And Kathryn said: "Lucinda is a lovely character who makes you just want the best for her. I wanted to give her a hug at different points and tell her that it would all be ok." Which is exactly how I felt for Lucinda, so I'm glad that other people feel this way too!

For the full reviews, see After The Winter on Goodreads. 

I'm now working on episode 6 of Virtually Ideal. Last week I had a few reasonable days of 3,500 words, and one or two great days of just over 5,000. Then I had a day or two like yesterday when I couldn't write anything fresh.

However, I did not waste that time. I spent two hours yesterday, and one hour the other day I couldn't write editing Bootcamp. I'm focusing on the manuscript section by section at the moment and going over each chunk to make sure it's logical, with the clearest possible examples, good connectors and says everything that I want it to. I can see that it still needs quite a lot of editing work, but every time I read it I'm impressed with the good advice I've given (some of which I then put into practice myself!).  

This week I want to finish episode 6 and start episode 7. Need to keep pushing ahead as I want to finish the series this month so I can do my own Nanowrimo in July to write a brand new contemporary romance: Five Days In Vienna (based on a true story... mine. But more about that later). But if I get too burnt out to write, then I'll spend more time editing Bootcamp.

My brother is sending me a copy of Story by Robert McKee, which is particularly for screenplays but my brother was so impressed with the practical information that he said I needed to read it. I'm really looking forward to it. 

I'm also ahead in my reading challenge, which is great. At the moment I'm working my way through The Aeneid, as I've never read the whole thing, though I had to translate Book IV for my Latin test in year 12, so have always felt a connection to the work. The translation I have is not the most fluid, so it takes quite a bit of mental effort to read, but is refreshingly vivid and varied in its language. 

Anyone else have a good cure for frustration?


  1. I love this post!! Great practical advice, and I love learning how you spend your time too. Go Buffy!

    1. Hey Jo, it's great to hear from you! Sorry for the late reply, problem with having school internet, they've blocked me from my own website! (but go mobile hotspot.) It's actually really effective as a technique, highly recommend it.

  2. What a lovely exercise! At 46, I haven't achieved all my goals, but I can also say that I like my life better now than I did 10 years ago. I'm more confident that my efforts will turn out some lovely results! (I wonder what my 56-year-old self has to say?)

    Thanks for sharing your research about agencies. I'm not surprised, but it is disappointing how some things in big publishing are simply not run effectively. I'd like to see some changes in the industry, rather than them going away altogether, and more hybrid authors.

    Best wishes with your writing! Hope you have a wonderful rest of ROW80!

    1. It's great to be able to look back and say that your life is definitely better. I have to admit, working with teenage girls, I'm very glad I'm not back in that period of my life. Oh the dramas!

  3. Like you, I fought my way through The Aeneid in Latin (and through The Iliad in Greek... I had this masochistic streak in me), but then I was trying to translate it and never enjoyed it, if that's possible. What translation are you using?

    Sometimes I have days that I can't write anything fresh, and reading over things I've written and editing/rewriting them can be a good way to stimulate new ideas about where to take things.

    I dabbled in writing screenplays at one time, and I've heard a lot of good things about Story. It's a bit pricey for me, and our library doesn't have a copy, but I'm hoping to read it myself sometime. I hope you enjoy reading it. Let us know how it is!

    1. Greek is awesome, did it in my first two degrees, before moving onto Biblical Hebrew. Go dead languages!
      Highly recommend Story. Beg, borrow, steal if you have to. Or convince nice relatives to give it to you for a birthday. Very practical but also inspiring. He has a love of the craft which is encouraging.

  4. David Gaughran also had the same sense of frustration, and it's what led him down the indie-publishing route. He has a free resource for writers, on his site, called Let's Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and WHY you should. I'm only a few pages into it so far, but I'm liking what I'm reading. :)

    And success you have as an indie-publisher will help enormously when it comes to legacy publishing. Traditional pulbishers are always delighted when an author already has a readership.

    I hope you've had a good week. See you at the next check in. :)