Monthly Archives: April 2019

On Dealing with Rejection by Hannah Kates

The first time I got punched in the face, I cried.

To be fair, the day was kind of rough to begin with. I’d lost everything—my family, my livelihood, my freedom, my name—and my opponent knocked my contact lens straight out of my eye. On top of being reduced to the gangly, cluelessly flustered #150600, I was now half-blind.

Bloody brilliant.

I remember turning to the boxing coach in that moment. He must have looked back at the sniveling, watery-eyed newb and seen everything I was thinking.

This is a mistake. I’m not cut out for this. This hurts too bad. Can I go back to my summer job?

The old man leaned over the ropes and squinted beneath the brim of his ballcap. “Well,” he said, “aren’t you gonna hit back?”

The first time I received a query rejection, I cried.

I remember that day just as fondly, and if I could collage every gut-wrenching, whiplash moment of my young adult life, I might glue those two gems right beside one another. You pour your heart and soul into a manuscript, spent hours meticulously crafting of the perfect query, then nibble your fingernails down to bloody stumps as you wait for those polite “no’s,” form rejections, or maybe even nothing at all.

Honestly, I prefer getting punched in the face.

I wish someone would have told me how awful rejections are—how much they hurt, grate, and grind you over months of breathlessly refreshing your inbox. Maybe a sagacious writing wizard could have warned me, prepared me, or figured out how to soften the blow. But once the rejections start, they don’t end anytime soon. If you’re anything like me, telling yourself you can only stand one more hit, you’re in for a rough fight.

The only way to categorize my boxing is amateur. I’m freakishly tall, hopelessly uncoordinated, and tragically unathletic. No matter how good I get at blocking, dodging, screaming, or wincing, I keep getting hit in the face.

If you’re waiting for the sports analogy, this is it: Hit back.

I remember the first day I actually listened to the Naval Academy boxing coach. It was in the middle of being pulverized, pummeled to a pulp by a lacrosse player. (And, let me tell you, if you’ve never fought a female lacrosse player, beware. They have deceptively powerful thighs.)

I remember being angry and frazzled. Panicked, and slightly woozy after that last punch to the jugular.  

Why am I doing this? This hurts so bad.

The pain would end if I quit. I could flee the ring whenever I wanted and banish this nonsense from my life. Maybe if I bellowed like a whale, sank to the mat, then curled myself into a ball…

But then I hit back. It wasn’t a very good hit, but it did surprise her. Even more than that, it surprised me.

Hitting back felt good.

I lost the fight, but I went down swinging. The next time, I came out swinging, and I still lost—though not as quickly as previous fights. Every new opponent socked, battered, and bruised me, but every opponent who beat me taught me something about strategy, technique, and my own physical limitations.

Sometimes, I’d win. More often than that, I’d lose. But the more I fought, the better I boxed. The better I boxed, the more often I’d win. (Not often often—just often enough to show things were getting better.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. Being hit in the face hurt just as much as it did the first time it happened. The pain didn’t change. I became more skillful at handling it.

If you step into a boxing ring, you’re going to get hit. If you query a book, you’re going to get rejections. As much as it hurts, that’s the game we’ve chosen to play. It’s very easy for me to look at authors more advanced in their careers—agented, published, renowned authors—and assume that hurt stops. But the farther I toddle along, the more I realize this just isn’t so.

I’ve written nine novels, sent hundreds of query letters, and received just as many rejections. My mentor has written nineteen novels. She’s still receiving them, too. After signing with an agent and going on submission for the first time, I thought the sting would ease, but now I’m getting rejections from publishers.

What happens after publication? What if you get a nasty review? What if the public response isn’t what you hoped for? Just where does this vicious cycle of hope, rejection, and rejuvenation end?

If you’re still in the ring, I think you can assume the answer.

As a young, starry-eyed author, I’m constantly searching for that magic bullet. (Maybe this contest, this program, this agent, this manuscript…) I’ve met many of my goals and improved my skill exponentially, but the rejections haven’t stopped. The recruit #150600 in me wants to cower, run away—do anything to shield myself from disappointment—but I just can’t help but think of that weathered old man in the boxing loft.

What can you do when you’re being pummeled?

My first publishing deal fell through months before its debut. We had a cover, illustrations—the whole wazoo. In the midst of grieving that book, I hit back—signed up for #WriteMentor, where a kindhearted, acutely experienced author helped me whip up another manuscript to take to the fall showcase.

A big part of me wanted to see #WriteMentor as my silver bullet. This was the place where dreams came true. I saw my friends, peers, and contemporaries celebrating great success. My fairy tale ending had to be somewhere in the stack of rejections…

Right?

I wasn’t agented during the #WriteMentor showcase, and, if I’m going to be completely honest, something about that crushed me. It had nothing to do with entitlement or a sense of obligation. I’d just always been told if I hoped enough, worked hard, and got myself in the right place and the right time with a good product, things would turn out splendidly.

But that’s not how publishing works. I was in a fantastic place with fantastic agents and a fantastic manuscript, but it didn’t come together. No matter how good you are, if you enter the ring, you’re going to get hit.

There’s only one thing to do when that happens.

I drafted up a new book in a month. In another month, I was getting full agent requisitions. Fast-forward a month, I was taking multiple calls from agents.

Was it a better manuscript? Maybe. Was it being in the right place at the right time? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

All I can say for sure is the encouragement, support, and skillsets from #WriteMentor helped me to pick myself back up and try again—to use what I’d learned to come back with something just as strong. There were so many times I wanted to throw up my hands and walk out. My #WriteMentor family came alongside me time after time. They reminded me I still had the strength to keep fighting.

I’m sure glad they did. In December 2018, months after the first showcase, I signed with a literary agent.  

To try to giftwrap an anomaly—a stroke of fortune, a lucky break, a hard-earned milestone, or whatever you want to call it—is difficult, so let’s run the boxing analogy just a tad bit further: If you keep hitting, something’s going to land.

If you keep hitting stronger, faster, and a little better each day—if you keep learning, reaching out to other authors, diving into materials, and connecting with the community on platforms like #Writementor, you’re going to get there. If you keep pushing, muscling through the heartbreak, disappointment, and mountains of rejections, you will reach your goal.

I can’t say how. I can’t say when. But you will. The question is whether or not you can persevere until it happens.

A large part of this business is being kind to yourself. I tend to self-depreciate with every new “no” in my inbox, but if I keep beating myself up like this, the other guy won’t have to throw a single punch. Rejections are inevitable. Learn to see them as the single step they are. Feel free to sit with the disappointment as long as you’d like, knowing it’s there for as long as you keep it.

Then get up and hit back.

Resiliency is the name of the game. Knowing how to take a hit is just as important as knowing how to dish one out.

For the record, you don’t need to churn out a new novel every month or put yourself on a crazy deadline. I’m a fast writer. It’s just what I do. Working on a new project during my querying/submissions process has been vital for me because it allows me to see beyond a temporal moment of sadness and disappointment.

One project didn’t work out? You can write another. One person said no? There are many, many people to ask.     

There’s nothing out there—pitching contest, seminar, class, or even #WriteMentor—that’s an easy, step-by-step, rejection-free path to glorious publication and oodles of money. You may be chosen for the symposium, but you may not be. You may be chosen for the symposium, then not receive any requests. You may sign a publishing deal, then lose it within a year.

I haven’t been at this for a long time, but I have learned this. Whether you’re rejected, chosen, selected, answered, telephoned, dropped, signed, agented—

Keep swinging. Connect. Get involved. Write. Read. Expand. Explore.

The next time I step into a boxing ring as a contender, I’m likely going to be punched in the face. The next time you and I send a query, it’s even more likely we’ll receive some form of rejection. All we can do is stay in the ring, learning from our experiences and getting that much better for it.

Maybe we’ll lose, but maybe we won’t. You’ve got to stick around long enough to see.  

In an age of tl;dr, how to hook your reader … by Emma Read (for SPARK members)

Concerning Hooks

The beginning to arguably one of the best books ever written is a twenty-page prologue ‘Concerning Hobbits’.It goes on to provide some fascinating insights into pipe-weedand extensive notes on administrative districts of the Shires. It’s a wonder the reader ever makes it to the green door in the hill. 

Sadly (or maybe not), the days of casually wandering into a story, like The Lord of the Rings, are more or less gone. Busy readers, agents and editors need a reason to stick with you …

That is where the hookcomes in. 

Attention Seekers

So, no pressure WMSparks, but the opening linesof your book might be the most important words you ever write. Sure, you know this already. That’s why you’ve reworked the first page more times than your protagonist has shrugged.

I sympathise enormously with a novel’s opening – it has so much to do, and so little time. Agents receive mountains of submissions (one agent quoted around 800 a month to me recently) which they read in their free-time – on the train, at lunch, in bed… you need to make a good first impression, grab their attention … keep them awake!

Well, how about this…

A dead bolt has a very specific sound.

This is one of the most chilling opening lines to a novel I have ever read. I bought the book there and then, on the basis of this one line.

This is the story of how I became my sister.

Sorry, what??

The men lock Roxy in the cupboard when they do it.

These are the kind of opening gambits which make me sit down in a bookshop. I’ll have a to do list as long asA Song of Ice and Fire, and an hour until the school run, but there I am, sitting on the floor of Waterstones because of something like this:

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried out bed of the old North Sea.

One-line Wonders

I’m not saying you have to have one; a killer first line, or a chin-on-the-floor paragraph – they’re not for everyone and plenty of wonderful books do still open slowly, sensuously, soporifically even, before they hit you with the inciting incident. (Although I would still avoid lengthy detail on family history, however fond you are of Bagginses and Boffins).

But personally, I love them. I give a little cheer when I find a new one, and I’ve certainly had a lot of fun trawling through my books for my favourites. Like this:

I am fucked.

So what is it about a good hook that makes the reader want to read on? Actually prevents them from not reading on? It starts with a question, a dreadful curiosity, a conundrum, a puzzle to be solved. Ultimately we’re nosy creatures and can’t help ourselves. WHY are we listening for a deadbolt? HOW can someone become their sister? WHAT are the men doing once they’ve locked Roxy in that cupboard, and in the case of Mark Watney … WHY, WHAT and HOW all at once!

Are they too flashy? One-line wonders just for show? A word of caution: as with all our writing there is craft behind the hook, and pitfalls to avoid. Most importantly, you must deliver on the promise. A stellar opening won’t get you far if the rest of the manuscript falls flat – so don’t set yourself up for a fall. Questions you’ve raised should be answered, clues you’ve laid must lead somewhere and the usual rules apply: no clichés (waking up/dead bodies/weather reports), no media res,no dialogue, rhetorical questions, or vague, existential statements.

Just piquing of curiosity:

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

First the colours. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. 

By ten-forty-five it was all over.

And whatever you do, don’t be contrived or trite. This isn’t clickbait, it’s a carefully created lure where every sentence, every word, is working hard, screaming ‘PICK ME, PICK ME!’ Curiosity will take the reader so far, but an effective hook also sets the tone, sets the scene, shows your voice, shows your talent. Am I asking too much?

It was the closest kingdom to the queen’s, as the crow flies, but not even the crows flew it.

Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

Make it unputdownable, keep it that way, and hopefully your dream agent will be hooked.

(Opening lines from: Holly Overton; Sophie Cleverly; Naomi Alderman; Philip Reeve; Andy Weir; Patrick Ness; Margaret Atwood; Markus Zusak; John Steinbeck; Neil Gaiman, Phillip Pulman.)

GIVEAWAY TIME!

I’m offering a FREE first page critiqueto anyone who can guess my favourite all time opening line (which just happens to be my fave book too) A clue? I think it’s a TERRIFIC novel!

Also, please do let me know your favourite opening lines, I really am addicted!

More on how to create a great hook at:

https://www.bookstr.com/17-opening-lines-literature

Emma Read is the author of Milton the Mighty (Chicken House), which was shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award. She is represented by Lauren Gardner at Bell Lomax Moreton.

She is keen to mentor writers of similarly young MG fiction, particularly funny stories, however she is also a YA and upper MG writer with experience in critiquing both those age groups. 

Emma has completed courses in editing and polishing submission packages and was a mentor for the inaugural #WriteMentor programme.

First Things First by Lindsay Galvin (for Spark members)

This is the first line to my book The Secret Deep. Forgive me for starting this post with my own writing, but it is relevant, I promise. I rewrote the entire opening of my debut hundreds of times, over the course of nearly five years. And it was worth it because I’m proud of this line.

Would you read on? I would, I think. And that’s everything.

I have a bit of a thing for first lines. It started when I was preparing to submit my book and I discovered how many submissions agents receive. Some receive thousands per week. I realized my writing would be judged by an agent within minutes. By the first page. The first line mattered.

Now I know that to be the case. I’m currently reading my submissions for the Write Mentor Summer programme. I have 83 and only a few days to read. You have to grab me with your writing quickly…because if you don’t, others will.  I don’t expect a polished first line, it’s certainly not a game changer for submissions from authors who want to be mentored – but it does grab attention if there is one.

Five years ago, when I was trying ready my own first manuscript for submission I began to investigate my most beloved books and recent books I’d read in my genre. I found first lines of pure poetry. And in some of my favourite books they become more resonant once you’ve read to the end. I think you’re gathering I have a bit of a first line obsession.  I even started a first line notebook. I wrote out 60 first lines from books in what I thought was a similar genre to mine.

So what makes a great first line? It’s subjective of course. But my favourites convey one element of the story to come, very strongly. Could be voice, setting, atmosphere, tension, character or a combination. The line could raise such a huge question you simply have to read on. I love it when one line can set the tone. I also really admire economy and visuals in writing.

So here a handful of my favourites and the reasons why I love them. Depending on the style of the book I am including more than one line.

Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.   

Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

The first line of the first book to make me cry. E.B. White is a master of economy and this sets the tension up perfectly. An axe is brutal. A girl and her mum setting the table is not. Divine juxtaposition. Read that whole first page and feel the goose bumps. This is a writer who knows that MG readers don’t need authors to hold back on the grit.

Torak woke with a jolt from a sleep he’d never meant to have.

Wolf Brother – Michelle Paver

It’s a line, it’s a paragraph, it’s simply a perfect way to set up a brutal heart wrenching adventure that developed into a series that took the whole world by storm. The short words, the music between ‘woke’ and ‘jolt’. Read it out loud and marvel at the cadence. I think Michelle Paver is a word musician. She is my favourite author.

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.  

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

So many questions are raised here. Why? Why? Why? As stark as the book will become.

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

The voice grabs immediately, both distinctive and funny. And again that question raised. This person’s dog is talking and I need to know why!

The King stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

This is poetry to me. It’s the word unmoored that really gets me. I’d argue that how different people react to being unmoored is a major theme in this stunning book.

I’m reading fan-fiction in my pyjamas when I hear a nightmarish sound: the emergency alarm.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe – Lauren James

I’ve cheated a bit on this one, as there is a prologue article before we are introduced to Romy. But as the first line in a character’s voice this is brilliant. We know specifics about this character, and there’s tension already. Nightmarish is the strong word in this sentence and the word for this whole book, and I love it.

I could go on. There are so many fantastic book openings out there.

I wrote some advice about first lines and openings in general. I actually can’t remember if I fully wrote or copied it from somewhere, but I think it’s mine! It’s impossible to follow it all of course. You can’t squeeze all of that into a line, but I still use it as I kind of checklist for my first chapter or scene, and probably always will.

Before you going running off to rewrite and tweak the first lines on your WIP – my last piece of advice. Don’t write you first line until you’ve written the last. Draft it – or even better, write a few alternatives and jot notes. But you probably wont know the best way to start your story, until you’ve seen it’s entirely. I like to realte my first line to my last. Call it an author quirk. But last lines are a whole other post!

Here’s mine – note the repetition, first meets last. I’m such a massive author geek and proud.

What are your favourite first lines, and why do you love them?

Lindsay Galvin

Lindsay was lucky enough to be raised in a house of stories, music, and love of the sea. She left part of her heart underwater after living and working in Thailand where she spent hundreds of blissful hours scuba diving. Forced now to surface for breath, she lives in sight of the chillier Sussex sea with her husband and two sons. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, swimming or practicing yoga. She has a degree in English Language and Literature, is fascinated by psychology and the natural world, and teaches Science. Lindsay hadn’t written creatively since childhood until the idea for her debut novel The Secret Deep splashed into her mind, and now she’s hooked.

Openings and Hooks by Chio Zoe (for Spark members)

In with a bang

Welcome to the new age of short attention spans and immediate gratification. You know what I’m talking about. With so much information out there to see, no one has the time to wait for you to get to the point. Now gone are those days of slow starting stories. If you want any agent, publisher or reader to give your book the attention it deserves, there are a number of key factors you should take into consideration when starting your book.

Shock your readers

This can be anything from presenting your readers with something unimaginable, abnormal or throwing them right into the thick of the action.

Mystery

Give your readers something to think about. What aren’t you telling them, what is your character hiding? A good hook would often times leave your reader with a question. The desire to get the answer to the unanswered question would keep one reading. The question must be compelling enough to gain the interest required. Usually it is an emotion based question. Why did the killer cry when he looked at his victim? Is he just crazy, or does he know who his victim was?

Add a Twist

Take a sharp left from the get go. Sometimes the opening of a book can seem very normal which isn’t necessarily bad, but to keep your reader interested, you should be able to show that in your story anything can happen. You can be in point A and your next paragraph can easily swing them to point B. Not knowing what exactly could happen next is one of the reasons people want to know what happens next.

Intriguing character

A nameless character with a dark past, a tattoo no one knows the meaning of? Of course I’d like to know more. It doesn’t even have to be your protagonist. What your readers need is a character they can get excited about. Just like Celeana Sardothien from Throne of Glass.

After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword point.

It’s easy to already wonder about how she got into slavery. Yet, in the same paragraph, there’s another piece of information increasing the intrigue.

Most of the thousands of slaves in Endovier received similar treatment, though an extra half-dozen always walked Celaena to and from the mines.

What made her different?

High stakes

The greater the risk, the greater the reward right? What does every tried and tested fairytale adventure have? Two things; a great reward (usually the hand of the princess) and a great risk (like battling ogres and slaying dragons). These stories have never gotten old no matter how many ways they are turned around and told, because they always have those two main elements. And even when we expect a happy ending, we still stay at the edge of our seats reading or watching how they make it through the tasks.

No matter how big a reward something seems like, perhaps the power to rule the world, if it is not backed up by an equal risk, then we think ‘this has no value’.

A great example is in Six of Crows, where Kaz Brekker was presented with a mission to rescue someone for the good price of 20 million Kruge. What’s the catch? Simple. He had to rescue this person from an impenetrable prison, with no external help and at the risk of his life.

This reveal was in Chapter 3 which can be seen as too far into the book, I agree. The point to be taken is the weight of that risk is what kept me reading that book.

Relatable character

Writing about a relatable character from the get go gives your readers something to care about, and when your readers care, they become invested. They want to know that everything turns out great for this character they see so much of themselves in. The ability to create a character that your readers can empathize with is a quality a writer should have. Often times I’ve powered through a book that wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea because I could ‘understand where the character was coming from.’

When you story isn’t fast paced and action pact, this relatable character would be the key to keep your readers interested.

End on a cliffhanger

Sometimes even when you do everything right from your page one, with how busy people tend to be, if you give a satisfying ending to your first chapter you are automatically giving your readers a chance to put down your book and think ‘I’ll come back for it later’. Sadly, sometimes they never do. If on the other hand you end your chapter one on a cliffhanger, ‘reader gratification syndrome’ (I made that up) kicks in. They just have to know what happens next. They want to be satisfied with the amount of information presented to them, so they will keep reading until they get to a good resting point in the story.

This is how I ended the first chapter of my YA.

For the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of the world, she would bear the guilt of her decisions, her actions, alone.

She stretched her hands over the cradle, looking at those innocent sleeping eyes and she made her choice.

The questions come from there. What did she do? What was her choice? Who is the baby? What happens next?

If you can make your reader go to the next chapter of your book immediately, even when they are so tired late in the night and have to wake up early for work or school the next day, then you’ve done something right as a writer.

Further viewing:



Chio Zoe

Chio Zoe is a Young Adult Fantasy writer. Her debut novel To Cross a Blade amd Dagger placed her as a finalist in the Breakthrough Novel Awards. She is currently working on book 2 scheduled to be released in 2019. Chio studied Architecture and Fashion Design, yet has always loved writing. When she isn’t working on her debut series, she writes short stories on her website (chioojukwu.com).