“As writers, we’re met with rejections so often, with mentorships, or the query trenches, or on submission. The more we can learn to brush off rejection and keep moving forward, the better we’ll be.”
Author Valerie Norton shares how she overcame self-doubt and self-rejection to successfully apply to the WriteMentor summer mentoring programme, which led to agent representation
Originally from sunny California, Valerie graduated magna cum laude from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2013, with an emphasis on film and television critical studies. She also studied abroad in Greece, focusing on history and archaeology.
Valerie moved to Manhattan after college, seeking adventure and a career in the video games industry. Due to her film and video games background, her writing heavily leans toward high concept, commercial fiction, with a heavy splash of adventure and morally gray characters.
In April 2021, Valerie was selected for the WriteMentor mentee program and signed with Holloway Literary in December 2021.
Tell us about your writing journey from start until now
I didn’t discover my love for writing until my college years. I began by journaling, then I unexpectedly found myself wanting to write fictional stories. My first stories were handwritten in a beat-up notebook, and when I nervously gave it to my best friend/college roommate to read, she hugged me and said, “You are a writer.” She was the first person to ever say that.
After a bunch of short stories, I turned to writing my first novel, a YA contemporary sci-fi that will never see the light of day. By then, I was also beginning my career in Manhattan, and juggling the two was hard. It took me years to finish that story, but I was learning so much by trial and error. Querying was QUITE an experience! After that story flopped in the trenches, I asked myself if I still wanted to be a writer. The answer was yes, but I also knew I needed to work on my discipline with writing, otherwise I’d never be published. I wrote two more stories, each better than the last, and signed with my literary agent with my third manuscript. We’ll be going on submission together this spring!
What made you apply for the WriteMentor programme?
In 2020 and especially in 2021, I embraced the “shoot your shot” mentality with my writing career. Self-rejection is a heck of a problem that many of us deal with, to the point that we sometimes don’t take risks for fear of failure. But if I never tried and risked failing, I’d never get in, either. So I put myself out there more, both with querying my second novel and applying to mentorships.
I applied to AMM 2021 and made it to second place with a mentor, and she offered helpful advice that I used to work toward what eventually became my WriteMentor submission version. Instead of swearing off mentorships after being rejected by AMM, I focused on the good that came out of the experience: I met new friends and critique partners, I polished my manuscript while working toward an external deadline that helped me stay on track, and I leveled up my writing skills. It all helped me feel more confident about applying to WriteMentor, so I once again decided to shoot my shot. It was so worth it!
As writers, we’re met with rejections so often, with mentorships, or the query trenches, or on submission. The more we can learn to brush off rejection and keep moving forward, the better we’ll be. It’s a tall order, but I promise that rejections don’t mean you’re a terrible writer. I reminded myself of that on the hard days.
What was your experience like?
I loved my experience! Teaming up with someone who believed in my story and my vision was incredible. Simply knowing I had a partner who was rooting for me and was there to bounce ideas or questions off was amazing. My mentor, Samantha Cook, gave such good feedback at both the line-edit and overarching levels. She not only made strong suggestions, but she often went out of her way to explain why she was making them so I could learn from it. She did multiple passes on my manuscript, offered an in-depth edit letter, went over my query and synopsis, and helped me work through a few plot snags.
Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?
This book is a YA fantasy adventure and is a gender-swapped reimagining of The Mummy (1999), featuring a morally gray protagonist explorer named Aris, and a soft, anxious scholar named Killian. I love that movie more than I can express, and this adventure-packed, heartfelt novel came to life when I needed it most. I started writing it in late 2020 when the world was in the midst of the pandemic and hope felt hard to come by; this book let me pour my anger, frustration, love, and hope into these two characters who were so at odds with each other. It was a cathartic experience, and it let me travel when real-world travel was impossible.
I kicked off my query journey with the WriteMentor showcase in early September 2021, then began cold querying immediately after, keeping that “shoot your shot” mentality. I received an offer from Bethany Fulk at Holloway Literary in November and signed in early December. It’s the third manuscript I’ve queried, and we’re going on submission soon. Cross your fingers for me!
What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?
My mentor was excellent at helping me show characterization and pushed me to describe emotions/features that didn’t have to do with either the eyes or mouth. As writers, we tend to use certain crutches, and one of mine was having too many sentences that felt the same because my character reactions felt similar. She really helped me vary my characterization and thus add more depth to my story.
Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?
I’ve learned so much from writers who are further along than I am, and I truly believe mentoring is one of the best ways to learn how to be a better writer. Craft books, online resources and practicing one’s writing are all incredibly important, but my writing skills grew by leaps and bounds when I had a mentor, perhaps especially because I didn’t go to college for writing. Mentors can help not only improve your craft, but improve your knowledge of the publishing industry, and be there on the good and bad days. There’s so much to learn from mentorships, and I’m beyond grateful I had my experience with WriteMentor.
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