Thursday, 16 March 2017

Letting 'em fly - Those days when you feel gutsy enough to put your writing out there - A ReadItTorial

You wake up one morning and after reading yet another dozen or so books that feel like they've been stamped out by some unstoppable machine, you start to look longingly at the manuscripts you're working on.

Some days you even feel like you're brave enough to submit them to an agent, or blind-submit them to a publisher who accepts unsolicited work.

Those days are very weird. Paranoia sets in almost immediately you hit the 'send' button, having read their terms and conditions to yourself a dozen times over, feeling sure that you haven't done anything to offend the sensitive process or upset the slush pile.

Paranoia gives way to a major pang of regret pretty soon after...

"Oh damn, I should've changed that bit" or "Ack, I think I might've gone over the word limit" or even "This story really is rubbish, how on earth did I think that would ever fly?"

I'd bet that's natural even for the most well established authors and illustrators, or perhaps I'm wrong - they just blithely jet off a manuscript while humming the theme tune to the Archers, gaily skipping around the house awaiting the ping of their email and a virtually instant response.

The next stage is the waiting. Any agent or publisher worth their salt will make you wait, and wait, and wait for a response - and will also ensure there's a caveat on their submissions page somewhere that says "Don't call us, we'll call you - if we call you at all!" which means that you've really got no idea whether you've been successful or not. The only thing to do is get on with your life, or maybe start work on the next few manuscripts ready to send off somewhere else.

Children's books are tough to write - and anyone who tells you otherwise is deluding themselves. I've written many times before on how tough an audience a roomful of kids can be, even when you're reading someone else's work. Imagine doing the same with something of your own and it being the equivalent of telling a terrible joke as a stand-up comedian and meeting a wall of silence rather than gales of laughter.

Some writers (and usually the ones who really need a decent editor / critique / severe reality check) have a built-in belief that "Because book A was published, and sucks, my book should be in with a fighting chance) and again it's a very dangerous assumption to make that your work is better than anyone elses. The best you can hope for is 'different' but if you're the sort of writer who shakes a fist at the sky, shouting "Why THEM! Why THEIR BOOK! It SHOULD'VE BEEN MINE" you're entering the wrong business, muchacho.

Of course, you could opt for the self-published route. The internet is awash with stories of "Joe Bloggs who quit his job as a sewage treatment worker and now writes and self publishes his own stories for children". Digging behind the scenes of those stories, you swiftly uncover the reality of self publishing in today's world and also swiftly conclude that the only way anyone could comfortably make a living straight out of the gate as a self published author would be to live on a tin of butterbeans a day, in a small hovel made of discarded Waitrose carrier bags, by the side of the A113 Heckmondswycke to Birthen.

I have lots of reasons for wanting to be published. None of them are financial. I want the chance to tell stories to a wider audience than my appreciative daughter or her (well meaningly uber-critical) mum. I want to somehow end up in that glorious gig of going to book festivals, not as a furtive consumer but as someone standing up in front of a room full of kids and their parents, talking about that day I sent off some manuscripts and the whole thing blew up from there. Most of all though I just want to do something that feels completely unattainable, yet amazingly special if by chance you're lucky enough to ever get your name at the top of a book that will one day sit on bookshelves or in bookstores (or more likely in my case, languish in those '2 for a pound' bins at your local discount store).

Lacking a critique clique or anyone to bounce ideas off, I'm taking a risk in assuming that someone else out there might find the stories touching or amusing, or perhaps feeling that my tales have struck just the right balance between peril and redemption.

If I ever got a reply back (even a negative one) I could at least tick off a couple more tries, stick those manuscripts away in a dusty drawer and perhaps return to them in another few years time and try again. But like many things in life, if you don't at least try and keep on trying, you're never going to know for sure.