2014 – Year in Review and Where I Messed Up

Have you ever experienced that moment of trepidation, when a new fragment of information enters your perception, an you realize that no matter how excellent you thought you were doing, you are, in reality, fucking up quite badly?

(Muse:  Could you have worked any more commas in there?)

Maybe.  Don’t bother me.

I spent the better part of this morning reflecting on what I accomplished this year, writing-wise.  Not much, it seems.  Sure, I retired from the only career I’d had for twenty years, moved 1200 miles, dealt with a house burning down and a death in the family but that is just making excuses.  I didn’t get as much done as I wanted.  Let’s see:

– I wrote (I think) five short stories this year.  One was selected on Fantasy-Writers.org as the top entry in their monthly contest (October), and three others were well-received even though they did not win during their respective months.  Not bad but my volume needs to be higher.
– I submitted eighteen times.  With that, came one acceptance.  That’s around 5% success rate.  It’s better than zero, but still …. ouch.
– I put between 10 and 20K words into Princess of the North.  The story is shaping up nicely and I think will be a good lead-in for the series.  Still, if I am not going to write short stories, I need to get a move on with this.
– I blogged a little but not as much as I could have.

Lastly, I had my agent queries, the subject of which ties back to my opening statement.  I submitted seventeen queries to agents for Pilgrimage to Skara in 2014, from 1 Mar to the end of October.  Fourteen were rejections, with three still pending.  Of those fourteen, the last four are assumed rejections due to non-responses.

But here’s the problem.  Like any diligent writer, I toyed with my query letter again and again.  I mean, I went through countless iterations.  I scaled it down.  I added stuff back in.  I wrote a lengthy bio and took it back out.  I adopted a playful tone then straightened up.  Round and round and round, back and forth and back again.  Finally, after torturing that short letter until I thought my typing fingers would revolt, I thought I had it right.  I ran with it.

Well, the more I read, the more I realize I may not have gotten any of it correct, past spelling my name right.  I spent some time this morning reading Chuck Sambuchino’s series over on Writer’s Digest, on successful query letters.  Oy.  I think I was way off the mark.  I want to be more bothered by the advice given, as a lot of what I see the agents highlighting as “success” points are things that either wouldn’t have impacted me as a reader either way, or items I would have looked at as negatives.  (I wanted to give examples but I don’t want to call out specific authors or agents from the site.  Maybe if I can think of a generic example….)

(Muse:  Well, maybe that’s why they are agents and you aren’t.)

No doubt.  Besides, it would be the height of arrogance to discard the advice given in good faith by the agents.  After all, they are saying what influences them and makes them key in on a particular submission.  While I may not understand or agree with these choices, that’s besides the point.  If I want them to represent my work, the least I can do is pay attention to what they are telling me.  An obvious point, but someone as obtuse as me sometimes takes a while to get it.

Even with all that, this is a crushing realization, which leads to further self-questioning.  Of those fourteen agents I queried, how many might have been enthralled by my novel if I could have gotten them past that simple letter?  That question will probably haunt me for a long time, and I am sure I am only joining a host of writers with the same self-doubts.  If nothing else, this musing merely confirms to me that I have mountains to climb as a writer.  I can use the humbling.

The good news is that tomorrow starts a new year and the symbolic opportunity for a fresh start.  So … this first week of the new year, I’ll upload my plan and goals for 2015.