Challenging times

So, for anyone who still exists and reads this, yes: this is my first post in a very long time. I work full time, I’ve been eyeballs-deep in revisions for 18 months, and I can’t update this as often as I’d like (I don’t know what useful or interesting stuff I can put here that others haven’t done better already).

Back in January, I’d set June 2020 as my query deadline for SoMES. The deadline that would see it in agent inboxes after the massive overhauls I’ve been working on for what seemed like forever. I had a plan: first approach the agents who’d requested the full or partial back in 2018, then query new agents and maybe a few requeries of top agents.

The first chink in my determination armor was finding out, after I casually asked on twitter, that my top #1 agent choice wouldn’t accept requeries even for overhauled work. It’s fine, but I’d had this agent in my head during all my revisions. That agent was the first person I wanted to send a new query to (this agent didn’t have a partial or full, but had invited my query over two years ago through DVPit).

Oh well, I thought. I’ll just try others when the time comes. Disappointing, but entirely fair and reasonable. I’d shot myself in the foot by querying too early. I’d waited too long and was too scared/anxious to seek out writing communities, meaning I made every mistake a new writer could make. I didn’t even know such a vast community existed when I wrote my first three drafts of SoMES in 2016-2017, only succumbing in April 2018 when I found out about DVPit and decided to finally make a twitter account. For context, I lived in Scotland and figured any local groups would all be crime and thriller writers (the UK has a bizarre obsession with crime, thrillers, and political drama, and fantasy agents are few and hard to come by, so I didn’t expect to find much help from local writing groups where people would be writing in a completely different genre). I’ve learned a lot since then and all thanks to you all.

Revisions continued this year, even with the chaos of Covid causing our world to shut down. Right at the start of lockdown, when the fear and caution was at its peak, I had a miscarriage which I was thankfully guided through on the phone by the lovely, local NHS Early-Pregnancy Unit. All the while, I was putting in crazy hours while working from home (only two friend-colleagues knew I was haemorrhaging my insides out at the time). Colleagues were off sick, some were now juggling childcare for young children, and I felt I was picking up a lot of the pieces. I *still* continued with my revisions best I could. I was making such great progress and a call for betas between March-May attracted 18 readers for partials or fulls of the revised manuscript. EIGHTEEN READERS. Betas are hard to get, so I considered myself extremely fortunate that so many were interested.

Work increased.

Personal stresses compounded.

Those who know me know I’m very good at handling crises because of my background. Those who know me know I became and adult at 7-8. Those who know me know how capable I am at keeping my cool when everything falls apart. All that in mind, a few weeks ago, I had a complete nervous breakdown. I spent several days mentally and emotionally incapable of doing anything.

Throughout the entire period, I tried to continue revisions and tried to keep working (my productivity so low that I had to compensate by working early morning to late evening). For revisions, I was in the last 20% of my MS – SO close. If only I could reach the end, it would all be worth it and I could query and have it out of my hands and RELAX. I’d sit with my laptop open on my lap for hours, doing nothing at all but hope that I could get some words down.

Then, a movement began that has been long overdue. I’m not going into too much depth on Black Lives Matter in this post because I’m writing this purely so I can download my struggles from the last several months. I’ve spent two weeks actively sharing and trying my best to support those in my area back home and more widely. My private, non-writing facebook and public, writing-geared twitter account have been an endless stream of footage, information, and resources. I flagged it at work, I discussed it with family members, and I conversed about it with friends. I stood up in writing groups against those who wanted to keep things ‘non-political’ and those who dared to push back on informative posts that explained how biases and prejudices, even at an unconscious level, trickle into our writing. I argued with those who would not involve or educate themselves because they thought it ‘didn’t impact them’. I’m not saying all this to centre myself, or to justify my exhaustion (I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel for my Black friends, colleagues, and fellow writers), but to explain why *this* post is going to be my much-needed outlet for some non-BLM content at this time, since my only other social media is geared towards sharing information. I don’t want anyone here who maybe isn’t seeing my twitter (and probably no one would know my private facebook) to think this cause isn’t important. It is, and if you’re not sure where to begin, there are a lot of great threads on twitter with links and information.

In short, I’d been struggling to finish these damned revisions. My mental energy was spent.

Then, things began to kick off in the publishing world. The lead of Red Sofa Literary showed her true colors at the peak of the protests, causing most of her agents and many writers to leave the agency (good for them!). Corvisiero also decided to finally show, publicly, quite how shit they were by firing all their agents in one go (this agency has been at the front and centre of writer whisper networks as SHADY AF since before I even became an active writing community member in early 2018). That, I saw, was a much-needed reckoning long overdue, so all good.

Things picked up pace – we learned through #publishingpaidme the indefensible disparities between what support is offered white writers versus Black and other POC writers (from debuts to award-winners). That was depressing but also much-needed insight. More is coming out every day about the practices in acquisition meetings, where a writer’s appearance and marketability are discussed just as much if not moreso than the work itself. Then, the icing on the cake, Red Sofa’s director decided to come at a small number of agents and former employees for calling out her bad behavior. Lawyers are now involved because people wanted to flag to writers (who are in the most vulnerable position) that some agents are bad.

At the same time, another well-known shady agent has begun contacting both agented and unagented writers. This agent also has a history of getting daddy’s financial support to threaten legal action and silence writers and agents who speak up about his terrible treatment of clients (I have named him outright in the past on twitter, but I like his new nickname of Fart Fartlieb – if you want more details, he is an agent at the three-pronged-weapon-of-Poseidon agency).

Traditional publishing, the very avenue I’d been preparing myself for and envisioning during all my time spent on revisions, simply felt too unfair and hostile.

I’d spent years writing and editing with the goal of SoMES, a book and series very dear to me, getting an agent, then being on sub and selling to a publishing house, and then eventually being published and marketed. I began to ask myself what the point was.

Agents are increasingly allowed to operate in shadows then bully those who voice concerns about their beliefs, behaviors, and practices.

Editors and publishing houses are allowed to critique a writer’s appearance and background when considering the work.

Minority writers are chronically and systematically undervalued, underpaid, and undermarketed. They are rejected for an agent ‘not connecting’ with the material. They are rejected for nonsensical reasons. I have an entire post’s worth of garbage commentary I’ve received from those in the industry relating to my own work from people just like that: people who couldn’t connect. People who wanted my story of someone coming to terms with major aftereffects of trauma to be transformed into a standard tough/strong-woman fighter book. People who told me, back in 2017 and just before #metoo kicked off, that the concept and characters had no future in fantasy and that I should scrap it and consider writing children’s books (yes, I actually have this in writing from someone).

So, in short, all this led to me finally setting SoMES aside.

I closed my open SoMES file on Monday and haven’t opened it again. I haven’t thought about it when I woke up nor in my final minutes before falling asleep. I haven’t taken notes or visualised my remaining scenes that need rewriting. I haven’t been puzzling out the final bits and pieces I need to change in that last 15%. I haven’t been reading or rereading or editing what has already been revised. I haven’t added to my to do list of final adjustments for my last 2 polishing passes.

I have done nothing.

I don’t know when I will pick it back up, but I think it will be when I have faith in both publishing and myself again. I wanted June 2020 to be when I was free of this manuscript and, in a way, I guess it was.

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