We have been busy here at Sub It Club for the past six months! We have an active Facebook group where members help each other out with questions, tips, and encouragement. We have a Facebook page and a Twitter account where we post helpful submission links from submission calls to interviews to articles, and more. Our Pinterest is filled with inspiration. And, of course, we have this blog where YA writer and iphone app aficionado Lisha Cauthen gives us articles filled with her years of knowledge from her deep involvement with SCBWI. Dana Carey, who also happens to be the Regional Advisor for SCBWI France, challenges and teaches us with her Monthly Goalposts and illustrator Postcard Posts. And then there’s me. I do stuff too.
But life is busy and we always want to do more. Very soon we’ll be premiering a little project I decided we must add to the club. So, we decided we’d better get a little more help. When I knew we needed help it took me but a second to know who to ask. Not only is she a great writer, she knows her way around the writing world. And writing contests? She is on it! Who is this fabulous person?
We are so excited to have Veronica join us! So we can all get to know her, I asked Veronica to do a little interview with me. Little did I know I had anything to do with anything until I asked Veronica these questions. Like I told her, I think we were just meant to be good friends!
Veronica, when did you start writing and what do you write?
I’m one of those clichéd writers who decided clear back when I was in elementary school (kindergarten, I believe) that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I started a collection of pencils when I was in 2nd grade that I swore I wouldn’t sharpen until I was ready to write my first PUBLISHED book, because that’s what I was going to write my book with. All through my years in school, I won awards for my writing in nearly every writing contest I entered, and my teachers all told me that I should consider becoming a professional writer when I grew up. I always answered with a smile and a toss of my hair, “Of course!” Because, really, what other option could there be for me?
But about the time I graduated from college, fear set in. No, it was more of an all-consuming, paralyzing terror. All my life, I’d been told that this was what I’m good at. What if I tried to write professionally and got laughed out of the business? What if I wasn’t as good as I thought I was? So I packed away my (still unsharpened) story pencils and told myself I’d wait until I was ready. I told myself that I still planned to be a writer when I grew up, but not until I was really good enough.
In 2008 (ten years after packing the pencils away), I decided I’d never reach my goal if I kept waiting to try. So I pulled out my story pencils and sharpened one.
I write a little bit of everything, except fiction for grown-ups. My favorite is YA contemporary, followed closely by quirky picture books, but I also have 3 middle grade novels that I’m loving more and more with each revision. And I’m also writing a non-fiction how-to book for teens and adults about knitting with recycled plastic bags.
Where are you in your submission journey?
After years of writing manuscripts, then tucking them away in a drawer, I’m finally gathering the courage to move forward with the querying part of the journey.
You’d think, once I conquered the fear of starting, I’d continue to move along merrily down the path to publication, but you’d be wrong. As soon as I started getting positive, encouraging rejections on my very first manuscript, that old terror took root in my mind again and I completely froze. With every rejection, I started to second-guess myself more. Ironically, the more encouraging the rejection, the harder it was for me to move past it. I kept wondering, “What if I’m destined to be always ALMOST good enough, but not quite?” Over the course of two years, I sent approximately 18 queries, and I got several very encouraging rejections, but no offers. And then I remembered that conventional wisdom says that the first manuscript you write won’t be good enough for publication. So I put it on the virtual shelf and turned my attention to my other manuscripts.
I worked through a revision of my favorite picture book, polishing it until I was getting nothing but rave responses from everyone I showed it to. And then I put it away too. Because that was my “first” picture book manuscript. Or, at least, the first one I was really happy with. And someone once said “your first book won’t be good enough.”
I turned my attention to my favorite middle grade manuscript. And midway through revisions, I found myself thinking, “what’s the point? This is my first middle grade. It won’t be good enough.”
I managed to get so down on myself that I completely gave up on the dream of ever getting published and decided to write something just for me. Just for fun. I took my favorite secondary character from my first YA novel and wrote her story. And it was the best thing I’d ever written. After several rounds of edits and revisions, I realized I wanted to try to query again, and I went looking for the courage to keep at it this time around.
That’s when Heather invited me to join the newly-formed Sub It Club. A whole club full of people to keep me going when I started to let that horrendous “What If?” monster rob me of my courage! Exactly what I needed!!
So far, with this newest YA contemporary novel, I’ve entered 3 online pitch contests (gathering requests for either partial or full manuscript submissions from several different agents)… and I’ve sent queries to the agents who sent such encouraging rejections on my first manuscript as well. My best friend tells me I’m not allowed to give up this time around until I hit 200 rejections.
If I can push past this fear and keep going, I’ll be unstoppable!
You are the contest queen! How did you start entering contests?
Well, my first ever writing contest was in elementary school. In second grade, I entered the Young Author’s competition and won first place, not only for my school but at the state level as well. (I still have the story on my bookshelf. Complete with my awful-even-for-a-second-grader illustrations.)
A few years ago, on a whim, I entered a contest that someone from my local SCBWI chapter had linked to, for a chance to win a full picture book critique from Heather Ayris Burnell. I didn’t know who Heather was, but I didn’t know anyone else at the time who wrote picture books, and so I jumped at the chance to possibly get some feedback. I won the critique, but I lost the website address, so I didn’t see the announcement. And when Heather tried to contact me via a Twitter DM, I didn’t see it… because I was new to Twitter and had no idea what a DM was. When I finally, accidentally, stumbled across the DM months later, I was devastated to see that I’d missed this opportunity. Heather was amazing, though. Not only did she still critique my manuscript, but she taught me how to use Twitter! ❤
I entered my first online pitch contest (Brenda Drake’s Pitch Madness) because it was less scary than sending queries to all of the rock-star agents participating in the contest. (I don’t remember how I came across the contest in the first place. I saw a link to it somewhere…) I actually blogged about that contest experience, and how the crushing rejection I faced was the best thing that ever happened to my writing: http://i-am-so-grateful.blogspot.com/2013/03/why-writing-contest-failure-was-best.html
In what ways do you think contests help writers?
Contests are helpful in so many ways!
1. They give you a deadline to work toward. If you know there’s a contest coming up that you really want to participate in, you’ll likely be motivated to work through your revisions to polish your manuscript, even on days when you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.
2. They give you a chance to receive valuable feedback. Most online contests include the opportunity for contestants and judges to offer critique on the entries – even those that don’t make it to the official “agent round!” If several people mention that they were confused by your query, for instance, or felt like your first line could use some pizzazz, you know you still have some work to do to get your manuscript (and query letter) into the best shape possible. When else are you going to get the chance to have 15-20 or more different beta readers all at once?
3. You might make a connection with someone (another contestant, a judge who takes particular interest in your manuscript, even though it may not be quite ready yet, another writer who isn’t participating in the contest, but only lurking on the comment threads) who turns out to be a valuable critique partner. I met my two best writing friends through contests (one in the actual contest, and one in a twitter chat relating to a contest).
4. You might get the attention of an agent or editor (or maybe even more than one)!
A contest isn’t a shortcut to success, but when approached with the right attitude and preparation, it can be a huge step in the right direction.
It feels like serendipity, that Veronica happened to win a critique from me and that I invited her to join the club, personally. She may be the only person I did that with! Having Veronica help run the club just seems to be meant to be. I’m so happy to have her here!
Go check out Veronica’s bio on our Partners in Submission page. She is amazing! We look forward to all the great information we are certain Veronica will be adding to the group!
I’m so excited to be a part of the club! My goal this year was to stop being afraid of rejection and start sending my manuscripts out into the world, and Sub It Club has really given me the push I needed to do it! 🙂
I really am so proud of you Veronica! And extremely happy to have you as a part of the team!
Great interview, Heather and Veronica! Nice to read about how your relationship started. It’s also inspiring reading about your journey Veronica. Your first Q & A sounds a lot like my own story, down to the pencil collection!
Thanks Romelle! I love the pencil collection. So funny that you had one too! All I have is a slight office supply obsession.
Wow. So fun to meet someone else with a collection of story pencils! Most people just shake their heads and tell me I’m crazy for writing my stories by hand. 🙂
Nice to meet you Veronica. Interesting to read about your take on contests.
Thanks, Yvonne! I’m sure to have more thoughts on contests in the weeks and months to come 🙂