Updates! Lessons on Rejection I Learned as a Musician

As I await responses from editors and agents, I think a lot about two things. First, being an optimistic person with a wild imagination, I think about what it will be like to live next door to Charlaine Harris and attend parties with Jeff Abbott. I am always about thirty pounds skinnier in these fantasies and have a small dog in my purse. Which is ridiculous. (Why would being published make me skinnier? And I hate purses – especially purses large enough to carry even the smallest of dogs. I hate people who bring dogs to parties even more.)

Second, being a realistic person and one who realizes I have much room to grow, I think about what I will do when I get those thin rejection letters (or brief emails), or even more likely, hear nothing at all. Rejection is, sadly, part of life for all of us and especially for those of us who are creative types with delusions big dreams. I’ve learned a lot about rejection in my former life as a musician and here are my thoughts.

1. It is okay to cry. I cried when I didn’t do well at an important audition or when a performance didn’t get a great review. I cried and then I moved on. But getting the emotions out there is important. Otherwise, for me at least, it turns into something more than a good cry and I eat all my feelings. (Maybe that’s why I’m finally skinny in my fantasies of success?)

2. Acknowledge the good. No matter how horrible the feedback, no matter how disappointing the performance, there is always something good. Maybe the high notes could have been clearer, maybe the interpretation could have been stronger, but I could always congratulate myself on a performance with heart and a lyrical line. Not everyone in the audience is going to love you, but someone out there thinks you’re fantastic. (Hi, Mom!)

3. Evaluate the feedback. After the cry, after focusing on the positive, it’s time to take a deep breath and weigh any criticism. Is there substance to what the person has said? Is the person qualified to have said it? If the answers are “maybe” and “yes,” it must be considered and dealt with. If the person was just being mean and has no real credentials, you can probably just let it go. A fellow student once made fun of my eyebrows. I let that go. True story.

4. Change what you can. In the opera biz, we talk a lot about fach. In layman’s terms, fach is your “type” – it’s how you are cast. And it is not just your range, but the timbre of your voice, your “look,” your essence. You haven’t met me, haven’t heard me, but I’m small in stature and (when I’m not eating feelings), I’m slight. I have a light, lyrical voice and I’m a cheeky monkey. Mischief oozes from every pore. In terms of fach this means I will never sing the role of Carmen or Aida or anyone wearing a Viking helmet and brass brassiere. My light, lyrical voice and general demeanor is much better suited to a light, comic opera or concert career than to an opera career. And nothing I do will ever change that.

5. Work smarter, not harder. Nope, no matter how hard I worked, I would never be an opera star. So, I had to work on what I could do successfully – a concert career, perhaps specializing in something I do really well (20th Century music – I have nearly perfect pitch). That’s what I focused on in grad school and as soon as I made that shift, my time was not only better invested, it was more happily invested.

6. Get pro help. In my field, this meant a great voice teacher, a vocal coach, diction coaches, a kick-ass accompanist and help choosing the perfect literature for my goals. As an aspiring writer, I have several successful writer friends who advise me about my work and how to go about doing things as I dip my toes in the waters of the publishing world. I’m actively seeking an agent who can help me refine my work even further and hold my hand through the publishing process and I want an editor who will help me polish my work so it will sell. I have never been sorry to consult with an expert. Never. People are usually thrilled to be asked – including highly successful people – and they are even more thrilled when the person asking for help actually takes their advice.

7. Decide. Sometimes, even with working smarter and getting pro help, things are still not happening the way you’d hoped. Or, as you get deeper into the life you thought you wanted, you realize that’s not what you wanted at all. That is what happened to me. I didn’t want to travel all the time. I didn’t want to spend my life auditioning and auditioning and auditioning. I wanted a mostly boring life with kids and a house. Which is what I still want and can still have even if I get published (except for the occasional party with a dog in my giant purse). I have always wanted to write a book (or several), and I’m not going to give up on this one until I either accomplish that goal or I am dead. (I am hyperbole’s biggest fan.)

8. Remember: this is not The End. No matter what decision one reaches in the face of rejection, it has to include the caveat that the rejection is not the end. I decided not to pursue a performing career in music – but I did and do teach. (Cue the jokes. No, I did not “do” but I can teach someone else because I absolutely do know what it takes to start a young person in the right direction for a professional career.) Likewise, I will keep writing. Someone, somewhere will probably publish me. I may never live next door to Charlaine, but I can still write. (And if my dog would just hold still, I could shove him in a duffel bag and carry him around.)

What life lessons have you learned from rejection? Literary or otherwise? I’d love to hear from you!

Update! I just received a rejection from an excellent agent, and I am jubilant! Want to know why? Because she took the time to tell me why and to dialogue with me about a solution to what she perceived as a problem. On what is likely her lunch hour. That means that she actually thinks my work has promise and that I’m worth her time. She could have just ignored me or sent a boiler-plate response. So as much as it stung to read the rejection, I’m soaring knowing I made the “cut” list for people worth her time. Maybe another agent or editor will see things differently, but since I am going to take my own advice and listen to the pros, I’m going to work on fixing that issue she didn’t like. I’m working smarter, not harder. And who knows? Maybe she will reconsider if she knows I can handle criticism and I’m not a jerk (except for the part about fantasizing about taking a dog to a party in a giant purse).

Advertisements

Twitter Pitch Parties – Who Knew?

Recently, I participated in my first-ever Twitter pitch party. A pitch party is a writer’s opportunity to pitch their completed work in 140 characters or less using a hashtag watched by interested agents and editors for a window of time. If an editor/agent “favorites” your Tweet, it is an invitation to submit. No one else is supposed to “favorite,” since that would be a pretty dirty trick to get someone all excited that an agent/editor wants to see their manuscript just to discover you are also just a wannabe author living on diet soda and broken dreams.

My first hurdle: getting past my anxiety. By far the hardest thing about this getting published business is putting myself out there over and over again just to be ignored or rejected. It’s a little too much like junior high dances all over again. Gag me with a spoon. But, every rejection stings a little less and so I decided to take the plunge.

Next, you have to craft an enticing blurb about your book that is significantly less than 140 characters. I say “significantly less” because you have to leave room for hashtags as well: the event hashtag, your genre hashtag and your audience hashtag. That takes up a lot of Twitter real estate, so you have to be clever and concise. It is also recommended that you write several different blurbs to remain fresh and increase your chances of catching the eye of a variety of people.

Then, you have to make sure you follow the rules. Agents, editors and event hosts are watching and it wouldn’t make sense to annoy them all by committing Twitter pitch party faux pas. I’m not talking about wearing the same dress as another guest or double dipping a taco chip – I’m talking about tweet frequency. It is very bad manners to clog the feed by over-pitching your pitch. This particular event had a rule of no more than two tweets per hour. I set a timer. Yes, I’m a nerd like that.

So, armed with courage, blurbs and a timer, I invited myself to the party. (Please note: I did not wear an actual dress, but taco chips may have been consumed.)

What was it like? Really, it was a lot like a junior high dance. I followed the feed obsessively frequently throughout the day and saw some pitches I was like, “OMG. She’s, like, totally awesome! I want to be just like her!” and some that I secretly thought,, “Grody to the max!” I retweeted pitches I really liked to show solidarity, and some people retweeted mine. I followed new folks and they followed me. I mingled. I schmoozed. I tried to look totally rad.

But, the big question, as it is at all junior high dances, is, “Did anyone ask you to dance?”

And the answer is…yes! I got two invitations to submit. I checked their submission requirements, formatted my materials as requested, tailored my pitch and now…we just wait to see if we’ll go all the way. (Ew…did I take the metaphor too far? Too far. Sorry.)

I also got some new followers and made some new pals who are also writers which is very exciting as well.

Does a Twitter pitch party sound like fun to you?

Update: This is the party that never ends, folks! I checked my social media this morning and found another “favorite” from a literary agent. Woohoo! Do I feel like the belle of the ball, or what?!? (I feel like the belle. Definitely the belle.)

Answering Agents’ Questions: Favorite Authors

It’s been quiet on the blog lately, but I have not been idle! I’ve just finished a rewrite of one of my full-length books in preparation for submission. Without giving too much away (since I want you to buy it when it is eventually published…if it’s ever published…oh, please, ye gods, let it be published…), it is a cozy mystery linking old mysteries with new ones.

A cozy mystery is one that typically features an amateur sleuth (usually female), whose profession or connections allow her to gather information and discover criminals without the help of professionals. Sometimes, she does happen to have a convenient friend – the chief of police, for example – or the coroner or a computer hacker. There is very little violence (except for a very sanitized murder), very little sex (although almost certainly some sexual tension) and no naughty words. It often has a hook like treasure hunting, scrapbooking, knitting, herb gardening or baking.

My protagonist is female and amateur but has no convenient friends except for a grouchy, acid-tongued antiques dealer who has a  penchant for gossip and a long memory. She has recently moved to her husband’s hometown and finds the change…challenging. (Art imitating life much?) The murder is highly sanitized and there are no explicit sex scenes or even bad words. This was a challenge because the antiques dealer definitely has a potty mouth. He had to tone it down for the book. My hook is that all of the old mysteries are actually REAL. I didn’t make them up. Our new town may not have a Target, but it has a lot of old mysteries. (Some days, I’d rather have Target, but I digress.)

I’ve been working on this book for four years and developing the idea and researching it for a year before that. I would have finished sooner except I got busy having a second baby, leaving my career, moving and deciding to homeschool. The book was my entertainment, my “me” time, and I’m excited to have it finished. (I must admit, however, that after working on it off and on for so long, I thought about killing off all the characters more than once.)

Now comes the hardest part–waiting! But as I send out more things, that gets easier. I try to use the time to do something constructive, whether that’s more writing or cleaning the bathrooms.

This time around, I’ve been exploring how to talk to agents and publishers and I found this great article, “4 Questions Agents Ask Writers at Pitch Sessions.” Today, I’m answering the first two questions here.

As for question one, I always have two or three projects going at a time. If I get stuck on one, I work on another. Right now, I am getting ready to resubmit a middle-grade nonfiction proposal, developing a middle-grade fiction idea, rewriting a picture book and working on books two and three in my mystery series. I’ve sketched out the primary plot and subplots, the settings, the calendar, the new characters and planned scenes for book two.

As for question two, I love this question! You can tell a lot about a person by the books they love most. I can imagine an agent or publisher would want to know if the person they are considering has actually read in the genre they are trying to write and if so, which authors have influenced their style. And I can imagine they want to know quickly – without necessarily having to read all 130,000 words of a prospective manuscript.

Now, to be fair, I read just about anything and everything. Really. But in mysteries here are my favorite authors and protagonists (in no particular order). Not all of them are cozies, but all of them are wonderful.

1. Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael.

2. Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. (Well, duh.) If you want to write mysteries and you haven’t read Dame Agatha, please, don’t write mysteries. Please.

3. Elizabeth Peters – Amelia Peabody.

4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes.

5. Anne Perry – Charlotte and Thomas Pitt.

6. Ruth Rendell – Inspector Wexford.

7. Lilian Jackson Braun – The Cat Who…series featuring James Qwilleran

8. Robin Paige (Bill and Susan Albert) – Kate and Charles Sheridan

9. Susan Wittig Albert – China Bayles

10. M.C. Beaton – Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin

11. Jeff Abbott – Jordan Poteet

12. Charlaine Harris – Aurora Teagarden

13. Dorothy Sayers – Lord Peter Wimsey

14. Sue Grafton – Kinsey Millhone

You’ll notice that many of these are British though there are many Americans in the mix, too. Some of them feature amateur sleuths, some professional. Some are historical fiction and some are contemporary. And there is a wide variety of tone. Cadfael and Inspector Wexford are quite different reads from Agatha Raisin and James Qwilleran! I have never felt haunted by an Agatha Raisin story though Inspector Wexford has certainly had that effect.

But what all of these have in common are that these authors write about more than just the mystery. The books aren’t just cute little whodunnits – they often touch on deeper themes and the human condition. No, they aren’t “Crime and Punishment.” But, they are beautifully (and subtly) crafted explorations of the inner workings of the human heart. I like that. I read mysteries primarily for their entertainment value, but for the story to resonate with me, the author needs to be pointing to a deeper truth. Even if the deeper truth is simply, “Don’t be a jerk or twelve people will stab you to death on a train.”

So, I wait and I read and I write. I know isn’t easy to find a publisher – you have to fit their list and be someone they think can sell enough books to make their investment worthwhile. They may like your concept, but not your style. Or like your style, but not your plot. Or they may not like your title and never even actually read your submission. That’s okay. Louisa May Alcott was told, “Stick to teaching,” and look how that turned out.

I’ll keep trying.

Kindergarten Graduation

2014-08-25 08.47.14As promised, here is my post about Scooter’s kindergarten graduation ceremony. (Video link at the bottom.)

First, some disclaimers. Please excuse my bare feet. I do own shoes. But, I was raised in the Pacific Northwest near the Emerald City. Seattle is known for rain. After all, Toto, that is what keeps things lush and emeraldy! But it also means that wearing shoes in someone’s home is frowned upon. I have continued this lovely tradition here in Texas. It keeps my floors cleaner even though we don’t get quite as much rain (usually).

Also, please ignore the box spring mattress leaning against the wall in the dining room. It’s not worth explaining, just please pretend it isn’t there, okay? It’s not anymore. It’s on my front porch where it belongs. Just kidding. It’s gone.

Third, try not to notice the glaringly ugly doors…or anything else you find objectionable in my home, okay? This isn’t a home decor blog.

And finally, a word about Scooter. *Sigh.* Scooter is…Scooter. Bless his heart.*

With the disclaimers out of the way, let’s start with the most important thing: the adorable cap and gown set. One of the things I had looked forward to when we enrolled him a traditional school was the graduation ceremony with the cute little gown and mortar board. I know, I know, I know. All of the grouches out there are saying, “Back in my day, we didn’t even have graduation – let alone caps and gowns!” And you’re right, Oscars of the world. But in Scooter’s day, we do have graduation and we do have caps and gowns and this mama was looking forward to it. So, crawl back in your crummy can with your rotten banana peels and your slimy pet worm, okay? I purchased our set here. Our color choice has no significance except that it is his favorite. Done. It was of decent quality material. One reviewer mentioned the tassel was actually inserted through a little hole. Ours was not – it was attached to a little button just like the one I wore for Ye Olde High School Graduation back in the Middle Ages.

Second, the diploma. This was part of this memory book download I used for our last week of kindergarten. The packet is super cute and Scooter and I had so much fun completing it together. There are several diploma options to choose from as well. I printed that bad boy off on regular paper and signed it with a regular pen. Voila! If you choose to use parchment, a metallic pen and have a special embossing seal created, this might not be the blog for you – but you can stay if you promise not to judge the mattress in my dining room.

Third, the music. Not all recordings of “Pomp and Circumstance” are created equal and I am particular. I wanted a full orchestra version with a swelling return of the A section. Paint me picky. I chose “Pomp and Circumstance – Single” on iTunes released March 6, 2013. The icon is an illustration of mortarboards with primary colored tassels flying through the air. Happy hunting.

Fourth, the ceremony. Obviously, I went off-the-cuff. No printed program or performance or planned speeches for us! (Come on. We don’t even wear shoes in the house, folks.) We just wanted to mark the moment (and get to the restaurant before the dinner rush).

It was short and sweet Scooter and to the point. We made a memory and had our celebration. Did you have a homeschool graduation ceremony? I’d like to hear about it!

*”Bless his heart” is a Southern expression meaning any number of things. In this case, it means, “Help me! My kid is a weirdo!!!”

2015-05-29 09.29.43Are you ready for this stunning video? If you’re sure, click here.

(This post includes affiliate links. If you buy something, I get coinage.)

Free Printable: Apes & Alligators Game

Does your child need more practice with short- and long-vowel words? With silent  final “e”? Scooter sure does! But, of course, I might as well ask him to clean the cat box rather than attempt to get him to practice these phonics skills with flash cards or leveled readers!

I can get him to practice, however, with my free printable Apes & Alligators Game! Not only will he practice, but he will beg to practice over and over again.

Like my Baking with Blends game, it is simple in concept. Scooter was quick to notice that it is basically the same game – except the board runs the other direction and the colors are different. However, he really does love this game and it is working beautifully to get him to practice.

Let me know if you use this with your children and what creative ways you come up with to use the “Bonus” squares. I’d like to hear from you.

Free Unit Study: China

This week, we will be learning about Ancient China, my inspiration for the China Unit Study which you can download free.

We continue using Story of the World Volume 1: Ancient Times as our spine for social studies,  literature and fine arts and as a supplement to our curriculum for math and science. And as usual, this unit incorporates activities based on classical homeschooling, Charlotte Mason, unit study, lap-booking and Five in a Row and hits many subject areas including math and science.

In addition to the SOTW  Volume 1  text and activity book you will need Chinese Myths (Myths from Many Lands), by Jane Bingham. (Or similar).

Chinese Myths coverI also suggest A Faith Like Mine once again as well as My First Book of Chinese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book.

A Faith Like Mine cover art

 

 

 

 

My First Book of Chinese Words cover

 

The Jane Bingham book provides several excellent parallel myths for the creation and flood stories. The illustrations are colorful, but not scary, and the text is easy enough for a newly fluent reader to read independently.

Activities  in this unit include: map work, reading/listening, narration, making lap-book items, listening to Chinese music, working with adjectives, creating pictograms, cooking Asian Noodle Soup, measurement and making a panda mask. This unit also includes a technology component – looking at kid-friendly sites for facts about Giant Pandas and even watching the panda cam at the San Diego Zoo! So much cuteness!

If you are unfamiliar with lap-booking, I recommend checking out In the Hands of a Child. and their section explaining all things lap-book. (I am not affiliated with In the Hands of a Child.)

As always, you should pick and choose what works for you. And please let me know if you use this with your children. I’d especially love to see your little pandas in their masks!

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through one of these links, I get noodle money.)