My Personal Slush Pile Heaven and Hell – Love, Hate or Date

Lana PecherczykAll, Book Reviews, Marketing, Writing13 Comments

The Love, Hate or Date session at the recent RWA conference in Adelaide was where writers were asked to submit their first two pages anonymously in the expectation that it would be read out in public for a panel of top editors and agents to advise on when they’d say no before adding it to the slush pile. Funnily enough, Love, Hate and Date is exactly the path my emotions took when it was my turn.


LOVE

Stay Off the Slush PileWhen I first heard that the RWA conference was holding a Love, Hate or Date session this year, initially, my reaction was – what a fabulous idea. Nerve wracking to say the least, but fabulous and a rare opportunity not to be missed. Among the editors and agents passing the buck on stage were Kate Cuthburt from Escape, Esi Sogah from Kensington, Sarah Younger from the Nancy Yost Agency, Joanne Grant from Harlequin. For me, getting valuable intel as to what goes on inside the minds of these highly sought after women as they read a submission was worth more than the pain of potential embarrassment. I heard page after page read out, and every time a hand on the panel went up for reasons such as:

  • They don’t like first person (Yikes, my book is first person)
  • They don’t like the heroine being confused because that means the reader is confused.
  • They didn’t like the heroine going through a break up on the first page, so no negatives please on the first page.
  • Don’t use words that stand out – like Lithuanian

Although, I must admit that when I submitted my page weeks earlier, I thought there was no way in hell they’d raise their hands saying they’d throw mine on the slush pile. Surely not me. Surely mine was the magical one that would actually be asked for a sidebar submission.

Lol. How wrong I was.

HATE

So, fresh off a workshop with Michael Hauge the day before, I was already little nervous that my work would  be picked out. This is because I’d put my hand up as an example (obviously I’m a masochist). He’d given me valuable feedback in front of everyone and because my story is about a writer, I felt that if my page got read out at Love, Hate, Date, everyone would know it was me. I was anonymous no more. Oh, did I mention that I’m the new Vice President for RWA this year? So suddenly, I’ve gone from quietly achieving in the background to being thrust into the limelight.

I was not in a place I’d like to call comfort. It was scary, exhilarating and down right vomit worthy all at once.

When my first words were read out, the world around me closed in and my heart leapt to life in my chest, beating so loud that I was sure – sure! – that everyone would in a moment turn and stare. At me.

Of course they didn’t. But still, I was petrified (literally) as I sat in the back, away from anyone who could see my heated face. It was all I could do to try and focus on what was being said about my words:

  • Too much repetition (once set of alliteration is enough – I had 2)
  • Too much exposition too soon
  • They (the panel) work in the publishing industry and for some, reading about it was a put off
  • I took too long to get to the important stuff. Reading about the mundane (like waiting in line) is a put off
  • It’s in first person present tense

Read the original pages here

So, what happened after my wild heart broke me out of the ice sculpture I was presently incased in?

I quietly left the room. I walked like a zombie out out of the hotel. I wandered into the street and went shopping. At this point, I wanted to quit – to pack it all in, take the first flight home and to crawl under a rock and never come out. Once I’d distanced myself emotionally from the entire ordeal, I went back to my room and wrote everything down. Not just the tips I’d received, but my feelings.

DATE

Writing is hard. It’s harder than anything I’ve ever done. And not because it’s a new craft I’m learning but because I’m putting myself out there in an industry synonymous for critique. There’s no other industry I know that every single person is expected to be slammed after every work released. Even actors use someone else’s words to act. As writers, there’s no one telling us what to say. It’s us! We create movies with our words.

I knew that I had 3 yes’s from my pitch sessions, so if I wanted to turn this frown upside down, then I had to use what was given to me in the Love, Hate or Date session.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Coupled with the advice I received from Louise Thurtell from Allen & Unwin when I pitched to her, I should Show and Tell. Not Show not Tell. I seem to have a bit of a problem waffling on (my words, not LT’s). Even though I see this story as fitting into the Chick Lit genre along side writers like Sophie Kinsella, unfortunately I’ve still got a few things to learn and being a new writer, I don’t have the luxury of waffling on in the first page. I’m going to bring the meet cute forward to the first instant.
  • I can’t change the first person POV because that’s the sub genre, so I’m sticking to my guns with that.
  • I’ll be cutting the exposition at the start. It’s okay, in fact, preferable to leave unanswered questions to drive the reader forward.
  • Obviously, I can’t change the fact that it’s a story about a writer. I’m keeping that and all my writer friends love it too. So, I need to find a way to market this idea.

As hard as it may feel, if you don’t put yourself out there you’ll never learn. And before you give yourself an excuse like ‘Oh, but Lana is much braver than me. She’s loud, boisterous and brave.’ I’m not. I used to cry myself to sleep when someone made fun of my freckles and ‘ski jump’ nose. I used to cry if someone looked at me funny. I used to cry if I stubbed my toe. The point is, the pain of me giving up was greater than the pain of temporary failure.

Failure is not the same as giving up.

So, put yourself out there. Do what you need to get through it. Go shopping, go for a walk or write it down. Just don’t give up.

USE IT.

Were you at the session? Can you fill in any tips that I missed out in my haste to rescue my sanity? Please comment below.

About the Author

Lana Pecherczyk

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Don't miss anything from the Author Zoo blog, sign up to the e-newsletter today. Lana Pecherczyk is an author, artist and bookshop marketer from Perth, Western Australia. She's the Webmistress for Romance Writers of Australia (and no, that's not Spiderman's lover). Is a fan of 'pro-caffeinating' and writes in many genres, including romance, comedy, fantasy and paranormal. She also loves Sailormoon. No judgement.

13 Comments on “My Personal Slush Pile Heaven and Hell – Love, Hate or Date”

  1. Love your post Lana. Being an author can be gut wrenching, not to mention self-esteem hammering at times, and then when it works, exhilarating. You were lucky to gain some valuable feedback from people in the industry as I think for many of us authors, we just don’t see the weaknesses in our work. After Michael’s talk i went back and change heaps of my ms and now I’ve abandoned it altogether to write the same story a different way.
    About the 1st person POV. I’m surprised to hear that, obviously I never went to the panel session, but if I were you I would stick to what you’ve got. I love 1st POV and I know a lot of readers who do. And how many bestsellers out there are 1st POV. Really I think when a story sings to a publisher they’ll take it regardless. Moral I guess is to write something they can’t refuse regardless of how it’s presented to them.
    Hey and I’m still working on that philosophy, so I’ll lend some advice if I get there.

  2. Hi Lana! I thought it was just brave! Everyone is going to have a differing perspective – I found it very interesting to see what resonated and what didn’t. But, what I have learnt over the past two conferences is that it doesn’t really matter – if you write a good story, that is what publishers want. Remember, your three pages were exposed and interrogated without context or the benefit of being able to pitch the concept, story or resolution. I know people who have pitched the story and had to rewrite the first chapter because it wasn’t quite right – but the publisher loved the story! I didn’t realise this was your MS but I applaud you not only for putting it in the mix, but for sharing your insights! And I’m bummed I didn’t get the opportunity to meet with you this year!! Oh, well… Brisbane will be upon us soon!

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment. It’s like you said, sometimes it’s taken out of context and I did get some requests for the MS so I need to fix what I think I can and not worry about the rest. See you at Brisbane!

  3. I am an avid reader of Chic Lit and I thought it was great. Don’t be hard of yourself. You are doing the right thing, taking the advice and using it to make your work better. Onward and upward, if the panel taught me anything, it’s that even the seasoned professionals can’t agree on what’s great and what’s not. So keep that in mind as you fine tune your work and try to keep your voice in there. Well done 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I wish I’d been there as I love this part of conference, but I was unfortunately getting ready for the book signing. I’m SO glad you decided not to quit though. I can tell you are oozing with talent and you will get there. I’m proud of you. xx

  5. Good on you for putting yourself out there and being brave enough to blog about it after. I sat there listening, thinking that mine is in first person too and the person who requested mine was the most vocal about not liking first person present … mine is first person past and chick lit, so I think I should stick to my guns with that like you.
    The comments that stood out to me the most were about over written / overly descriptive writing slowing down the pace too much in the first couple of pages. Backstory dump. Feeling sorry for the heroine – you should want to barrack for her.

  6. Good on you for sticking to your guns on some of the things you feel strongly about. It really is all about taking all advice on board and accepting what you are comfortable with.
    I was listening to that panel thinking, ‘Oh crap, mine is first person present tense AND my protagonist’s husband is a successful author who travels a lot…’
    Am now trying to work out if I keep my POV the way it is, or continue from now on in 3rd person and go back later to change the first 40,000 words. Sigh.

    1. I hear ya, so many decisions. I think if you’ve got a real gut instinct to stick with it, then do. Other wise some points are really good. I definitely like the author husband but that’s me. I love everything about this industry:)

  7. SO BRAVE to submit your work for a session like this. And you are spot on: USE IT. Think of it this way = you had FOUR top agents and editors givin gyou feedback. SCORE. And you had requests for your MS. A great weekend, right?!

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