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.
When 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.
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
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.
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.
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.