Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
Posts tagged lessons learned
Worst. Review. Ever.
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What I learned from my worst review

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

Dudes. I have one published novel. You didn't think I was actually going to call out a particular review, did you? That way lies madness and possibly career suicide.

Here's what I know that I didn't know five months ago.

Don't. Read. Reviews.

Especially don't read early reviews. Good or bad, they will do nothing for your mental health. Nada.

Also don't respond to reviews, even those that totally missed the boat on what you were trying to convey. You don't know that reviewer. By putting a book out there, you are inviting people to read your book, but also you are inviting criticism. That's how it works.

So yeah. Stay away. No good can come, really, from reading reviews. If you must, get a trusted friend to vet them and send you the good ones. And recognize that you can't please everyone. What you think is earnest and heartfelt, may be silly or bitchy to someone else. Write your book truth, then go write another one.

Step away from the reviews.

Writing with Kindness

book-2115176_1920.jpg If you can't handle criticism, get out of the pool.

If you don't have the fundamentals of grammar, there is no hope for you as a writer.

How many of you have heard something like that in your writers groups?

You'll never get better if we don't tell you what you've done wrong.

There's always that one guy (and I'm sorry, but it is often a guy) in your MFA who thinks he knows exactly what your work needs, even though his manuscript about a sentient and altruistic centipede in a dystopian hellscape is just as unfinished as yours.

True story, I am days away from my 37th birthday. I published my first novel this year, and I just turned my third novel into my agent. I have not taken any kind of writing or English class from an accredited educational institution since I was in high school.

I wanted to tell you that you are writing for someone other than yourself...

That was the last English teacher I had. He wrote that late in our second term, on a journaling project that wasn't supposed to be about grades or content, but just about the act of writing. No one had ever told me they looked forward to my writing before but, 20 years later, I still remember exactly how he worded that note.

Writing grows with kindness.

Someday, when you're ready (and you'll know when you are), there will be lots of time for people to take your work apart and tell you why this character's arc doesn't make sense, and why your passive verbs are dragging the whole thing down. If you get to the point where you're ready to publish, a professional editor will gladly help, and will make your work better in the process.

But if you're not ready for that right now, seek out places where kind people will help you grow. The places where you can admit when you're struggling, or where you can say you're pretty sure the thing you just wrote is shit, and the people around the table (virtual or in person) won't agree with you. They might even point out the things they loved.

Kindness will help you find your voice.

I have always been a writer, but I haven't always written. Sometimes life gets in the way. For a while, I tried to be a Serious Scientist™. For a while I contented myself with writing government manuals and environmental reports. But, when the call to write stories got too loud, I found kind places to start over from. I found Firefly Creative Writing in Toronto (whose awesome feedback manifesto inspired this post). I found groups online with kindred souls who focused on what was working, and not on my propensity to forget that questions marks exist in my first drafts.

All manuscripts can be fixed in revisions. Drafts can be torn apart and stitched back together into something stronger and better. But patching up the tender writing heart broken too early by harsh criticism is a much more difficult task.

If you're just starting out, find the kind place to write. The places that will let you dabble and play. The places that talk about voice and heart, not structure and archetypes. Build the confidence you need. Take your time. And if you never leave that kind place, well, doesn't that sound like a cozy place to stay as a writer?

Season of the Pitch

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My contest experiences

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

I'm going to admit up front that my contest experience is limited, because I went from my first query to signing with my agent in a little over three months. I got lucky. And Laura and I didn't even find each other through a pitch contest, I just cold queried her slush pile. But I did do a few pitch contests and here's what I learned.

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These are my two best pitches. Between them, they got six likes, all from publishers (as opposed to agents). Only one of those publishers wound up offering to publish me, and I decided not to sign with them. And yet, 364 days after my first pitch, The Pick Up was out in the world and my agent and I were making plans for future titles.

So here's what I learned:

  1. Pitch parties like #pitmad, #dvpit and all their brethren, are a great way to get in front of publishers and agents. They are actively looking for stories that catch their eye.
  2. These same pitch parties have hundreds and sometimes thousands of participants, so you've got to have good pitches to stand out, just like you need a good query to get through the slush pile. Some people say it's easier now, because back in my day we walked uphill both ways in bare feet only had 140 characters, and now you've got 280, but the basic form is the same. Character, hook, stakes. You need these. 280 characters of "her life will change forever" is just as vague as it was in 140 characters.
  3. There's no guarantee. I got full manuscript requests from agents I cold queried and then got turned down, and I got thanks but no thanks from publishers I submitted to after pitch parties. Both processes are worthwhile but neither is a surer route to publication.
  4. You still have to make tough decisions. If you're reading closely, you'll have noticed up above that I actually got a publishing offer through one of my pitches, and I turned them down. Just because you get likes doesn't mean you're beholden to any agent or publisher who shows interest in your pitch or your manuscript. It's flattering and often it's overwhelming, but you have to make the decisions that work for you and fit with where you're trying to go. I've got more on that here.
  5. I definitely encourage all writers to find pitch parties and contests as a means of getting some visibility. Learning to pitch your work is a skill you'll need forever. Some authors are hugely successful with the online parties. Others find success through other avenues. Don't pin your hopes on one or the other, but try as much as you can.
It's Not About the Bacon

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Things only my family would understand

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

As of this writing, my parents just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary. In addition to the Douglas Adams-ian significance to that (have they reached enlightenment?) that is a hell of a long time. Add in a few (now adult) kids, and it's inevitable that we've invented a few of our own catch phrases.

My mom is big on compartmentalization, and understanding why you're feeling the way you do. Are you hungry? Angry? Feeling anxious about that other thing, but taking it out on the current situation?

To which we say It's not about the bacon.

Picture this. Christmas time. The Temple family is on vacation. Mama Temple is making her famous pasta broccoli bake, the key ingredient of which is bacon (everything is better with bacon). Suddenly, half the bacon is missing. Where did it go? Papa Temple has mixed it into his only slightly less well known caesar salad!

Mama Temple is pissed. There is yelling. My brother and I watch from the couch, simultaneously confused and a little afraid. It's inevitable that there have been some fights in the last 42 years, but my parents actually get into full blown yelling matches only rarely.

Dinner is tense. The pasta bake doesn't have its usual kick. Dishes are washed sullenly.

Later, my mom sits me down.

"I want to talk about what happened," she says.

Ok.

"Your father and I weren't really fighting about the bacon."

Ok.

Years later, the actual cause of the argument is lost to the mists of time. Work? Money? How many nights we were required to have dinner with my grandmother during the holiday season? We don't know anymore.

But, whenever someone gets upset about something, we can calmly look at each other and say "You're clearly upset, but is this really about the bacon?"

To which the other party almost always sighs heavily and shake their head.

"No. It's not about the bacon."

Please Don't

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Worst Writing Advice I've Ever Gotten

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

That is an excellent question. For every aspiring writer there is a book, course, website, blog, podcast, or man on the street with pamphlets, with helpful tips on how to BE a writer. Many have conflicting points of view. So what might be the worst advice for me, might be the exact motivation you need.

I can tell you the things that I do and don't do.

DO

  1. Plot
  2. Write sequentially
  3. Skip sentences and paragraphs
  4. Tell your inner editor to shut up while drafting
  5. Deviate from your plot, but find a way back to it by the end
  6. Make time for your writing and guard that time fiercely
  7. Read your book out loud at least once before you let anyone else read it
  8. Keep looking for ways to improve your craft and your process

DON'T

  1. Mix editing and drafting. Fix a typo if you must, leave the rest until the draft is done
  2. Skip whole scenes. If you don't know why you need this scene, go back to your plotting
  3. Write every day if you don't feel like it
  4. Jump into a draft because you're sure you know what's going to happen, even if you haven't finished plotting
  5. Compare your progress to anyone else's
  6. Get discouraged when you realize your first (or sixth) draft is crap. Everything is fixable
  7. Start drafting something new until you've finished the first draft you're currently working on

The worst advice? Someone (Stephen King? Obama? I don't know) said that if you haven't finished your draft within six months (a year? two years? I don't know that either), then you're probably never going to finish it. This is crap. See my list above. If you want to write, commit to writing, but don't set a time limit on whether you pass or fail. The Pick Up took me two years to write the first draft. I just wrote Cold Pressed in five weeks. Neither is more or less valid. As long as your still making progress, it's all good.

Succeeding(ish) at the Publishing Game

pug-1210025_1920 Almost two months ago, I wrote to my agent. It was a short email that said something like "Let's talk about what's next. And let's do it soon, because The Pick Up is going to be out next week and I just finished the draft for Cold Pressed, and I'm expecting the emotional hangover to be EPIC."

Boy, did I not even know.

The Pick Up is almost two months old now. In the ensuing 60ish days, I've watched publishing dreams (mine and others) stumble and collapse under the weight of racism, harassment, and the giant angry echo chamber that is the internet.

There were tears (mine and others).

There were promises to do better (mine and others).

There were admissions that it's hard to find momentum after so much uncertainty (fortunately, not mine...except for Good Friday when I nearly deleted the complete Cold Pressed draft in a fit of inadequacy).

So here's what I've learned in the last two months, as voiced by so many other people in the same boat.

A nightmare you say? Tell me more.

Even celebrities (except possibly Sean Penn and Morrissey) are not immune from the crushing weight of authorly uncertainty.

Yup. Publishing will rip your heart out. It will tell you that your hours, days, weeks, months, years of hard work don't matter, because what publishing really wants is another white duke, or a lonely gay superhero (but not your lonely gay superhero*).  And yeah, I'm talking about traditional publishing, and yes, I know self-publishing will let me write my dukes, superheroes, or neurotic professors and put them out into the world without the grind and the waiting game of trad publishing. I'm pretty sure it will just rip your heart out in other ways instead. Like when Amazon suddenly decides your story is too gay and too sexy to inflict on decent people and stops promoting your titles. Or when the limitations of stock photography mean your cover model appears on seven covers in three months.

I was on Facebook this week (spoiler, don't go on Facebook), and someone asked what the lesson is, if you put in all this time, and effort, ink, sweat and tears, and no on reads it? What if the book happens, but the reading doesn't? If you don't succeed, what was the lesson?

Writing is my joy. That's the lesson. Bree said it above, but it's true for me too. I say it all the time. I am happier writing than doing just about anything else. If you're writing novels for any other reason, I'm not sure how you'll succeed, because the rest of it has the very real potential to be a nightmare.

In the last 60ish days, there have been hurdles and hiccups the likes of which my poor debut author brain could not have fathomed. I lost sleep. There were so many tears. And then you know what I did? I kept writing. Because publishing is going to rip my heart out, but writing is going to put it back together again. And every time I write something new, or edit something new, I create another opportunity to succeed at my joy (before the heart ripping starts again).

Someone on Twitter asked last week what piece of advice you'd give to your younger self. And despite everything, this is what I said.

I'm succeeding on my own terms. Come at me. I'm ready.


*I don't currently have a lonely gay superhero...but now I'm thinking about it.