The Goose’s Quill Top Posts of 2017

At the end of every year, I look back and see what posts resonated most with my readers. This year’s top posts were a nice mix of writing posts and mom/life posts.

  1. Rejection: A Mother’s Perspective
  1. Public Speaking: 4 Circles of Fear
  1. Marketing Desert
  1. In the Query Trenches
  1. Someday
  1. A Safe Place to Recharge
  1. Time Travel: Philly to Phoenix and back in 52 hours
  1. 5 Ways Writing is like Physical Therapy
  1. When You Realize What You Were Missing

And the #1 post on 2017:

  1. Thoughts Inspired by Writers Resist Philadelphia

I hope you enjoyed some of these posts, and I hope to keep serving up posts my readers love in 2018! Have a happy and safe New Year, everyone!

Rejection: A Mother’s Perspective

Writers experience a lot of rejection–from agents, publishers, even readers. And it’s never fun. For some writers, the pain of rejection makes them question if they want to continue writing at all. That’s understandable, as a rejection of your work can feel very personal.

Rejection of your baby hurts

Story Baby

And why wouldn’t it feel personal? A writer spends months, sometimes years, perfecting their story. Many of their own emotions and experiences bleed into the story, making the opinions of others feel like a judgment on themselves. Indeed, many writers refer to their works as their “babies”—and what’s more upsetting than someone telling you your baby is ugly?

But here’s the thing—our stories are not really babies, even if we do “carry” them much longer than many pregnancies. But that fact is an awesome thing, because that means the rejections and the bad reviews don’t have to hurt as much, because none of that rejection is permanent.

With a real baby, you only get once chance to do it right. All of life is a first draft, with no possibility of revision, no Undo button. With a real baby:

You can’t put her in a drawer and give up when the going gets tough in the messy middle.

You can’t go back and rewrite the story arcs that didn’t go the way you intended.

You can’t reword the harsh dialogue you spoke to her yesterday.

You can’t make a scene unfold exactly the way you wish to make her happy.

You can’t make sure the boy that made her cry on the playground gets his comeuppance.

You can’t manipulate time to focus on pleasant moments and speed past the painful ones.

Most of all, you cannot hold her in your arms and protect her from the world.

We all want to share our stories with the world. And it’s terrifying to put something you love out in the public eye. Rejections sting. A horrid review can wound deeply. But neither of those things spell the end of your career. In this day of self-publishing, you can always put out a revised version of a book that didn’t quite measure up. When one book doesn’t work out, you can write another one. Unlike with a real baby, you can start over when things go awry. You don’t get only one chance to do it right.

So when you start to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, try to remember: it’s not personal, and it’s not The End.

Rejection & Perseverance

Latest title to get a rejection

(Concept art)

I’m shopping a middle grade historical adventure, The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. I’ve had wonderful feedback from all of our beta readers, and am very excited about the quality and prospects of this book.

Unfortunately, real life has other ideas. I have queried 50 agents. 3 requested fulls (yay!), but all ultimately passed. The rest of the agents either passed on the query (19) or have not answered at all (28), which is usually an assumed rejection.

The last agent who requested just passed Tuesday, so at the moment I am in the pity party stage of acceptance. And I will allow myself to feel it until Thursday. After that, it’s back on the horse. (A horse actually threw me once, so I know how this goes.)

I’ll compile a new list of agents and start over. Maybe take another critical look at the query, although 3 requests is not bad in today’s market. And then I’ll send them out.

Am I glutton for rejection? No. I am a stubborn writer who has a book I believe in passionately. Somewhere out there is an agent who will believe in this book as much as I do.

We just need to find each other.

Do any of you have a cutoff point for when you stop querying?



A Writer’s Thick Skin: Do We Need One?

There’s been a lot of talk on the Internet lately about the need to have “a thick skin” if you are going to be a writer. After all, being a writer comes with a ton of rejection and a necessary amount of critique. Nothing you write will ever be perfect, and nothing you write will be loved by everyone who reads it. These facts are part of the job description.

Kristen Lamb tells us we need a thick skin, while Rachelle Gardner makes the case that we don’t. Jody Hedlund ignores the thickness of skin altogether and talks about the unnecessary shame involved in getting feedback.

They all have good points, but I think the key to developing a so-called thick skin isn’t in strengthening your epidermis, but in changing the way we approach criticism and rejection. A thick skin simply means we can take a beating and keep on going—but have we learned anything worthwhile from the beating?

I didn’t always take criticism well. I mean, I never screamed at anyone or anything like that, but it hurt a lot when my work wasn’t up to snuff. The first time my Master’s degree advisor ripped apart my work, I was nearly in tears. I suspect that part of this reaction is that I was a very good student in school. I was used to getting all A’s. To be told that my work was not an A was rather unprecedented, and I had no coping mechanism in place.

So I learned to cope. I turned around the way I looked at the red marks splashed on the page. Instead of seeing them as glaring testaments to my worthlessness, I looked at them as a challenge: every red mark was a place I could improve my story. Once I changed my outlook from a negative (“I suck”) to a positive (“look at how much better my story can be”), the ouch factor of criticism lessened considerably.

This doesn’t mean that when I get a bleeding critique back I do a dance of joy. I get down in the dumps like everyone else. The task can seem monumental. Overwhelming. But in the end it becomes exciting, because each change is an opportunity to learn something new about our craft, and the results of the changes are instantaneous: you can actually feel the story growing stronger.

I admit that revision fits my personality. I love to learn—and honing our writing offers endless opportunities to try something new, to push ourselves higher, or to master a nuance of the craft. I am also by nature a troubleshooter: I love to fix things. When I was a video editor, I was the go-to gal when a system wasn’t working. Tracking down and fixing the problem thrilled me. The same goes for my writing. Figuring out what the problem is, and then finding the solution is an adrenaline rush.

So, back to the thick skin. Do you need one? I don’t think so. Becoming impervious brings with it the risk of becoming immune to the helpful criticism as well as the bad (and there is bad criticism out there that should simply be ignored). I think Jody hit it on the head that our task is not to grow rhino skin, but to change the way we approach criticism altogether.

What do you think? Do we need a thick skin to survive as writers or not?

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Re-Visioning In The Dark

I’ve been shopping my middle grade novel, The Egyptian Enigma, for a while now. It’s a good novel, a lot of fun, but I’ve had no representation on it yet. Why? The blasted economy is part of it, of course. And my query letter could have been better, and now is. Even with those problems against me, I have been lucky enough to have a handful of agents request partials and fulls. Alas, no bites.


The rejections don’t bother me. They are part of the business, and I certainly would not want an agent repping my book who was not whole-heartedly enthusiastic about it. So when the agents came back with, “It’s just not right for me.”, I was fine with that. Disappointed, but not upset.


What made it tricky, for me, was the lack of any productive feedback from those agents who had read the book. I know they are hard-pressed for time, but having taken the time to read the book, I had been hoping for at least a sentence of advice on how to improve it.


You see, I am no literary genius.


I don’t suffer from the delusion that what I write is immutable and perfect. I know I have learned much about my craft, but still have much to learn about it. I am eager for feedback, revel in productive criticism. Unlike some of my fellow writers, I actually enjoy revision. And I have come to the conclusion that this novel needs revision—something is not grabbing the agents who have read it. Unfortunately, none of the agents has given me any indication what that “something” might be.


So I am re-visioning in the dark.


When you know something needs changed, but not what, how do you proceed? I have realized the futility of continuing to send the manuscript in its current form out there—there is a fatal flaw somewhere in it. I must fix it. But how can you fix something if you don’t know what’s broken? For a long time, paralyzed by the uncertainty of how to proceed, I did nothing—just continued to send the manuscript out over and over, hoping for a different result.


Isn’t that the definition of insanity?


Coming Up: How I found the clues to the fix, and fixed it

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