Mojo gone? Mustn’t grumble!

People in England do grumble; it’s a national hobby. For example, I wear my Remoaner badge with pride. One grumble leads to another, as here when I meant to write about not writing and found myself on Brexit by my second line.

This blog post grumble is cheaper than a therapist and may find friends among the online rumble of grumbles about books not selling, authors uninspired, authors unappreciated. One author started a recent Book Connectors thread with: “I’m sure I’m not alone, but boy, I feel alone right now”. Respondents described “terrible inertia”, “terribly demoralising times”, “soul-destroying hard slog”, “disappointing book sales and no vigour to promote”. Publishing a book in a saturated market is like “screaming into a din.” Twitter too is full of moans, not only from authors. It’s a great place to bellyache, beef, bitch, bleat, carp, cavil, chunter, complain, create, find fault, gripe, grizzle, groan, grouch, kvetch, mither, pick holes, protest, sound off, whine, whinge. (That’s my riposte to writing teachers dictating you must only use the verb “said”.)

Much author grousing is justified. The disrespect for the time and effort taken to produce a book, the hoops to jump through to get it published, friends and families all wanting free copies or buying one between twelve, with their first question “What are you going to write next?” Then there’s the stranglehold of genre; the expensive, sometimes formulaic creative writing industry; piddling advances and low royalties; piracy; gatekeeping from trade publishers; too few stockists; Amazon dominance; the difficulty of getting noticed/reviewed; the high cost to indies of (often excellent) editing and design; the scams from fake services… The assumption that all self-published authors write crap – this blog post was delayed as I fired off a response to a smug thread on the Facebook “Extreme Pedantry” group.

I blame my own current inertia on recent rejections from trade publishers. I do understand rejections are a rite of passage, even a badge of honour, and mine are “improving”. They’re now increasingly detailed, thoughtful and almost wholly positive. Novel 3 is currently garnering rejections in this vein: 

“…what an original idea. I am glad to have seen it…she does write nicely”

“I have finally had a chance to read (NOVEL 3) and admired it very much… I did enjoy its emotional range and vivid setting… Hope you find it a great home.”

“I thought it was so unusual, and for someone who doesn’t LOVE (this kind of) book I was absolutely hooked! The writing was particularly lovely in places and I enjoyed it very much as a reader.”

“I found it really original with an extremely interesting premise, and thought Jessica was really successful in accomplishing what she set out to do.  The mother’s physical distance but emotional intimacy with her children… is really well realised and very evocative. I enjoyed the lyrical quality to the writing, and like I say it was very different to all the other submissions I have considered recently.”

“I think that this novel has a brilliant message…”

“…all the best with finding a publisher for Jessica – she is a very strong writer with brilliant ideas.”

And since going to press: I was intrigued by the premise and the themes – which Jessica explores with great tenderness – and I think the writing is excellent.

On bad days, “good” rejections feel no different to someone saying “Call this crap a book?” Of course they are, but you do find yourself wondering just how good your package has to be to jump through the acquisition committee hoops and remain true to your own voice. I take my hat off (some days with more grace than others) to those who write multi-volume crime series and romances but that’s not my skillset. I write standalone fiction. The worst any editor’s said about Novel 3 is: “it’s slightly didactic”. It’s an overtly feminist novel, for Goddesses’ sake. Do editors find fault with Margaret Atwood for being didactic? (Virago were sent Novel 3, but haven’t responded – yet.) Also – as of yesterday – “It’s too diffuse“. Fair enough.

I managed 14,000 words of Novel 4 and have sent them to my Zoom writing group for their opinions. I’m happy to wait for their response, as I haven’t opened the file since August. It seems rather pointless. Novels 1 and 2 were both well received when self-published after trade publisher rejections, but sales have dwindled. I don’t want to send Novel 3 down the same path. And if I still can’t get a publisher to risk an advance on me – any sum, however modest, would be acceptable – why bother with months of back and eye strain, revisions, self-doubt, rejection all over again?

Yet, what to do with my retired days? The choir can’t meet; the clothes shops can’t open their changing rooms; I can’t Zoom all day.

So I understand the grumbling authors online. The responses from the writing community are fantastic, ranging from virtual hugs through practical encouragement and pep talks. Spare me those last; I don’t need to hear about other people’s six figure incomes from churning out five books a year and embracing the marketing side. But the empathy and sympathy (never could understand the distinction) – are great: long may they continue. When I’ve been sufficiently hugged, I’ll be back in a position to use the practical advice. Thank you all for that.

The rumbling grumbles surely reflect creeping poor mental health among the general population, as the evenings chill and second wave Covid lies in wait. Everyone has trials – my son who’s self-isolating two weeks into a new teaching post with no tests available; the shop staff afraid to ask customers to wear masks; my daughter whose possibly fractured foot wasn’t x-rayed for months (yes, months); the elderly man in town this morning who showed me his “cancer card” and asked if the public toilets were all closed. When does a grumble become a legitimate grievance?

We authors must put our grumbles into perspective. But I’ll spare you a pep talk. Please consider yourselves hugged instead.

©Jessica Norrie 2020

70 thoughts on “Mojo gone? Mustn’t grumble!

  1. I completely empathise. I’ve always had wonderful reviews, but almost zero sales and I’ve been writing since 1984! Back in the day I was mainstream published x2 (which gave me more self-belief than was good for me) but publisher went bust, and that set the scene for my future! Whether it was lucky or disastrous, my OH has always supported me in my ambition, allowing me to continue hitting my head against brick walls. The only saving grace is, that when it’s going well (and that is only now and then) writing is a joy. I write standalone too, but always with a love story, but somehow my books are NOT what the public want to read. I don’t see any point in trying to “follow the market” as I’ve so often been advised, there are no guarantees there, and would I enjoy it? It’s a conundrum. Gillix

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    1. Maybe the public would like to read them but just don’t know they’re there? But that would mean marketing… perhaps not your favourite thing. Well done with the mainstream publishing history anyway and with persevering all this time. I’ve decided my ambition is to be published by Persephone Books (if they survive) as a “forgotten female author”, preferably before I die. Thanks for your comment and for your honesty re your sales!

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  2. I love writing and I love tinkering with my writing until it’s as near perfect as I can get. I don’t think I could stop even if I never sold another book. Hate marketing, though – plenty to grizzle about there!
    ‘Grizzle’ is one of my favourite words.

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    1. Nice comment and it’s a salutary reminder that I started writing because it’s what I wanted to do, in the days when id never heard of marketing! So I don’t really have anything to kvetch or mither about which are my own two top words from that list. Thank you!

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    2. Oh, I do agree with what you say. Even when I go through wee quiet spells with my writing because of the current situation, the spark always gets reignited and I’m off again. I could never give up writing in one way or another: novels; editing; blogging, whatever. I love writing too. Like you, hate the marketing though 😀

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  3. Sounds like you got a lot of great feedback on your manuscript, even though no offers to buy. Sometimes it just takes being in the right place at the right time, and rejection may have nothing to do with the quality of your work. Keep trying and best of luck!

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    1. Thank you! I got it off my chest and got lots of support so that’s great, and you know if the world isn’t ready for me, well… (I’m no sure what happens next but it’s fine!) Me and millions of others…

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  4. I only started writing in 2016, Jessica, and my life has been devoted to corporate finance, accounting and working for a corporate. I suppose you have to pick your poison. I love writing but it doesn’t make much money. I only just break even on my costs. I find my day job incredibly stressful and lately, very unsatisfying, but it pays well as making more money for rich people is always a winner. So long as I have a few sales and a few nice reviews, I will continue to write. It is my passion. PS I am well into the audio book of Serendipity and it is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read. The only reason I can think of as to why you weren’t able to publish traditionally is that the big publishers can’t be bothered to take a chance on an unknow author.

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    1. You are so kind, really. “Picking poison” is apt, it’s easy to forget all the duller jobs that make the world go round and have to be done anyway. In fact sometimes I think the contrast between that and the creative work is what gets the creative work done! Your PS is very kind too. Yes, the big publishers claim to want originality but when it comes along they daren’t take the risk unless it’s a celeb author or young and beautiful with years to develop their career. Especially now. I send hugs!

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  5. Thanks, Jessica. You are right. I felt I should share this video. Sorry it’s in Spanish, but you have to love that little girl. They’ve gone back to school, and they were asking her what she thought about having to wear a mask, and she said: “It’s a bit worse because you can’t quite breathe, but it’s OK. Dying is far worse.” A young Stoic if I’ve ever met one. Big hugs to all.

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  6. If ever there were a year to grumble, this is it. I look at airing our grievances like not eating right. After a day of not getting the right nutrition, it’s time to get back on the train.

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      1. The Magic Carpet was a wonderful read. I taught elementary school for thirty-one years, and I saw many of my families through the same lens as those in your book. A classroom is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, socioeconomics, and religions. Somehow, as educators, we try to create an inclusive family to try and meet all their needs. I like to refer to teaching as the most challenging, rewarding job I ever had.

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      2. It’s so kind of you to say so. For me teaching at times felt I was in a maelstrom – so many feelings and issues coming through the door every morning. When I retired I needed to make sense of all those years and The Magic Carpet was the result. Again, apologies for taking so long to see the review – I don’t often look at the US site as my sales are mostly this side of the pond. But of course very happy to break into the market there!

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  7. Knowing someone else agrees, I’ve had to cross my beef with the insistence on only using ‘he/she said’ off my grumble list. 😀 At least WordPress ‘blocks’ are still enough to raise my blood pressure, so I’ve got something to rant about. Sharing the ridiculosity (it’s a proper word because I told my spellchecker so) of the crazy world today is enough to make us smile, and hugs are always useful. x

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    1. Very cautiously admitting I’m finding the blocks easier now, though still not so straightforward as before. There are now two spellcheckers who agree to “ridiculosity” and you may have started a trend. Hugs gratefully accepted and returned (she SAID). t

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  8. I’m sending a huge hug. I hear everything you say. I’ve finally earned my first $100 from two books written in the last four years. And that includes the odd 16 cents or so I received from Amazon when someone buys a book I’ve reviewed. (Amazon Associate) LOL! I’m definitely a starving artist. Seriously, I do need to read some of your books, so I’ve started with the Infinity Pool. ❤

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    1. Glad to hear you’ve hit the big time! It really is dire, isn’t it? Thank you too for taking a dip in The Infinity Pool, hope you enjoy it. There are parts I’d write differently with hindsight, but it was a debut… Sending more hugs.

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  9. Thank you for the hugs, Jessica I was in need of that I have been dilly-dallying for the last month..my birth month does that to me and then I fell over which meant more doldrums so back to back Netflix it has been…Hugs back 🙂

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  10. I managed to get through the ‘mojo’ missing bit thanks to the blog as I could write 1000 words and get feedback immediately, but it has taken me six months to get back into writing stories for my next collection.. which is looming and only half finished.. Never mind.. as you say there are a lot worse things… I can no longer ‘press’ without having to convert to the block editor so have done an official reblog for Sunday evening… have a good weekend..hugsxx

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    1. Thank you Sally, Funnily enough I found the block editor easier (finally) today; maybe WP have sorted out some glitches. I agree blogging helps with the missing mojo, but sometimes it feels like a sidetrack. Glad to hear you’re back on form yourself – and you did contribute to the lockdown collection didn’t you, so that was productive!

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    2. Are you saying, Sally, that if you press a post that isn’t written using the block editor you have to convert it to the block editor? That is such a nuisance. I can’t imagine why the post doesn’t retain its original formatting. I’ve converted both of mine to the block editor and am loving it [don’t tell anyone, because the whole blogosphere hates it except for me].

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      1. Actually I’m gradually coming to terms with it. I write in Word first and then transfer it paragraph by paragraph. The annoying thing now is there seems to be much less flexibility about how you place/format images. But I do much less reblogging of other people which is one of the things Sally is so generous about, and it’s rotten if that’s been made harder.

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      2. I’d been happily blogging since 2013, managing fine as things were, but I seem unable now to do the things I used to do with ease. Perhaps I need lessons on how to use the block editor thingy so I could learn to love it too.

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      3. I’ve found it easiest to write the post in Word first and then transfer it across paragraph by paragraph, with the image blocks in between (whereas I used to draft it straight into WordPress and make lots of changes as I went along). But I haven’t yet worked out how to successful wrap text or do image collages as flexibly as I used to, or slideshows… Two steps forward, one step back.

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      4. Yes when I attempt to press any post from another blog, even if they are not on the block editor WP won’t let me unless I convert.. So I am back to my reblogs and that is fine… and works just as well.. To be honest Robbie with four or five posts a day I prefer to keep my formatting particularly for the book promotions. Anyway at the moment I am scheduled ahead for a couple of weeks so I can get on with my writing and so I have some working room if I have to change. And if it works for you then great and well done for embracing it..hugsx

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      5. I don think even WordPress could prevent Sally from spreading the word! However Robbie, maybe there’s room for a quick 99p /099cent guide to using the Block Editor. Used to be a series here called …for Dummies, something in that vein.

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      6. Well, as one who talked negatively, I would prefer this update hadn’t occurred. But I suspect some of the teething problems were actually technical glitches on WP’s part. So when we thought we were being useless and it was impossible to write a simple blog post any more, in fact it was the IT in the background causing the problems. Mine seems to have settled down now and is much easier, although there are still things I can’t do or can’t do easily that were at my fingertips before.

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      7. Maybe you and I have been using different themes but in mine there were always colour options for text and I always kept my background the same anyway, to be part of my “brand” as far as I have one at all. I could always change image size and personally I found the possibilities for positioning images more flexible before – for my needs anyway. Think we’ll have to agree to differ on this one!

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      8. I think I must not have been aware of those features before and wasn’t motivated to look for them. Trying out the new editor I noticed them and tried them out. Which, I suppose, says more about me than either editor. 🙂

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      1. My partner found it did make him anxious the first few times, which certainly can put the bp up, but once he’d done so often it got boring the problem solved itself! Good luck…

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      1. Think it must be. UK English has “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone” but that’s not quite the same with its “stiff upper lip” implications.

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  11. As an Indie Author, I feel I have spared myself one barrage of reasons to grumble but invited another. My antidote is always to remind myself of the reason I write, and the sheer joy storytelling gives me – even if nobody ever reads it. Sending hugs 🤗

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