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Open Letter to Sarah Daltry

Background: I read today on Nicholas Rossis’ blog about author Sarah Daltry’s post (read that for this post to make sense) in which she said that she was “closing up shop” and removing herself from social media and her books from Amazon, having been bullied into giving up her dreams of being able to make a living as an author by people too callous to care.

Here’s my response to Sarah.

You’re wrong, Sarah.

You’re wrong to think the bullies “win” this way, wrong to think they feel good about themselves for breaking someone, wrong to believe you can’t make a difference by attempting to fight back. Wrong to think that the “majority of people” are like those bullies. They’re the vast minority, they just have the loudest voices and the foulest mouths.

I think they do what they do out of fear, or anger, or sheer stupidity, not realising what effect they are having on an actual human being. They’re the sort of idiots who walk along the streets at night, drunk, and throw the bottle onto the sidewalk, just not getting that a toddler could cut her foot on the shards the next morning, more interested in the fact that the bottle made a different sound than it did last night. They’re the sort ot wankers who sit in their parents’ basement, testing their boundaries in the knowledge that they can remain anonymous on the Internet. The sort of people lashing out because they themselves were bullied, ridiculed, or rejected. Only a tiny fraction of them are actually malicious; most are just ignorant poor sods.

Most people are not like that. Nowhere near it. The average person cares. I have to believe that. If you are hearing so much negative feedback from people who don’t seem to care, you’re listening to the wrong people. I know that’s easier said than done, and I can’t claim to even begin to imagine what you must have gone through to get to where you are, what it must have cost you to make the decision you have, how much guts it took to write that post. For what it’s worth, I am devastated, I am truly sorry and ashamed on behalf of humanity. Surely there are some people in your area (I’d tell you to move, out of the city or even out of the country, but again, that’s easier said than done when you’re struggling to make ends meet – I’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt) you can reach out to, family or friends you can talk to, a church (even if you join for all the wrong reasons) maybe, a community group of some kind?

I don’t have an answer for you, but I can tell you that some of your assumptions and conclusions are wrong. Probably due to a systematic trampling of your hopes and your belief in the goodness in people, but still wrong. The best advice I can give is to listen to the right people, and to learn to take the opinions of the loud-mouthed bullies for what they are: utterly pointless drivel, not even worth paying attention to.

We care

Do you care about mindless bullying destroying the lives of good people? We can’t change the world and rid it of bullies overnight, but we can all send Sarah a small token of encouragement. If you’ve read this blog post, please take a moment out of your busy lives to go to Sarah Daltry’s blog while it’s still up and leave her a comment of encouragement. She isn’t showing comments publicly for obvious reasons, but says she reads them all. It may not be much, but I feel that every positive message she receives can contribute a tiny bit to helping her restore her faith in the goodness in people.

Anthem of Why

Joe lives with his folks at home
Smokes little plants he grows
Cool for a kid
But today is the big “Three-Oh”
It seems all of his hopes and dreams
Got lost in habitual themes
Now he is crying
Tears of what could have been

He is saying, “Why, oh why
Did my life pass by?”
Could it be that all this time saying, “Why?”
You should’ve said, “How?”

Thirty candles you are blowing
None of which deserves a light
The only music you’ve been playin’
Is the Anthem of Why
Always dreaming, never doing
So they never did take flight
Still the music, that you’re playin’
Is the Anthem of Why

Stacey, dreamt of becoming a pop queen
Suddenly when she turned fifteen
Everything changed
She found out she had one on the way
And so she took all the posters of Britney
Mariah, Beyonce and Whitney
And with her dreams
She threw them all away

She was saying “Why, oh why?
If not for that night….”
Could it be that all this time saying, “Why?”
You shoulda said, “How?”

All the hopin’, all the wishin’
Girl, you traded for a night
And the music that you’re playin’
Is the Anthem of Why
Now you’re feelin’, all your dreamin’
Was just a waste of time
So the song that you are singing
Is the Anthem of Why

Always saying “Why oh why
Did my life pass by?”
Could it be that all this time saying, “Why?”
You shoulda said, “How?”

All the hopin’, all the prayin’
No, they never should have died
But they faded when you traded
“How” for the Anthem of Why
Gotta dream it, gotta feel it
If you ever wanna fly
Never sing it, never play it
It’s the Anthem of Why

— Guy Sebastian, Anthem of Why

Know anyone who’d rather ask “Why?” then “How?”

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but encourage anyone who sings the “Anthem of Why” not to forget that they need to go out and chase after those dreams. Good luck to any aspiring authors out there chasing their dreams.

Like Guy Sebastian’s song “Anthem of Why” from the album “Beautiful Life”?

The Road So Far

One of the reasons I started this blog, as mentioned on the about me page, was to document my journey as I hope to eventually become a published author. Whether this journey will have the happy end I’m hoping for (which in itself will, of course, be just the beginning of a new one), is yet to be determined, but I’ve found the journey itself to be rewarding, so if I never reach the end, it will still have been worth it. (Ok, enough talk about journeys now… promise. I don’t want to sound like I’m a contestant on one of those reality TV shows or something. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

In order for future posts to make more sense (and to help me sort things out in my head), I’ll take a look back on what I’ve accomplished thus far.

The original idea

Over ten years or so, I’d occasionally work on the epic fantasy story I had in my head about a boy who grows up in the tropical jungles of a remote island – not unlike the jungles of Papua New Guinea, where I grew up – and experiences the world of a more western culture (though less developed, of course) from a rather unique perspective. I wrote, slowly at first but gathering momentum over the last year and a half or so when I really got into it, had some great ideas, and ended up with a manuscript of over 180k words that was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy. The rest of the trilogy, and another possible trilogy from around the same time but from a completely different perspective, were all mapped out in my head and in my notes.

When I thought it polished enough, I sent sample chapters to a few agents who accept electronic submissions and accept fantasy works (many don’t). One or two came back incredibly quickly with a standard “thanks, but no thanks” reply.

My first rejection, and I felt like there was no way they would’ve read my sample chapters (formatted the way they wanted and all that). Initially, I thought they just weren’t looking for new fantasy authors, but after a more “normal” time of two months or so, I got a polite rejection from the reader of the agent I’d really wanted to read and like my work; I’d just had a feeling she could be the right fit for me.

I firmly believed, and still believe, that the story in my head is too good and wants to be shared too badly for me to give up after a few rejections. (I chose to completely ignore what I thought was bad advice, the fourth rejection and the only one offering any feedback, claiming that I shouldn’t use adjectives in my two opening paragraphs, and I shouldn’t write in first person, amongst other things. The email had several typos and commas in the wrong places; I find it hard to take literary advice from someone like that.)

Time to revamp

Yet something had to be wrong with my work. I know when I stop to think about it that I shouldn’t be discouraged by those rejections – they might have happened for all sorts of reasons, and the odds of getting the “right” person to read your work early on in your submission process are very slim. But it did stick a needle in my sense of bouyancy after I’d finally finished the manuscript. I considered persisting with the same pitch to other agents, but decided against it after reading up more about the submissions process, querying agents, etc.

I decided to take two main pieces advice I’d read about.

Firstly, about having a beginning that grabs the attention of my audience. My story was a coming-of-age story, and though I had a (probably too) lengthy prologue that had some exciting stuff in it, I never really felt comfortable submitting the opening chapter or three, because the story was just getting going. My first-person protagonist, the way I envisioned/created him, was a slightly dreamy boy with the heart of a poet. When I wrote from his perspective, I couldn’t help but use long sentences, adjectives, details, formal language… things of which agents and editors of typical make-a-quick-buck novels probably don’t want to see too much. The protagonist of the other trilogy (let’s go with protagonist B) was completely different: a girl from a war-like race whose language (I’d only written a single proof-of-concept chapter) was snappier, pacier, grittier; used fewer adjectives, more contractions and slang. Language that I’d never feel comfortable coming out of protagonist A’s mouth.

And secondly, about keeping the wordcount to where agents and editors would be more likely to consider it publishable. If you’ve read this far through my post, I suspect you can see how I might struggle with that…. (I asked a wordcount-related question in an earlier post today by the way.) I’d still like to point anyone who thinks fantasy wordcounts should be low to Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, which is a brilliantly written story with great character development, details galore, and I’ll gladly wait a few years for the third book if it’s going to have another 1000 or so pages with relatively small font. Robin Hobb, GRRM, Robert Jordan, Tolkien… all have great fantasy series with high word counts. But I digress….

I didn’t really like having to revamp it all, but this whole thing is a learning experience for me, and I won’t shy away from doing more work if it helps me to grow as a writer. I took a few days’ break from writing and polishing (seems you can always polish some more!) and thought about it. I thought about the bigger picture of my story and how I wanted to tell it.

An epiphany later, I had my new “delivery mechanism”, the story around my story that would combine my two intended trilogies, that would explain why protagonist A wrote the way he did before the reader ever got to his chapters – as journal entries, not the main story. Protagonist B’s chapters would come first, the reader would get drawn into the world more and be interested enough before being exposed to the slightly slower perspective. I’d have to move a significant portion of the 180+k words into a later volume, but there was a good spot where I could end Book One. I even thought of a suitably “grabby” beginning that would also explain the setting well.

Where I’m at now

I’ve now written roughly half of the story around the story and the chapters from my (originally) second protagonist’s perspective and will see it through to the end. My target is around 110k words, and I’ll just have to hope that the right agent will be able to swallow that. (Obviously I won’t point out that Book Two will be about 600k until much later.)

And I’ve realised that, when I’m done with my revamp, with my “first book in its second incarnation”, it will be much stronger than it was in its first. I therefore owe those agents who have rejected my first attempt a big Thank You. Even the one whose advice I scoffed at initially.

Literary agents and publishers do not reject you to hurt you. They reject you to improve you.

— James Hughes

(I came across that quote on Literary Rejections, which is a very useful resource for any aspiring authors. Have any similar experiences writing or being rejected? Please let me know in the comments.)