Hi, this post is being written by me, Aimee, your host for the Not the Darling Series. If you’re new to the blog, you can read about the premise of the series here and can find the blogs by typing “Not the Darling” into the search bar to the right of this post. So, as we wrap up our first month (!) of submissions in this series, I wanted to take some time to reflect on some of the amazing things I’ve learned from the incredible authors who have let me get to know them and their journeys.
Authors at all stages of their career should be reading these.
Let me be clear. This space is and always will be for un-agented, querying (or quitting querying) authors. That is the premise and the purpose and remains my passion behind this project. Accordingly, I thought the main (majority) target audience for these stories would be other querying authors. I’ve since learned that not only do authors at all stages of their career want to read these stories, authors at all stages of their career should read these stories. They’re humbling. And raw. They’re full of passion and pain. They remind us that querying authors are our peers, a fact too often forgotten.
For those of us who queried forever, these stories are a bittersweet reminder of the parts of the journey colored rose when we finally got that yes. They remind us to stay humble and that we are no different than any of the authors writing these posts (which again, is why they’re our peers). For those who did not query long, they teach a lesson thankfully never learned via personal experience but which these authors have been kind enough to do the emotional labor to teach via THEIR personal experiences. To keep you humble.
Humble, I know. It’s a loaded word in an industry where we have so few wins. Where so many of us are crawling and bleeding, scraping our way tooth and nail to be seen, screaming into an empty void for recognition. Where marginalized authors fight every day against stereotypes saying we’re too loud, too angry, too aggressive, too whatever. And I ask for humility. I know. But I don’t ask for humility toward the titans of publishing or Barnes & Noble, toward Amazon or the C-Suites of Big Five imprints. Where they are concerned, I say lift your chin as high as you can and own the fucking room.
I ask for humility toward your peers, who are struggling. Who are just like you, in so many ways. I ask you to check in on them if you can and when you’re able. Because they’re screaming into the void. They’re fighting the industry, throwing ribbons of their hearts into the wheels of the machine that is publishing hoping one might trip over a piece so they might be fed a scrap. For them, yes, I ask you to be humble. We were there once. All of us. And we could be again at any moment, the tables turned. This industry is small, so very, very small. We are stronger together.
It really is luck.
I will be Brutally Honest because that is my brand. When I opened this space and said the only editing I’d do would be to make sure (to the best of my ability) nothing was harmful to the author writing the post or anyone on the other side of the screen, plus minor grammar stuff, I fully expected some objectively bad writing. For those who don’t know my background, it’s a bit… stuffy. I have an undergraduate degree in creative writing from a school whose sole purpose was to groom its students for an MFA at Iowa which is The US’ Best Writing Program for Serious Writers. Everyone thought I was headed to Iowa. I thought I was headed to Iowa. Why I didn’t go to Iowa is a whole separate thing. However, that education never entirely left me. Combine that with a decade plus working in legal, writing Very Serious Legal Stuff, and you get someone who can be… snobbish. I know. I hate it and work hard to battle it every day.
Why am I admitting this ugly truth to all of you lovely people on the internet? Well, because I want you to believe me when I say not a single thing submitted me to thus far has been edited by me at all (except for minor grammar things), nor have I found any piece of writing published on this blog to be “objectively” bad writing. In fact, I’ve loved everything submitted for entirely different reasons. But objectively, it’s all been well-constructed, with a nice voice, good pacing, varied sentence structure, and excellent continuity. I’ll stop reading something I find objectively bad. Not only have I read everything here straight through (a few times), I’ve actually been late to a couple meetings just to finish reading several of these pieces.
So for me, a bona fide snob, who went into this project fully prepared to accept what I consider objectively bad writing (I’m literally wincing typing this, I’m sorry to be such an asshole, truly), to come to you and report zero bad writing is Saying Something. To take it one step further and say all the writing is in fact very good, is Saying Something Bigger. And the TL;DR something is this: When agents get up on Twitter and say there’s so much good stuff in their inbox it’s impossible to decide, or the quality of the writing has gone up so much recently, or mentors from mentorship programs say this is horribly stressful because they want to choose 20 things, I used to roll my eyes. Because I, a snob, didn’t believe it possible for that many people to be consistently submitting objectively good writing. Selfishly, I also didn’t want there to be that much competition. I have, however, learned through personal experience, this is not the case.
The writing is good. Objectively good. The agents aren’t lying. Neither are mentors. Those aren’t platitudes they’re feeding you. The inboxes are brimming with good stuff. This is all really coming down to subjectivity and luck. Which sucks because you can control neither. This is a shitty consolation. Sorry. I didn’t say this was a positivity post, just a reflection.
The Conversations are Important and are Happening.
Since the Not the Darling series started, five (5) posts have debuted on the blog. They have been viewed over 700 times in more than a dozen countries. They’ve been shared on Twitter, reblogged on other blogs, shared on Facebook, and appeared in at least one Discord of mine, but others I’ve been told about.
The conversations they’re spurring are as varied and important as the stories themselves. Conversations about mental health and the toll rejection can take, on the taboo topic of giving yourself the okay to quit if you need it. Questions about how to find community in this new era where mentorship programs aren’t as widespread as they used to be, and Twitter pitch contests which were once as much about building community as finding an agent, are fraught and oversaturated. Frustrations and confusion about marketability and publishing trends, about whether you should write to the market or write what you love. The evergreen and always relevant topic of “being too old to debut” by publishing standards. The list goes on and every day it grows, taking on a life of its own I’m so awed and inspired to watch.
When I first started this series, I was a little afraid of these conversations. I was unsure if facilitating them would make me a target if they got out of hand or if I would be held responsible if I couldn’t “control” them. Over the past month, I’ve been so humbled to find that was a shitty and cynical take (I’m really winning on this episode, I know). The dialogue so far has been respectful and nuanced, smart and kind. And for that, I’m so grateful to everyone contributing not only to the blog series, but to the conversations as well. It’s important we have them, and that we have them in this way.
Thank You. Keep ’em Coming.
Finally, to the authors who have already contributed: Thank you. Each and every one of you is courageous and I’m honored to know you, to host your stories, to be a small part of your journey, wherever it brings you. Reading your words has been a joy and a privilege.
To those thinking of submitting: Please do! Submissions are still open, and there are still so many amazing conversations to be had! Submission criteria can be found here.
Can’t wait to see what the next month brings!