• Taj McCoy

The Difference a Year Makes

A year ago, I accepted an offer of representation from my agent, Veronica Park, and to say things have been moving at warp speed ever since is an understatement.



In one year's time, my sweet little story has been massively revised and submitted to publishers, I've switched day jobs and moved into a new place, a pandemic hit and touched my family and friends, and people are finally beginning to talk about anti-racism, Black Lives Matter, and the disproportionate affects that systems and industries have on Black lives in meaningful ways.

I considered doing a post about all kinds of stats representative of my querying journey, but in all honesty, I haven't seen any two journeys that are alike. It's so easy to look at others and feel like you're somehow behind, but timing simply isn't something we can control. I struggled with this a lot in the early parts of my querying journey--I participated in #DVpit twice, made spreadsheets, and cold-queried a bunch of agents trying to find the right fit, completely ready to shelve the story and start with the next project if I couldn't find anyone drawn in by my story.

I've been told more than once to "keep my eyes on my own paper," when it comes to where I am in my journey to publication. It's so hard to do, and you want to feel like you and your friends are in the exact same part of your journey at the same time. This is why so much of this journey feels isolating, because your journey is yours alone. If there's one thing that I do believe is accurate across the board for everyone on this journey, you sure learn a lot about yourself, your writing, and the industry. Here's a few lessons I've learned along the way that made everything so much more manageable:

1. Be Kind

This seems so simple, but it's really been a challenge for me to be kind to myself. At times, I felt pressure to move faster, to be some prolific phenomenon right out of the gate, but I eventually realized that the pressure was self-imposed. Looking around, seeing everyone around me excelling, I felt behind. Veterans remind you to focus on meeting your goals while acknowledging that we're not in a race against others. This is a personal marathon, which can be extremely isolating.

So how do we stop comparing ourselves to others? Honestly, it's a practice learned over time, where you grow your awareness and affirmatively adjust your focus back to your own work. It's the literal practice of "minding your own business" in a way. It's great to have updates from friends and glean from their experiences, but if we're about our own forward progress, we need to zero back in on the tasks at hand. And I'm not saying kill yourself to get it done; rather, as you hone in on your work, give yourself the time, space, and REST that you need for productive sessions. Spinning your wheels on empty does you no good.

2. Be Flexible

Set realistic goals for yourself--milestones that allow you to acknowledge your progress. I was giving myself deadlines that I couldn't meet in the beginning, trying to write 2K-5K words at each sitting, and then guilting myself when I couldn't meet goal. Listen, life happens. Even the best laid plans sometimes fall short, so it's best to set realistic goals that you know you can meet and then build them from there. If you set unattainable goals that can only be achieved when Mercury isn't in retrograde, you might be setting yourself up for the okie doke.

Remember, be kind to yourself. On days when things get in the way, don't beat yourself up about it. Easier said than done, I know, but if you think about it, you had the intention. So reflect on what worked and what didn't, and adjust. On days that feel less productive, what else was going on? How many balls were you trying to juggle? The goal or deadline might need to change, the time of day (or numbers of days per week) may need to change, or you may need to stop working on twelve different projects at the same time. Over time, these tweaks yield results, because you're becoming more in tune with what you can and can't take on (because sometimes the adjustment is in saying "no" to yet another project). I can't help but think of Ross from FRIENDS--trying to adjust when the couch he purchases simply can't make it up the stairs to his apartment. PIVOT!


3. Be Present

Celebrate the small victories! You adjusted your milestones to be regularly attainable, and now it's time to celebrate. Progress, no matter its size, is still progress. I have trouble with this one all of the time--how can I celebrate the small victories when the ultimate goal has yet to be realized? Answer: because this industry often takes a LONG TIME to provide results. Querying and pitching and going on sub can feel like FOREVER. It's better to acknowledge the milestones as they come, rather than wait until the moment you hold your published work in your hands. I mean, celebrate then too (of course), but you achieved so much on the road to get to that point. Give yourself a minute to relish in the fact that you are getting closer to your goal before you focus your attention on next steps.

4. Be Receptive

I think we each approach our craft from a different angle, from our own perspective, and based on our own experience. As I got to know more writers and gained familiarity with their writing and editing practices, I learned so much about myself and my own writing preferences. I consider myself a sponge--I want to learn ALL THE THINGS. I want to have craft books to reference so that I can hone my skills, ask A LOT of questions because I want to make sure that I understand each of these stages, and I had to open up to being really comfortable getting critical feedback. My CPs know: don't tell me everything I WANT to hear, tell me the things I NEED to hear and be aware of so that I can put forth the best possible product.

And having CPs and betas doesn't mean you have to take every piece of feedback as bible. Sit with it, digest what they're saying, and use what resonates with what you're trying to achieve with the story. When I don't let the feedback digest, I'm not really putting in the work of giving the feedback fair consideration. Remind yourself that the feedback is almost always given with the absolute best of intentions, and you can ask clarifying questions so that you understand their perspective. Find people that you trust, who ultimately make your editing eye stronger--it takes time to figure out who these people are, but once you have them, hang onto them!

5. Be Familiar

Starting out, I read a good amount from my genre, but I didn't have a lot of friends to turn to who were familiar with the story structure of women's fiction or romance. While it's great to get feedback from those outside of your genre, because it does help to know if the story and structure feel smooth and clear to them, you also want some connections to those who understand the story structure of your genre, the pacing, any trope expectations, word counts, most common points of view.

How do you find these folks? I found my squad on Twitter. There are daily writing prompts, pitch events, Twitter mixers, giveaways, and even filters that help you find those talking about subjects that are important to you. Don't be afraid to comment on posts, boost announcements that resonate with you, etc. Over time, you build friendships with like-minded individuals, you read each other's work, and you earn trust. I am so grateful for the connections I've made--I've forged what I anticipate will be lifelong friendships and partnerships that I will hold dear throughout my career as a professional writer.