Toxic People–How Do We Get Them Out of Our Lives?

Humans are creatures of habit. We like to park in the same parking spot every day, be it at work, school, the shopping mall. We buy the same seat locations for movies. We use the same person at the salon.

It’s the same thing for the people we interact with. We all have that friend from elementary school, we brag we’ve been married for 10+ years, we’re still in touch with college professors, even though you’ve been graduated for twenty years. We latch on to people, and we can’t let go.

But what if that person we meet at our coffee klatch, or writing group, or your daughter’s best friend’s mother, what if that person you thought to be a good friend . . . isn’t?

You know the one I’m talking about, even if you don’t want to admit it. That friend who never has anything nice to say about your work. That friend who can’t compliment you unless it compliments her. That friend who can’t do anything nice for anyone unless she benefits from it as well, in some way. That person who promised you she would do something and never does, though she’s full of apologies.

That kind of behavior can sneak up on you, and maybe it takes years. And maybe that person is so fully ensconced in your life that booting them to the curb seems . . . maybe a little too dramatic. I mean, after all, it’s not really harmful they treat you that way. Is it? If they hurt your feelings, that’s not on them, it’s on you for being too sensitive. Because she did do that one thing for you a few months back, though it was a couple weeks too late, and you didn’t need it by then, but she made the effort, right?

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Maybe you’re part of a group, and others can’t see her for what she is, and if you extricate yourself from the group, you won’t just be rid of her, but you’ll lose a couple of good friends.

And maybe, this is what will always be in the back of your mind, WHAT IF SHE TREATS OTHERS BETTER THAN SHE TREATS YOU.  That this isn’t just her personality, but something personal she thinks and feels toward you? She kicks you, and you come back for more because that one thing was a fluke, and she’ll never do it again. Only, she does. But they are small things, a back-handed compliment, a comment that doesn’t quite sit well with you, but maybe you’re touchy because you’ve had a bad day, and you keep brushing them off.

The thing is, you’re not imagining this stuff. It’s how that person is really treating you. Once you can face it, once you can fully understand that it is HER and not YOU, you need to figure out what to do about it. This “friendship” has probably been years in the making, and you just realized after one too many pretty insults that you can’t take it anymore. But she’s a major stakeholder in your life now. You talk all the time. Your kids have playdates. Maybe your husband is best friends with yours. These are real-life examples, but I’ve been burned by people I’ve met online. Sometimes dumping someone in real-life is easier than online. You stop answering texts, you stop going on double dates. If it’s your daughter’s best friend’s mother, think of it as a favor to your daughter. How is your daughter’s friend going to grow up with a catty woman like that for a mom?

No, online is a bit different because I’m swimming in an aquarium of writers (sometimes there are sharks in there!), where everyone knows everyone else, and cutting someone out of your life means not knowing what they are doing anymore. Professionally. You don’t want to miss what they are going to do next, what kind of contacts they make. Because not only could something they know help you, it could elevate your career to the next level. And this isn’t a joke. Networking is important. It’s important in any career–it’s why all industries have conferences, retreats, etc. So this isn’t in your head, and it’s okay to have FEAR OF MISSING OUT when you think of cutting someone out of your life.

But honestly, how much of a career will you have if you are not taking care of your mental health? Being a writer is hard enough as it is without having to suit up in armor every time you jump online.

Here are a couple tips to help you sweep out that pesky person who just cannot be nice.

  1. Shake things up in your real life first. Park in a different parking spot at work. Take the kids to school using a different route. Try a new restaurant. Doing small things like this can alter your brain’s neuropathways, and you can teach yourself that change isn’t bad. Especially change you instigate yourself. Studies show that you can handle change better when you start it. I’m not saying dump her before she can dump you, but disentangling yourself from that kind of friendship may be easier on you if you do it, rather than if she does it a few months or years down the road. Other ideas: Take your evening walk in the morning. Walk it backward. Not backward backward, you could hurt yourself! But from finish to start. If you take road trips with your sister and always head east, go west. This is good for your writer’s brain. You’ll discover more, engage more with your surroundings.
  2. If you truly do fear for your professional career, take matters into your own hands. Book a writer’s conference, follow a few more influencers and leaders in the writing community, add another publishing podcast to your playlist. If you can fill the hole not talking to your “friend” anymore will create, it won’t be so hard to say goodbye.
  3. Make new friends. Twitter has a gazillion users, start talking to some of them! Start a book club on Facebook, or start an online writer’s group that will share promo sites, inexpensive cover designers, editors that will swap work with you. Whatever you think you are going to miss from your friend, there are others who know just as much or more than she does.
  4. You do have people in your life that mean more to you than she does, so cultivate those relationships. Maybe you haven’t spoken to your old walking buddy in some time, or that coworker you used to like to hang out in the breakroom with, but she got a new job and you haven’t spoken with her since she left.

Fear of missing out is a real thing, but it’s still just in your head. It comes from being chosen last during gym class at school, or your friends ganging up on your on the playground. It comes from people flocking around a writer who just got an agent, and you feel left out in the cold. No one wants to be excluded. But the fact is, no one puts all their problems online–you only know the shiny parts, what they choose to display. Insecurity, jealousy, and fear are probably three of the main reasons your “friend” treats you the way she does. That’s not an excuse but a reason. Maybe she has a serious case of writer’s block, and she hasn’t written for months, or maybe sales weren’t what she thought they’d be during release week, and she’s jealous of your KU page reads. It could be anything. But the fact is, you don’t have to put up with it.

You don’t need to burn bridges or start tweeting or posting derogatory things about her. Or tweeting subliminal tweets about how good friends should behave. You don’t even need to unfollow (on Twitter) or block. Facebook makes it easy to stay friends with someone but not see their posts anymore. Unlike her author page. You can be a grownup about it; just stop engaging. Because you and she are both part of a community, and there’s no point in slinging mud. Be civil. Chances are she may not notice. Chances are she has a lot of friends and a few weeks of distancing yourself may just do the trick because she’s friends with a lot of different people.

Probably the biggest piece of advice I have for you is this: social media is good for networking, for getting to know people, for learning the tools of your craft and business, but overall, social media doesn’t sell books. If you’re in it to sell books, you need to write more and find ads and promo sites that work for you. Networking can help you do that, but that’s all it has to offer. Social media can be a support or a distraction, but it won’t skyrocket you to bestseller status. Only you can do that, in front of your laptop–writing.

Do you have other tips to help ignore or get rid of toxic people in your life? Let me know!

 

Happy writing Vania Margene

 

 

 

PitchWars: Should You Enter?

PitchWars is an annual writing contest where writers all over the world compete for the chance to be mentored by traditionally published authors. If you have a completed novel, you can enter. While mentors comb through entries, everyone involved in the contest spends about a month on Twitter making friends, talking about writing, and sharing their favorite GIFs.

Once picks are announced, mentors and mentees work together for two months on the mentee’s novel. After that, there’s an agent round where roughly fifty agents will read the entries and make requests for manuscripts that spark their interest.

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Right? It’s an amazing opportunity to network and get your foot in the door with traditional publishing. The question is, should you enter?

Yes, I think every unpublished writer who wants to go traditional should try it once. I entered this past August and didn’t get a spot, but thought it was a very valuable experience. However, please save yourself some heartache and assume you will not win a spot. Getting into PitchWars is no easier than getting an agent from cold querying.

So why should you bother? As with everything in this bizarre universe of ours, it has its pluses and minuses.

Disadvantages

Seriously, the Odds Are Not in Your Favor

Ignoring duplicate entries, over 2800 people entered PitchWars in 2017. There were 180 spots. That’s a 0.6% acceptance rate. For context, Yale Fucking Law School has a 9.7% acceptance rate.

But let’s say you’re lucky enough to get in. As of July, PitchWars has almost 250 success stories. This means ~250 people have gotten agents out of the 385 mentees selected between 2013 and 2016. Don’t get me wrong, a 65% chance of getting an agent is HUGE, especially compared to the 1% cold query success rate rumor I keep hearing about. But it’s far from a guarantee.

Am I trying to shit on PitchWars? Absolutely not. But you need to go into this with wide-open eyes. You should have faith in yourself as a writer and your journey; your book will find a home (whether it’s with trad pub, self-pub, or small press). But it probably won’t be through PitchWars. PW is not a golden shortcut ticket to unlock the Gates of Traditional Publishing.

The Secret to Getting Picked Is a Goddamn Mystery

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In addition to the numbers working against you, there is no real way to know why your manuscript does or doesn’t get picked. Some mentors give feedback, but most do not. Your book has to fit into a specific and subjective set of standards, which include…

  1. It has to be good. Good voice, solid plot, interesting characters, quality writing, etc. are essential.
  1. But it can’t be too good. *facepalm* I know. But if you’re going to work with a mentor for two months, they need to have a vision for what they can do to help you improve the book. Contest rules say to submit a “complete and polished” manuscript, but I would read this more as “complete and copyedited.” Your lump of clay needs to be good, but it still needs to be a lump of clay.
  1. It has to mesh with the mentor’s tastes. Before you submit your application, mentors will post wish lists about what kinds of stories they’re looking for, which is helpful, but look at their backlist too. Does anything about their work resonate with you? Their voice? Their subgenre? The tropes they use?
  1. But it can’t be too similar to the mentor’s body of work. If the mentor has a series about a talking squirrel who solves mysteries with a cynical school janitor, they probably won’t feel comfortable working with you on a book about a talking chipmunk who solves mysteries with a grumpy hotel maid.
  1. It has to be marketable. Mentors are more lenient about this than agents are, but it still has to be clear where your book will fit in the market.
  1. The mentor has to believe you can work together. Mentorship isn’t just about quality and marketability. It’s an interpersonal issue, too. Some mentors will stalk you on Twitter to see if you’ll be a good fit.
  1. Weird miscellaneous factors can decide your fate. Maybe your protagonist has the same name as their favorite niece. Maybe your book takes place in their hometown—which they HATE. As they always say, this business is subjective. Considering some mentors have hundreds of entries to wade through, it could be literally anything that puts your book in the “Yes” pile.

Not surprisingly, aside from #2, the reasons a mentor will accept or reject your work are similar to why an agent will or won’t request more pages. Once again, PW is not simpler or easier than cold querying an agent.

Social Media Is Hell

What makes PW such an event is the social media component of it on Twitter, but to be honest, I have conflicting feelings about that aspect. In the weeks leading up to the submission window opening, there are all kinds of Twitter games, encouraging you to get to know mentors and other PW hopefuls. Once the submission window closes, the Twitter party continues for another month…but it gets more intense.

The entire purpose of the PW Twitter community is for everyone to get worked into a literal frenzy. They want you to be excited and proud of your work, which is a nice thought, but it also sets up unrealistic expectations. Many mentors post teasers about entries they’re enjoying— there’s an entire hashtag for them. There are also endless posts telling you to stay positive because there’s always a chance you could win a spot. It was an exhausting rollercoaster.

At least with agents, you know to pray for the best but expect the worst. Cold querying is beautiful in its simplicity. I send out my package, note the expected response dates in a spreadsheet, and walk away. If I follow agents I’ve subbed to on social media, I don’t have to worry their posts will be hints about submissions they’re reading. Some agents do #tenqueries, but those posts include specific reasons for passing on or requesting more pages of a project. They don’t post cryptic messages about something they might pick.

So if you do enter PW, protect your space. Like all social media, PW Twitter can become too much. Don’t be afraid to block hashtags, mute certain accounts, or take a break.

Advantages – Why You Should Enter Anyway

 

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I know, I raised a lot of issues with the contest, but I still think it’s worthwhile to enter at least once. Whether you’re new to the querying trenches or are a seasoned pro, PW has something to offer.

 If You Do Get Picked, It’s a Great Opportunity

It doesn’t hurt to buy a lottery ticket—just don’t gamble away all your money. Go in with low expectations, but if you do have the fortune of getting selected, the mentorship alone is an amazing opportunity. Not only are you getting free, in-depth help from a professional writer, but you’re also forming a connection with them. I often hear about mentors who still talk to and help their former mentees with their writing. Like with any other industry, you need connections to thrive. Mentorships are invaluable.

As I said earlier, the agent round may or may not yield fruit, but it does boost your chances.

You’ll Make New Friends and Expand Your Twitter Presence

While I wasn’t a fan of certain aspects of the PW hashtag, overall, I did enjoy the sense of camaraderie among entrants and mentors. If you participate in any of the games (e.g., GIF competitions) or interact with the hashtag, you’re bound to connect with other PW hopefuls. Some of these people will become followers, critique partners, and even friends. For some writers, PW has become as much a valued tradition as NaNoWriMo because of the unique community.

PitchWars is also a good excuse to post content and build your brand. Twitter is the most popular social media platform for us writer types, so if you’re looking to network, it’s the place to be. Many unpublished writers are using their growing platforms to build hype around their manuscripts by showing off novel aesthetics, character interviews, and memorable quotes. Taking advantage of the PW hashtag can help you with that.

You’ll Discover New Authors

Since mentors are wading through their slush piles for free, it’s nice to give back by reading their books. There are over a hundred PW mentors, so there is plenty of new content to discover. You might find your next favorite book or a new comp title to use in your query letter.

It’s Good Practice for Rejection

If you haven’t queried agents or publishers before…Welcome! PitchWars is a great way to rip off that first Band-Aid of rejection because there’s going to be tons of it, regardless of how you publish. Agents will reject you, publishers will rebuff you, and readers will scorn you. Get in the practice now with PitchWars. Rejections from faceless agents are way easier to digest after getting rejections from friendly mentors you bonded with.

It’s a Kick in the Pants

Most people don’t enter PitchWars because they simply happened to have a polished manuscript lying around. They prepare. Whether they just found out about PitchWars existed three weeks before the deadline or they’re a third-year PitchWars veteran, PW hopefuls haul ass. If you’re looking for motivation, the contest is a great stimulus for finishing your book and writing a query letter. Even if you don’t get a spot, you’re still way ahead of where you were before.

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PitchWars will re-open in August 2018, but you can read this year’s winning entries here: www.pitchwars.org

nadia's logoNadia Diament writes sexy, funny things. You can ask her esoteric questions on Twitter here, check out her blog here, and read her stories here.