One Year Follow Up – Spring 2020
Paula Gleeson (left) Kellie McQueen (top) Lora Senf (bottom)
Jessica Conoley: FORTITUDE was my very first Group Authorpreneurship Coaching (GAC) class and you three ladies were generous enough to let me experiment with you as my guinea pigs. For that I am eternally grateful, so thank you for helping me get this program off the ground. If I knew then what I know now I would have interviewed the class when we wrapped up our session in Spring of 2019, but better late than never–so let’s have a chat and we can share it with the rest of the world.
First and foremost, why did you choose your class name: FORTITUDE? And how do you think fortitude/grit/perseverance comes into play in your writing career?
Paula Gleeson: We had a bunch of names floating around, but the word fortitude seemed to encapsulate what writing and the business of writing was all about. Deciding to embark on a career in writing is not easy (at any stage of the process), whether it’s actually writing, editing, receiving feedback, getting an agent, going on submission, getting a publishing deal (or not) – then rinse and repeat for the next book. It’s a never ending slug of rejections, imposter syndrome, hard knocks, little pay, and crippling self-doubt. Without inner fortitude, perseverance and a great support system it’s very hard to not burn out from this business.
Kellie McQueen: Fortitude was exactly what we all needed to take on this next step in our writing journey. As for how it comes into play in your writing career, it’s everything. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who knock it out of the park with their first MS, you’re going to need every ounce of grit and determination you can muster to make it there. Like Paula said, it’s so difficult to navigate the industry without burning out entirely.
Lora Senf: To start, I take no credit for the name Fortitude. It’s a great word, and I love it, but it wasn’t me. Credit goes to Kellie and Paula for that. I was still feeling the group out (I had no idea how close we’d all get in the next months) and was still standing back a bit as we introverted types tend to do. As it turns out, Fortitude is the perfect name for a writing group, and perhaps the most important non-artistic quality a writer can have. Because writing is wonderful and exciting and therapeutic and rewarding, but it is also frigging hard. Not only is the creative part hard, but also all the business stuff that comes with the publishing path. You have to love it all a little – even if it’s a masochistic kind of love – or at least have some real fortitude to get you through the parts you don’t. And considering none of us know where the path is ultimately leading (because it’s really just an unmarked trail in a dense wood full of witches and scuttling things) it’s fortitude that’s going to keep you moving forward.
JC: I think these next two questions may be a little bit harder, because I’m asking you to remember back–but any info you have will be helpful to people who are thinking of signing up for the GAC program.
Think back to before we started working together, so Fall of 2018. Paint us a picture of what your writing life looked like at that time, please. Where were you at in your writing career? What struggles were you having? What type of a support system did you have?
PG: When I first started the mentorship, I was just starting to find CP’s and beta readers through the writing community on Twitter. I had completed one manuscript, an adult mystery novel, which I started to query – but at the suggestion of a couple of agents tried my hand at writing a YA novel due to my characters having a better voice for this market. With this new manuscript, I found Jessica through the YA4YA mentor program. I didn’t have much of a support system, didn’t have many Twitter followers, and had no website. I thought I knew what I was doing, but let’s face it – I was a hot mess.
KM: Oh jeez. I’d finished my first manuscript, had a few betas and was starting to query. I had NO IDEA what I was doing. That first draft was so cringeworthy. I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. I didn’t have a support system within the writing community, except a few Twitter friends. I didn’t know what I needed to fix in my novel. I didn’t know if I should keep trying. Things would be so different if you hadn’t found me. I’m sure I’d have given up by now.
LS: What Kellie said. Seriously, I was in the same place – especially the “no idea what I was doing” part. And I had literally no writing community. I was proud of that early draft of my first manuscript, and I had every right to be. I mean, damn it, I’d written a book! And it wasn’t a bad book, not exactly, but distance tells me it wasn’t all that good, either. I needed time and skilled feedback (thanks to Jessica I got it!) to help me figure that out. I’ve written a second manuscript since, and truth is I’m still working on that first one. It was an ambitious project, and one that will take me some time to get right. I realize now I wrote it with my head. When I wrote the second manuscript, I wrote it from a more emotional place (I’m trying to avoid saying I wrote it with my heart, because that’s horribly cheesy). I’ll be revising the first story from a less intellectual place. Without Jessica as a mentor, and Paula and Kellie as my CPs, I’d still be in my bedroom churning out stories that I love but don’t work.
JC: Ok, now try to remember what it felt like as we wrapped class up, Spring of 2019. How had your writing life changed? How much of that had to do with FORTITUDE? What did your writing life look like in those months immediately after graduating?
PG: I felt a lot more confident about querying the second time around. My manuscript had been critiqued heavily and I felt like it was as good as I could get it. I also felt more professional in my outlook to being a real-life writer given I was a lot more active on Twitter, had a solid team of CP/beta readers, and a new website. The bulk of this was because of Jessica and the amazing support team I had around me because of Fortitude.
KM: My writing life had changed A LOT, all thanks to FORTITUDE. To be specific, I knew more about structuring plots and how to give my characters voice and agency. I knew where my strengths and weaknesses were. There were a lot of practical tools and lessons I learned along the way.
I worked a lot, then worked some more. I had done a major overhaul and I felt like there was a huge transformation in my MS. I had a website. I knew more about the business of publishing and I had friends who were in the trenches with me.
LS: My writing life was finally evolving – I won’t say it changed, because that implies a process that was complete. But that evolution would never have been set in motion if it weren’t for the work I did with Jessica. And I had tools – tools I didn’t know I needed in the first place, and would never have known to look for.
JC: This one should be easier. What’s your writing life look like now? How is FORTITUDE (the class) still a part of it? Do you feel like there are any specific lessons or things you learned in GAC that are still relevant/impacting your writing life today?
PG: I got an agent through the guidance of the GAC and was able to complete another new YA manuscript with the critique of my teammates from Fortitude. We have a group chat which basically acts as my therapy sessions for everything this business throws at you (spoiler: it’s a lot!) I can’t imagine not having these guys in my life now.
KM: I received an offer to publish with a small press, which is still in the works. I somehow wrote another MS. I started a third. We all critiqued each other’s new work and hashed out query letters and twitter pitches. Our group chat keeps me sane and lets me vent about the ups and downs of this process to people who truly understand what I’m going through. Without them, I’d never have made it this far. I’m so lucky to have such amazing people supporting me. Unfortunately for them, they’re stuck with me now.
LS: I ended up signing with an Amazing Agent (based on that first, still unrefined, manuscript). I also completed a second manuscript, and we went on sub to editors with that second story a few weeks ago. Remember what I said about writing from my heart (ugh…) and not my head? Well, for me it worked and that second story is so much better than the first one. I knew it, and when my agent read it, she agreed. As far as I’m concerned, Fortitude has been a constant part of my writing life since we came together in 2018. These ladies are my people, and I lean on them to celebrate, commiserate, and critique. I truly attribute so much of my (modest) success-to-date to the time I spent in GAC, and the relationships that came from it.
JC: Final question. What was your favorite part of GAC? Anything you want to say to authors who are considering signing up for the next session?
Paula Gleeson: Definitely my favourite part of GAC were the connections I made with my teammates. I learnt so much professionally, of course, but it was through the amazing support system around me I was able (and am still able) to have a stronger belief in myself and everything I do with my writing.
Kellie McQueen: To the ones considering…DO IT! There’s nothing that has impacted my writing more than this group. We got such amazing direct feedback and the opportunity to discuss our issues or things we didn’t understand. There’s such a lack of that in the community. You can read blogs and how-to’s, but sometimes you just need to talk it out. At least I do. But by far the most valuable thing has been our group.That’s the gift that keeps on giving. You won’t find that anywhere else.
Lora Senf: I took from GAC so much more than I ever expected. Like any opportunity, you get back what you put in. For a dyed-in-the-wool introvert and a “new” writer, being part of a formal writing group (even an online group) was incredibly intimidating. If I’d let my trepidation dictate how I engaged with Jessica and Fortitude, the experience never would have given to me what it did. My writing – whether you look at it from the craft or business angle – is exponentially better than it was Fall 2018. Ultimately, I have Jessica to thank for that.
JC: Wait, I lied–this is the serious face final question. What do you think about us doing yearly interviews for as long as I keep teaching this program? We’d have a kind of time capsule, and that could be kind of cool, which if I remember right is exactly what I thought when I stumbled upon the GAC coaching idea…
PG: Totes. But can we do it in person and with pizza (get over it, Jessica) next time?
JC: (Gross to your pizza Paula!)
KM: Absolutely. 1000%. You can’t escape me. (Sorry.)
LS: Um, of course. I mean, it’s not like I’m not bugging you all at least three times a week anyway. Only here I have to watch my language.
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