Writers' motto: Never give up

If there was a theme in what the many published writers said at the Austin SCBWI conference a couple weeks ago, it was that perseverance is an important part of their success.

Three of this year’s ALA winners were there — Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Capurnia Tate), Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon (All the World illustrator and author) and Chris Barton (The Day-Glo Brothers) — and they all told tales of facing many rejections before publication and of pursuing their dreams of being published for years before making them a reality.

Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky, said she received piles of rejection letters before her publishing career began. Finally, after many years of trying and taking a 10-day course that happened over her daughter’s birthday — what a sacrifice — she sold her first picture books. A few more followed, but then she didn’t sell anything for seven years. That’s when she tried a different type of writing and Hattie Big Sky was born.

Former editor and now full-time author Lisa Graff explained that for her last book, Umbrella Summer, she wrote 18 complete drafts.

Yesterday, this theme was reinforced in an article in the Los Angeles Times about non-fiction author Rebecca Skloot, whose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks appeared on Amazon’s bestseller list immediately after the book debuted on Feb. 2. This was all after Skloot spent 10 years working on the book and went through three publishing houses, four editors and two agents.

All these writers shared something in common: They didn’t give up.

So, the motto for today: Never give up.

Write On!


Current word count: 31,883

New words written: 1,622

Words til goal: 8,117 / 270 words a day til the end of September

For today’s whopping words written count, I’d like to thank our local Ford dealer service department. Our car needed a check-up, so I had to get up early to get to the dealership early enough to be first in line — or close to that — and wasn’t able to write before I went. However, I planned ahead, took my laptop, and despite the NFL commentators talking like they were powered by the Energizer bunny, I managed to write nearly a whole chapter in the three hours I waited before my computer battery ran out. So, thank you, Ford dealership. I’ve got three and a bit chapters left, and I love that my words a day goal is now less than 300. I’m still hoping I can whip this out in two weeks.

Yesterday, I spent time researching agents I had already identified as possibilities for my writing style, as per my goals for this week, which I posted yesterday, and started preparing the query letters I’m going to be sending off.

I’ve read over and over that perserverance is key to publishing success. And I believe that perserverance is really key to any success. There’s always a journey, and for some it’s longer than others. But no matter how long it takes, if we don’t perservere, we won’t make it.

This weekend as I browsed some blogs, I found a great example of that in a How I Found My Agent post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Billy Coffey, a non-fiction writer, relates how he submitted to his preferred agent, then after he got a rejection, he submitted to others. After he got more rejections and was advised that he needed a platform and following before he could be considered, he started writing a blog. Months later, a blog reader recommended he submit his book to her agent — his original preferred agent. Perserverance.

There are lots of stories like this one, and they have one single message: Don’t give up.

How’s your writing going?

Write On!

More on putting rejections in perspective

Current word count: 14,322

Words written today: 1,183

Words to goal: 25,678 / 347 words a day til end of September

After two days off, I got in a good couple hours on my new book this morning, and it feels so good. The story is there, but the writing’s not great. But that’s what revisions are for.

On Monday, I wrote about things to consider when we get rejections from agents. Rejections can sting, and can make us feel insecure about our writing. Of course, we would love it if every person in the world thought every sentence we write is the best thing since slice bread, but we have to be realistic. Art — and writing is art — is subjective, after all.

So it’s really important to keep rejections in perspective. Mystery and thriller writers’ blog The Kill Zone has a great post from agent Anne Hawkins, of John Hawkins & Associates, in which she talks about why good agents turn down good books. Anne reinforces what I said on Monday about personal taste and an agent’s need to really love a book to take it on. She also adds a few more: saleability of a book, because, of course, publishing is a business; length; author; timing; and conflicts of interest with current clients’ work. It’s a great look into the considerations an agent must give every project they’re offered.

For the writer getting the rejection, we often won’t know what the reason is. Most of the time we’ll get the standard “it’s not for me” form letter. Sure this can be frustrating, but as agent Janet Reid pointed out this week in a post called A Reminder That No Means No, it’s not an agent’s job to tell writers why their work isn’t right for them. And when they’re reading hundreds of query letters a week, plus requested manuscripts, clients’ manuscripts and contracts as well as selling and negotiating for their current clients, it’s understandable that they don’t have the time to give personal feedback to every query they receive. Think of how you would feel if your agent delayed getting your book out because she was writing personalized emails to every query she received.

So what’s a writer to do when we get rejections: First, don’t let it get us down. Keep things in perspective.

Have you sent out 10 queries and gotten no requests for the material? If so, rework your query letter. Are agents asking for fulls or partials but not offering representation? If so, consider your work. Is your opening the best it can be? Is your book the best it can be? Does it need another revision? If you can look at your work and say you’re truly happy with it, then you’ve just not yet found the right agent. Continue to research agents and send out your work. If you persevere, you’ll find the right match eventually.

But most important of all, don’t let a rejection stop you from writing. The best thing you can do to combat a rejection is to write something else. Agent Rachelle Gardner suggests this in her recent post entitled Write Another Book!

If you don’t attract an agent with your first project, you will with your second, or third. Nowadays, agents don’t have the time they once did to take on books that need a lot of work. So your manuscript has to be at a higher standard. The more you write, the better your work will get. And once your writing has secured that agent, there’s nothing to say those earlier works might look better now.

So, keep rejections in perspective, and remember author J.A. Konrath’s quote: There’s a word for a writer who never gives up — published.

Sticking with it

My revision is coming along. I’m pleased to be able to report that I woke up early every morning this week and worked on the revision. I’m now about two-thirds through, and I’ve surprised myself many times when I’ve found new and better ways of doing scenes just by pushing away my apprehension of scraping what I had before. (“Save As” is a wonderful thing.)

This morning, after doing some revising of what I had revised yesterday, I’m a bit stuck again. But I figured that at least I worked on it, and now I can take a break and do a blog post instead. It’s like that pool of creativity thing; you have to replenish the pool. So, I’m going to try to replenish the pool this weekend, so that Monday, I can get back to it and fix the problem I’m having.

Meanwhile, I’ve been haunted by another idea for a novel, this time a young-adult story. It’s something that has been floating around in my head for about 15 years, and for some reason, it has come to the forefront again, sometimes shouting: “WRITE ME!” I also had a new idea for a picture book a couple of weeks ago. And this morning, an idea that I had about six years raised its head.

It’s a funny thing. You can be totally engrossed in one story, but others pop into your head. You start thinking about them, get excited about them, and sometimes, the new idea can seduce you away from the project you were working on. I found that happened a lot in my early years of writing, especially when I was in the more uncertain middle. If I was floundering, another idea would rise up and I’d lose interest in the older one. I’d start working on the new idea and then … yep, I’d flounder and get seduced by another idea.

The problem is that, in everything piece of writing we do, we’re going to have ups and downs, days when the words we type or write seem perfect and days when we can barely think of “and”. But perserverance is key if we’re going to be a success, because before we can sell a book, we have to finish writing a book. And before we can send out our finished book to agents and editors, we must — at least should — revise the book, from the beginning to the end, sometimes four, five, more times until it’s really, truly ready, the best that it can be.

So, what to do when other ideas are oiling up and flexing their muscles in front of us (feel free to substitute that with putting on lipstick and fluffing their hair, or whatever turns you on)? Pay attention, write down what the ideas are telling us, then put the notes away for a later date. We want those new ideas and welcome them with open arms, but we don’t have to do anything with them yet. We’ll need those ideas when we start submitting our current work (because the best thing to get us through the waiting-for-an-answer period is to start writing something else).

But for now, our older idea, the one we have been nurturing and growing is the one we should stick with, see it through to the end, no matter how many times we flounder.

So, I’m writing notes about ideas and putting them away. I’m sticking with my middle-grade novel.

What are you sticking with?

Write On!