Posted On January 19, 2011 by Print This Post

Persistence Vs. The Brick Wall by Ruth Kaufman

Good morning and welcome to Anatomy of the Mind. Our friend Ruth Kaufman joins us today to discuss the challenges of getting published and techniques writers can use to work through those difficult times.

Welcome, Ruth!

We’ve all heard the quotes and platitudes about not giving up, such as winners never quit, persistence pays, and Vince Lombardi’s, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”  But what about: you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, don’t beat a dead horse, and don’t throw good money after bad?

We know rejection is part of the submitting process, often even after we sell.  You may know that Dr. Seuss was rejected 27 times before he sold and J.K. Rowling got a mere 12 before selling Harry Potter.  Stephen King, Meg Cabot and many other now household names collected rejections, too.  Even after the first sale, several of my friends took years before they sold book #2 and/or had their editors reject proposals.

If your goal is to be published, how hard are you willing to work, how long are you willing to wait to hear YES from an editor instead of NO? My definition of being published is selling a novel (preferably print because I still don’t enjoy reading e-novels even on a nook) with an advance of over $1,000 so I can join Romance Writers of America’s Published Authors Network.  Yours may differ (but I hope you’ve clearly defined it).  This may strike a chord of controversy, but to me just merely having a manuscript available to download or even on some shelves that doesn’t earn income, even $1,000 in a year, doesn’t count as published.

If you’ve been diligent over many years in your pursuit of publication, set goals, completed numerous manuscripts, tried different genres, done very well in contests, maybe even received revision letters or had an agent or two, but still haven’t gotten the call…when are you being persistent, and when are you hitting your head against a brick wall?  How do you keep believing that you, too, can be published, as years pass and your friends sell and sell?  How do you decide what to write next when everything you’ve already written has been rejected multiple times?  Even if you’re good at handling rejection, it’s still painful and frustrating that so much effort hasn’t been rewarded.  Or do you just throw in the towel and move on to some other venture, where perhaps your talents will be recognized?

Fellow Chicago-North RWA chapter mate and multi-published author Laurie Brown (who had quite a long journey to publication) has a magic number theory.  She says each of us has an invisible number hanging over our heads indicating how many submissions we need to make before we sell.  I guess I just haven’t reached my magic number yet.  If it’s several hundred more than I’ve already submitted, am I willing to keep investing the time/money/effort?

Another multi-pubbed chapter mate, Pat White, who finaled in the Golden Heart six times before she sold, believes quitting is not an option.  She keeps that saying in her office, and says when she sees those words, subconsciously her brain focuses on the solution: writing, writing, writing.

If you persist, you may attain your goal(s). But there’s no way to know how long that will take. For some of us, the process itself and the camaraderie of fellow writers may be sufficient to keep them going even without a sale.  Others may feel we’ve wasted more time and come to regret not moving on sooner.  Do you set an ultimatum…if I don’t see X results by Y date, I’m through, or I’ll try Z approach?

We’re often told that selling is a mix of talent and getting the right project on the right desk at the right time.  I think submitting is also like gambling.  As gamblers believe, “Just one more roll of the dice!” or “My horse is sure to come in this time!” you submit and hope this is the one.  If you quit, there’s the fear that you’re giving up too soon…your next attempt could sell.  On the other hand, you’ll have more time, money and energy to spend on a fresh start or other pursuits you’ve wanted to undertake.  You might feel relief if you at least take a break from writing and worrying about not selling. Or you might feel like a failure.

Then there are those who settle in between…half-heartedly persisting or subsisting in an unsatisfying situation (whether it’s a bad relationship or job) because change is just too scary.

Myriad opportunities in the new publishing landscape make the persistence vs. brick wall dilemma even more confusing.  Do you try e-publishing or self-publishing, if so, which publisher/outlet do you use?  How do you allot time and money to promote and make sure readers other than friends and family can find your book when you also need to be writing your next one?

If the majority of your writer friends advise you to go one way or the other, do you believe them?  We’re often told to trust our instincts and gut, but what if they aren’t communicating with us…do we wait until they speak up?  Some may believe in signs and keep going until they get one.  Others may pray for guidance.

In my opinion, doing nothing is not the answer.  If you’re sure the product you have is publishable, keep submitting to new places or new people.  Or write that “out there” book of your heart, no matter what the “trends” say.  The key is to get out of your rut and do something different, something to move forward. Then perhaps the way will become more clear.

If that doesn’t sound fun to you, maybe the time has come to move on.  Leave writing behind (without regret) and undertake a new venture.  You can always return in the future.

***

Thanks, Ruth! RU Crew, have you ever found yourself in rut, whether writing-related or some other venture you’re undertaking? What did you do to plow through the difficult time? How did you cope?

Please rejoin us tomorrow night at 9:00 EST to participate in our first live chat with author Amy Atwell. It’s sure to be lots of fun. On Friday, Theresa Stevens returns with her Ask an Editor column. This month she shares her top tips  on setting.

***

Ruth’s Bio:

Ruth will have a short, true story in the St. Martin’s Press anthology Christmas Spirit, foreward by Debbie Macomber, available Fall 2011.  Find her on the web at www.ruthjkaufman.com and www.ruthtalks.com.

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30 Responses to “Persistence Vs. The Brick Wall by Ruth Kaufman”

  1. Ruth, I picture that number above your head as dwindling to single digits if not zero! Thank you for sharing your journey and reminding me of others I know who have been along the same, sometimes seemingly long path.
    I’ve sometimes found that a little sidetrip into another creative endeavor will help refill the well after a strict diet of too many “no’s”. Sometimes those creative endeavors can be just a little off the beaten track, like trying one’s hand at a shorter or longer type of writing. Sometimes, they can be whole sidetrips, into a totally different creative medium altogether. But when I’ve taken these routes, they keep informing me about my creative writing process, and I end up finding I’m happiest when I’m back there again. Thanks for reminding me why I keep doing this!

    Posted by Debbie Pfeiffer | January 19, 2011, 12:50 am
  2. Hi Ruth,
    Welcome back to RU! I think I hit the proverbial brick wall in Fall 2009 in terms of a particular manuscript. If the changes I was making didn’t sell the darn thing, I was going to tuck the manuscript away forever. Looking back, I think I went through a mourning period, because I didn’t want to give the mss up.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
    Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 19, 2011, 5:48 am
    • Hi Tracey,

      That’s another post: when to give up on a particular ms or keep revising…! Sometimes it’s hard to let go and move on, other times I think some of us need to be willing to find and accept feedback we trust.
      Ruth

      Posted by Ruth | January 19, 2011, 12:38 pm
  3. Morning Ruth!

    I too have hit the brick wall. Head first going full speed. =) Since probably Thanksgiving I’ve been … I hate to say blocked, but unsure of where to go with my story. What got me through? A couple friends who wouldn’t give up on me or my writing. A brainstorming session via phone. Pestering by customers at the restaurant…..lol….resulting in a huge guilt complex.

    After almost 2 months of barely producing anything, I’m back to writing, and with a vengeance. It feels good. Really good.

    Best of luck to you with your magic number Ruth, I hope it’s miniscule!

    =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 19, 2011, 8:47 am
  4. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Ruth. I tend to be a fence sitter when it comes to my writing, never quite committing 100%. Your post reminded me that I need to make up my mind about the goals–and if being published is a serious one, then I need to commit my all.

    Congrats on the short story sale to St. Martin’s Press!

    Laurie

    Posted by Laurie P. | January 19, 2011, 8:55 am
  5. I love the number theory, I think I’ll hang it up in my office.

    What really helps me is knowing I’m not alone. Thinking of rejection as part of the process, softens the blows (a lot).

    Read this on Teresa Medieros website: If you can stop writing, you probably should.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Sonali

    Posted by Sonali | January 19, 2011, 8:57 am
  6. Hi Ruth. Welcome back! Although I agree with most of what you said here, I disagree with your opinion that if a book doesn’t earn a $1,000 a year, it’s not published. I understand why you would say that, but I think there are too many things that can go wrong with a book to make such a blanket statement.

    Let’s say a writer is paid a $1,500.00 advance on a book and five copies are sold of the actual book. Technically, the book has not “earned out.” The writer made $1,500.00 but the book didin’t sell. On the flip side, if someone is e-published with no advance and they earn $800.00, they have sold more books than the writer who got paid the $1,500.00 advance. So, does that mean the e-pubbed author isn’t considered published? Even though they sold more copies of their book?

    I know another writer whose book didn’t earn out because her publisher was bought by another house and the new house decided not to print any more of her books. What if this happened to a writer who hadn’t yet earned their $1,000 dollars?

    I know I’m getting off track here, but I don’t want authors to log onto our site and feel discouraged if their books haven’t earned $1,000. For me, if a book has an ISBN number, it’s published.

    And yes, you’ve probably picked up that this hits on something personal for me. My book with Carina Press may not earn 1,000 dollars, but Carina has given me an opportunity to break into a very tough romantic suspense market and to build a following. I could have told Carina no and continued to submit my book to traditional pubs and agents and have them tell me they love the plot and the characters, but it’s not what NY is buying right now, or I could go with Carina and enjoy the benefits of being under the HQN umbrella. As a Carina author I get an author page on the Harlequin website, I receive training on social media and building a brand. Right now we are in the middle of an amazing workshop on editing that was free to all Carina authors.

    So, yes, the book may not earn $1,000 dollars (I’m certainly hoping it does), but the knowledge I am gaining and the following I’m starting to build by being a part of the Harlequin community can only help my career. And that’s what I’m looking for. Had I not taken the Carina offer, my book would still be just a file on my computer with no opportunity to earn at all.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 19, 2011, 8:58 am
    • This is a fascinating topic because, after all, most of us do hope to make money from our work one day.

      It’s frustrating for me because even though I have a lot of books published, none of them were fiction. PAN authors have the earnings requirements, but the $1,000+ has to come from fiction sales; non-fiction doesn’t count at all.

      Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | January 19, 2011, 2:26 pm
  7. Hi Ruth,

    I told myself I would only enter one more contest. Too much money with no results. I didn’t win, but two judges contacted me and encouraged me to submit my manuscript to an editor. I did and got published. It didn’t make $1,000, but I get to check the published author box when I judge contests. A small accomplishmnet, but I’ll take it.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 19, 2011, 9:27 am
  8. Thanks for all the comments! As to $, I did write $1,000 advance because it covers PAN. For me, royalties would be fine! I personally wouldn’t feel published if I wasn’t earning $.

    Posted by Ruth Kaufman | January 19, 2011, 10:22 am
  9. Hi Ruth – Oh, you’re in a great RWA chapter! Aren’t Marilyn Brant and Joelle Charbonneau in the Chicago North chapter, too?

    I’m sure this blog is going to resonate with a lot of unpublished authors who, like me, are working hard to write a book worthy of publication.

    I’ve come to realize perseverance is all well and good, but unless I have the story right, all the perseverance in the world isn’t going to sell it. I was pitching a story last year that got some good response – two editors sent it to additional readers for a second opinion – but something just wasn’t right. One editor gave me some extremely helpful suggestions and I think I know how to fix it now. Before I do that I need to distance myself from it for awhile.

    So now I’m back at square one. Or square minus two, since I’m currently completely rewriting a story I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I’m trying to set my goals in stages: finish this chapter, finish this story, finish polishing it. Then I’ll set up a new round of goals stage by stage: write the query, write the synopsis, start pitching the story.

    Ultimately, I’d love to qualify for PAN. Selling to New York is the dream, but I know people who have also been successful as ebook authors. I’m determined to get published, whether it’s ebook or New York!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 19, 2011, 10:35 am
    • Becke, my real breakthrough on the manuscript I referenced above came from excellent agent (not mine) feedback. Within a few weeks of each other, I received a page of pros and cons from two agents. I spent 3 months reshaping my manuscript, which paid off.

      I’m so glad I didn’t have to tuck that manuscript away.

      I do hope you get back to your other story and apply the editor’s feedback!

      Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 19, 2011, 11:57 am
      • Thanks, Tracey – I’ve been thinking about that story a lot lately, and I will get back to it soon. If I do it now, though, it will just be a form of avoidance to keep me from the story I’m working on. I’m having a good day, though – lately I’m lucky to get in 300 words a day, but today I’m actually making some progress. FINALLY!!

        Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | January 19, 2011, 12:05 pm
  10. Hi, Ruth –

    Thanks for being with RU today.

    My takeaway from your lecture is that each writer must determine her own definition of success, whether that’s publication or something else. And if success does equal publication, the writer must then go further and define publication. It’s an exercise I’m actually engaged in right now, and I can see where it’s imperative to revisit this along the writing journey to make sure I’m still working toward the right goal for me.

    Thanks so much!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 19, 2011, 11:57 am
  11. I hope you make it soon, Ruth! You deserve it.
    For me, I’m somewhere in the middle. If I achieve your goal, that’s fine. If not, I’ll take whatever I can get because I’m not getting any younger.
    I have plenty of writing friends who aren’t getting that $1,000 advance, yet are just as happy with their status. It’s that old saying about the glass is either half empty or half full which comes to mind. It’s all in how you look at it, and everyone has their own dreams and what will make them happy.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    Posted by Morgan Mandel | January 19, 2011, 1:46 pm
    • Thanks Morgan.
      I didn’t mean to make it sound all about the advance, but for me it is somewhat about money, and $1000 per book, whether royalties or advance doesn’t seem like a lot if this is our career.
      Ruth

      Posted by Ruth | January 19, 2011, 3:40 pm
  12. Hi Ruth!

    Thanks for joining us today. There are factors we have no control over when it comes to getting published. Market timing, changing reader’s tastes, the economy, and luck to name a few.

    Writing is a creative outlet for me, and consider myself fortunate to be able to write full-time.

    I remember taking a corporate finance class in college. On the first day of class, the prof announced in his soft Scottish brogue that out of seventy students in our class, and he would only be giving out seven A’s. I panicked. I looked around at my fellow classmates, some of whom were top students on the fast track to MBA school and my heart sunk. How could I compete? Then, I realized I had low expectations of myself. Why couldn’t I compete?

    When I started writing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I entered a few contests to test the waters. So far, I’ve experienced highs and lows. But I don’t think I’ll ever quit writing because I enjoy the process and the challenge. I’ve applied the finance class scenario to my writing career. Will I ever get published? I don’t know. I know what the odds are, and they don’t look good. I can understand how frustrating it could be to write for years and never get a contract. Do I get stuck in a rut? Yes. It’s normal. I’m a lucky girl because I have great CPs who’ll tell me to get off my *ss and keep pounding away.

    Posted by jennifer tanner | January 19, 2011, 5:15 pm
    • Your comment made me think of a discussion I just had with a friend of mine. Someone close to her requires critical surgery, but they’ve been told the chances for survival are less than one in a million. Unfortunately, without the surgery this person will die. My friend’s outlook is simple: that one chance will have to be enough.

      I think we have to have the same attitude toward our writing. The chances of getting published, much less achieving financial success through our writing, may be roughly one in a million. Even with those odds, I know many authors who HAVE achieved this seemingly unattainable goal. I’m not a betting person, but neither will I stop writing just because the odds are against me.

      Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | January 19, 2011, 6:40 pm
  13. Ruth–
    Thank you so much for blogging with us today!
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | January 19, 2011, 10:55 pm

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