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.
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 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.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for April 2 – April 6, 2012
- Puzzle Writing
- How to Survive Writing in Three Different Subgenres
- Benefits of a Book Doctor
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for Aug 30 – Sept 3, 2010: Simone Elkeles, Amy Alessio, Tracey Devlyn & Ruth Kaufman