Posted On May 27, 2013 by Print This Post

If at First, You Don’t Succeed…by Anna Sugden

There’s no secret formula to getting published. What works for one author may not work for another. Anna Sugden shares her insight on keeping your faith, motivation and courage alive. 

Welcome back, Anna!

One of the reactions I get to the story of my first sale, especially from people outside the writing world, is one of surprise that I stuck with it for so long (nine years, eight full manuscripts, four partial-plus-synopsis proposals, three Golden Heart finals, numerous other contest wins and placements and about a billion rejections, revisions, rejections with revision requests …!).

Those were the same people who were also surprised during those nine long years that I still hadn’t sold a book or made my first million, like JK Rowling. How did I keep going, they’d ask. Why did I keep going?

Anna SugdenIt’s easy to be flippant about it now and say that having my book published was my dream, so I kept at it until I achieved my goal. But between us writers, that answer isn’t enough – you all know it wasn’t that simple! In fact, anyone in any creative field, or sporting field, will understand that success is rarely possible without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

The majority of people simply don’t have the courage even to start, let alone have the stomach to persist through the highs and lows until they prevail. (I don’t have the commitment to run three times a week, let alone do what’s needed to become an Olympic athlete!).

The truth we face is that the journey isn’t easy, nor is it quick. It’s the exception, rather than the rule, for a writer to sell their first manuscript at the first attempt. Some of the most successful authors on the planet could paper a room with rejections and carpet a house with all their failed writing attempts.

But, it also true that the only people who cannot achieve success are the ones who give up.

Okay – enough of how hard writing is!

Romance writers are blessed to belong to one of the most supportive communities I’ve ever come across. The fact that you’re here, reading this article, shows that you know you’re not alone. You also know where to go to get help, cheers, cuddles and, if necessary, a kick up the backside! Belonging to this community is an enormous step in the battle of perseverance – because the community won’t let you give up, even when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom … again.

When you say you can’t write another word, revise another chapter or face another rejection, they don’t tell you not to be silly. They’ll offer chocolate or wine or both, suggestions for how to grieve, take a break or refill the well and they’ll give you a couple of days to wallow. Then, they’ll tell you to get your bottom in that chair and your fingers on that keyboard and get back to work! Because they know that you have to keep going, keep trying and most important of all, you have to keep writing.

So what tips can I offer to help you persevere?

The simplest one is that writers have to write. No matter how low we get, how bad our situation or even how long we stop writing, our brains won’t let us stop completely. So, know that you can and will find your way back. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to refill your creative well and read, watch movies or TV shows, listen to music or make or decorate something. This is a good time to hone your writing craft – listen to workshop CDs from conferences, read ‘how to’ books or do online workshops. Something will inspire you to write again.

Next – also simple – write and keep writing. Keep moving forward. To paraphrase Nora Roberts, it’s far easier to revise crap than a blank screen. Push through the difficult muse days, the tiredness, the feelings of ‘meh’. Write out of sequence, write something different, write something bizarre that doesn’t fit.

Just write. Writing is like a river – in some parts it flows fast and furious, while in others it meanders slowly. In some parts it’s sluggish and laden with silt, while in yet others it’s bubbling and clear. Yet, if you keep going you’ll get to the end.

Try to write to a regular schedule. Get your mind and body (and those around you) to understand that this is what you want to do. Treat it like any other job where you have to turn up at a certain time for so many days a week, regardless of whether you’re tired or sick or have a plumber on the doorstep.

Don’t wait around for decisions. Whether it’s contest results, editor or agent submissions or your critique partner’s view, keep moving forward. Start a new story, revise an old story, create a short story or plan a novella that pairs with your manuscript.

Perseverance doesn’t just apply to the writing itself, but to your strategy for getting published. In “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, the advice given by the old gambler is “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.” The same is true for your writing career. You have to know when to keep bashing away at a manuscript that simply isn’t working and when to put it aside. Equally, you have to know when a change is as good as a rest and when the siren call of a shiny, exciting new story should be ignored. You have to know which advice or revision suggestions to apply and which to reject. When to take the plunge and submit, when to use contests to refine your work, when to take a step back and if necessary change direction.

The most important tip of all is to find a way to gain back a positive mental attitude towards your writing. To reignite the excitement you first had for writing and for the story.

Finally, identify what is blocking your success, talk to fellow writers and plan a way around, over or through that block. Having a plan of how to move forward will help you to actually keep moving forward.

So, let’s talk about some of the issues you face in your writing career and how you find ways to keep persevering.


Writing is hard work. How do you find the balance between burnout and keeping your dream alive?


Here’s a blurb on Anna’s debut book, A PERFECT DISTRACTION (Harlequin SuperRomance) which releases September 2013.

A face-off—head vs. heart.

For Jake Badoletti, this year is all about his career. He has a rare second chance to make the most of being a pro hockey player, so no parties, no scandals. Too bad he’s met a woman who could sideline those plans. Maggie Goodman is not his usual type—right down to being a single mom. Still, the sizzling connection with this gorgeous brunette can’t be ignored. 

With a little juggling and a lot of focus, Jake manages to have the game and Maggie. Then his performance on the ice suffers and a scandal erupts. Now he can’t afford the distraction of Maggie…even if she is perfect for him.


Author Duffy Brown joins us on Wednesday, May 29th. 


Bio: Debut Harlequin SuperRomance author, Anna Sugden, was a global marketing executive for a major blue-chip, multinational company, then a primary school teacher. In 2002, she and her husband were posted to New Jersey from their native England and she got the chance to follow her dream of becoming a romance writer when her work permit hit a major snag. Her writing career was launched after a course at the Gotham Writers Workshop led to her discovering, Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, New Jersey Romance Writers. A three-time Golden Heart finalist and winner of numerous awards, Anna writes heart-warming contemporary romance, with an English twist.

She is a founding member of the Romance Bandits and a regular contributor to The Healthy Writer Blog. Now back in England, Anna and her husband share their Cambridge home with two bossy black cats. She’s an avid sports fan (especially hockey and football), loves great food and wine, classic films, cross-stitch and collecting memorabilia, penguins and shoes!

You can learn more about Anna at or connect with her via Facebook and Twitter.



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46 Responses to “If at First, You Don’t Succeed…by Anna Sugden”

  1. Thanks for your advice Anna, it was rather uplifting and I’m going to share it with my blog followers 🙂

    Posted by Annalise Cutajar | May 27, 2013, 12:52 am
    • Thank you so much, Annalise! I’m glad my post hit the right note with you. I’ve always had a lot of help, support and great advice when I was down, so in true romance-writing tradition, I hope I can pay that forward.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 3:22 am
  2. Wise words. I wrote for ten years before I sold and I agree with everything you say. One of my biggest mistakes was to spend six of those years on the same manuscript. (Don’t do this!)
    On the other hand, I always say “if you can quit, do.” Before you are published or after, the routine is the same: write, submit, acceptance/rejection/revision. Rinse and repeat. If you can’t hack that before you are published, it won’t be any easier after.

    Posted by Blythe Gifford | May 27, 2013, 7:57 am
    • Thanks, Blythe. You’re so right – it certainly doesn’t get any easier after you’re published and now your deadlines are contractual!

      Interesting that you spent a long time on one manuscript – was this because you got editor interest early on or that you wanted it to be perfect before you tried something else?

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 8:01 am
      • That first manuscript finaled and/or won several contests. I did get some editor interest, but the story was set in Flanders. (Flanders!) Not exactly marketable for a first time author.
        On the other hand, I did eventually sell it and it became my third published book – substantively rewritten, but still set in Flanders.

        Posted by Blythe Gifford | May 27, 2013, 8:08 am
        • I thought it must have done well, Blythe – that can be the thing that keeps you going with a story longer than perhaps you should. I know that’s what happened to me.

          What’s great though is that you proved what I was about to say, which is that no story is wasted – it becomes part of your backlist and as times change, so there comes an opportunity for those other stories. When I first wrote the book that sold, I was told sports heroes never sell … they do now!

          Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 8:56 am
  3. Wonderful post! And congrats on your debut — it sounds like a great story. Heck, your bio is great story. 🙂

    I joke that I “quit writing” at least once a week, but then the next day I’m back at it, because I can’t stop writing. I think my threat makes my characters nervous, though, so they start to cooperate. LOL

    Congrats again, and thanks for the inspiring post.

    Posted by Donna Cummings | May 27, 2013, 8:16 am
    • Thanks, Donna – so glad you enjoyed my post!

      LOL it’s a great story now that I’ve finally got my first sale! Until then I seemed stuck in the saggy middle for a long, long, long time! *uggh*. Hopefully, it will encourage everyone who’s still on that journey – success really is possible!

      I find cleaning the bathroom makes my characters co-operate – as soon as I get out that bathroom cleaner, the story starts to flow again! 😉

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 8:52 am
  4. Hi Anna,

    Everyone thinks writers make a lot of money. I wish they were right. To them, money justifies the time spent. I’m glad Nora Roberts and I have something in common, writing crap.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | May 27, 2013, 9:17 am
    • LOL Mary Jo – I dread to think what the hourly rate on my book is. A fraction of minimum wage, that’s for sure! If we were in it for the money, we’d have given up long, long ago.

      Nora is one of the most inspirational writers around – I listen to her keynote speech from RWA a few years ago over and over again.

      And … we all write crap! But you know what, at least we’re writing! 🙂

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 10:08 am
  5. Morning Anna…

    I’ve been in a writing slump the past few months, but the brain hasn’t quit writing at all. I woke up yesterday morning from a dream and went oh yeah! That would make a great story! And some nights a few pages will just flow from my fingers. I do need to get back to a regular routine on writing, I think that will make the stories flow better rather than the one or two nights a week of rambling writing.

    Thanks for a great post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 27, 2013, 10:13 am
    • Hi Carrie! Big hugs on your writing slump – I have that t-shirt! Heck, I have a whole wardrobe full of those t-shirts *g*. Hope you find your way out of it soon – I know you can do it!

      Honestly, I find that a regular routine really helps me. Not just because it makes me treat writing with the same importance as a job you go out to work for, but also because it seems to be easier to get into the right mindset. I know I need to be in the right rhythm to achieve my writing targets and it can take a few days of consistent writing to get the necessary flow going. But once I crack that, I find it all works much better.

      That said, sometimes when I simply can’t move forward, I need to take a step back and either do something else or find another way to tackle the problem. Of course, having great critique partners helps too – they only let me slack off so much before they crack the whip! 🙂

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 10:31 am
  6. Anna, girl I couldn’t be happier for your success. I recall a conversation at the bottom of an escalator in NYC one year. You got past that bump and now you’ve arrived!

    I too have been persevering. You stay at it long enough different and new opportunities develop…aka indie publishing. Putting my Romans out there in this venue is teaching me loads and bringing a satisfaction I’d often wondered even existed.

    Here’s to many more titles by Anna “VA” Sugden!

    Posted by Joan | May 27, 2013, 10:24 am
    • Hey Joanie! As one of my beloved Romance Bandits who kept me going through the tough times, thank you!

      You know how thrilled I am that your Romans are out there for the world to read! When there wasn’t a market for what you write, you went out and created it. I’m so proud of your perseverance – you paid your dues, learned your craft and stuck with it through the ups and downs, then took advantage of a new opportunity to achieve your dream.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 10:38 am
  7. I love this post, Anna. Everybody needs to hear this–success is so much more than talent. Yes, it requires talent–which you have in spades–but it’s often the rest of it that makes the difference. I couldn’t be more delighted for you.

    And I can’t wait for your debut to hit the shelves!

    Posted by Susan Sey | May 27, 2013, 10:34 am
    • Aww thank you, Susan. I couldn’t have done this without your support, my lovely Bandita sister!

      When I was teaching, I used to believe that my school year was successful if one pupil had made a step-change (learned to read or suddenly understood Maths etc). If my post helps one writer out there to feel they too can achieve success if they just stick with it a while longer, then I’ll be so happy!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 10:42 am
  8. I am uber proud of you, Anna, because I have watched you strive forward over the years and now look at you – a published author (almost) with a gorgeous cover. You have every right to smile and pat yourself on the back. I suppose I can say I know that feeling of pride as well – for me it was 22 years, but you can put my Scottish pride down as part of it and the biggest part was having friends like you you never let me give up either. SO SO proud of you!

    Posted by Paisley Kirkpatrick | May 27, 2013, 10:37 am
    • Paisley! Thank you so much! Your support has meant the world to me. I’m so proud of you and your perseverance too (I’m ignoring that Scottish bit *g*) – it makes me smile every time I see your books to know that you achieved your dream. I know how hard you worked and how long you stuck with it. If we can do it, any writer can!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 10:46 am
  9. Hi Anna and Congrats on your debut book!! Love that cover. 🙂

    Great advice all the way around. I always say it’s the third full (critiqued) manuscript before your voice sometimes settles in and you’ve written enough to start benefitting by some of the learning curve. I could never stand to wait on a response, which was what drove me to constantly work on a new book. Also, putting a book aside and starting a new one allows for a break, then you’re “fresh” again when you go back to your previous book. I’m so glad this paid off for you. 🙂

    Posted by Dianna Love | May 27, 2013, 11:13 am
    • Thank you, Dianna! I agree – it certainly took me three books before I came into my voice and really understood how to construct a strong story. Like you, I could never wait for responses and was always onto the next book. What I learned was to make sure I went back and actually revised an older book I believed in, with that fresher perspective and the editor feedback – the effort was worth it!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 3:54 pm
  10. Great, inspirational article, Anna! It’s so true that, more than talent or intellect, persistence is the key factor to success in just about any endeavor.

    I can’t let myself get away from my writing for too long or I find it difficult to get back on track. So daily writing is essential for me, even if I think it’s crap!

    Posted by Jo Robertson | May 27, 2013, 11:43 am
    • Thanks Jo. With dear Bandita sisters like you cheering me along, and pushing me when I needed it, giving up was never an option!

      That has been one of the hardest learnings for me – I have to get into the routine or I can’t get my brain to work properly for a creative flow. But I’ve also learned to accept interruptions will happen *g* and that I have to work my way back to that optimal state each time. I now know that the second day back in the routine is the worst and to deal with it and keep on going!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 4:00 pm
  11. Woohoo Anna! I love that you are now a published author. You strove for so long to achieve those two words and they can never ever be taken away.

    I find that reading goes hand in hand with writing. When someone says they haven’t been writing, I ask “have you been reading?” Reading inspires new ideas, sometimes reminds us of something that stalled us in the first place, and sometimes inspires as a reminder that we can do as well.

    My other advice – never stall on one manuscript and rewrite again and again. Always push forward. Revise once but keep moving toward the next story so that when you publish – you have prior manuscripts to brush off, polish up with new insight, and publish. You said the same thing in your blog, but it’s worth repeating.

    Posted by Donna MacMeans | May 27, 2013, 1:06 pm
    • Thank you, Donna – for your support and for your help along the way!

      I agree – reading is vital to helping you progress with your writing. When I’ve been at my worst lows, I’ve read authors who I know inspire me and remind me why I want to be like them.

      I think fear of one’s work never being good enough can be crippling and writers can get caught up in the vicious cycle of revision, never knowing when to finally break off and try something new. I know many writers who sold after trying something different or who moved on from the manuscript they were bogged down in.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 4:04 pm
  12. Anna – I’m so excited about this post! As you know, I’ve been going through a writing slump. I owe you big time for your support and encouragement! I’m so excited to read your new book – I have it preordered, so I don’t forget (not that I’m likely to, but sometimes my memory is like a sieve!).

    Congratulations on your perseverance – and on your contest success. Those three Golden Heart finals are impressive!

    Thanks so much for a wonderful – and, in my case, much needed – post. ((hugs))


    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 27, 2013, 1:58 pm
  13. Wonderful advice, Anna! I’m still so excited about your sale. I love it when good people who have talent and who’ve worked bloody hard get their reward. You deserve every success that comes your way.

    Posted by Christina Brooke | May 27, 2013, 2:56 pm
    • Aww thank you, Christina. You had faith that I would make it and kept me believing I could too, when I wondered if it would ever happen for me.

      I believe very much that we are the luckiest of all writers because the romance writing community is so strong and supportive.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 4:11 pm
  14. Yay, you, Anna! Thanks for the reminder to all of us to keep on pursuing what we love! And huge congrats on that coming debut! Can’t wait to pick it up, and looking forward to your next stories 😉

    Posted by flchen1 | May 27, 2013, 3:20 pm
    • Hey Fedora! Thank you! Fingers crossed my editor loves the next ones!

      One of the great things about living in the times we do is that we have the opportunity to pursue the things we love. Whether it’s trying a different career, turning a hobby into a business or just taking a leap of faith and doing that one thing you’ve always wanted to, we have the chances that our parents and grandparents never did. But the one thing we’ve learned, I hope, from previous generations is that if we really want something, we have to work hard for it. And that success will come as long as we persevere.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 4:19 pm
  15. Anna–woohoo! I’m delighted for you and can’t wait to read your book between covers.

    When I’m stuck or in a funk, I watch a favorite movie or read a book I know I’ll enjoy. And I bought a Star Wars laser pistol toy with excellent sound effects for blasting the occasional snide rejection. Very cathartic. *g*

    Posted by Nancy Northcott | May 27, 2013, 3:40 pm
    • Ah Nancy – I’m so looking forward to that photo of us with our pink ribbons! We fought and worked long and hard to get our dream – so thrilled we made it together!

      OMG I want one of those toys! I remember years ago a gizmo you could have on your dashboard that was designed to ‘help’ you with road rage – it had a range of different sound effects (machine gun, doodlebug, laser etc) that you could produce at the push of a button when some idiot on the road did something stupid. I loved mine! That would have worked brilliantly for those snide rejections!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 27, 2013, 4:23 pm
    • What a brilliant idea!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 27, 2013, 7:26 pm
  16. Awwww – I love it when we have a Bandita Day at RU! *waves madly*

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 27, 2013, 4:49 pm
  17. Anna!!!! Sweetie, I’m so excited for you and so ecstatic about your debut. Its gonna be awesome celebrating for the next couple of months 🙂

    I love your advice! It’s all fabulous and spot on. I do believe we are so blessed to have such wonderful support in this community – the people who are there to help us over the frustrations, through the roadblocks and around the decisions. They celebrate with us, for us and remind us how important it is to enjoy every step along the way (ahem).

    And I do love that idea of a writing routine *g* That does sound appealing!!

    Posted by Tawny Weber | May 27, 2013, 5:33 pm
    • ROFL – is that because you give me this advice every time I whine to you?! I really couldn’t have done this without you!

      Yeah – we’re working on that routine. You’re much better at it than me, but we’re getting there!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 28, 2013, 4:39 am
  18. Hi Anna,

    I’m late because I’ve been out all day. Great to see the Banditas here!

    One thing I learned is that writing the second or third story book is any easier. It’s a constant battle between self-doubt and learning to trust my instincts.

    Thanks for an inspiring post. I’m really looking forward to reading your book.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 27, 2013, 8:53 pm
    • Hi Jen and thanks again for hosting me today – it’s been such fun!

      I think we face different issues with the second and third and xx book. Early on, it’s craft issues, then it’s structure issues and marketability and so on. We won’t even mention reader expectations! To use Nora as an example again, she says that each book she writes is as hard for her as the first one – perhaps harder, because of the expectations and keeping to a high standard. She has the process and the routine nailed, but she still feels like it’s all the biggest load of rubbish until it is okayed for production. So, we’re in fine company!

      The key is … to persevere!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | May 28, 2013, 4:43 am
  19. Thank you for the advice, Anna!

    Your words “keep writing” really hits home with me. If I haven’t written something in a few weeks, I can noticeably tell the difference in my writing. I am not as thought out, my style isn’t quite there. Keeping yourself diligent about writing is something that we all should keep in mind.

    Thank you for the advice and the words of encouragement. I will remember to comment on here next time I am wanting to not write or stop writing for the day but persevered through it! :]

    Posted by Jordan | May 29, 2013, 11:14 pm
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  1. […] On persistence in writing. […]

  2. […] The second article, If At First, You Don’t Succeed …, looks at ways in which you can keep your faith, motivation and courage alive while on that often long and arduous journey to publication. You can find If At First, You Don’t Succeed … here. […]

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