Have you ever sat at the pool or beach and watched children play? The adventurers jump right in and splash around. The builders play in the sand, meticulously constructing a castle. It gets demolished by a wave, but they start again. The cautious ones dip a toe in first and gradually work up to their waist. And the observers may never enter the water out of fear or the preference to sit back and soak in the rays.
Breaking into the business of publishing your written work can be the same way. We’re all unique as evidenced in our stories, methodologies, and approach to publishing. Are we bold explorers? Detailed engineers? Tentative investigators? Or do we sit back and wait?
We acquire many traits as we journey on the road to becoming a published author… thicker skin, the knack to function on minimal sleep when needed (parenting can do that, too!), coffee/tea/chocolate addictions, Facebook and internet procrastinating, the ability to write a scene in your mind while driving and carrying on a conversation with your child…the list goes on.
We also acquire the ability to swim and not sink.
This leads me to three essential skills every author should master: Patience, Perseverance, and Putting in the Time.
You will not publish overnight. You are not born a master. It takes time to become good at writing, like any other skill. Michael Phelps was not born with a gold medal in his hand. He worked at it. Never stop learning.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
It will take time. Yes, there are some quick success stories out there, but most authors have put a lot of time into their writing before it pays off. I have logged almost two decades of time. Certainly not everyone’s road to publishing will take this long. Also, patience doesn’t end with the first “yes, we want to publish your book!” Patience in the process is a must. It takes a while. Be patient with yourself and the publishing world. It will happen if you keep at it!
The greatest have failed over and over again. Rejection is an essential part of the journey. It means you’re putting your neck out there. It means you get positive and negative critiques on your writing. It means you’re honing your skills. Stephen King used to hang his rejections on a nail on the wall as a reminder. What if J.K.Rowling had given up after the first or tenth rejection or because life’s hardships and unpredictability got to be too much? There would be no Harry Potter.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
– J.K. Rowling
I wrote three full-length novels before my fourth one made it past the ax. Four was my lucky number. What made that one different? I took the advice I learned from my rejections and critiques from the former three and applied it to the newest book. I crept out of my comfort zone and tried something different. I didn’t let doubts curtail my hopes.
All the bestsellers have their rejection stories: Dr. Seuss, Agatha Christie, Margaret Mitchell, C.S. Lewis, to name just a few. So many. Imagine if they had given up?
Negative critiques from my beta readers on my first draft of my novels didn’t discourage me (certainly I may wallow a little in my coffee and eat a few too many donuts). One time a contest judge asked if English was my second language. Yup, true story. Ultimately it’s up to you as writer to take it all in, file it appropriately, and use it to improve your writing. Open minds are a prerequisite for this job.
“I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.”
Don’t stop. Turn it to good. How can you apply what you’ve learned with that rejection, negative review, or setback?
Putting in the Time
Writing is not just writing and creating. I spend many hours researching, learning the craft, editing, networking, and studying my field (agents, publishers, trends, etc.). Soon, promoting will be added to that long list of tasks. When we begin the journey, we are eager to just write – to get it all down! But then come the edits, writer’s blocks, more research, more reading. So when you’ve gotten over the honeymoon period of writing, what’s next? Gather all the writing how-to resources you can (books, websites, conferences, mentors, writing groups, associations). Read up on submission. Study your market and agents/publishers. Read your genre. Make your submissions shine. Revise again and again. Nobody submits a first draft.
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King
Distractions abound. Howling cats, dirty dishes piled in the sink, demanding children, the limitlessness of the internet, finally cleaning out that junk drawer…oh wait, you want dinner, kids? Life obligations. We all have them. Distractions can be the biggest killer of our momentum. Keep at it. Carve out the time. Write in the nooks and crannies. Set aside a quiet space and time to write. Create while driving, in the shower, or on a nature walk. Had a great dream? Write it down. Carry an old-fashioned notebook around. Or type it on your phone. Email yourself.
"I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.”
Write what you know and love. It’s really a simple strategy. Write your dreams. It’s as simple as that. Draw from your own life or experience, or create a new world. I love Scotland and happy endings, so my first books were medieval romances. I have a son with autism who loves volcanoes, so my next book has both in it. I love to travel and enjoy the outdoors, so I’ve been writing magazine articles about some of those adventures. My aunt told me an interesting story that I turned into a short story (and it may become a novella).
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
Always have something in the queue. Diversify your approaches. In a slump with your novel? Search out some magazines. Write a short story. Enter contests. Join writers groups. Having cheerleaders (who will give you brutal honest feedback – no sugarcoating allowed!) by your side is a must.
You’ve got this!
You may be wondering – do I self-publish? Seek out an agent? Big press versus small press? It all depends on you, your story/genre, and your preference on how much guidance or independence you want. I didn’t want to self-publish. Okay, so I am stubborn! I tried agents for years. Years. Four books. Probably over a hundred rejections between them all (however, with each book, I got more requests to read partials or full manuscripts from agents or publishers – evidence that I was growing as a writer). I tried a few big house publishers. Ultimately, I decided to try a small press. I queried two of them. One loved it. That was my golden ticket. I have been extremely happy in the publication process with the small press. I’m still only 6 months into the process, but I highly recommend a small press that is driven to support its authors. Remember, what worked for me may not work for you.
It doesn’t matter how you approach the ocean...the world of publication. Do a belly flop. Step slowly, one toe at a time. Tread water for a little while. You know your heart and your writing. Set goals. Be patient. Persevere. Put in the time and eventually you will be swimming like an Olympian.
“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
See you in the New Year! Keep on keeping on.