Keep Writing Until They Are Forced to Say Yes

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I got a late start as a writer. I was an avid reader, sure, but write a book? Never crossed my mind until I was in my 50s and had a story to tell. I’d never so much as taken a writing class, but one frozen February morning in 2019 I just started writing. The words flowed. I lived and breathed to write this story. It was magical. Reminiscent of first love or maybe even an addiction – I was hooked. I woke up before dawn to write.

I’d write during my breaks at work. I was creating people who had lives and families and issues. They felt love and lust and had hard choices. And I was fixing their problems – never mind that I’d created the problems in the first place. I would stay up until the wee hours, get some sleep, and then get up and do it all over again. It was exhausting, but also exciting and exhilarating. 

And finally, after three months of this, I’d written and re-written the story, and Between February and November was finished.

I planned to submit to agents, so I researched the heck out of querying. Jane Friedman’s blog was a constant open tab on my laptop as was Janet Reid’s Query Shark. I had my “hook” and a fair bit of naïve confidence.

I submitted my first manuscript to a handful of agents on May 21, 2019. Around that same time, I also submitted to my first writing contest. I didn’t realize just how naïve I was until I got my first agent rejection the next day. It was from Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary. This was probably the best first rejection I could have received. 

After seeing my word count, it was clear I had no idea what I was doing as a writer, and I needed to learn about publishing. That’s not exactly what she said, but that was the gist of it. She was helpful though and shared some knowledge about word counts and genres. She ended her rejection with: Remember that the long road to publishing includes many bumps. Keep writing and persevering until they are forced to say yes. She likely included that passage in every rejection, but that was all I needed to hear to keep going. 

Another rejection arrived a few days later from Julie Gwinn at the Seymour Agency. In a nutshell, she said my concept was good, but I needed to hone my craft and suggested I attend a writing conference.  

A few requests for pages came, as did requests for fulls, along with more rejections. None had the effect on me those first two did, nor did they have the advice. Though I had researched the heck out of querying, I neglected to research genres, word counts, and how to find my storytelling voice.

I wasn’t in the position to attend a writing conference, so, I read about the craft of writing. From Writing Down the Bones to Stephen King’s On Writing to Save the Cat Writes a Novel. In the midst of all of this, a friend of mine told me about the Writers Workshop Hard Times Essay Contest and encouraged me to enter. It was due in two weeks, and the guidelines were to write about a difficult experience in your life, how you overcame it, and how you were changed. Sounds kind of like any writer’s life, doesn’t it? Like most people, I had a few difficult life experiences to choose from. I finally decided which one I’d focus on and submitted to my first essay contest on June 29, 2019.

In the meantime, I studied, and I wrote, and I edited. I resubmitted my novel to agents and this time to publishers as well. In September of 2019, I received an offer from a small independent publisher. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. A week later, I learned the essay I submitted back in June won first place. 

I felt like a real writer!

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

The OP is an example of a common trope among some authors.

I wrote and was rejected, I went to a conference, I wrote and was rejected, I read a book about writing written by a famous author, I wrote and was rejected, I wrote and was rejected, then finally I got published by an itty-bitty press, then I wrote and did a bunch of stuff to get noticed and was rejected.

Self-publish and you can do all those things while making money and building a group of readers who like your book.

But, of course, that would mean missing all that character-building that occurred during your serial rejection period.

6 thoughts on “Keep Writing Until They Are Forced to Say Yes”

  1. Your point about self-publishing may well apply here. It is not clear what sort of book the OP wrote. If the motivation is to make significant revenue from writing commercial genre fiction–and lots of it!–and if she is able and willing to devote substantial resources to marketing, then self-publishing is probably the best way to go.

    My critique of the self-publishing community is it has a strong tendency to imagine that its segment of the book industry is all there is: that the motivations of writers are universal, as are the marketing strategies. There are entire swaths of the book world where self-publishing is a sure strategy to make the book disappear without a trace. This includes most nonfiction, literary fiction, and young adult. (That last one is less intuitive, but my understanding is that that the traditional publishers have a pretty solid hold on the YA market.)

    If the OP is aiming for literary fiction, and if earning big money is not her main motivation (and I hope it isn’t, writing literary fiction), then a small publisher could well be the best way to go.

    • Good points, R.

      The traditional book industry is an alternative to self-publishing. However, unless you’re a superstar fiction author (see Tom Clancy) or a celebrity non-fiction author (see Barack Obama) who receives advances that are large enough so you’re unlikely to ever earn out your advance, you’re liable not to make all that much money.

      Additionally, the big-time traditional authors quite often employ one or more people on a full-time or nearly full-time basis to help run their business.

      For what is described in the trade as a mid-lister, typical advice for traditionally-published authors is, “don’t give up your day job.”

      So long as an author makes an informed decision between self-publishing and NYC publishing, I say, “Go, Girl!” or “Go Guy!”

    • I am stubborn enough to aim for literary fiction – indie.

      The big publishing houses are strangling diversity and innovation (and plain vanilla mainstream writers like me) in their panicked pursuit of THE bestseller that will support their company THIS YEAR.

      It will backfire eventually; I’d like to be waiting by the door when it does.

      The only question on anyone’s mind should be whether the BOOK has merit. Publishing can stand to be kicked in the shins periodically – they are SO sure of themselves as the only arbiters of ‘culture.’

    • YA being locked in by traditional publishers actually makes sense–the members of the target audience usually don’t have credit cards of their own, and the parents are usually leery of giving them theirs, and generally speaking you need credit cards to buy ebooks, and indy publishing is still stuck there for the time being.

      As a result, if you’re writing YA, in order to get your books sold you’re going to have to get your books into hardcopy bookstores or libraries, both of which rely on tradpub.

      • Fair point. On the other hand, both my teenagers prefer books in paper. There are ebook setups for kids, but didn’t stick, at least with mine. My understanding is that this is not uncommon. I am curious to see if they move to ebooks as they get older.

  2. The only question on anyone’s mind should be whether the BOOK has merit.

    If I were to invest my own money in publishing, the only question on my mind would be whether the book can sell and make a profit. Others may invest their own money so they can be arbiters of culture. I wish them well.

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