Showing posts with label perseverence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label perseverence. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Paige Shelton on Getting Published

Paige Shelton
Farm Fresh Murder
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: April 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

How to Do Almost Everything Wrong and Still Get Published . . . Someday

I think I still have the notebook with the psychedelic design on its cover. I pasted comical cigarette stickers all over the back of it. It was 1971 after all, and I was only seven years old. Inside, on the first page, I wrote a poem titled "My Kite." As I finished the four-line masterpiece, I realized that I was destined to be a writer. Surely, the magnificent feeling that creating the poem gave me meant destiny was speaking – determining my future.

If only it had spoken a little more clearly.

I continued to write for my own enjoyment, but between 1971 and 1997 lots of other great stuff happened, like friendships, school, marriage, motherhood, jobs that weren’t always soul-sucking. In 1997 I decided it was time to turn this writing dream into a reality. I decreed I would be published by 1999, just in case all that Y2K stuff came true.

Though I was an avid mystery reader, the only local writing group I could find was the Utah Chapter of Romance Writers of America. I should point out that I looked the number up in the phonebook – the Internet wasn’t as grown-up as it is now. Anyway, they were (and still are, by the way) a great group of women (and some men) who taught me so much, but it was a huge mistake for me to think that I could write romance when, at the time, I hadn’t read even one. I started reading and writing, but I reached December 31, 1999, with only a bunch of poorly written love scenes and way too many euphemisms for sex.

I’ll summarize the next number of years by saying they were full of rejection – some constructive, some downright vicious. Honestly, when I hear about writers who dream (while sleeping) something that they turn into an immediate bestseller, I want to beat my head against my desk. I don’t begrudge anyone their success; I just wish it was that easy for the rest of us. I still dream about missing the all-important Psychology 101 final. I never dream bestselling stories.

Then somewhere along the way, the Internet did grow up. Suddenly, information became so . . . available. There are some amazing editors and agents out there who were kind enough to start these things called “Blogs.” Suddenly, I learned so much. So, that’s what a query letter is supposed to sound like! I’m not supposed to call editors? I need an agent? Really? Well, okay then, let me work on that.

With a few more manuscripts under my belt, more rejection followed until one day an agent said she actually wanted to represent me. Of course, I was stunned and excited beyond belief – and believe it or not, this was another huge mistake. The entire time I talked to her during our first phone call, something in my gut told me that she and I wouldn’t be a good fit. Something told me that I should politely tell her that I didn’t think it would work, but I didn’t. Instead, I spent the next two years trying to reach her – by email, phone or snail mail. The only time she responded was when she was in a hurry to something else and didn’t have much time to talk. I have no idea if she submitted my manuscript to the people she said she submitted it to.

But, I also spent those two years working on a mystery – this was my fifth completed manuscript. I won’t say the writing was easy, but it was almost a relief. I’ve probably read thousands of mysteries. I loved the plotting, I loved planting the red herrings, I loved . . . well, I loved the mystery. In fact, though I’ve always loved writing, writing this story was more satisfying than even the masterpiece poem I wrote when I was seven.

And I certainly wasn’t going to give it to my agent. I fired her – too politely probably – and set out to find another agent, a good one this time.

I’m not sure I can remember the exact sequence of events, but a few months into querying, two agents – two really good agents – were suddenly interested in my work. One had had the manuscript for a while. One hadn’t responded to my first query, so I sent her another one – finally, I did something right. The second one, the one who hadn’t responded at first, was Jessica Faust.

Things happened quickly at that point – this was February/March 2008. Not only did I know Jessica and I would be a good fit, but when I told the other agent who was interested (who is awesome, too, by the way) about Jessica, she only wished me luck and told me I was in great hands. She was right, and from the beginning Jessica has done exactly what she said she would do, and she has never once ignored a communication from me even if she didn’t have good news to share. These are things everyone should expect from their agent. I wish I’d known that sooner.

Anyway, Jessica set out to sell the manuscript. And, much to our disappointment, it didn’t sell. But Ms. Faust doesn’t even know the concept of “giving up.” She and I had a brainstorming session. Here’s the deal: When you have a brainstorming session with your agent and you feel like she knows you better than you even know yourself, rest assured you’ve signed on with the right person. The Farmer's Market Mystery Series idea came from that meeting.

It took some time for me to get about a hundred pages written, but in October of 2008, with those pages, Jessica sold the first three books of the series to the fabulous Michelle Vega at Berkley. The first book, Farm Fresh Murder, comes out today, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Yes, I made lots of mistakes along the way, some stupid, some just human, but I’m sure that somehow everything has worked out the way it was supposed to. It might have taken thirty-nine years from that first poem to get published, but hey, at least it didn’t take forty.

Farm Fresh Murder is Paige Shelton’s debut novel and the first in A Farmer’s Market mystery series. She also made a recent deal for If Fried Chicken Could Fly and two other books in the Grandma’s Cooking School mystery series. Both series are published with Berkley Prime Crime. More information on Paige and her books can be found on her web site

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Never Give Up

The statement, "A bad agent is worse than none" is true. It happened to me. I didn't sell a book until after we parted company. Now, I have 4 published books and I'm writing for two small but good quality publishers, YA fantasy for one, adult suspense for the other. I've been trying, in vain, to sign with a good agent. Nobody is interested. Shall I give up?

Never, ever give up. Remember that when it comes to publishing persistence is part of the game, and if you want to build a publishing career then you need to keep at it. You need to continue querying agents and writing books, and this isn’t just advice for the unpublished: staying published can be more difficult than finding that agent. You need just as much persistence to stay in the game as you do to get into the game.

It sounds like you’re starting off right. You’ve found a home for your work that you’re happy with and are now querying agents for new and fresh work. The smart thing is that you know when it comes to finding an agent you’ll have more success with a new project than you will with something that’s already been published. In your case, the case of the published author, the agent hopes to bring you to the next level in your career and wants to see what you have that will do that.

What I think most unpublished authors will find shocking about this is the fact that you are published and yet still struggling to find an agent. There’s a misconception that agents will snap up anyone with a publishing background or deal, and that’s just not true. I know that at BookEnds we have turned down a number of authors with careers or deals in hand. The truth is that we can’t take on every author that comes our way, and frankly, that works to your advantage. It means that when we do offer a contract we are really excited to be working with you and not just doing it because we see dollar signs.

Keep plugging away and writing books, continue to hone your craft and improve, and remind yourself that if you really want a career as a published author then giving up isn’t an option.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Working Seven Days a Week

Agents often discuss how much we need to work just to keep up on the emails we’re getting. You’ve heard it before, so I won’t go too far into it, but frequently our job takes us into the wee hours of the night or the early hours of morning (depends on whether the agent is a night or morning person) and rarely do we have time during office hours to catch up on proposals, queries, or even the reading we’re required to do for our own clients. I’m not complaining, because honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else. My work is also my hobby, which is why I have things like this blog. I could blog about other things, like my life outside of my job, my cooking, or even my dog, but my biggest passion is this job and so that’s what I blog about.

What I’m looking for today is perspective. I know many of you have a very clear understanding, from your regular reading of agent blogs, about the types of hours we work. I know many of you can vouch for the fact that a three or four a.m. email from me is not as uncommon as it should be, but what I’ve been wondering lately is how common is this? I know that as writers most of you have day jobs and writing is done in your off hours, so I’m not really thinking of those of you who are writers as a second career (hopefully first, one day), but those of you who have so-called day jobs. We live in a world of constant communication where emails from work are frequently sent and received well past dinnertime, and I’m wondering if your day jobs also require you to work weekends and nights, because in my experience in publishing, as an editor and agent, it’s not an option.

And if you are required to work nights and weekends in addition to 9 to 5, how do you possibly find time to write on top of that?


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Importance of Follow-Up

Recently BookEnds had some major trouble with our server. Apparently another domain also using our server (through the web hosting company we use) was hacked into and blocked for spam. That meant a fair number of emails leaving our server were blocked by the email hosts receiving the emails (namely yahoo, msn, hotmail, etc). Which means that a fair number of emails we sent over a two-day period were rejected by servers. Strangely for me, all of the emails that were rejected were responses to queries. Once our hosting company was alerted and corrected the mistake I attempted to go through and resend some of the emails. Unfortunately, many still bounced and I’m sure I didn’t catch them all.

Sadly, I barely have the time to read and answer queries, let alone figure out which got through and which didn’t. The point? Check in! If you haven’t received a response from a BookEnds agent in the “respond by” time posted on our Web site (and I do suggest you give us a week or two beyond that for things like emergencies, vacations, responses that haven’t been written yet, or just a backlog) then don’t hesitate to send a quick email checking on status. If we no longer have the query in our inbox we’ll ask you to resend, or you can preempt that by checking in and including the query a second time. Email is not perfect and I get rejected/returned emails all the time.

While BookEnds agents can, at times, be slow, we do respond to everything, so if you haven’t heard, there’s a reason.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Just Do It

I was talking recently with a new author, someone who had just completed her first book and was cautiously trying to figure out what to do next. One of the things she said was that she had decided that in order to get published she was going to have to know editors, and since she didn’t know anyone she figured there was no way she would get published. I was really surprised by this because while it’s probably a common thought among new authors, I had never heard this line of thinking before and frankly, I think it's a cop-out.

When I was 22 years old I had a dream of living in New York City. I had no idea what I wanted to do there and I had never been farther than Memphis, Tennessee. I was a small-town Midwestern girl from Minnesota. And I was determined to chase my dreams. So after college graduation I packed my little Honda Civic (red, very cute) and made my way to the big City (via an internship in Newport, Rhode Island).

I remember walking out of Grand Central Station for the first time. It was Spring in New York and I was wearing a very ill-fitting, awful, '80s-looking interview suit. I was going to a headhunter's office to meet with someone about possible jobs in publishing and advertising (I’d already ruled out newspapers and magazines after a variety of hated jobs). I wandered out of Grand Central and down Park Avenue. I walked to 40th Street and asked a stranger how to get to Lexington Avenue (one short block to my left for those who don’t know the City). He looked at me like I was a little crazy, or maybe that was the suit, and pointed me in the right direction. Telling this story now gives me heart palpitations. I was so out of my element, so scared, so overwhelmed and so blown away. This was me, small-town girl in the big city, and I was doing it. Step by step through those city streets I was going to meet people who were going to make those dreams happen. Or so I thought.

After a series of fruitless interviews through the headhunter's office, all in really cool advertising agencies, I struck out on my own again and spent a day in the library poring over the LMP. I made a list of all the publishing houses that included the actual names of the Human Resources contact (because I didn’t like sending resumes “to whom it may concern”). I went home and I sent out five resumes. I once again made my way into NYC for two interviews and finally got the job of my dreams. Yes, wearing the ill-fitting suit.

It was scary, it was out of my comfort zone and yes, I probably looked ridiculous. But the truth is I had a dream and no one, nothing, not one heart palpitation was going to stop that dream from coming through.

Do you have a dream? Do you really want to get published? Then quit with the excuses, get off your butt, and make the dream happen.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Gina Robinson on Voice and Style

Gina Robinson
Spy Candy
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Pub date: November 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Author Web site:

Are You Who You Think You Are?

It took me a long time to sell and I’m not shy about admitting it. I hope my story encourages other writers to keep going. Lately I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what I think finally propelled me over that big barbed-wire fence into the land of the published. Everyone wants to know my secret. They weren’t really satisfied with vague answers like perseverance, luck, and timing finally all aligning. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer—I found out who I am as a writer. I found my voice. And who I am as a writer is not who I thought I was at all.

Pretty much since I first gained consciousness of myself as a separate entity from my mother, I’ve thought I was a serious-minded woman. So when I first began writing, I was oh so serious. About four years into my struggle to get published, I wrote what I called a silly little proposal. I was embarrassed to show it to my critique group. But they loved it. It made them laugh.

I’m not a comedienne. I can’t tell a joke to save my life. That must have been a fluke. So I went back to the straight stuff, no humor allowed. Years later, I wrote another light, humorous book. And guess what? It’s my debut novel, Spy Candy. It still amazes me that people find it funny. Because I’m not funny. At least, I don’t think of myself that way.

Sure, I make up silly dances. But that’s just to cover the fact I can’t dance. And I sing silly songs to my kids, but that’s mostly because I can never remember any real lyrics. And I make up words and crazy names for things. And I write in a humorous tone. You see where I’m going here?

So write down who you think you are. Then listen to what people say about your writing. Write down what they tell you they connect with. Does it match what you think your strengths are? When writing, try to play to those strengths you didn’t realize you had. Your writing will be stronger, I guarantee you.

And now, will the writer out there who was the class clown and could be a stand-up comic, but whose strength is writing serious give me a call? We need to talk. I think our writing personalities were switched at birth.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Your Posse Says About You

I have a few clients who give me continual insights into new blog posts. They are the clients I tend to have lengthy and I guess deep writing conversations with. In talking with one client and her “posse” of fellow writers I came to an interesting realization. When you look around at a major conference like RWA or Thrillerfest and see who is hanging out with who, you tend to notice a trend. Bestselling authors hang with bestselling authors, and in most cases these authors were friends before any even fathomed reaching that list.

What does that say about us or what does that say about the business. My client thinks that maybe like meets like, and I think she’s right. But how? Do these authors all have a similar writing style that we should emulate? Are they all just incredibly lucky?

No, I think one of the things these authors all have is the same drive. The drive to succeed and not just succeed through publication, but push themselves to the top. These authors find each other because of their drive and stick together because they constantly push and support one another. They don’t get into petty fights or go into jealous rages when one succeeds and the others don’t. Instead they see that as another step for them all to reach for and they see the success of one as the success of all. After all, there’s nothing like friends to give you the leg up you might eventually need.

Authors who are in a bestselling posse or future bestselling posse didn’t fall into it. They dove in. They weren’t afraid to leave their first critique group for another that pushed them harder and farther. They are able to maintain friendships with those who helped them along the way. And they know what that golden ring really means to them and aren’t afraid to say it.

So when you’re analyzing your own writing posse don’t be afraid to look around and really think about what that posse says about you. Is it saying what you want or is it time to make changes? I’m not saying you throw out the old friends for new, I’m just saying maybe it’s time to grow the posse a little.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Changes at BookEnds

I’m gearing up to head out to RWA National on Wednesday, but before I go I wanted to tell you about all of the exciting changes that have been happening here at BookEnds. To really put it into perspective, though, I’m going to have to give you some backstory, so please bear with me.

In May we lost our assistant, which was disappointing because we really liked her and she did a great job (she completely reorganized us in so many incredible ways), but she was moving on to something different and we wished her well. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for us, though. Holly, our intern, was graduating and looking for a full-time job as an editor. Now obviously we couldn’t offer that, but we could offer a temporary assistant position (and resume builder) while she looked for a job and we looked for a permanent assistant. It worked out great. Holly transitioned smoothly into the job and kept us on track, giving us time to look for someone new at our leisure and giving her experience in the career she wanted while looking for a job.

Well, Friday was Holly’s last day and we wish her well and are thrilled for her. A few weeks ago I learned of an opening for an editorial assistant position at St. Martin’s Press, immediately sent Holly’s resume over, and she did the rest. Wowed them with her experience and love of publishing and got the job. This is, as far as I know, our first real BookEnds success story and we are all very excited. Someday I hope to report on Publisher’s Marketplace that I sold a book to Holly, a former BookEnds intern. How cool will that be?

So what are we doing in the meantime? Well, once again the stars aligned for us. Katelynn, our summer intern, was perusing the want ads when she coincidentally came across the one I had posted for an assistant. Figuring she might as well give it a shot, she sent me an email letting me know that while she still has a year left at college, she is looking for a part-time position (at this point we feel we only need a part-time assistant as well as interns) and wondered if we would consider her. Why not? Of course we would. So officially, Katelynn is no longer the BookEnds intern, but now the BookEnds assistant.

This entire experience has been so cool. Everything fell into place for everyone and we couldn’t be happier. What it’s reminded me is how much of life is timing, perseverance, and the willingness to give something a shot because, well, you never know. Hiring an assistant in publishing is not unlike getting a book published. You need to stick with it, write and take those chances. You need to jump at the opportunities whenever they arise, even if you aren’t sure it’s going to work out, and sometimes you just have to have the right timing.

So we wish Holly the very best of luck and can’t wait to hear from her in her new role as editor (I better be one of her first lunch appointments when she starts taking agents to lunch), and we re-welcome Katelynn, who is enthusiastic and organized, and what more do we need in an assistant?


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stacey Kayne on Sticking to Your Guns

Stacey Kayne
The Gunslinger's Untamed Bride
Publisher: Harlequin Historical
Pub date: July 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Author Web/Blog links:,,

Nothing calls to my writer’s soul like the lawless untamed setting of the old west, where opportunity and danger lurk beyond every bend. Rugged, wild, resilient—there’s such an elemental connection between the wild west scenery and the characters. While those first pioneers were packing up all their belongings and heading into the wild frontier you know they had friends and neighbors who thought they’d lost their minds to take such risk, to venture into unknown territory. In a sense writing a book is a lot like answering that call of the wild. We are taking a leap into a great unknown and finding faith in ourselves when it seems the world is against us. For the aspiring author, keeping that faith can become a daunting challenge. Surrounded by nonwriters in our day-to-day life, as most of us are, believing in yourself in the face of rejection and constant doubt can become downright grueling.

I remember the exact moment I heard the call of wild . . . when I realized I wanted to be a published author. I had just turned thirty, my two rambunctious boys had just started school, and I’d gone back to college. My American History night class had spawned a flood of daydreams and there I was, huddled up to my first computer, writing out these daydreams into the wee hours of the morning—and it hit me. I wasn’t just writing out a daydream, I was writing a romance novel. My initial reaction to that revelation was sheer shock, followed by mild amusement: Who am I to think I could possibly publish a romance novel? And then utter self-sympathy. I mean, I really wanted this . . . what if I put in all that effort . . . and failed? But it was too late to go back. I’d heard the call and I had to answer.

I told NO ONE about my newly budding ambitions to become a published author. A few months later I had started several manuscripts and closet writing was starting to pose some challenges. How could I grow, learn, become a stronger writer if I didn’t step outside? So I took the plunge, truly answering the call of the wild by making the announcement: I’M GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR . . . of, uh . . . romance novels. (No one was more surprised than my husband.)

Over the next five years of pursuing my dream I came to expect the startled reactions of nonwriters to this audacious claim—you’d have thought I said I was headed to the woods to wrestle me a b’ar. Common replies were along the lines of, “Are you crazy? Publishing a book is like winning the lottery.” My favorite was that burst of laughter followed by rounded eyes and, “Oh, you’re serious?” Or the sympathetic smile and, “Oh, honey, if publishing a book was that easy, everyone would do it.” Well, that’s true. Writing a book isn’t easy and getting that book published isn’t for the faint of heart. And none of these reactions are entirely encouraging to the aspiring author. Compile that with years of rejections and near sales, and faith is going to waiver. In my first year of writing I entered several contests, finished two manuscripts, signed with an agent, and finaled in the Golden Heart—and then dug in for four frustrating, enlightening, and disappointing years. This business requires persistence and somehow we have to stick to our guns and overcome doubt. Which brings me to the first of FIVE important aspects of the writer’s life that helped me to keep pressing on when there were those urging me to turn back—YOU have to be the first believer.

Keeping That Dream Fully Loaded:

1. BELIEVE in your ability to publish—no one else is going to carry this torch—it’s up to us to find faith in our work, to keep learning, polishing, and to make writing part of our reality. One way to make writing “real” in your life is to tell people you’re a writer. Another is to give yourself a workspace—doesn’t matter if it’s a corner or an office—have your writer’s domain. Set some short-range goals, whether it’s to finish a chapter, outline a book, send work out to be read, enter a contest . . . and print them. Make your goals something you can touch. I placed a corkboard beside my desk and would tack up goals, which became SASE postcards for submissions and contest entries. SEE IT—BELIEVE IT—ACHIEVE IT.

2. ENGAGE—stepping into the writer’s world can be a powerful driving force and helps to keep the focus on writing. Interacting with published authors and aspiring authors is energizing and fuel for ambition. If you aren’t near any local writers' groups look for online groups. For the Romance writer, the chapters and resources available through Romance Writers of America are phenomenal. If you can swing the expense, go to RWA National!

3. COMMISERATE—with other authors. Seriously, you have to be an aspiring author to understand the trials, tribulations, and achievements of this business. Your nonwriter friends and family may try to understand, but they can’t. It’s not their fault. Seek out other writers! A tight network of writers can be the best support. When I first started writing I used contests as my first critique partner—I could keep advice I believe in and toss the rest. I joined the Yahoo group ContestAlert and met other contest entrants online, which is where I met most of my pals at Writer’s At Play. We banded together as twenty disgruntled unpublished hopefuls. By sharing our experiences and struggles to overcome we learn from each other. More than half of us are now published and we still gripe, share, and cheer for one another—as well as cross-promote.

4. SUBMIT—to contests, critique partners, editors, agents—putting your work out there for feedback and criticism is the fastest way to grow, and likely the scariest step for any aspiring author. It’s best to go into submitting by first accepting this simple fact: No matter how brilliant the writing, not everyone is going to like your work. I don’t care who ya are—even the NYT Bestsellers have their tough critics. So suck it up, expect criticism, and revert back to step one whenever necessary.

5. KEEP WRITING—for anyone pursuing a career as an author, keep in mind that you aren’t selling A BOOK—you’re selling YOUR VOICE, your unique blend of energy, dialogue, prose, and pacing that creates compelling stories. If you have a manuscript in the hopper making submission rounds, be fast at work on the next one. With every completed manuscript we learn more about our strengths and weaknesses as writers, which helps to define and polish that voice. The only way to develop consistency is to keep finishing manuscripts. For me personally, I wasn’t able to see the elements that made up my voice until my fourth manuscript—which happened to be the first book I sold, Mustang Wild. I was then able to go back and polish my other three manuscripts to reflect the same style and voice—and I sold all of them. Every completed manuscript is more ammunition.

I have to admit I was surprised by the general negative reactions of nonwriters to my aspirations of publishing a book. It seemed most wanted to save me from my disillusions. Anyone else out there have similar experiences? Do you remember the moment you answered the call of the wild—to write a book? For those still pounding on publishers' doors, stick to your guns and keep the faith! Persistence is EVERYTHING.

Stacey’s fourth western historical romance novel is in bookstores now!
What reviewers are saying about The Gunslinger’s Untamed Bride:

“This second installment in Kayne’s Bride series is fast-paced and laced with humor, action and sexual tension. The characters are well developed and the plot suspenseful as it rushes headlong to an exciting conclusion.” 4 Stars ~ Romantic Times

“Kayne’s ability to craft multi-faceted characters, intriguing plots, action-packed adventure and sizzling romance promises to keep her in the forefront of the western romance genre.” 5 SPURS ~ Love Western Romances

“The deep level of emotionality combined with everyday human complexity gives this book, and this author, a new dimension.” Grade: A ~ The Good, The Bad, And The Unread

“Stacey Kayne has brought to life two incredible characters with Lily and Juniper. Their learning and changing is what made this book such a delight. Witty conversations, non-stop action and romance at its best—The Gunslingers Untamed Bride has it all.” 4.5 Stars ~ CataRo

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Why Do You Seek Publication?

I’ve done a number of posts on what keeps writers going, and more often than not the answers are that you need to write and have to write. But my question today is a little different. What makes you seek publication? I understand that as writers you feel the pull to write in much the same way a runner needs to run. But why not just keep a journal or a blog or simply write for yourself? Why not write your stories and just leave them on your computer? Why do you feel the need to continue to subject yourself to the cruelties of publishing?

Let’s face it, publishing is a rough business. Before you even get in the door of an agency you often receive hundreds of rejections, and it usually doesn’t stop there. Once you have an agent it’s likely you’re going to receive at least some rejections from publishers, and then there are the reviews and the bitter comments from fellow writers, friends, and family asking when you are going to write a “real” book.

When I get emails from discouraged writers this is what I think they are asking. They don’t want to know what makes you physically put pen to paper, but what keeps you searching for publication. Why do you continue to submit and how do you keep going when the rejections pile up and you are hearing very little positive feedback?

I’m going to guess that the answers are all different. I know for me, when I’m going through a slump or am feeling discouraged, it’s the belief in myself and the love for a particular book. It’s the certainty that the clients I have are not just publishable, but meant to be published.

But what about you, what keeps you going?


Monday, April 14, 2008

Christie Craig on Motivation

Christie Craig
Weddings Can be Murder
Publisher: Dorchester
Pub date: June 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Pre-order)

I will never forget how I felt the first time I gave my work to a critique partner to review. You know that fluttery feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, like a child waiting to get just a bit of praise? I was full of flutters that day, and it wasn’t anything I’d eaten, either. I was a new writer, holding my breath, wanting to know if my words had touched someone.

We had exchanged work the week before and were meeting to discuss it. I was so green, so na├»ve, but I knew I was the next Linda Howard. Did I mention I’m an eternal optimist?

You see, I was working on a Commodore computer (Am I showing my age?), no spell check, no grammar check. Oh yeah, and I’m dyslexic. That sort of makes writing a challenge. And while I hadn’t been up to a challenge at sixteen when I quit school, I was twenty-three when I went to that critique session. I’d learn a thing or two, heck, I’d given birth without pain medicine, so I damn well knew I was invincible. (I’ve learned a lot since then.)

Needless to say, you can probably imagine what shape my manuscript was in. But remember, I’m an optimist. So when my critique partner looked me in the eyes and said, “Wow, you amaze me,” I went from scared to feeling like a junior high girl who’d just gotten asked out by the captain of the high school football team.

Then my critique partner continued, “To even think you want to be a writer with everything you have to learn.”

I won’t lie; it hurt like having my fingers jammed in a car door, twice. Even reminded me of childbirth. But I knew she was right. Nevertheless, I had the optimist thing going for me. And as crazy as it seems, the dyslexia had helped me grow a thick skin.

So me and my thick skin kept writing, kept learning, kept giving my work to others to be read. I got raked over the coals numerous times. My rejections poured in, too, from publishers. “We’re sorry but . . .” “Unfortunately your work . . .” “You don’t meet . . .“

Yeah, I got a lot of those.

Poor me, right?


Sure, it wasn’t easy. But every successful writer I’ve known has a story to tell, a list of hurdles they’ve jumped over, scooted out of the way of, knocked down, and basically kicked butt to make their dreams come true.

Hurdles and rejection in this business are the norm. If it was easy, I don’t think half of us would aspire to do it. (It says something about writers, doesn’t it?)

However, because I know we all need a shot of motivation, here are a few of my hurdle-jumping tips.

1. Don’t deny your weaknesses; until you admit you have them, you can’t overcome them. Acknowledge your strengths, and build on them.

2. Use your personal rejections as stepping-stones. Go ahead, call the agents and editors idiots . . . for about five minutes, then try to see if their criticisms have merit. But never forget a rejection doesn’t mean a work isn’t great, or even publishable.

3. Find a support system and avoid negative people. I have numerous friends/critique partners and one writing partner on my nonfiction projects. Together, we believe we can conquer the world. Seriously, we’re gonna do it, too.

4. Nurture your passion for writing. Don’t make the payoff all about publication. Set small goals then celebrate each minute accomplishment. You have to enjoy the journey, because the destination—publication—can be long way away.

5. Don’t get caught up in rewrite-itis. Write a book, polish it, but then start another one. Each book is a learning experience and to be a successful writer, you’ve got to do more than write a great book, you’ve got to be able to write great books.

One last piece of advice: Use visualization. Its power is amazing. I saw myself signing a contract, autographing books, and when I got bad news (during the five minutes of idiot calling), I saw myself bury numerous Weight Watcher leaders, contest judges, editors, and even a few agents in my backyard compost pile. I even rent out compost plots to fellow writers. Cheap. Call me.

In all seriousness, this business isn’t for wimps. But if you love writing, if you want it, you just don’t give up. And let me assure you, if I can do it, so can you.

Click here to see a video of Christie on the Houston about her overcoming the difficulties of being dyslexic.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Endless Circle of Fiction Writing

I received the following question from a reader, and it’s really one of the many reasons why I admire authors and always try to respect every query and submission I receive (even though it might not always feel that way from your end. . . .).

When writing fiction, as an unpublished writer, how do you know you aren’t beating yourself over the head? Agents won’t talk to you without a completed manuscript, but then you have no agent to talk to about your manuscript in progress. Any suggestions for the hopefully up and comings out there?

The truth is that the decision to seek publication is a leap of faith. Faith that doing what you love is also something others will enjoy and something you can earn money from. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s any way to know whether you’re “beating yourself over the head.” And while it’s true that while working on that manuscript you don’t have an agent you can talk to, you do have other writers and critique partners who can guide you through the process, help you learn, and hopefully let you know whether or not you’re ready for publication.

Having never been in that situation I’m afraid I don’t have any advice from in the trenches. What I can tell you, though, is that if you really love to write and you do hope someday to be published, you need to be in it for the long haul. You need to be ready to take criticism as well as praise and you need to always try your best to listen with an open mind. Some of the things you hear won’t be of any use and some won’t ring true at the time you hear them, but might later down the line. I think, though, that the key to being a successfully published author is the willingness to learn and grow.

But I’d like to hear from writers out there. What made you stick with it or what makes you stick with? How do you know you aren’t spinning your wheels and how do you keep that faith alive?


Friday, September 21, 2007

Jean Fogle on Perseverence

Salty Dogs
Jean M. Fogle
Publisher: Wiley
Pub Date: September 2007
Agent: Jacky Sach

(Click to Buy)

Author Web site:

When Molly, my Jack Russell Terrier, was six months old, I took her to the beach. From her first step in the sand till the moment I dragged her away, it was apparent that the beach was heaven on earth to my terrier. Seeing her spontaneity and joy liberated me. As she dashed headlong in to the waves, I felt the stress of the day melt away and laughter tumble from my throat. Together we met many friends and no strangers. Glancing out to sea, I noticed a surfer getting ready to put his golden retriever on his surfboard. Thrusting Molly into the arms of a new friend, I grabbed my camera and ran. Wading out as deep as I dared, I started taking pictures. As I clicked away, the surfer positioned his dog on the board and pushed him into a wave. With a huge canine grin, the golden rode the wave till it folded over him and only a nose showed through the surf. Wading back to shore I knew I had some good shots. After a full day of romping, it was time to go. After she refused to leave, I finally picked up the squirming Molly and headed for the car.

When I got the slides back, they showed how much fun dogs and owners have at the beach and the idea for Salty Dogs, a photo book of dogs at the beach, was born.

Before Molly, I worked at our garden center and did some freelance garden writing and photography. Once she squirmed her way into my heart, she inspired me to become a full-time photographer/writer, specializing in dogs. While my work appeared in calendars, magazines, and other people’s books, I continued to work on getting the images I needed to do Salty Dogs.

Fall of 2003 I went to a conference where I was able to propose Salty Dogs to several publishers. The comments always were the same: great concept, too expensive to produce. I kept plugging away, determined that Salty Dogs would become a reality.

In December of 2006, I was doing some work for the Dummies books when I thought to ask my editor if they would be interested in seeing my book proposal for Salty Dogs. She put me in touch with another department and by February I had a contract in hand. When Salty Dogs was taken to the acquisitions meeting, one of the editors remembered seeing Salty Dogs at the conference.

Moral of the story, keep trying! A proposal that was too expensive 3 years ago is now a book!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Elizabeth Joy Arnold on Luck, Perseverence, and Talent

Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Pieces of My Sister’s Life
Publisher: Bantam
Pub date: July 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Author Web site:

My debut novel tells the story of identical twin sisters, Kerry and Eve, whose childhood is upended when they learn that what they both want is a future only one of them can have. After an estrangement of thirteen years, Kerry returns to her childhood home to be with her ill sister and to confront Justin, the husband she thought would be hers, and Gillian, the niece who looks just like her—hoping to finally bring closure to the dark secrets and cruel betrayals that tore the sisters apart.

My publication story started like almost every writer’s, in that I suffered for years from not even being able to get agents to ask for material after I sent queries. Now somehow here I am, with a really nice deal from a big publisher, my book sitting on the lead spot in that publisher’s catalogue, a first print run number that absolutely blows my mind, newspaper interviews and print and radio ads coming up—absolutely a dream come true; I literally have to pinch myself every day, because it still doesn’t seem real to me.

So how did I get from there to here? I wish I had an easy answer to give you, but that would be acting like the herbal-supplement people who tell you they’ve got the secret to losing weight. Anyone who says they have a surefire way of getting you published is either trying to scam you or they’re a vanity publisher. I’d have to say it’s about 80% perseverance, 10% luck, and 10% “talent.” (I put quotes around talent, by the way, because although I guess there are some people who are innately talented, almost anyone can learn to write better. Talent comes primarily from hard work, I think.) So that means 90% of it is up to you.

Just a quick note on each of these:

People will tell you it’s nearly impossible to publish a first novel without prior publishing credits, but that’s obviously not true. In my case, I never stopped believing this was what I was meant to do, and so I kept papering my walls with rejection slips, writing new manuscripts and sending them out, and then filling another wall with rejections. I kept trying because I loved to write, not because I ever expected to get published; publication was just the cherry on top. I was happiest when I was immersed in the worlds I’d created, and so I never gave up. And eventually, people started getting interested. A few years ago, I actually had an editor at Soho Press send me an encouraging letter, along with my manuscript (he actually paid for postage) with editing marks all over it, which meant he’d read the whole thing. That little pat on the back was enough to keep me going for another few years worth of rejections.

I think part of the success of this novel is that I found the right story, one that my agent and publisher believe people will connect to. I learned how to write by writing daily, sometimes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., to the point where my husband was starting to feel like a widower. And I learned by reading—I still read every spare minute, sometimes three books at a time, everything from Chekhov to Vampire novels, and I pay attention to what I like and don’t like, think of different choices I would’ve made in the writing, and what works and doesn’t work for me. (By the way, there’s very little in Chekhov that doesn’t work. . . .) For most people, this is where “talent” comes from. Not copying or emulating, of course, but learning with every book you read.

Well, this is the tricky one, because luck is mostly outside your control. But to some extent, you do make your own luck. Write the best book you can possibly write—Do rewrite after rewrite until you feel like the book is as good as it’s ever going to get. (I’ve probably written twenty versions of my second novel, and it hasn’t even gone through the editing process yet.) Do a lot of research before you decide who to query, and write a kick-ass query letter that’ll get their attention. I owe a ton to Kim, my agent, who showed so much enthusiasm for the book when she called to take me on, and I know that enthusiasm must’ve carried through to the editors she met with. So I was incredibly lucky to find the right agent, one who truly believed in my story, and just as lucky to find Caitlin, my editor, who also had so much excitement about the book that she got me excited all over again, and really pushed it to her publisher. But the luck wouldn’t have come without the hard work and perseverance.

It’s been a year and a half since I first got my acceptance from Bantam, and finally the book’s out there in the world. The book’s only just been published, and I’ve already gotten seven pieces of “fan mail,” from people who’ve bought the book. Getting those e-mails was the first time the whole thing actually began to feel real for me. The realization that people are now reading the story and meeting the characters that were alone in my head for months and months just blows me away. And that’s what made all the pain of rejection and the hard work (not to mention the carpal tunnel syndrome) worth it.

Best of luck in your own publishing adventures!

Feel free to ask Elizabeth questions in the comments. She'll drop in during the day to read and answer them.