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.
Bless you for this.
Awww. I love this post. It's my new Jessica favorite.
Ma'am, yes, ma'am.
First I'd like to thank you for being so disciplined. I know you must have an outrageously busy schedule, yet, you always manage to have your daily blog out by 8:00am. It's the first thing I sit to read with my cup of coffee every morning. Thanks!
I particularly loved todays blog. It's a great reminder to all of us who are incurably shy or lack a tad of self-confidence that all of you big editors and agents out there are just as human as the rest of us...even if most of us are in awe of you. Now don't get me wrong - you're a far, far, far cry from Ugly Betty, but when you mentioned NY and the ill-fitted suit, I couldn't help but chuckle and think of Ugly Betty going after her dream of a career in publishing. Being out of her element didn't stop her either.
Thanks for always starting my day.
I love this post. Stepping out of your comfort zone is all it takes. Anyone having trouble doing this should read, The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson.It's my favorite book!
While I'm at it Miss Jessica, I'd like to thank you for always posting such helpful information.
Amen, Jessica. It took me way too long to realize this, but as you know, I'm living proof it can be done.
Thanks. I needed this right now. =o)
Got to be in it to win it. You simply cannot be ruled by fear.
Everybody has their own agenda. They're all busy going after their own dreams. No one is going to go after your dream but you. That's not to say that there won't be people who support you along the way...but there's usually something in it for them too. Business is business. Sometimes you have to stop worrying about what other people will think of you or your work and just get it out there. As Jessica says, just do it...or you'll always be left wondering. It's better to be wondering about how to tackle criticism and revision than to be wondering about an unfulfilled dream.
I've got a new dream. I want to be on Dancing With the Stars. I figure the only way that's going to happen, is if I become the next big name in publishing.
So I'm working on that. :)
And thank God for the guy who pointed you in the right direction.
Which is my segue to saying that a while back you read my nonfiction proposal, didn't think it was quite right for you but recommended another agent. As of yesterday, after rewriting along her suggestions, we have signed with her agency. So thank you for being a class act and being the person who pointed me in the right direction.
Thank you, I needed that.
Hey Jess, shoot for the moon and maybe you'll catch a star.
Life is all about the choices we make, or choose not to make. Biggest person in our way is usually ourselves, and the strongest person who is going to push us is usually ourselves.
That's a fantastic story.
I so often push my daughter like that. I was the same, drove across the country, would have moved to a different continent alltogether. The worst that can happen is someone says no but when you get a yes, it's all worth it.
I love this blog!
Thanks for another great post.
"From this point forward, I promise to step away from my fears and trust myself more. I'm pulling those nasty eggshells out from between my perfectly manicured toes and walking forcefully in the direction of my dreams." From my current post re: Walking on Eggshells (No More) and not letting anyone or anything get in the way of living an honest and authentic life. For most of us, living life authentically means following our dreams, which we can only do if we don't let our fears and insecurities block the way. Love this post, Jessica.;-)
I love this advice. Mom used to always say, "Life is what YOU make it."
Thanks for the much needed kick in the hiney.
If that's not inspirational, I don't know what is!
Oh, how right you are. Try, try and try again.
Actually, I think writing a letter is the easiest way for a shy person to look for a job. I really hated the networking part. The many times I've looked for a job (not an agent or editor, I haven't tried yet), I always found letter writing much easier than cold calling to some name I found on a job ad.
I'm glad editors and agents are set up to respond to letters. Too many of those job letters I sent disappeared into a black hole.
Woo Hoo! Thank you Jessica.
Excellent post and thank you. In 1989 I was a senior in college with okay grades. I'd come through an abusive marriage and my self-esteem was somewhere in my socks.
However, a big 'dream job' company was on campus interviewing for sophomore interns. I gathered up my courage and my little resume, marched in and asked if they would consider an interview for a graduating senior, even if just for a summer job.
It turns out there was a cancellation on the schedule and they let me interview. I had the same bad 80s interview suit as you and gave it my all.
End of story. I was the first one in my class to land the permanent 'after-grad' job and at a salary higher than anyone else in my class, including the valedictorian. I stayed with mega-corp for 5 years, traveled the country and a few spots overseas and built a nest egg before quitting to go to law school.
Dreams are out there, you just have to be willing to chase them.
My favorite motto, "You miss 100% of the pitches you don't swing at."
Thanks for the smile on this dreary midwest morning.
I've always been from the NY area so I knew the city pretty well by the time I graduated. But my first interview with Conde Nast sounds like how you felt walking out of Grand Central Station. But I got the job, as terrified as I was. I didn't like magazine work, but I learned a lot. You do what you have to do.
What a great post!
A couple of years ago I ventured alone to NYC for the first time. I'd never been east of Chicago before. Walking and (gasp!) taking the subway to editor meetings was the most terrifying and most thrilling thing I'd ever done.
The whole time the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show was playing in my head. It was all I could do to not throw my hat into the air. :)
And not only did I, at age 46, find out that I could navigate the big city, I ended up selling projects to two of the houses I visited.
Love this post. How inspiring! Even with an ill-fitting suit. :)
Great blog, Jessica! Just the boost I needed to dig in again today.
May I borrow the 'lucky' ill-fitting suit?
Confucius says; be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.
Thanks. I needed the kick in the pants.
Being fearful is natural and at some point along the way to a successful career, you will have to face your fear and overcome it.
It is scary to step away from your comfort zone. But just do it. No excuses.
The water is always coldest when you first dive in. Once you start swimming...it ain't so bad.
What a wonderful story (side note: I grew up in Minnesota, too)! I'll keep it in mind the next time I'm wading through the quicksand of revisions :)
I'm a firm believer that if you aren't willing to live your dream, there are an untold number of brave souls who are more than willing to live it for you. As my dad always says, "If you don't try, you're certain to fail."
It's sad to think that there are many, many amazing authors out there whose talent will never see the light of day, because they don't have that drive to get it done and out there.
I would never have landed an agent unless I had something to sub, and she on the other hand, can never sell anything for me, if I don't produce.
I'm from smallsville Canada and when I decided to go for it, I thought, why the hell not? Every big name author is just someones mom, dad, brother or sister. Why couldn't that be me?
Am I ever glad I listened to inner voice, because the payoff is so incredibly sweet!
Thank you for this! I am sending out that query letter to-day! I needed this push!
Jessica, that was inspiring! I want to print out that last part, "Do you have a dream...?" and tape it over my computer. Sometimes we have to stop dreaming and start doing. Thanks!
This post made me smile. At age twenty-three I took off from my homeland and small country town of 12,000 and came to the US without knowing a soul. I had a white Honda Civic (back in the day when they looked like a box) in which I could pack my entire worldly goods. Her name was Mavis. : )
Are there pictures of the suit?
I think it probably took almost as much strength and determination to publish this post as it did to carry you to NYC. You've opened yourself up so much here, Jessica, and reminded us all that we - scared, shaking, but trying anyway - are the biggest key to our own success.
Awww, how fun to hear your story! And look at you now. :-) Great encouragement.
I remember walking into Grand Central for the first time and gawking. I wasn't just staring up, I was staring at everything. There were more people there at one time than in the town I grew up in.
And now I pass by without looking around at all.
Thanks for this post. Brings back memories.
You know, Jessica... I totally agree that it's NOT in who you know, but IS in where you go...just like your story. I was telling my writing group this the other day.
You don't HAVE to know editors and agents and successful authors to "make it." But since there are a number of these who have made themselves "available" online via blogs, twitter, etc... GO THERE! Why? Not so much because "knowing" these people means they'll give you a break, but rather, you'll LEARN from them. And what you learn from them is what CAN make or break your career.
I haven't yet "made it" but I've learned so much through the contacts I've made online, that I know I've increased my chances of making it. If nothing else, I won't make one of the common colossal blunders that seem to result in 75% of query rejections! :-)
Good post! I always liked the saying that one of Arthur Ransome's characters, Ted Walker, has: "Grab a chance and you won't be sorry for a might-have-been"
Clichés like "you'll never know until you try" often become clichés for a reason: they're demonstrably true.
Trying to get your first book published is scary. I still want to work on my craft a bit more so I haven't tried getting an agent yet, but even at this stage I'm fearful about it. There are so many "you should do ___" posts on blogs or in print manuals for writers that trying to break into the business can seem overwhelming or hopeless. But there's a lot of good advice out there, and networking through blogs and the like is a good step to getting to know agents, editors, etc. (I read all the time that such-and-such agent signed this client because the client read his/her blog, learned what the agent liked, and was able to tailor to that agent's taste.)
I think the biggest thing is that people forget the most important thing is to WRITE. Write even if half your output is crap--it'll help you learn what not to do later. Write even if that story isn't one you'll ever submit for publication--it's good practice for the ones you will submit. And then just send your stuff out until someone says yes. It's a competetive world, and statistics show that very little of what's submitted will make it to publication, but you can't beat the odds if you don't try. And I think (hope? maybe it's naive) if your writing is good enough, REALLY good enough, it won't matter if you've published X number of stories or know X number of people. (That stuff can't hurt, but if your book is really that pheonomenal, someone will be willing to take a chance on it.)
I definitely needed this right now as well. When my MS comes back from my beta reader I'll definitely have to reread it. I've been procrastinating for too long.
Bravo!!! Great advice.
I've done the same thing more times than I want to remember, and now I have my MC going thru it too.
I think I was wearing that suit for my Berkley internship interview with Jacky. The two of you probably made fun of me after I left...
I still have a pre-interview photo to prove it.
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.
I think it's a combination of things, really. When authors rarely receive feedback from their submissions outside of a form rejection letter (in general), they have to find a reason in their mind.
When they see authors who discovered their agents through a conference, or through another author who has that agent, etc., they begin to rationalize those reasons (even if they aren't the most common situation) as THE reason they aren't getting published.
All in the psychology of it...
When I was fourteen I did not audition for a spot in the band that was going to take a fantastic trip to the World's Fair. I felt sure I would fail the audition, so I didn't even try. I was humiliated to learn that a girl whose performance abilities were well below mine did audition, made the band, and went on the trip.
It was a tough lesson, but it sank in. Since then, I have never let fear stop me from trying to do something. It's true: you only fail if you don't try.
Good for you, Jessica! Don't worry--no one looked great in the 80s, except for Don Johnson (sigh).
What about those of us who aren't shy, who put ourselves out there, submit the ms. but then have to wait endlessly for any kind of response from an agent...whether it's a query or a requested full. I'm a published writer, but this waiting game is driving me nuts!
I don't doubt myself or my writing too often, but today I had one of those moments, and it lingered for most of the day. Your blog just gave me a timely kick in the ass. Thanks.
Yes! I'm running off to do some edits on my mystery. Thanks for the motivation.
I preach this every single day in the university classroom, but rarely follow my own advice. Call it burnout, call it fear, call it anything you want - it's still inaction.
Thanks for the kick in the pants, gal.
This is very inspiring, but having done just that sort of thing before (coming from Minnesota as well), it is also truthful that it is about more than just having guts, determination, the will, and the work ethic. There's another element out there, the networking, the socio-economic, the going-to-the-right-college-to-meet-the-right-people element.
I still choose to write, write, write away, still work on getting published and produced. But it's an immense amount of work, and it's about a lot more than just doing your time.
Okay, so that's my humble opinion.
I love this post, thank you for sharing.
I am going way out of my comfort zone by writing my first book (60,000 words as of today, it is almost done!) as I have always been ashamed of my writing.
I never learned the basics in school due to whacked out drug addicted parents pulling me in and out of schools (sixteen schools before the eleventh grade). I quit school in the eleventh grade as I was emotionally at my limit. I opted for the GED.
I taught myself to read and write, and then managed to get in a few community college courses. I am a sponge and love to learn. Once I started reading I could not stop.
I learned later in life that I have dyslexia, which was actually a big relief to find out that I was not dumb after all. (You can read about it on my blog) My friends have told me for years I need to write a book about my insane childhood and how I escaped it, but I am not ready to take that one on, and it would hurt my mom.
After years of healing, and finding myself I have decided I am ready to put myself out there.
I am writing a book about a woman's spiritual journey out of organized religion. It is very close to my heart because it is about my own spiritual journey.
I am trying to learn all I can about the craft and the industry. Somedays it can be a little overwhelming as I have so much to learn. But I keep pressing on.
And yes I completely realize I have everything against my success.
Many have felt the need to remind me of my odds. Some have even said some pretty unkind things. I know I don't meet the "writer" criteria but I am still going to finish this book, at least for myself. And the universe can do with it as it wishes.
I swear you must have some sort of radar or something. This post is spot on for me and I thank you for the kick in the butt.
I just wanted to say in that new author's defense that she may be coming off hearing rumors or 'call' stories that feature a new author getting excellent deals because they know someone or know someone who knows someone. It's hard to think your stuff is going to sell if all you need to do is 'know someone'. As you stated sooo well. The only way to get your dreams to come true is to do something about it yourself.
Thanks once again.
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