July 18, 2019
Last week we looked as some good advice writers would give their past selves, their pre-publication self. And this week, we'll see even more of these tidbits of advice. What kinds of things do published writers wish they'd known? And how can we increase our own success using this advice? Let's look at some.
Hard Work is Always Part of Success
Mikki Sadil: DO YOUR RESEARCH ... make sure your facts are true, even if you are not writing something historical.
Melissa Abramovitz: Don't forget that writing and being an author is a job. As with any other job, it requires professionalism.
Stephanie Olivieri Bourbon: It takes time. You have to put in the work. Usually, you won’t make a lot of money, and don’t take it personally.
Lisa Lawmaster Hess: When you think your draft is done, sleep on it for one more night. When you get to three or fewer tiny corrections, it's ready.
Much of this advice is designed to encourage resistance to our deep desire for instant gratification, because that desire is always going to whisper “that’s enough work,” even when it’s definitely not enough.
Writing is not an instant gratification career. It's work.
That's one of the reasons it's so important to learn to love the journey and not just the destination. If your own gratification comes with publication, then you’re naturally going to feel that constant push to cut corners, speed up, and get to the gratification. But if we can enjoy the process, it’s much easier to slow down and do the work:
- Learn to love the research as a kind of mystery to solve.
- Learn to love the revision as you chip the perfect piece of art out of lumpy stone.
- Learn to love the writing and you'll start right into fresh writing when stuck in the loop of waiting on publishers.
- Learn to love the process and you'll have the resolve to keep going forward when it feels like you're bumping into walls.
Know that there will be a few walls. But if you can gain joy and energy from the process, then you’ll have the strength you need to make your way around the wall and not keep bashing into it over and over.
Don't Be Defined by the Rough Moments
Dotti Varley Enderle: Rejection will outweigh success.
Jayne Schriver: Don’t get discouraged. Just because one publisher doesn’t need your particular work now, doesn’t mean others won’t.
Deborah Underwood: Just because an editor or an agent rejects you once doesn't mean that door is closed forever.
Dianna Aston: Perseverance is what Kevin Henkes told me.
Sylvia Forbes: Persistence pays off.
Jodi Moore: Don't listen to the "no"-it-alls.
Our written projects tend to get rejected more than they get accepted, and that's all right. Honestly, if a book is rejected dozens of times and accepted only once, that one acceptance is the only one you need for that project. And sometimes rejections aren’t even the end of the road. More than once, I've been shot down when proposing a series only to have the publisher turn around to ask me to write a different series. It’s so important to remember that rejection is really only turning down that specific work at that specific publisher at that specific time. It's not a reflection on you or your future. It’s just about that project.
So once we get over the pain of the rejection (because they never stop ouching), we should always take a moment to examine the project again. Does it need more polish? Am I targeting the wrong publishers? Does the project have a fatal flaw?
Diana Greenwood: Don't be afraid to give up on a manuscript that is not working and move on to something else. Not every MS is going to see the light. That advice was from Jane Yolen to me ten years ago. Still sticks with me.
Although a good writer who doesn't give up, keeps building skills, and keeps writing and submitting is almost certain to be published, this is not true of every project. Sometimes a project has a fatal flaw that the writer simply cannot see. And laboring on and on and on over the piece won't necessarily result in success of that piece (though all the revision and polish and work will make the writer more skilled so it's never time wasted). Eventually, though, you may discover you've created a project that simply doesn't work in commercial publishing today. That's when you have to decide if commercial publishing is wrong (and so maybe you self-publish) or whether you simply need to set it aside and move on to your next project. Ultimately that's a tough question that each writer must answer alone. But if you do decide to set a project aside, know that you're not alone. It's happened to most of us.
Keep Your Options Open
Elizabeth Catanese: There are other venues for publishing your writing than you know about. Figure those out faster.
Renee Marcellious Heiss: Find an empty niche and fill it.
Sometimes we can get stuck thinking we will only be successful in our own eyes if we publish a specific sort of project: the perfect picture book or the great American novel. We might dream of being a literary author. We might feel certain our spot is as a writer with a specific publisher. But often the possibilities are much larger than we imagine. And it's by opening our eyes and our minds that we sometimes discover the spot that's right for us. The writing I do now is not the writing I thought I would do. But I make a living at it and I enjoy it. And I've had my share of fan letters. So really, expanding my perception of what options were available led to exactly the result I wanted, even if it was a very different path.
So how about you? What advice do you need to heed today?
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor.
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