I admit, I’m a sucker for articles about the secret to success. Because, come on, some genius out there knows how to break the system, how to beat the odds, how to make it in a world that just wants to beat the creative stuffing out of you.
But here’s the thing, there is no one super secret way to break into publishing. I’ve read the articles and shaken the Magic 8 ball. There are, however, 6 things I’ve discovered that will certainly help …
I’m laughing at myself for typing that word. Anyone who knows me, knows patience is absolutely not one of my strengths. So how can I say type it with an almost straight face? Because it’s true. You have to be patient if you want sticking power in this industry.
Patience with yourself. No one—well, very few people at least—are accomplished from the first time they start something. More on this one below but trust me when I say that giving yourself a break when you feel like you're not making progress, is important for your sanity.
Patience with writing. Writing is hard. There are days when you’ll blow through 2,000 words and write the most beautiful, heart wrenching scene any author has ever put down on paper/screen. And the next day you’ll write 50 words about dust bunnies because nothing else comes to mind.
Patience with the process. If anyone led you to believe this was an easy career choice, unfriend/unfollow them. Writing isn’t easy. Getting an agent isn’t easy. Getting a publishing deal isn’t easy. Finding and keeping readers isn’t easy. And each step takes time and effort. Lots of time and effort.
No one—well, very few people at least—can start something new and are brilliant at it from the beginning. I know, I know, I’m repeating myself. But I think it’s worth repeating that. Why? Because …
You may think that first draft is perfect but guess what, it can be better. You may think you know about dialogue or world building or conflict but there’s always more to learn. Take workshops, read articles/books, have other readers look at your work. Then study the feedback and use what you’ve learned to take your writing to the next level.
I’ve been reading a couple of my old manuscripts recently and while the main story ideas are great, the writing is amusing me. They’re not bad, after all they all received requests from agents and enough good feedback that I kept going (this ties in to the next item), but each manuscript shows maturing in my writing style. Why? Because I practiced and studied and practiced some more.
You’ve heard authors talk about BICHOK—Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. This is obviously a key part of succeeding as a writer because, if you don’t write, you have nothing to query/sell. So yes, butt in chair and write!
But … it’s not just your butt that needs sticking power. Think back to when you decided to start writing or decided that you wanted to make this your career. Did you stand up in front of your kitty and say “Fluffs, I’m going to be a published author but only if it’s easy. If it’s not easy, I’ll become a professional dust bunny wrangler.” Probably not.
Perseverance means wracking up “test” manuscripts and rejection letters. It means taking more workshops and reading more craft books and subscribing (and reading!!) more blog posts and magazine articles on writing and publishing. It means querying the fourth manuscript you’ve written (unless you’re one of the amazing few who nab an agent/book contract with your first; and in that case, we’re waiting for the link to your super secret tips article) and updating your agent “hit list” again.
You do it again because you’ve put in the practice, you’ve been patient, and you know what your end goal is—you won’t give up until you’ve realized that goal.
Confession time: when I first decided to write a novel, I too had the rosy-glasses fantasy that I’d write a brilliant book, send out a query, an agent would love it, sell it immediately, and my lovely little story would be in every bookstore.
Then I started actually immersing myself in the publishing industry, reading blogs and articles, tweets and Facebook posts, chatting with author friends and devouring anything by agents and editors (there had to be a super secret tip in there somewhere). I joined writers groups (okay, I even helped start an association—overachiever much?!) and interned for an agent. My rose-colored glasses turned brown (polarized brown lenses in a pretty tortoise-shell brown frame).
I know how hard it is to make that one connection with an agent (I have the excel sheet logging rejections to prove it). And even when you have an agent, it doesn’t mean a sale is guaranteed. Or if you have a book deal, the publisher can still cancel it. You can have a fabulous book, printed and on the shelves, and dismal sales.
That doesn’t mean I don’t believe those things can happen. I do, or I wouldn’t still be here. What it does mean, is that I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I understand the good and not so good parts of the career I’ve chosen to pursue.
There are certain expectations on any career choice. You expect a certain level of professionalism from your doctor or lawyer or your kid’s teacher or the librarian or a waitress. You expect them to be professional with their colleagues but also with their “audience,” right? If a doctor was regaled as being the best clinician in that particular specialty but was rude and dismissive to his patients, would he have a lot of patients? Probably not.
Being a writer/author is a career choice (unless you’re doing this as a hobby and there’s nothing wrong with that!). How you present and conduct yourself with other writers and the outside (reader) world, is as important as with any other profession.
If you offer to do something, do it. If someone upsets you, rant to your kitty instead of on Facebook or Twitter. Think about what you post publicly and who you complain about in “select groups.” Remember that the people you interact with in your writer’s groups are also your readers and your promoters. Prove yourself to them and you’ll have a fabulous support group. On the flip side, give them a reason to question and you risk losing more than that one supporter.
And yes, agents and editors also pay attention. Don’t believe me, go read some agent tweets.
Be the kind of person you want to be associated with.
I’m kidding, sort of. I don’t recommend running to your doctor in search of a prescription. What I do recommend is having an outlet to release the stress and anxiety that builds up during the drafting phase or the querying phase or the patiently waiting for answers phase. For me, it’s a number of things – puzzles, crocheting (anyone need a scarf?), exercising, coloring (yes, I’ve fallen into the adult coloring book craze).
Find something that pulls your mind out of the spin cycle and allows your thoughts to settle into their own rhythm. Whether you’re stuck on a scene or wearing out the refresh button, stepping away from the computer and allowing your mind to settle makes a world of difference.
No super secret tips in this post. Sorry. But using those 6 P’s worked for me. Granted, patience is still a work in progress. 🙂
What about you—do you struggle with any of those P’s? Do you have a super secret tip to share with our readers?
After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.