I’ve noticed all over the writing community that people are finding the current writing climate hard. This can be for a variety of reasons: writers are getting better and better so competition is hard, the world is in a strange political stance so attention can be divided, writers rush to get out there as quick as they can, and many more reasons.
However, there are two things that have never changed: Persistence and learning lead to success.
Hear me out. I know a lot of you have been pushing hard to get into a contest, land an agent, succeed at submissions, have a successful book launch. Whatever it is, you’ve been trying your heart out. You’ve read craft books. You’ve found your critique partners. You’ve read out of your own genres and dissected your own. Your fingers bleed from hitting that keyboard time after time.
And it drives you nuts that people tell you persistence and learning wins out (seriously at times that drove me crazy, and at times it still does). Because of that, I wanted to share my story with you. While my story certainly isn’t finished, it’s one I hope will show you that you really can move forward, as long as you keep going, keep loving writing, and keep building your social network. So for good or bad here’s what my tale is like, and I hope it will help you realize you’re not alone.
I wrote my first book when I was 16 (that’s 20 years ago). It was 120K and a crime thriller (I have no idea why I wrote that). I sent it out in hard copy to every major publisher I could find. Lovely notes were written in the margins saying to keep trying. This is because I was 16, and I’m sure not due to any writing talent!
I wrote a book nearly every year or so. A lot of those have never seen the light of day (thankfully). I wrote not just because I loved to write, but because I wanted to learn from my own mistakes, not just reading craft alone. One book I learned pacing, another plotting, another tone (and yes, I am still (and forever will be) working on all of these things, and much more).
I read every craft book in the world, I think, I devoured books of every genre, joined critique groups, connected to the writers’ community, wrote relentlessly. Ten years passed. Yup, ten. Then I got my first agent phone call. It wasn’t an offer. It was a lovely encouraging call from Curtis Brown. This little light persuaded me to keep going. I was 26 and still pushing. I freelance wrote for small companies, magazines, and websites. I wrote for little money in the hours between my day job. I started to build my resume. My fees started to increase. After two years, at the grand age of 28, I was selling regularly, had a long-term freelance contract with a children’s charity as a content and ghost-writer, and I was interning as a writer for a media company. I was still selling my freelance writing, too. Did I have an agent yet? Nope.
Then I took a two year break. Yup. Things got hard. Things got overwhelming. I had to breathe. So I did. Whether people agree or disagree with this break I took, I needed it. When I picked up my pen again, I was 30 years old and determined to get it right. I interned with a literary agency for a year, determined to understand more about the business. I connected with writers who were where I wanted to be. I started picking up editorial work alongside my freelance writing.
I wrote another book. I sent it into the publishing void…and I signed with an agency. I was ecstatic.
Then I went on submission…and nothing. I stayed on submission for 2 years, but no bites. So I made an impossibly hard decision and chose to leave the agency. During this two years, I had continued a different internship with an agency, and I had secured steady editorial work, as well as joining as a Pitch Wars mentor.
By the way, it was the scariest moment ever to enter the query trenches again. At this point, I’m 33.
I spent a year in the trenches and then I found my second agent. Again, I’m very excited to get going. I’m 34, with regular editorial work, have joined an editorial consultancy, and super keen to get on submission. We spend almost a year doing in depth editorial…and then my agency dropped my age category (sometimes the business world just works that way).
I’m 35. I’m still writing and working as an editor. Still hoping. I’ve gathered my knowledge. I’m determined. I write my new novel. I’m super excited. I send it out. And to my astonishment…multiple requests, and then some offers. I signed very recently with Maura Kye-Casella of Don Congdon Associates, and I’m absolutely thrilled. In my heart of hearts, I know she is the perfect match for me. It took a long, long time to get to a place where my feet are firmly on steady ground.
The next step? Editing and submission. Do I expect a smooth ride? No, but I hope so. I’m going to grit my teeth, give it my best, and keep pushing (wish me luck).
So, the moral of this long-winded story? Persistence and learning do work. Maybe not as quickly as you want, but they do get you there.
Some people might think I’ve shared a slow story that they find demotivating, but I think it shows that if you really, really want something bad enough, it can and will happen. Yes, mine took an exceptionally long time, and yes, I didn’t put 85% of my books into the query trenches, but I got there in the end.
But here’s to a much quicker journey for you, and if you ever need an ear to listen, you know I’m here!