Perseverance Really Is Key
A few weeks ago, author Sandie Bricker wrote a guest post about how she followed her “writer GPS” to find the genre in which she could successfully break into publishing. There was an important lesson in the comments to that post. Sandie’s former agent, Steve Laube, chimed and and mentioned that when he’d been representing her back in 2004 and 2005 and submitting her projects to publishers, they received 100% rejections. Sandie hadn’t hit her stride. Nowadays, her biggest struggle is keeping up with her deadlines. She’s had three books published in the last 18 months, and she has five more contracted and scheduled for release.
Another one of my clients, Kathi Lipp (who has been a guest blogger several times) is a non-fiction author who spent ten years platform-building and submitting proposals to publishers. Exactly two years ago she received her first contract; we’re now getting her contracted for her fifth book (details to come).
I first met retired physician Dr. Richard Mabry at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference back in 2005. He’d been studying and writing fiction, and submitted his early novels to me and several other editors. He didn’t get picked up by a publisher – his writing wasn’t ready. Flash forward a few years: Dr. Mabry signed his first contract for a novel 18 months ago and it’s releasing in a couple of weeks, and we just got him signed up for books #2 and #3. (Click on his name to visit his blog and see a picture of him holding the very first copy of Code Blue.)
My point? Hang in there, folks! Every author, agent and editor has stories like this. It doesn’t happen right away. You may not be ready when you think you are. But if you really want to be published, the best approach is to persevere even in the face of disappointment and weariness and frustration. Determine to learn from every rejection, even if no feedback is offered with it. Pay attention to feedback when you do get it – from agents, editors, readers and critique partners. Follow your writer-GPS even if it leads you towards a genre you didn’t originally set out to write. Be open to learning from everyone who has something helpful to say.
In this business, perseverance is the name of the game.
Q4U: Are you encouraged when you hear stories of success after long years of trying, or does it discourage you?
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why their is a problem in the first place
>I'm new to your blog and love the encouragement. I've persevered in my pursuit to being published while raising my family as well as twenty years of caregiving. Whenever 'life' gets in the way it's columns like yours that push me to continue reaching for my dream. I'll get there because I won't give up and one day it'll be my time to shine.
I have mixed feelings 🙂 But in the end, they are encouraging!
Thank you for passing these stories on to us.
PS Your tweets and posts are chock full and meaty!
>Yes, these are inspiring stories. I'm a little glad I don't know the future and how long it might take me to finally "arrive." If I knew for a fact that there would be twenty more years, I might be tempted to give up now. Instead, I keep telling myself that this MAY be the year. But, if it isn't, I will keep polishing, learning, changing and persevering!
>Encouraged and grateful and inspired . . . AND so anxious to read the good doctor's new book! Thanks for all you do for so many, Rachelle, & for this important reminder!
>These stories are encouraging.
I've written my first draft because I love the topic and I feel good when I'm working on it.
I hope it gets published and I'll work toward that, but the satisfaction, for me, is in doing what I love.
>Other people's journey is inspiring to me. Oh, and I love your new feature where you critique query letters. Thank you.
>Hmm, hard to look at someone else's journey and success (or "failure") and link it to my own journey . . . at least in the book business!
However, I can say that dreams do come true–maybe the dream is morphed from how one first thinks it will happen, but if one is willing to reach out to what's there before them, and work hard, and be disciplined, then many times the end result is success(and success is of course a relative word!).
I wasn't able to begin writing seriously for publication (and I started with short stories, essays) until I hit my mid-forties. It had been a dream for much much longer than that, but sometimes life takes you on other journey's first. Had my first book published at 52 last year. It's never too late. Now I'll have 3 books out by fall of this year – two of which will be published in this year. A lot of years were wasted and I'm not wasting any more of them. I want more things to happen in my career, so I'll keep working hard.
So, everyone: Be open to things that maybe aren't exactly what you first envisioned as "success." Work hard. Be very disciplined. Try this and then try that. Mostly, don't let bitter feelings or angst or anger or jealousy get in the way of your own goals – someone else's success is not a measure of your own. Being supportive of others opens instead of closes.
And et cetera!
>It doesn't discourage me, but I guess at times I do get a bit fed up and think, well that's great for them… I know I'm not the only one out there struggling to keep going when it seems like all I'm doing is running into brick walls, so that's encouraging to me. I suppose I identify more with those who are in the same place as I am, rather than the lucky few who have actually smashed through the bricks and mortar. I think it is good to find encouragement where you can and I'm appreciative that so many talented authors are willing to share their success stories, even if I don't always want to read them.
>Like the others, I find these stories encouraging. It's easy to descend daily into darkness and despair, especially when all those around you seem to get contracts and you're still working on the same ms. for the past five years. I've always believed perseverance is the key, so I keep hanging in there. Thanks for validating!
I really appreciate this post,overall very encouraging! It reinforces the need to be both realistic in expectations and persistent in effort and to just keep writing til you get it right.Thank you for your inspiration and guidance.
>Overall, encouraged. The learning and continuous improvement should be a satisfying accomplishment by itself. The goal of publication too easily becomes the consuming end-all, and rejection — 10 years of rejection — doesn't sound fun. If we focus on what drives us to write instead, then the idea that we can continue to do what we love, getting better all the time, and someday may even make a career of it, well, that's definitely winning the trifecta.
>Wellll, I'm always encouraged by positive stories, but do I *really* have to keep at this for five more years? heh. It seems like people are waiting forever to get a bite, but then they come fast and furious. It's encouraging all round.
>Totally encouraged by this post. Thanks. You have good timing for me, since I've been telling myself for several weeks something very similar.
I certainly hope it doesn't take me ten or twenty more years, but even if it does, stories like this remind me to keep the faith. It'll come.
>Hey Rachelle – Thanks for featuring my story. I know it can be either discouraging or encouraging to hear about the time it takes, but it is good to know that I wasn't just typing and sending, typing and sending. I spent those years living a real life, learning tons and working on my writing while developing a speaking platform.
I help other speakers and writers develop platforms and the most frustrating part is when the people I'm teaching feel that they should be able to skip over all the hard work – that there is some magical formula. We each find our own path and have our own obstacles – we just don't know what they are until we do the work.
The good news? It didn't feel like 10 years becuase I didn't feel like it was publish or die – I had a whole life going on. It came when the industry was ready and when I was ready.
>As someone just getting started in this realm, I find this encouraging. We're such a fast-paced, fast-food society that sometimes it seems like you might miss your opportunity or miss your prime. I know I'm not ready and have a lot of work to do to get there. This lets me know that perseverance over time is just fine!
>I always have mixed feelings when I hear someone's success story. I'm happy for them, and glad that getting published is still a reality, but it also makes me feel like my biological clock is ticking or something. Only so many years to birth that book before I hit menopause. I KNOW that's not the case. It just feels like it.
Still, I'm willing to be patient and persevere.
>It is probably true that I found the post encouraging because I am thirty years old. If I were on the other side of fifty–and had been steadily working since my thirties–I may have found it depressing. Whoever said, "If I were young, I'd have a more sanguine attitude" was probably speaking for many people in his situation.
>Another perseverance story: my 88 year old mom just sold a novel she started 30 years ago! Full heartwarming tale on my blog at http://annerallen.blogspot.com.
>I find these perseverance tales soooo inspirational. It's the stories where someone finds an agent on their first query and signs a book deal a month after that that I find tougher to take.
>I remember having breakfast at an RWA meeting in D.C. about ten years ago with a writer who'd just been published. She was 80 years old!
I love these kind of stories. They do encourage and motivate. Just keep on keeping on. Just write.
>Stories of belated success reinforce my faith in the "write until it's right" philosophy — the right manuscript, the right time, the right agent, the right publisher, etc. I keep trying to improve my writing, knowing that I need to do my part to be ready for when God's timing brings everything together, however long that may take.
>I have learned that getting published takes time, work and patience. I first submitted my current WIP, the publisher sent a rejection, but gave me the reasons why. They also made sure I understood that this was not a rejection of the story line, only a rejection of my form, pacing and POV. Since then I have worked very hard doing research on the art of writing. I am completing my re-writes now. The publisher sent me an email stating "Take your time. We would rather get a polished manuscript than a hurried one". Even when I am receiving a crit, I have pretty tough skin. I try to learn each time. It isn't always easy to hear that our "baby" isn't perfect, but as long as I can type, I can change anything that does not belong in a well written manuscript. Patience is hard, but attainable.
>Thank you for this blog. I personally find it encouraging to know that some authors didn't get the contract on the first book or try. It's nice to know if I don't make it this year, I can try again the following year, and the following year…
>I think these stories are indeed encouraging, yet I am discouraged…by the state of publishing, and with so many folks trying to get published, I can't help but feel I'm just another fish in the sea. I don't feel "set apart" that I could offer more than anyone else.
Yet I've had enough small successes to feel like I'm not a terrible writer. Perhaps I just haven't hit my stride yet either.
Thanks for the encouragement!
>Yes, I am encouraged by stories like this. Maybe my writing isn't ready, or my book isn't right for the current market. But hearing these stories makes me think that rejection now doesn't mean rejection forever. 🙂
>When I first started out it discouraged me. Fast forward four years and it gives me hope – that someday I'll get there.
>Oh, yeah! I must admit, these posts are absolutely my favorites. We all need to hear stories like these. I have to come to the realization that I have a lot of work to do and so much more to learn. For someone like me, I deeply crave those "instant gratification" moments. Then I remind myself, over and over what my fiance reminds me often. "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it."
Stories like these remind me to not take your emails so personal. I do need to learn the craft more.
Thank you so much.
>Yes, it's encouraging to hear of other's auccesses. To hear about the recent success after rejection, and inversely to hear about the rejections that peppered the path of the highly reputed author before fame and fortune eventually came her way.
But is it the story of the importunate man who went on knocking until they let him in?; or is it the story of the man with the one key who kept trying to turn a lock until eventually he found the one that worked? or the man with a bunch of keys who tried each in turn?
Was it happenstance? Was it maturing skills? What brought success?
>As I was reading the post, I was thinking to myself- I don't know whether these stories are encouraging or discouraging to me. So,I laughed when I read your final question. But, I'll say encouraging. I believe in perseverance and timing.
>This is exactly what I needed to hear today, Rachelle. Thanks so much!
>Ok, it sort of discourages me! I'm such an impatient person that it worries me that I would have to wait several years to see success, or that I might be writing the wrong books. I have no idea if I'm writing the wrong books and which genre I should concentrate on! I feel like I'm floating out there with hardly any advice except my own. Eep.
>What a wonderful post, Rachelle!
Yes, this is why, for me, I'm not in a rush. Rushing seems like it could backfire.
Thanks for the encouragement!
>I think it's encouraging to know that other struggle in their writing/publishing careers. It shows us that what we are experiencing is normal in this profession. And like any profession, it takes time and hard work to advance.
>I find it encouraging when people triumph after years of struggle. It gives me the mentality that "if they can do it, I can do it, too!" And why shouldn't I be able to do it? :o)
So thank you for the inspiring stories!
>lottery? and perseverance?
A group of 28 workers went together buying lottery tickets for years.
Finally, one week a worker said, "We'll never win, Count me out." He didn't pay his $2…and that very week the other 27 became millionares. He had $0 because he quit. This is a true story–I know some of the people.
As for me, I don't spend $ on lottery. We should all be deeply dedicated to laying up treasures in Heaven, rather than on Earth.
To be clear, I don’t believe success in publishing should be seen as like winning the lottery either.
>Thanks for that Rachelle, stories like that are a real motivator. Sometimes the goal looks so far away to me, but it's good to know others have kept going and succeeded.
The hard part for me is breaking the 'I want it now' short-term-gratification we're all used to these days.
>These stories definitely encourage me. I've only been sending out manuscripts for a little over a year, and I feel so much better when people talk about how long it takes them because I know it will take time for me too.
>and* working at the coffee shop
>I'm definitely encouraged by those types of stories. It's sort of like the actor who becomes huge 'overnight' after spending 20 years in the business, except with writing, we don't have to keep eating ramen noodles at working at the coffee shop to be 'in the business.' We just have to keep working our craft.
>I'm totally encouraged when I hear stories of success after long years of trying.
>Wow, this is pretty time appropriate for me. I just started querying for my first novel and the rejections are trickling in (I would say "rolling" but that would be dramatizing).
Each one…stings, a little. Even though I know it's nothing personal. Even though I appreciate each and every response (as opposed to the agents who DON'T respond). It still twinges each time.
But I won't give up. I have faith in my project, faith in myself and faith in God that my dream will grow wings and fly.
That being said, these stories are at once both inspiring and depressing. Because it makes me wonder if I'm (and my project) truly as ready as I thought I was. And, gah, thinking that it might be years before I AM ready is a little disheartening. I shall just pretend (or delude myself into believing) that I am ready, and that perfect agent is about to hit the send button and say "YES, PLEASE LET ME REPRESENT YOU!! YOUR NOVEL IS WONDERFUL!!"
>If I were young, which I am not, I would be much more sanguine about the concept of perseverance. The difference in attitude one has when his time window is large is much different from the one he has when the window is small.
Changing genres to fit the times and moods of the readers is something that is onerous to me. Writing is an art, not a cookbook formula, and if one really believes in what he is writing and writes from his gut, what comes out is not always what the public wants to read at the time. This does not mean that I think the public should immediately decide to read what I have written, but it does mean that if I am going to remain true to myself, I may have to wait until the clock ticks over into a time when readers want to read the books I write, and that could be longer than the time allotted to me.
>Such a great post about never giving up. You have made my day!
>Hearing stories like this makes me curious. About my own character, and my future.
I'd need a mirror, and a crystal ball to avoid discouragement.
Maybe a Magic 8 ball will do some sort of trick if not THE trick.
>Stories like these are exactly why I don't get discouraged, and why I constantly have new projects I'm working on. While I'll probably always be a mystery writer at heart, I don't have a problem experimenting in other genres, although that typically means a meld between mystery and sci-fi, which I know probably means you as an agent won't want to rep my projects!
>Encourage, they are wonderful stories.
>So encouraging. I love God's timing. Miss Kathi and I are having a phone chat later today. Love that girl and so proud of her.
>Understandably your article helped me truly much in my college assignment. Hats incorrect to you send, will look ahead for more cognate articles without delay as its sole of my pet subject-matter to read.
I'm reading Zinsser's Writing to Learn, and I know I could spend a lifetime clarifying my thinking through writing, and even without making to the publishing stage, the years would be well spent.
>Thanks for the encouragement. Hearing success stories helps a lot. Especially on the particularly difficult days.
>These posts encourage me greatly. A writer is never guaranteed success, but failure is a certainty if you give up.
>If you're a writer, perseverance is not an option, it's a requirement. What's the alternative? Quit. Don't do that. Find a way to write and grow as a writer at the same time. Don't just pound on doors, spend time in a conscious effort to get better. And work on more than one project at a time, even as you are generating dozens of ideas for projects up ahead.
Be persistent, polite, professional and patient, like Richard has been. It's been wonderful to watch his story unfold.
>Yes! Thank you!
>Had I known when I first began writing that it would take over ten years to find an agent and sign a book deal, I may have given up. Then again, I may have felt a certain comfort in knowing there was indeed an end to the search, even if that end was in fact the beginning of something else. That's why these stories are so important, and why I disagree with Timothy. Equating success via traditional publishing with winning the lottery implies there is only luck involved. Nothing could be further from the truth.
>Definitely encouraged. I once had a writer tell me that she didn't want to write but couldn't help it, and that she sold her first book on her first submission. Now THAT was discouraging!
>I love love love writing success stories! They give me hope that my time will come. They strengthen my belief in the writing system when too many naysayers feel writing is doomed.
Writers face discouragement no matter where they are in their careers. Unpublished writers yearn for that agent representation and book contract. Published authors long for more contracts and stronger sales numbers.
Writers need to keep learning and striving to make their next books better than the first ones.
Great post, Rachelle! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
>I thought it would be easy. I know you are probably laughing, but I really did. I thought I would write a book (first version perfect) and it would sell and be a HUGE hit with movie rights and all the extras. The first dose of reality was at a writer's conference. The second were the query rejections. I am still trying and not going to give up. In the end it's great to read that other authors DO get those books published. It is encouraging, thanks for the post.
>It encourages me! I've come to think of publishing as basically unattainable, so hearing that success can come after trying so long makes me want to try.
>Thanks for the interesting post. I do consider it encouraging. Gives me hope to keep plugging away.
Interesting that you would mention the lottery. I almost mentioned the lottery, but from a completely different point of view. My thought was that mentioning successes like this is similar to the way state lotteries parade winners in front of the camera, implying that if people will win if they persevere and keep playing. There are occasional successes, but statistically, most people would be a lot better off if they would take the money they would have spent on the lottery and stuff it in their sock drawer. If a lottery player who spends a dollar a week on the lottery stops playing, that is the equivalent of winning $52 a year. Not, many lottery players can make that claim, but lottery officials conveniently forget to mention that fact and instead highlight the winners, which I feel is very much like our practice of mentioning writers who have overcome the odds and made it big while ignoring the many thousands of authors who will never get a traditional publishing contract, much less make a living from their writing.
>The grand scheme of waiting doesn't discourage me as much as the short term waiting. For example, you say that Sandie hadn't hit her stride in 2004-2005 when her submissions were being rejected. In retrospect, the whole picture is clear, but at the time, I bet there were a lot of moments of false hope. And in the moment, it must have been so frustrating to not know if she was ready or not.
It's too bad that there isn't a clear, quick answer to the question "are we ready yet?" so that we can accept it and work towards the next level.
>Both. 🙂 It was encouraging me to keep plodding along and trying to improve my craft. It was discouraging because I tend to be impatient. I've been at this for 2 years now; shouldn't I be getting paid for some more of the stuff I write?
It's kinda like losing weight. After a few weeks of deprivation & hard work you expect to see all 60 additional pounds melted off. We all know where those expectations get us!
>I love these stories and find them encouraging…As I'm learning, it does take time to follow one's writer-GPS, but it isn't time wasted because you learn as you go and eventually you might land in the right spot…
>What I find interesting is the comment that "she followed her "writer GPS" to find the genre in which she could successfully break into publishing."
If I wanted to make a living writing and what I wrote didn't matter, I would probably write non-fiction.
It is easier to publish whatever the genre-of-the-day happens to be (Vampires? Horror?). Certain categories do sell consistently – YA, Romance and SciFi. I have nothing against those writers and wish them well, but that's not what I want to write.
You kicked off my Monday in such an encouraging way. THANK YOU! I've been at it for many years now but know my time's coming. (And even if it doesn't "come" in the way I would like and find that I'm called to an audience of ONE, I am so enjoying the journey.)
Thank you so much for all the practical help and encouragement you so freely give.
>Excellent, encouraging post! I always equate getting an agent/getting published to the lottery. The odds are slim, but you won't EVER win if you don't at least buy a ticket (submit queries, put yourself out there). The chances decrease from slim to 0%.
Thanks for the reminder about not giving up!! 🙂
>Great encouraging post. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
>I don’t mean to take anything from these authors. I don’t really know the other two, but I can’t think of anyone who is more deserving of success than Richard Mabry. That being said, I don’t find stories like this particularly encouraging. It gives us an incomplete picture.
I really hate the word perseverance as it is applied here. The word implies that an author keeps doing what she is doing, believing that she will eventually see success. But Sandie Bricker didn’t persevere, she switched genres. The same is true of Richard Mabry, if I recall correctly. At a very high level we might call that perseverance, but that means that perseverance becomes a very weighted word involving change. What it doesn’t tell us is what changes we authors need to make to reach that next level and whether or not we will even be able to make the change that is needed. Then again, maybe some of us really do need to persevere, by standing behind our writing, believing it is good as is and waiting for other people to realize that we are right. But until we know where we stand, that is not an encouraging thought.
>After twelve long years and hundreds of rejections, I've sold my first book!
I don't think I would have started knowing the difficult path ahead of me, but I'm so glad I did.
>I'd just like to add what was written on one of Roald Dahl's school reports for English Composition:
"Vocabulary negligible; sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel."
If it's meant to be, it will be!
>Yup. And please keep them coming! I love hearing stories like this. It helps me remember that one rejection slip or even dozens doesn't mean my work isn't good – it may just not be the right fit, the right time, or whatever.
Thanks for mentioning my story, as well as for being the best agent ever. It is a long road, but the only way to reach the goal is to keep moving along.
>I find it both inspiring and grounding – which is a good combination for me.
>Stories like that serve two purposes for me. One, they're a nice, big reality check. 🙂 But two, they really encourage me. Now might not be my time, but if I persevere, someday will be IT. So yes, this was an awesome post and I'm SO, SO excited for Sandie and the others!!!
>Count me as encouraged. It's always great to hear the stories. I know it's a matter of writing a great book at the right time for the market. It's my job to write and leave the rest to the Lord. Of course, sometimes it's easier said than done. 🙂
>Encouraged:-) Sometimes the "I've been at this TWENTY years and finally got my first contract" stories makes me gulp and wipe sweat off my brow. But I believe God has a timing for everything and everyone, and we weren't to know it in advance. If he wants me to wait, shudder, twenty years to get published, there isn't a thing I can do about it except keep obeying him (and pray that pretty please he have mercy on me a wee bit sooner than that!)
>I like to think that even if it takes until I'm 70 or 80 I will eventually find some sort of success. Maybe that won't even happen, but the thought helps me continue to try to do something with these stories I keep writing because I have to write them–so yes, hearing success stories does help. Thanks!
>I feel encouraged and put off at the same time. I know its the same thing when i write a computer program – you think you've coded it right but then there are thousands of syntaxical and logical errors. The syntax one being the easiest to fix. I suppose both are case of debugging, decoding and building it up.
>Great examples, Rachelle! I was always encouraged when I heard stories like that, and I still am!
>I feel encouraged by news of success — even if it took the author 10+ years to publish. Love for the craft is an important part of the equation. If you don't truly love to write — need to write — then banging your head against closed doors for that long a time will seem crazy. For the rest of us, it won't.
Thanks for the encouraging post, Rachelle!
>Thank you for this post!
Every time I get rejected, my dear husband and mother will remind me of how many times JK Rowling got rejected, or any of the other writers that I love. I get in the can do frame of mind by thinking about their own stories.
>What an excellent post for me to read this morning. Thanks for this, Rachelle.
>I have a friend who persisted for TWENTY years. She wrote nine novels and didn't get anywhere. Then all of the sudden she won a novel contest, and the publisher bought four of her books! How's that for determination? When she told me about how long she'd been submotting for and how many novels she'd written, I almost had a heart attack. But I suppose, if you don't love to write, then you're not meant to be published. And if you love to write, you're going to keep writing no matter what, cause that's what keeps us writers ticking 🙂 So, no, it doesn't discourage me, because I know that no matter what, I'm going to keep doing what makes me happy.
>This was encouraging. It's nice to know that they didn't give up even after so many rejections.
>Nice fill someone in on and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you on your information.
>I am encouraged to keep going…but also 'encouraged' to keep my expectations in check. A hard thing to do for a dreamer!
>I feel HIGHLY encouraged reading stories such as these. I hope one day to add my own story of 'from woe to go' and encourage others to never give up on their dreams. Each day I feel like I'm getting closer to achieving my goals. It's a long, steep, slippery climb, but that doesn't make it any less enticing trying to reach the summit.
>Getting your book done and polished is the biggest hurdle. It is really uplifting to see so many novelists getting their work published. Thanks!
>Thanks for the encouragement. I'm getting lots of positive comments, but the end result is always the same: fun, well-written, original, yada, yada BUT their list is full or they don't quite represent this genre (despite the info on their websites). Gee, thanks. Sure, I've gotten some helpful feedback but then they come up with excuses about the tough market, etc…
Reading between the lines I think they mean to say they won't get RICH off my project. How do they know until they give me a chance? Let's hope the agents with my full sing a different tune–or at least invent a few new creative excuses.