August 16, 2009


(I wrote this article six years ago, lost it and just found it again. I currently have 35 professional publications under my belt, an activity book due out sometime this fall and a blog that people read. I find that this article still applies – of course, the numbers have changed for the better, but it’s still as true today as it was six years ago.)

With three sales to the Cricket Magazine Group, two to a major science fiction magazine, numerous newspaper essays, a nomination for the Paul A. Witty Short Story Award, inclusion of a short story in a Scott Foresman Fourth Grade Reader, my own book (available at all fine B&N and Northwestern Book stores everywhere), invitations to Young Author conferences and in my second year as a COMPAS Writer In The Schools program – you’d think I wouldn’t get rejected or need advice any more.

If you thought that – like I did thirteen years ago – you’d be most sadly mistaken.

I clearly remember longing for my FIRST professional publication. I was writing as often as I could, working 11 pm – 9 am at a home for the physically and mentally handicapped, working another day job, and planning for a wedding. My manuscripts kept coming back to me rejected. I subscribed to The Writer and Writers Digest. I bought or read every writing book I could get my hands on. If I’d run across an article like this, I know what my reaction would have been: “Yeah. Fine. Easy for you to say; you made it.”

Amazingly enough, I have “made it’. But I still get rejected more often than I get accepted. Full-time freelancing is still only a dream, and I’m frustrated by how little time I can spend writing. I have a wife, two (one teen, the other a teen wannabe) kids, a dog, two cats, and an assortment of other creatures to care for as well as a near-fifty-year-old house. I have a full-time job teaching (“Aha!” you’ll shout, “That’s why you’re published! All that free time to sit around, sipping lattes and typing salable manuscripts. I don’t have a cushy job like THAT. I have a real job!”…um…care to join me for a week in the classroom?)

But despite the above-mentioned blessings, I still have to apply the seat of my pants to the chair in front of the computer and write. Persistence – writing as many manuscripts as I can, doing market research, query letters, calls, emails, pulling story ideas from “nowhere”, and surviving impersonal rejection slips – is still required. It’s still essential.

That came as a surprise to me. I thought that once I got REALLY published it would all be easy – all gravy except for the meat! But now, instead of worrying about breaking the publication barrier, I’m working on breaking into new publications. I’m trying to learn enough from a novel re-write with an editor (fourth time around, six years in the writing) to make my NEXT book a little less difficult to write. The dozen unpublished (and mostly unpublishable!) novels in my files cry out to me. When I lay out all my publications and blur my vision to admire them, I can only stay that way for so long.

But eventually I realize that if I want more publications, I have go back to square one: write and send out. Persist in my form of craziness. It’s no different now that I’ve “made it” than when I was just starting.

Do multiple publications make rejection easier? Not at all – in fact being rejected by someone I know is harder than being rejected by a stranger. It’s also harder not to take the rejection personally. It makes it harder to take the manuscript that I wrote with that particular editor in mind and send it out to a stranger. It takes persistence.

Years ago, I know that I would have been muttering, “I should be so lucky as to have such problems…”, but now from this new perspective, I’ve come to realize that “all” I have to do is keep writing, keep researching markets, keep finishing, keep reading, and keep sending.

It’s still a “NEWSFLASH! After 25 publications, persistence still necessary!” My guess is that after fifty, a hundred, or a thousand publications, it will still be true. My guess is that ALL of us, no matter where we are in our search for success, have to simply stick with it. We have to persist!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Guy, I think this post is right on target: I'm in roughly the same part of my career as you and facing some similar challenges, and you're definitely speaking for me, too.

I do imagine, though, that there is a level where things step up, possibly for everyone who perseveres long enough. I've sold my first book, and it's earned out its advance and even gotten a little bit of media recognition, but there was no chance of being able to go "full time" on the sale of that particular book. My next book, though ... it might (or might not!) get an advance of five or ten times what the first one did, enough that I could seriously consider switching to full-time, and at that point I can't help but think I would have "made it" if I can keep at the writing, because there wouldn't be a difference just in my credentials: there would be a difference in my daily routine.

But a great many writers (even very good ones) never do quit their day jobs ... anyway, what's your thought on the subject?