Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The beauty of ball-peen, and why surrender was never an option

In the early days of this blog, I was neurotic about replying to every single comment. Sadly, it came down to a choice between continuing to do that versus sleeping and eating.

I still read every comment, and often something will catch my eye as a potential blog topic.

Like this comment posted last Friday by Valentina Hepburn:

Both excellent questions I'm pleased to be able to answer easily because I'm lazy like that.

I knew a few days before Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 that Sourcebooks editor Deb Werksman was presenting my book to the editorial board that day. I tried to keep myself busy with important tasks like brushing the cat and counting my toes, and I knew when the phone rang around 4 p.m. that it was my agent calling with news.

She tortured me for a few minutes with idle chit-chat before excitedly announcing, "Sourcebooks is offering you a three-book deal!"

Part of me wants to pretend my gut response was something humble and ladylike. I don't remember what I said, but I'm sure it was reasonably modest with a squeal thrown in for good measure.

But the truth is, my very first thought was, "It's about damn time."

If you aren't familiar with my bumpy road to publication, you might think I'm an impatient bitch. Sometimes I am, but in this case, it took many years of struggle and rejection to reach this point.

And I also want to clarify that I was never impatient with my agent. She did an amazing job kicking in windows every time a door closed, and generally believing in me and my books even when we racked up enough rejection letters to wallpaper the inside of a medium-sized brothel.

But even if none of that were true, I think my gut response to a book deal always would have contained some element of that reaction. Deep down, I was always certain I would succeed.

And in a way, that answers the question of whether I ever felt like putting down my pen and crying, "enough already." Sure, there were moments during that eight-year struggle when I thought beating myself in the forehead each morning with a ball-peen hammer would be a smarter way to spend my time.

Then I'd usually get distracted snickering over the term "ball-peen" and would forget about my negative thoughts for awhile.

But I can honestly say I never once considered giving up. I never once stopped believing it was going to happen.

And I can tell you with absolute certainty that belief in myself is the single biggest factor in why I got my book deal. It wasn't talent or smarts or a nice pedicure, but persistence and the certainty my hard work would eventually pay off.

I remember one particularly brutal rejection from an editor back when I was with a former agent. The agent urged me not to take it personally, and I assured her I wasn't.

"I know getting published is more about persistence and luck than it is about talent," I assured her. "I'm not mortally wounded here."

She paused a long time. "I wish more writers understood that."

I never forgot that, even after I ended my relationship with that agent and teamed up with the amazing Michelle Wolfson. The fact that Michelle believed in me with the same ferocity I believed in myself is undoubtedly what kept us both going when other writers or agents might have thrown in the towel and said, "screw this, screw you, screw them, I'm outta here."

Even without a smart, savvy, encouraging agent behind you, the number one tool you have in your arsenal is the ability to keep believing in yourself even if no one else does. Sometimes it's tough, sometimes it seems futile, but that certainty will keep you fueled during the times you feel dangerously close to setting fire to your laptop and throwing it off the balcony.

Can you think of anything you've felt certain about despite all kinds of odds that suggested you're crazy for doing so? Anything you believed in so fiercely, you may very well have willed it to happen? Please share!

I'll be busy willing Daniel Craig to show up on my doorstep with a pizza and a bottle of Chianti. What? It could happen.


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

It's always encouraging to read about the relationship you have with your agent. As for willing something to happen, I'm still working on getting my book published, but not too actively just yet. Almost finished with the final (yeah, right) editing and then it'll be back to the queries. Finding success in this business is an arduous climb, but I can't imagine having the stamina to keep at it without support from someone, anyone. (I'll bet your parents were behind you every step of the way!) Only thing I've successfully willed to happen is getting my husband home from his tour in Vietnam. We BOTH willed it. (with a little help from a Friend)

Sarah W said...

You are an inspiration for perspiration . . . or something like that.

I willed my older daughter to be born three days early after being told that it would be a week or two longer than predicted. "Oh, no, it won't. You---out."

It's not the same thing, of course, but it did take 36 hours, which felt like eight years . . .

Linda G. said...

Ha. You are overly optimistic about the possibility of me letting Mr. Craig out of my basement. ;)

Shakespeare said...

I hear you loud and clear. I can hardly remember a time in my life when I didn't have to function believing in myself when nobody else did. Teachers were my only true encouragement, but the positive voice in my head was stronger than any of theirs.

I remember auditioning for THE WIZARD OF OZ when in college. As I stepped up there, only three people in the audience had any hope that I'd do well (since they'd heard me sing before). The director even admitted later that she feared I would stink completely and embarrass myself. But I sing well, and I blew them all away, earned the part of Dorothy, and changed the minds of everyone in that theatre.

Knowing others assume my manuscript is just slush makes me work harder. I don't just want the work to be okay, I want it to blow agents, editors, and readers away. I want it unforgettable. I'd rather work towards that, and if publication happens, as it eventually will, that will be icing on the cake.

Your book is being shipped to me as I write this, and I can't wait to read it! Thanks so much for blogging all this time. Your own story has been such an encouragement!

Beverly Diehl said...

You're a better woman than I, Ms. Tawna. I've thought about giving up many times. Plus in the beginning, had the false confidence that my truly dreadful first novel was all that and a bag of chips. I reread it now and want to disown it like a love child conceived with an inmate of Death Row. What was I thinking?!

BUT... like you, I've kept going. I know my writing is stronger and cleaner and better now, I understand how the publishing industry works (well, kind of, right now it seems to me that IT isn't quite sure how it works anymore), and I'm better able to back off and not take rejection personally. (Though it still stings.)

IF you have talent, IF you polish your skills, and IF you keep plugging away, eventually, the stars will align and you'll get published. That's my belief and I'm sticking to it. Writing in Flow

Christi Goddard said...

I keep willing my lotto numbers to turn up. So far, it's a no go.

I write no matter what and only try to publish a small percentage of it. I would love to be in print, but it's not what keeps me going. If I didn't write, I'd run naked through the streets.

Okay, no, I do that anyway for the fabulous breeze.

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

Call me if you need help breaking Daniel out of Linda's basement!

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Slamdunk said...

Visiting from Matthew's site.

Yes, eventually every blogger has to make a choice about being a good host and responding to everything or just being selective.

Congrats on your success.

Julie Glover said...

This was such an encouraging post! And I'm happy for your happy ending. Kudos to you and your agent!

Lisa Ahn said...

Thank you, thank you. :)