Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Like notches on a bedpost

One of the most common questions I get from newer writers is how many manuscripts I had to write before I landed my three-book deal.

There aren't many questions that make me cringe, but that one does. The answer has so much potential to discourage writers battling their way through their first manuscript, and I always want to point them to this blog post I wrote on the subject nearly 17 months ago.

Of course, recommending a link doesn't work so well in a public speaking engagement or a casual conversation over coffee, but it does work here. So that's what I'm doing now. Here you go:

Friday, June 11, 2010

The number you don't want to know

It sucks when they come in waves like this.

No, for once I’m not making a dirty joke. I’m talking about rejections, and the fact that two author pals just got hit with them. The sort of rejections that take the wind out of your sails and the gin out of the cupboard because you’re hoping a stiff one (nope, still not dirty) might take the sting out.

But the gin doesn’t help, because let’s face it – rejection sucks. Even the positive rejections, the ones cushioned by praise and flattery and “almost there” cheerleading.

I hate the idea of standing here with an amazing agent and a recent book deal trying to say something wise and comforting. Frankly, I might’ve thrown rocks at someone like that a year ago. Or four years ago. Or six years ago.

And that’s when I start thinking about the numbers. About the fact that somewhere in the great unknown is a list of every author and the number of books he or she must write before getting a big break. For some, it’s one. For others, it’s 20.

When I first started writing fiction in 2002, I heard the average is seven. Six books that don’t sell. I remember hearing that and laughing. That won’t be me. That could never be me.

I was wrong.

The counting gets tricky since my sixth and eighth full manuscripts sold as part of my three-book deal, but that doesn’t count partials, and then there’s the mess with my third manuscript selling and getting canceled (go here if you don’t know the story).

But my point is, this: I am eternally grateful I didn’t know my number beforehand. If someone had offered me a crystal ball and given me a peek, you can bet your sweet assignat I would have looked.

And that would have changed everything. Maybe I would have been discouraged by all the dead book corpses. Maybe those earlier stories would have been infused with the hopelessness of knowing they would never be published. Maybe I would’ve missed the important lessons I learned in writing them.

I honestly don’t know.

I know rejection is hard on everyone (nope, still not dirty). But the thing you have to cling to is the belief that THIS BOOK MIGHT BE THE ONE.

Maybe it won’t be, but that’s not the point. Hope should be the thing driving you every time you open a new Word document and type “once upon a time.”

Not knowing how many tries it will take allows you to get everything you possibly can from the experience of writing each book. It lets you savor that thrill, to truly keep your eye on the ball in front of you.

And for every writer, that is the only ball that matters.

(OK, I kinda meant the last one).


Sarah W said...

Hope should be the thing driving you every time you open a new Word document and type “once upon a time.”

Best. Advice. Ever.

Loralie Hall said...

Kinda really needed to hear this this morning. A dose of realistic hope. Thank you <3

Julie Glover said...

I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I needed to hear this particular message this morning. I picked up a novel manuscript I wrote and love yesterday - thinking it was in great shape - and when I reread it, I realized I'm a better writer now and need to drastically whip that baby into shape. It was discouraging to realize my edit would be a rewrite. Or that maybe I need to shelve it and start another project.

Thanks for sharing this. You've put a little wind into my sails this morning, and I'm ready to get busy and be a writer, for a heaven's sake!

Sarah Allen said...

Thank you for this :) Thank you for being so encouraging. I'm working on my first novel, but I'm going to be one of those one-novel people. I'm sure.

Ha ha.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Therese said...

My sister loves astrology and at one point I asked her WHEN SHE THOUGHT I WOULD GET PUBLISHED...

According to her view of my astrological transits - 8 YEARS!

I was not pleased, KNEW SHE WAS WRONG, got angry and tucked in hard (not dirty) to learning craft, taking classes, etc. etc. etc...

I didn't make note of the date but I bet I could find it in my journals. I'm pretty sure it was around 2003-2004. Doesn't seem so long now, it's also been a hell-of-a-journey!!