I wonder sometimes about the people who “make it” in this business. Sure, I think there are those who stumble into it ass-backwards and make a killing. They write a manuscript (and maybe their first draft is super stellar), they find an agent on their first try, the book goes out on submission and editors everywhere want it. An auction ensues. Instant overnight success ala Stephenie Meyer, right?
But that’s not the real world. And I have a hard time believing that even those rare “overnight successes” didn’t have their own stumbling blocks along the way.
And what about the rest of us? Most of us?
It certainly didn’t happen that way for me. Sure, The Body Finder sold quickly, but it also wasn’t my first book. Or my second. And I had (ehem…have) stacks of rejection letters to prove it.
I had my first agent when I was twenty. Yeah, you heard me, twenty. And I thought, that’s it, I’ve made it! Now, I can sit back and wait for the bags-o-money to roll in.
My book didn’t actually sell. My dreams of lighting my cigars (that’s right, I probably would have started smoking cigars) with hundred dollar bills went up in smoke (pardon the pun!).
But I didn’t give up. I rewrote my book, and found yet another agent. And this time I was in my mid-twenties…much older, and much wiser. *cough*yeahright*coughcough*
And, again, my book didn’t sell. So this time I tucked my manuscript away in a drawer. And every few years I would pull it out, dust it off, rewrite it, and resubmit it to agents. The technology got better. I moved from a typewriter to a word processer to a computer. Searching for agents got easier, The Writers Market moved from doorstopper-sized hardcopy to an online version. But, alas, my poor little manuscript just didn’t have what it took to find a publishing home. It had something, just not quite the right thing.
Unfortunately, I was stuck. I’d gotten just enough positive feedback to keep me clinging to it like it was my last, great hope. Hell, I’d had two agents. I even had a two page, single-spaced critique letter from an editor at William Morrow who was kind enough to read my entire manuscript despite the fact that I’d blindly sent it to her without knowing I needed an agent first. I had just the right amount of encouragement to keep me from letting it go.
And then one day I made a decision. One more revision, I decided. The last one, and then I was done with it. Then I was moving on. If I was going to be a writer, then by god I was going to write. New stuff. Even if it never found a publishing home. Even if I was only writing it for me. I was tired of the old book. I wanted to write!
It was very freeing, that moment.
And I did it; I revised the old manuscript, sent out a few more queries, gathered a few more rejections, and moved on. I wrote a second book, and sent out new queries. Got some nibbles, requests for fulls, definitely a lot more positive this time. Could it be that my writing had improved?
Again, I didn’t waste any time, and I started on a new project: The Body Finder. It came together quickly. I was working two jobs, I have three kids, and a busy household. And somehow I would squeeze in a couple of hours every day. My husband did the dishes and got the kids ready for bed. I got up early and stayed up late.
I finished it, and had a feeling that this was something. I was supposed to pitch my second novel at a writer’s conference just weeks away, and instead decided to pitch this new project.
It was like the stars had finally aligned.
But you know what? That wasn’t it at all. There was no fate or kismet involved. It was a lot of hard work. It was dedication and sticking with it, even knowing it was quite possibly a pipe dream. It was believing in myself.
The people that make it—and I believe this about almost any industry that’s difficult to break into—aren’t really the ones who accidentally stumble onto the scene and make a splash (yes, there are those rare exceptions). Instead, they are the ones who bust their asses! The ones who find the time, who never give up, who look past the rejections and keep on working, learning, growing.
I might be the Paula Abdul of writing, but never let the Simons get you down. Not if you really want it!