Get Some Rejection

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris

The other day I watched an old MGM movie, The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954). It stars Elizabeth Taylor at her most gorgeous and Van Johnson at his most likable. Van plays a GI in Paris on VE Day. He gets kissed in the crowd by Liz, which is not something a GI would ever forget. When he sees her later at a party, he makes a beeline for her. Soon they are in love. Then married.

Van had been a wartime correspondent for Stars and Stripes, and lands a job in the Paris office of a wire service. But what he really wants to be is a novelist. He works diligently on his first novel, and finally sends it out.

It’s rejected at several houses. Van is naturally disappointed, but Liz talks him up, tells him to keep trying.

So Van spends the next couple of years writing his heart out. When he finishes the new manuscript he has Liz read it. As he looks on anxiously, Liz puts down the final page and gazes into Van’s eyes. “It’s even more beautiful than the last one,” she says.

Huzzah! He sends it out.

Rejected and rejected and rejected!

Marital strife ensues. Van spends another two years writing what is left of his heart out. But when he gets more rejections he nosedives into depression. He gets drunk, throws things around the apartment, and screams at Liz, “Let’s face it! I just don’t have what it takes!”

If you want to know about the rest of the movie, you can look it up on Wikipedia.

I mention it here because it captures what real writerly rejection felt like in the “old days” of publishing. Most writers born after 1990 haven’t experienced such a rebuke. They’re part of the participation-trophy, instant-gratification generation, and know all about self-publishing, be it on Wattpad or Amazon or blog or vlog or pod.

Well let me tell you kids something. Back in the pre-Kindle days—and especially in the 1950s and 60s—the walls of the Forbidden City were huge and ominous. “Serious” hardcover fiction (as opposed to pulp-style paperbacks and book-club mysteries) was the shelf “real” writers wanted to crack. Some—like Norman Mailer, Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, Sloan Wilson, Carson McCullers—made it, garnering critical or popular acclaim, or both. Most unpublished writers longed for same. And never got it.

Dreams died hard.

They still do outside the gates of the Forbidden City. Because of the great digital disruption and ensuing retrenchment in traditional publishing, there are even fewer slots for new writers. The City must depend even more on A-list blockbusters or celebrity debuts to sustain its Manhattan overhead.

In a private conversation with an agent friend, I was told that the market for new fiction writers is all but gone. From a business standpoint, that makes sense. The industry is understandably risk-averse. Yes, new deals are being made. But not nearly so many as ten and twenty years ago.

Which brings us to self-publishing, the greatest boon to writers since Gutenberg. No longer does rejection by the Forbidden City mean it’s all over, that you’ll never make it, that your dream of writing and finding readers is dead in the water.

Van Johnson would have been amazed by this.

So it may come as a bit of a shock when I tell you what I sometimes advise a new writer anxious to self-publish. Especially if it’s their first book. I say, “Get some rejection.”

Stay with me.

Before self-publishing became viable, when you got rejected it truly tested your mettle. First novels almost never got picked up by an agent or publisher. And most of the time they never told you why. Just something like, “Does not fit our needs at this time.”

This would sting for a few days. Maybe you’d throw things around and think, “I just don’t have what it takes!” But if you were a real writer you’d get back to work. You’d figure out (with help from others) what was wrong with your writing. You’d study the marketplace. If you were wise, you’d study the craft, too. Maybe join a critique group, go to a conference or two or three. Invest in yourself.

Most important of all, you would continue to write. And then maybe two or three or five years later an agent would take a chance on you. And another year or two later, you might land that first contract. And then eighteen months later, your book would hit the stores.

And you would discover the truth behind Martin Myers’ keen observation: “First you’re an unknown, then you write one book and you move up to obscurity.”

Yet all that rejection and heartache and sticktoitiveness made you a better writer. Which, in turn, increased your chances of having an actual career.

So if you’re a brand new writer with a brand new novel (and a lot of you will be at the end of this NaNoWriMo month), go out and get some rejection. Use the beta reader grinder system. Seek open and honest opinion. Take the chip off your shoulder. Consider hiring a freelance editor. Start thinking like a business. Set up quality controls.

Heck, spend a month studying our library of first-page critiques. Talk about a concentrated course on storytelling!

Sure, you can skip all that and toss your novel up on Amazon, where it will get rejected by the people you most need—readers.

Or you can be a little patient, work hard, listen and learn and improve, and greatly increase your chances of success.

So go get some rejection. Just don’t get drunk and throw things around your apartment. Especially your keyboard.

So what about you? What has been your experience with the R word?

***

 

Oh, and for those of you who saw last week’s post and wanted to know when the print version would be available, well, it’s here.

12+

10 Ways to Sabotage Your Writing

This writing life has enough gremlins—rejection, bad reviews, economic uncertainty, short actors playing your 6’5” hero in a movie version—that a writer shouldn’t be adding his own. Here are the top ten to watch out for. Maybe you have some to add to the list: 

1. Thinking about your career more than about your writing
Guess what? No matter where you are in your writing career you can always find a reason to be unhappy about it. You’re unagented and you want to get an agent. You’re unpublished and you want to be published. You’re published and you want to be read. You’re read but not read in the numbers you hoped. You’ve gone indie and your books aren’t selling enough to buy you a monthly mocha.
You can always find something to be unhappy about. What you ought to do is write more. When you’re into your story and you’re pounding the keys and you’re imagining the scene and you’re feeling the characters, you’re not camping out in the untamed country of unfulfilled expectations.
It’s fine to plan. In fact, I’ve written a paper to help you do that. But once the planning is done, get to work.
2. The comparison trap
I’ve written a whole post on this one. What good is it going to do you to look at somebody else’s success and hit the table and cry out for justice? Writing is not just. It just is. You do your work the best you can and you let the results happen, because you can’t manipulate them. You can’t touch them, you can’t change them, you can’t fix them. You can only give it your best shot each time out.
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” – Epictetus
3. Ranking Obsession
Another thing you can’t control is your ranking on Amazon or the various and sundry bestseller lists. Or sure, there are things writers do to try and “game the system.” The paid reviews scandal was one of the more egregious examples of this.  But in the end, the game playing is not worth the knot in the stomach.
Don’t worry about rankings and lists. Worry about your word count, plot and characters. If you do the latter well, the former will take care of itself.
4. Envy
Another useless emotion. But it seems to be a part of most writers’ lives. Ann Lamott and Elizabeth Berg both lost friendships over it. Envy has even driven authors to set up sock puppet identities not merely to hand themselves good reviews, but to leave negative reviews for their rivals’ books.
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30). Try to have a heart at peace by getting back to your story while, at the same time, developing the next one. 
5. Trying to be the next James Patterson. . .
. . . or J. K. Rowling, or Michael Connelly. Wait a second. We already have those. And they are the best at being who they are.
Become the leading brand of you, not the generic brand of someone else sitting on the shelf at the 99¢ store.
This is not to say don’t write in the same genre or try to do some of the good things other writers do. We can certainly learn from those we admire.
But when we write, we have a picture in our heads, a sort of writer self-image. And if we imagine our books being treated like Connelly’s books, or we see ourselves in LA Magazine interviewed like Connelly, we’ll just end up writing like a second-rate Connelly.
Do that and you stifle the thing that has the chance to set you apart—your own voice. 
6. “I’m not good enough to make it.”
That’s not the issue. The issue is: do you want to write? Do you really?  Do you want it so much that if you don’t write you’re going to feel diminished in some way, and for the rest of your life?
You should feel like you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Writing is what you must do, even if you hold a full time job. Even if you chase a passel of kids around the house. You find your time and you keep writing. Keep looking to improve. You can improve. I’ve got hundreds of letters from people who have validated this point.
7. Fear
Fear of failing. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of what your writing might say about you. We are actually wired for fear. It’s a survival mechanism.
So it has a good side so long as it is not allowed to go on. In fact, when you fear something in your writing it may be a sign that this is the place you need to go. This is where the fresh material may be. You need to go there, and assess it later.
8. Hanging on to discouragement
When my son was first pitching Little League baseball, he’d get upset when someone got a key hit or homer off him. This would affect the rest of his performance. So I gave him a rule. I told him he could say “Dang it!” once, and hit his glove with his fist. This became the “one Dang It rule.” It helped settle him down and he went to a great season and a victory in the championship game.
When discouragement comes to you, writer friend (and it will), go ahead and feel it. Say “Dang it!” (or, if you’re alone, exercise your freedom of speech as you see fit). But time yourself. Give yourself permission to feel bad for thirty minutes. After that, go to the keyboard and start writing again.
9. Loving the feeling of being a writer more than writing
The most important thing a writers does, said the late Robert B. Parker, is produce. Don’t fall into the trap of writing a few words in a journal, lingering over the wonderful vibrations of being alive with the tulips of creativity budding within your brain, and leaving it at that.
You’ve got to get some sweat equity going in this game. I don’t mean you have to crank it out like some pulp writer behind in his rent (though I like this model myself). But you do have to have some sort of quota, even if it is a small one. Writing only when you feel like it is not the mark of a professional.
10. Letting negative people get to you
Illegitimi non carborundum.
Next time that know-it-all says you haven’t got the stuff to be a writer, smile and repeat this Latin phrase. And as he looks at you puzzled, turn your back, get to your computer, and proceed to prove him wrong.
And plan to make 2013 the most productive year of your writing life. 

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I get knocked down but I get up again

By PJ Parrish
Last week was a good one.
I finished a chapter of the novella, nudging it up past 17,000 words. I got a nice little royalty check that will keep my dogs in kibbles for three months. I turned in my edits for the next Louis Kincaid novel on time –- and the copy editor wrote this note on the last page: Great story! I’m so glad I was able to read it early. I truly enjoyed all the twist and turns. I haven’t read Louis Kincaid stories yet—but now I’m going to go back and do so!
This week…not so good.
Got some bad news about an upcoming project. Lost a foreign publisher. Can’t get any traction on the concept for the next book. The formatting on our Kindle eBook keeps screwing up the paragraphing. And some anonymous weasel-boy trashed us on Amazon.
You’d think after more than a decade at this writing biz, I’d be immune to the ups and downs. But I’m not. I still get discouraged and swing from ecstasy to agony. And like the cliché goes, I still go to bed some nights convinced I’ve used up all my good ideas and that the fraud police will cart me away in the morning.
I know I’m not alone. I know all writers are like crabs without shells, that the slightest kick, the smallest snub, sends us into spasms of self-doubt. I know this so well that it is part of every writing workshop I teach. Get out now, I tell those who wish to be published, if you can’t take criticism and rejection at every turn. Your queries will be ignored by agents. Your manuscripts will be turned down by editors. Your book will be snubbed by reviewers. Barnes and Noble won’t carry you. You won’t get a paperback reprint. You’ll be remaindered.
Jim Hall put it in perspective for me once. His newest book had just come out to glowing reviews. One day, riding high, he was in B&N and saw a woman reading the first pages of his book. He couldn’t resist and went over to her and said, “I wrote that.”
She said, “So?”
Rejection and dejection. How do you cope?
How do you keep your head above the waves as you tread water? How do you keep putting one word in front of the other every day until you’ve finished that lonely journey of eighty-thousand words? I don’t have the answer but I have learned this much:

You find support

I’m lucky; I have my sister and co-author. When one of us is on the ledge the other talks her off. If you’re alone, then you need to find others who understand what you’re going through. You need someone who knows that when you’re staring off into space yes, you really are writing. You need someone who will slap you upside the head when you’re whining, tell you the truth when you’ve lost control of your plot, and buy you two really strong martinis when you get dumped by your publisher. This someone is usually not your mom or spouse. They love you too much, poor dears.

You focus in not out

It is easy to get eaten up with envy in our business over who got the big contract, who got the award, who got the prime Saturday panel at Bourcheron when you got the 9 a.m. Sunday slot. You have to tune out all this noise. When I was just starting out, one of the best pieces of advice I got was from Jan Burke. “Keep your head down and just write your books,” she said.

 

You have faith

You have faith that you love the process and that you would probably do it even if no one paid you another dime and had to stand out on the Kindle corner and give it away. You have faith that some agent out there will read your proposal and take you on. That some editor will feel the same way about life that you do and buy your manuscript. You have faith that, despite all the bad things going on in publishing right now, that readers still need good stories. You have faith that you can still write them.
And if that doesn’t work? I will personally buy you that martini. And remember: There’s always the wise words of that great eastern philosopher Chumba Wamba:
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Rhino Skin


Today’s column is brought to you by Kit Shannon, turn-of-the-century Los Angeles lawyer. ANGELS FLIGHT, the second novel in The Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for Kindleand Nook.

Nothing had prepared her for the hostility of a city gripped by prejudice . . .

But you have to be prepared for the slings and arrows of the writing life. These may come in the form of rejection letters, bad reviews, angry reader e-mails,  personal jabs from a family member, or any  number of other places.
           
To survive, you need to develop Rhino skin. You need an outer armor that takes the hits but doesn’t stop you. Here’s how you get it:
1. Let rejection, or criticism, hurt for a day, no more
It’s all right to take a hit and feel its full force. Don’t try to hide from the emotional impact. Give vent. Destroy a pillow if you must. But let go after half an hour or so. Determine to go immediately to #2.

2. Write
When my son fell off his two wheeler the first time out, I didn’t let him quit. I got him back on the bike and almost burst my lungs running with him. We repeated the process till he got it.
           
He did not like falling. But when he was back on the bike and peddling, he was not thinking about the fall. He was thinking about staying up for the next few feet.
           
Writing is like that. When you are down about your writing, pound out those words. Dennis Palumbo, in his book Writing From the Inside Out,says “Every hour you spend writing is an hour spent not fretting about your writing.”
           
A daily quota is tonic for your ache.
           
What you’ll find is wonderful: when your mind reflects back on the hurt, the wound won’t be as deep as it once was. And the more you do write, the more the hurt begins to fade. You won’t forget it, but it won’t debilitate you.

3. Review your career path
And that’s what you’re on. Do not think of yourself as someone trying to sell a novel. You are a writer, and that means you never quit.
           
Do you need to start another book? What will you do differently? What can you learn from the rejection or the critic that is of actual value to you? Learn that thing then write and forget the rest.

4. Reward yourself
For a writing job finished, for a quota met, for a manuscript completed, heck, for just about anything, treat yourself to something.
           
When I finish a manuscript I like to take a full day off and go on a literary goof. There are used bookstores in L.A. I like, so I’ll start there, browse the shelves, pick up that Cornell Woolrich I’ve been missing, or add to my collection of 50’s paperback originals.
           
I might just go to a park or the beach, put out a chair and read.
           
That night, I’ll take my wife to one of our favorite places for dinner. You simply have to enjoy the journey or what’s the point of it all?

5. Remind yourself
Two reminders to put inside your head.
           
The first is to remember that the greatest writers of all time have been rejected and, once published, slammed in a review.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1892, said of Emily Dickinson, “An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village—or anywhere else—cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar. Oblivion lingers in the immediate neighborhood.”
           
Nothing of Mr. Aldrich, to my knowledge, remains in print.
           
An unnamed editor returned Tony Hillerman’s first Navajo detective manuscript to him, with a note: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff.”
           
When you get a rejection or bad review, remember you’re in very good company.
           
And then remind yourself constantly that you are a writer, because you write. There are many more people who do not write yet feel perfectly at ease sniping at those who do. When such a snipe comes your way, know that you are the one putting yourself on the line, opening a vein, walking the tightrope, singing a solo under hot lights. You are part of a courageous bunch who are all about doing. Teddy Roosevelt’s famous advice applies to writers:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Get in the arena. Go at your writing with all the devotion and love and enthusiasm you have. When the darts of rejection or criticism come your way, keep writing. You will stop them with Rhino skin, and keep right on charging ahead.

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Not For Us!

By Joe Moore

We’ve all gotten them. Some are personalized and contain constructive criticism. Others are form letters addressed to “author”. Some have been photocopied so many times that the cryptologists at the NSA couldn’t even decipher rejecttheir original message. Or they might arrive as a brief thanks-but-no-thanks email. They all say the same thing: your manuscript is not for us.

Rejected.

There are numerous ways to deal with literary rejection. We can all imagine the negative methods. But today, I want to discuss the positive ways to deal with the not-for-us letter.

After you’ve amassed an impressive stack of rejection letters, start by asking yourself if your query letter or synopsis might be the issue. You might have written the next Great American Novel, but if your sales pitch—your query letter—doesn’t do the job, the editor won’t want to move to the next step of requesting a sample. One method of improving your query and synopsis is to get help from an impartial third party such as a published author, writer’s forum or critique group. If you know someone who’s already published, ask if they can read your letter and give you advice on where you might be going wrong. Many online forums such as AbsoluteWrite, Writing Forums, and others have specific sections on query evaluation and feedback. Use them.

Next, you want to determine if you’re really targeting the appropriate publishers or agents. This is where you need to study the market. Go to the local bookstore and find novels that are similar to your manuscript. Make a note of the publishers. Many novelists include the name of their editor or agent on the acknowledgements page. Note those names. Then go online and visit the publisher’s websites. Read the descriptions of the plot on Amazon and B&N, and compare to yours. Google the agents names. Look at their list of clients. Are those writers some of your favorites? Do they write books similar to yours? Do your homework and focus on specific publishers and agents that deal with your kind of book.

Another question you need to ask yourself is if your book is as good as it can be. Of course, you’ll probably answer yes. Then take a moment to really consider the question. Are you being rejected repeatedly because the manuscript is just not ready for publication? Chances are, it probably isn’t.

So what should you do? Again, get outside help. One of the best ways to improve a manuscript is to join a local critique group. Most towns and communities have a library. Ask the local librarian if there are any groups that meet in the area. Check with the local bookstore. They usually know of critique groups or have bulletin boards that might list them. Critique groups that are made up of serious writers can be a huge benefit to helping you improve your work. Just remember that critiquing is a two-ways street. You want honest and sincere feedback, and you need to be prepared to give it back to your fellow members. There’s a very good chance that a group of fellow writers can help you get your story in shape so you can start submitting again.

Finally, don’t shoot the messenger. Agents and editors are in business to make money. If they don’t sell books, they go broke. If they don’t discover new books from new authors, they eventually go out of business. Their rejection of your work is nothing personal. Chances are, they don’t even know you. All they know is what they read in your query or sample. And the reasons for rejecting a manuscript can be as numerous as the number of submissions they received that day. Don’t blame them.

Forget about the lame excuses like: publishers only publish big established names and famous people. Or your book was rejected because it’s “different”, experimental, too unique for mainstream. Or you can’t believe they rejected your book when there’s so many bad books published. Go to The New York Times bestseller list. Look at all the writer’s names. Each and every author on that list was once an amateur struggling to get someone to read their manuscript and dreaming of making money as a published author. Every one of them fantasized about seeing their name on that list. What did they do? They realized that rejection really doesn’t mean “not for us”. It means “not ready for us yet”. Now go fix your book.

Any rejection stories to share? How many rejection letters did you get before that first book was published? If you’re published, do you still use a critique group or beta readers?

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Not For Us!

By Joe Moore

We’ve all gotten them. Some are personalized and contain constructive criticism. Others are form letters addressed to “author”. Some have been photocopied so many times that the cryptologists at the NSA couldn’t even decipher rejecttheir original message. Or they might arrive as a brief thanks-but-no-thanks email. They all say the same thing: your manuscript is not for us.

Rejected.

There are numerous ways to deal with literary rejection. We can all imagine the negative methods. But today, I want to discuss the positive ways to deal with the not-for-us letter.

After you’ve amassed an impressive stack of rejection letters, start by asking yourself if your query letter or synopsis might be the issue. You might have written the next Great American Novel, but if your sales pitch—your query letter—doesn’t do the job, the editor won’t want to move to the next step of requesting a sample. One method of improving your query and synopsis is to get help from an impartial third party such as a published author, writer’s forum or critique group. If you know someone who’s already published, ask if they can read your letter and give you advice on where you might be going wrong. Many online forums such as AbsoluteWrite, Writing Forums, and others have specific sections on query evaluation and feedback. Use them.

Next, you want to determine if you’re really targeting the appropriate publishers or agents. This is where you need to study the market. Go to the local bookstore and find novels that are similar to your manuscript. Make a note of the publishers. Many novelists include the name of their editor or agent on the acknowledgements page. Note those names. Then go online and visit the publisher’s websites. Read the descriptions of the plot on Amazon and B&N, and compare to yours. Google the agents names. Look at their list of clients. Are those writers some of your favorites? Do they write books similar to yours? Do your homework and focus on specific publishers and agents that deal with your kind of book.

Another question you need to ask yourself is if your book is as good as it can be. Of course, you’ll probably answer yes. Then take a moment to really consider the question. Are you being rejected repeatedly because the manuscript is just not ready for publication? Chances are, it probably isn’t.

So what should you do? Again, get outside help. One of the best ways to improve a manuscript is to join a local critique group. Most towns and communities have a library. Ask the local librarian if there are any groups that meet in the area. Check with the local bookstore. They usually know of critique groups or have bulletin boards that might list them. Critique groups that are made up of serious writers can be a huge benefit to helping you improve your work. Just remember that critiquing is a two-ways street. You want honest and sincere feedback, and you need to be prepared to give it back to your fellow members. There’s a very good chance that a group of fellow writers can help you get your story in shape so you can start submitting again.

Finally, don’t shoot the messenger. Agents and editors are in business to make money. If they don’t sell books, they go broke. If they don’t discover new books from new authors, they eventually go out of business. Their rejection of your work is nothing personal. Chances are, they don’t even know you. All they know is what they read in your query or sample. And the reasons for rejecting a manuscript can be as numerous as the number of submissions they received that day. Don’t blame them.

Forget about the lame excuses like: publishers only publish big established names and famous people. Or your book was rejected because it’s “different”, experimental, too unique for mainstream. Or you can’t believe they rejected your book when there’s so many bad books published. Go to The New York Times bestseller list. Look at all the writer’s names. Each and every author on that list was once an amateur struggling to get someone to read their manuscript and dreaming of making money as a published author. Every one of them fantasized about seeing their name on that list. What did they do? They realized that rejection really doesn’t mean “not for us”. It means “not ready for us yet”. Now go fix your book.

Any rejection stories to share? How many rejection letters did you get before that first book was published? If you’re published, do you still use a critique group or beta readers?

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Please. No whining.

I have an overarching theory on life that I believe I might have mentioned here on TKZ before: Failure cannot be inflicted upon anyone; it must be declared by the individual.  No matter how hard an artist is knocked down, or how often, as long as he gets to his feet and stays true to his obligations as a professional and a craftsman, the game is still on.  

To quit, however, is to guarantee failure. I respect those who grow too tired of the fight and walk away, just as I respect anybody’s well-reasoned choice to do anything.  To chase the choice to quit with a lot of whining, though, is unseemly.  No one forces another person to give up writing or to seek publication, and since the decision was not inflicted, it makes no sense for an artist to blame anyone who’s not staring back at him from the mirror every morning.

There’s a corrollary: Success must be earned.

It’s worth noting, I think, that with very few exceptions, every person who has found success in any endeavor in any industry shares the single attribute of having worked hard.  They brushed away rejection and tried again.  And again.  When success didn’t come as quickly as they wanted, the real achievers took a look at their own skill sets and identified what needed adjusting in order to improve their marketability. Actors learned to sing, singers learned to act.  Literary writers learned how to write more commercial stuff.  English Lit majors went back to school to learn about cyber security—or to get the PhD that would allow them to teach what they love at the collegiate level.

They didn’t sit around and blame others.  Yes, the publishing industry is changing, so adapt. No one owes success to anyone else.

Throughout the struggle, it’s important to keep your head in a positive space—a space that can be elusive, given the state of popular media.  Entertainment Weekly published a snarky article last week entitled “Stars’ Worst Movies.”  In it, they made fun of an early George Clooney movie called Red Surf.    Rather than being embarrassed about an admittedly less-than-great film, though, Clooney said in the article, “I’ve done some bad jobs along the way.  But you’ve got to do them.  The Facts of Lifes and the Baby Talks and the Red Surfs.  When you’re starting out, those are big breaks.”  He didn’t apologize for those early efforts because he was doing his best to make a living doing what he loved to do.  When the movie flopped, he went on to the next one.  I hear he makes decent coin as an actor these days.

What’s the analogy to novel writing?  Recognize your own big breaks as they happen.  Judge your path to success not just based on the long road that lies ahead, but on the accomplishments you’ve achieved.  Start with the fact that you’ve finished a book.  Or three.  That puts you in the stratosphere among those who dream of publication one day.  Got a short story pubbed in your local supermarket rag?  Shout it from the rooftops.  It’s a big deal.

Opportunity never knocks.  Opportunity lurks  out there, waiting to be discovered through hard work, dedication and risk taking.  It makes itself most visible to those who are focused on possibilities, and are open to trying new things.  Some of my greatest successes in this industry and in others can be traced to casual conversations that were struck up in the most unlikely of places.  Some might call these chance encounters, but I don’t buy that.  Sure, there’s an element of serendipity, but that would not have mattered if both parties hadn’t had their heads and their hearts in the right places.

Whenever anyone asks, “How do I get an agent?” or “How do I get a producer interested in the film project I want to do?” my answer is always the same: Go out and find them.  Introduce yourself.  Attend the meetings they attend, and introduce yourself.  Talk to them.  

Earn their attention.  If that takes you out of your comfort zone, then either expand the zone or abandon the dream.  Or invent a brand new approach that no one’s ever heard of.

But please.  No whining.

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10 Things I Believe About Writing

With all the uncertainty in our economy and in the publishing industry, in particular, I thought it might be important to talk about the passion we all share. It’s the basic thing that drives us with such conviction. Whether you read books or create them, novels can lift our spirits, tug at our imaginations, make us believe in the impossible, and take us for a journey into the past. (Talk about a cheap vacation!) They dole out justice when it feels as if there’s none and they transcend international borders, making this a small world after all.
If you’re an aspiring author, I believe it’s harder to get noticed by traditional publishers these days, yet with the digital boom in e-books, I feel there is even greater potential for getting discovered in a whole new way that still feeds our addiction. So take heart. Below are my thoughts about writing and what I’ve learned on my journey.
1.      Tell YOUR story, your way. If you have enough drive, you will discover a unique story that you must tell. If you’re lucky, more stories will follow. Ideas for books can be a contagion worth embracing. Since you use your life’s experiences to filter through your characters, scenes and settings, only YOU can tell this story. How cool is that?!
2.      Develop a tough skin. There will always be negative people telling you that you can’t write or reviewers who think you should quit. Screw ‘em. If it matters to you, you will learn from your mistakes and keep doing what’s important to you. And if anyone thinks a book is easy to write, let them try. In fact, please be our guest.
3.      Be picky about your critique buddies. They can be invaluable if you find the right person or group, but too much of a good thing can dilute your voice. Whatever your story, this is your book. You must have a sense of who you are as a writer in order to push back on any advice that doesn’t fit you and only you can be the judge of that.
4.      Find the time to write regularly. Even if it’s only a few hundred words or a page a day, set attainable goals but don’t beat yourself up if life gets in the way. Write because it matters to you.
5.      Focus on the basics. Writing is the only thing you can control. Selling your project, promoting it, dealing with proposals, these things are not in your hands and can become a mental road block. When things get tough, your writing is the backbone of your passion.
6.      Keep writing. While you have a proposal out, don’t wait by the phone or the mailbox. Get on to that next project and learn from your last one. Push the envelope of your craft, because you can. It’s great to find success in a trend, but why not BE the trend?
7.      Trust your talent. As human beings, we all have self-doubt. Some hide it better than others. We all deal with it, but the voice and talent you have shown with each new project will follow you. Trust your ability to tell a story. Your basic talent will sustain you.
8.      Make the words bleed. If the story is worth telling, it’s usually because of the emotion you have to convey. Write what you fear, what you love, what you hate. Man has been telling stories since drawing on cave walls and within those stories has been the thrill of the hunt, the profound sorrow of death, or the joy of good fortune. Emotion connects us all, regardless of any language barrier.
9.      Support other authors. This is your world. Our world. We’re not in competition with each other. We’re up against people who choose video games or movies over books. Make them see how powerful the written word can be, how it triggers the magic of our imaginations. Books are brain food.
10.  Find a way to deal with rejections. They will come, in one fashion or another, whether you’re published or not. Rejection comes in all forms. Create a ritual to dispel the negativity and move on, but if you don’t risk rejection, you’re not getting yourself out there enough. Find a happy balance and keep writing. Not many feel passion for what they do. Count yourself lucky to be one of us, TKZers.
Since we all share the love of books and writing on TKZ, please share any words of wisdom that gets you through the tough times. What keeps you going?
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