If you came here expecting Thursday’s traditional author interview/book review, you’re in for a surprise. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s a good surprise or a bad one.) We felt that this week a little “rant” was more important.
Yesterday I mentioned to Lisa that sometimes it feels like we’re doing everything right and still getting nowhere. We both got into this career with the end goal of getting paid to write novels. While we’re grateful to be working full-time writing and editing non-fiction, that was always meant as a means to an end, not the end itself.
Unfortunately, John Lennon was right when he said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” And instead of getting us where we wanted to be, we’ve gotten really good at something neither of us have any interest in continuing long-term. Worse, we’ve done all the right things and don’t seem to be any closer to our goal than we were at the start.
I grew up dreaming about writing a novel for Bethany House. The older I got I expanded the dream: Kregel, Waterbrook, Multnomah, Harvest House. Because I was determined to succeed, I chained up my misfit leanings and played by the rules. So I did my “internship.” I read every book on writing I could afford to buy or borrow, and I attended Write! Canada every year. (I still do because I believe writing is a skill you need to constantly sharpen.) I “paid my dues,” building up a body of published work and winning fiction competitions. I networked even though I’m naturally a painfully shy introvert.
And I took every opportunity that came my way to get whatever novel I was working on looked at by the “right people.” I got some rejections, but more often I was asked for more. A manuscript critique led to an invitation from the fiction editor from Bethany House to send him the entire manuscript . . . but after I sent it, he disappeared. Another manuscript critique on a different novel led to another invitation to send the full manuscript to a respected agent . . . who I sent a polite follow up to six months later. He still wanted to consider it and asked for my patience. Another six months, another polite follow-up. No response. One more try six weeks later. I accepted that the silence meant I’d been blown off. Would a Dear Joan Writer letter have been so difficult?
I thought maybe the problem is that I’m writing too far outside the box. I’ll be more conservative in my content instead of pushing the boundaries. So I started a contemporary romance with the full intent of “doing everything right” once again. And I followed the same pattern, and I got the same result. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity?) It’s only been six months of silence this time, but I can see the writing on the wall. Probably for the best since my heart wasn’t in that one.
I’ll admit at this point I’m passing disappointed and heading straight towards frustrated. What’s left to try?
Some writers decide to self-publish when they get to this point, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, it’d actually mean that I was giving up. My dream was to be paid to have my novel published, not to pay someone else to do it. (Even if I did have the money for it, which I don’t.) As much as I hate to admit it, I also need the validation that comes with traditional publishing. I have something to prove, and I won’t have proved it until I’ve reached that goal.
Lisa and I have now begun a novel together that we think might be the right mix—quirky and unique yet written with the necessary rules and conventions in mind. And maybe this will be the one that breaks down the door. And maybe we’ll then be able to give new life to those other stories that we still believe in.
And maybe doing everything right will finally pay off.
But I have to admit that doing everything the wrong way is starting to look really appealing. If the in-person meetings aren’t working, maybe I should have sent the entire manuscript unsolicited to someone. Maybe I should have cared less about trends and genres and submission packages. Maybe I should have accosted agents in the bathroom. Maybe I could have been one of those broke-all-the-rules-and-got-a-million-dollars writers. (More likely I’d have just looked like an idiot, but I have a feeling you’re nodding your heads. You know what I’m getting at.)
Maybe the solution is that it’s time to let the misfit out and take some more risks. It’s time to find the right kind of wrong.
This is one time we’d especially love to hear from you. Lisa and I have agreed: It’s a good thing we’re both fighters or we’d have given up long ago. Why do you keep fighting? Why do you keep chasing traditional publication? Why have you decided to self-publish? What do you think is the key to finally succeeding? When will you know that you’ve “made it” as a writer?
Leave a comment or email us at marcyandlisa [at] gmail.com. If we get enough replies, we’ll collect the best into another post so that you can hear what everyone else is thinking and saying.