The Road to Publishing is paved with good advice

by Kristin on June 11, 2010

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Corey Leopold

It’s been a rough couple of weeks on the book writing front. No, I don’t have writer’s block—that’s sort of difficult to have when you don’t have any time to devote to your writing! It’s my sense of hope that has taken a beating.

The first problem is that for the past six weeks, after making so much progress, my book proposal has been relegated to the back burner while I scramble with a variety of client deadlines. It’s a bit like seeing a beautiful stew you lovingly labored over and then forgot to serve. There it sits, spoiling, unappreciated. (I know—can you say melodrama?)

Then I entered this One-Sentence Summary contest on literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog. And I didn’t win. I didn’t even get an honorable mention! True, there were over 500 entries, but I still had a sense of excitement and hope as I sent my entry off.

Just a few days later, I was struck by an unpleasant pinch of jealousy. My friend, Rachel Held Evans, just received the first shipment of her book, Evolving in Monkey Town. I honestly felt only excitement and awe for her until I found out it was her 29th birthday. She published a book before hitting 30! (And, by the way, you should definitely buy it. She’s the real deal, in every way.)

This was the day I plummeted into my classic teenager baditude, where one little setback or insignificant “failure” makes me want to throw in the towel.

Luckily, I’ve been reading another friend’s book, A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Non-Fiction Book. In his book, Ed Cyzewski takes all of the ups and downs of publishing in stride—in a way that is practical, honest, and encouraging, all at the same time. He has helpful stuff to say about the entire journey, from developing networks to preparing the proposal and making time to write.

Part of what Ed intended to do with this book (which he does so well) is make readers feel like they’re sitting down with a trusted friend, seeking wisdom and advice. I decided to share my little bout of frustration with him, to see what he would say. The rest of this post is straight from Ed.

*******

Thanks for sharing your story here Kristin. I appreciate your vulnerability, and I feel like I could write a book in response, but then again, I suppose I did that… :)

If I was sitting down with you in a cafe situated in the cornfields of Illinois, I’d begin with a pep talk. I know things look bad right now, but actually, you have a lot going for you.

For starters, you got your first taste of rejection for this project, which is actually a good thing. I’m sorry it was hard, but think of it this way. Every goalie in the game of hockey (or soccer if that’s your thing) will let in some goals, but goalies can still win games if their team scores enough goals. They will fail at times, but that doesn’t mean they’ll lose the game or the Stanley Cup (sniff, sniff, says the Flyers fan). You let in one goal, but you’re still in the game.

The cool part about writing is that you can let in a ton of goals, being rejected over and over again, and still win by scoring just once! It just may take longer than you like and cause more headaches than you can imagine.

I didn’t sell enough copies of my first book, my second book was canceled after I wrote it, my next proposal wasn’t accepted anywhere, my self-published book didn’t sell as well as I would have liked during the first month, and on and on. I can drum up plenty of reasons why I suck. However, I need to be satisfied where God has placed me and with what I’ve accomplished so far, trusting him with the future and the results.

One of the things I say in “A Path to Publishing” is that you aren’t completely responsible for your failures, but you’re also not completely responsible for your success. Luck and timing have a role, so you can only prepare to capitalize when your break comes. Some authors have the right idea that appeals to readers and to an editor at the right time, and if they’re good, they’ve done a great job writing it and marketing themselves ahead of time so that they can take advantage of the opportunity.

By way of wrapping up, I’d like to leave you with a few action steps, much like I do in the book. For starters, I’m not sure where you book is at right now, but I think it’s time to tackle the rejection thing. There are two ways to do this.

One is to adapt part of your book into something for a magazine and then just query the heck out of it. Send it out to a bunch of editors and see what happens. Send it to soooo many that you’ll lose track of who you’re expecting to hear from. Chances are, you’ll get rejected by some of them, but some of them may give you feedback, and that is solid gold. Now you’ll know what you need to do to improve your work for publication. Thank the editor and try again.

The other option is if your book is ready to be read by a literary agent, then I’d suggest doing the same for them. Just send the query out there with no expectations to a bunch of agents. You can always change it if they make suggestions, and you can survive more rejections than you’d expect. It will hurt at first, but soon a rejection e-mail will be like opening up the utility bill–you may not want to read it, but you can deal with it in a moment and move on with your life.

You don’t need their validation to become a real writer. You already are a writer because you write, and quite well at that, and people read your work. Congratulations. You have scored.

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  • Jennifer

    Wow. To both of you, a hearty and heartfelt thanks. This is good information for several reasons. One, Kristin, you are always so honest with us and it keeps us honest. Thank you. Ed, you are kind and thoughtful in your response to Kristin and you don’t stop there. The action steps give her, and other hoping-to-be-published writers a focus for their written work.

    My husband attended a very competitive engineering focused university. His peers competed for the lowest grades on exams in classes whose names meant little to this Lit major. In their senior year, they’d post on their dorm room doors the rejection letters from companies they had applied to for jobs. They made it a game, and they kept going. Rejection to them was just part of the game.

    Thanks to both of you.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Thanks Jennifer for your kind words. The path to publishing feels impossible sometimes, but it can be done. It’s just going to hurt a bit… ;)

  • http://www.rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    You’re the real deal too, Kristin, and I have a feeling your book will find a home – with an agent, with a publisher, and in the hearts of a whole lot of very lucky readers. :-) the crazy thing is that the jealousy (and disappointing days) never goes away, no matter the stage. I wrote a whole post about resenting Anne Jackson: http://rachelheldevans.com/resenting-anne

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Jennifer, thanks for being the kind of person who supports honesty and vulnerability in the world. Little by little, we can all take steps together to face our fears and failures. I think that’s absolutely necessary if we are to accomplish anything in this world.

    Ed, thanks again for your encouragement and advice! I’m so grateful for your friendship.

    Rachel, your belief in me—as well as your own success story—motivates me. Thanks for your honesty in your own journey, too. I need to remember that getting your book published is not the end-all be-all. It’s not like you’ve arrived and you suddenly wake up every day feeling great about yourself and what you’re doing. The journey just keeps stretching out ahead of you. We need to all cheer each other on along the way. (Looking forward to reading your resentment post, too!)

  • http://blog.rvreyes.com Raquel

    I had my time as a “getting published” poet. I keep my box of rejection slips as a reminder of all the work that goes into small successes. over 200 rejection for 4 published poems.

    Make friends w/ rejection.

    :-) I always said I’d wallpaper a bathroom with my rejection slips.

  • http://themoderngal.blogspot.com The Modern Gal

    I’ve had quite a few of your posts saved in my blogreader from when I was on vacation because I never want to mark yours as read without reading them! And as it turns out, I’m reading this just at the right time. I’ve had a lot of work-related rejection lately and have been needing a big pep talk. Thank you to both of you.