Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton


Dreams Do Come True

August, 2013

“The key is perseverance, but also having a manuscript that is great.”

I don’t know if you read the recent New York Times editorial about the Irish civil servant, Donal Ryan, who wrote two novels, submitted them to agents and publishers, got 47 rejections over three years, and then had one pulled out of the slush pile by an intern at Lilliput Press in Dublin (“The Thing About December”).

At that same moment, the other novel was sparking interest at Doubleday Ireland. And whammy! lucky Donal Ryan had a two-book deal.

But more. Shortly thereafter, the second novel, “The Spinning Heart,” was long listed for the Man Booker Prize–a very big deal  for a writer.

The bottom line here is that these stories really do still happen; manuscripts do get pulled from slush piles; gems are discovered. The key is perseverance, but also having a manuscript that is great. That trumps everything. If you have a compelling story, told beautifully, and submitted in a manuscript that is professionally prepared, you, too, have a chance that your writing dreams can come true.

The New York Times editorial went on to speak of the necessity for a diverse book industry–and that really was the point of the commentary. There’s been another merger: Penguin and Random House are teaming up to form the world’s largest publisher. Sounds impressive, but what it means is more downsizing, more layoffs, fewer imprints where an aspiring writer has the chance to connect with an editor who will fall in love with his work, and fight for it.

The implications for you are clear: You must–along with producing a fabulous manuscript–get savvy about the swiftly changing book industry. Story publishing has been rolling over and reinventing itself, daily it seems, for a couple decades, and the pace has only quickened since e-books have taken off.

You educate yourself about publishing by following the news in the media, but also by talking with other writers and industry players–via websites, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, live conferences, literary events, writing groups, and classes, like Toward Completion, the online memoir workshop I’m teaching this September, where you can hone your skills and learn about publishing in the presence of like-minded writers striving to be the next Donal Ryan.

About Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton’s new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin’s Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe.