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ASK THE EDITOR What To Do When You Feel Like Giving Up
By Susan Malone
We’ve been discussing in recent columns the ways to find an agent, break into publishing, when to take criticism (or not), and issues concerning publishing in general, as these are the most frequently asked questions of me. Underlying them all, of course, is how one gets from point A—writing the Great American Novel (or nonfiction jewel)–to point Z—holding one’s own published book in trembling hands. Everyone (including yours truly) would wish to simply skip over all the other steps and be "discovered" by some agent or editor wandering by.
But also as we’ve discussed throughout this year, writing, editing, and finally selling are all part of a long and often grueling process called publishing.
How often I’ve seen writers with talent finally give up, perhaps after winning a battle or two but seeming to fail in the longer war. But what we all have to remember, and KEEP remembering, is that failure and surrender are quite different things. The anecdotes of the highly talented unable to take the rejection abound. John Henry Toole’s CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES comes to mind, along with a plethora of others. The "Quit" choice is always there, always an option. Failure, however, doesn’t mean you’ll never get there. It just means you’re not there now.
Because this is almost always a very long process. Agents and editors don’t get into a tizzy when they find a writer with talent whose book isn’t ready yet. They know that to develop talent into salability can take years. And the folks in this business who stay in it for the long haul are willing to keep fighting the little skirmishes that ultimately win the big war.
I finished my own first novel in 1980. My first novel was published in 1992. It was not the same one. Nor the second. In fact, it was the fifth. Okay, so I’m a slow learner, and often folks get lucky on the second or third. But the point is that you learn as you go, and even if the first try doesn’t get there, if you want to be successful, you have to keep at it. Yeah, we all read stories of the overnight success, the first-book wonder. The reason, however, that we’re reading those stories is that they are the EXCEPTION, not the rule.
Through it all you must keep writing. And reading. I’m always somewhat surprised when I advise a client to read in her genre and she comes back with, "What author would that be?" Or, "I don’t really like to read much." I cannot imagine how one can hope to write well without reading, for nothing teaches better than example.
We all believe our book to be the next bestseller. A little narcissistic grandiosity is necessary in this business, or one would never get the damn thing written in the first place. But then you have to be willing to take another look and say, hey, maybe the rejections DO mean something. Maybe I need a class, or a workshop, or an editor/teacher to really show me the finer points. Maybe not. Maybe you need a better marketing strategy. Maybe both.
But how much did you write today?
We all need some talent. Through my years or writing and editing, however, I’ve found talent to be merely the place from which to begin. So much of this world is about skills, and skills can be learned.
The crux of this business, however, is persistence. Persistence in the face of rejection and yet another mountain to climb. Another method to learn. Another path to follow. Editors like to see work from writers who have been at this game awhile, because they know that writers learn as they go.
So don’t get in a hurry. Study, learn, read, write, in no particular order. Listen to what the "experts" have to say, take what you can and forget the rest.
Say, what did you write today?
Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, Multi-published Author, and owner of a successful editorial service. You may email questions to her at: [email protected] Watch for Malone’s newest nonfiction: FIVE KEYS FOR UNDERSTANDING MEN, due out in September of 1999!
Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial and manuscript assessment service. Her newest book, FIVE KEYS FOR UNDERSTANDING MEN: A WOMAN'S GUIDE, written together with psychoanalyst Gary L.Malone, MD, will be released by Authorlink Press in August, 1999. You may email questions to her at: [email protected]