It wasn’t until I set out with the intention of being published that I discovered I possessed perseverance. Perhaps I didn’t have it before, or perhaps I just hadn’t had call to use it. Either way, perseverance, or sheer single-mindedness, has proved to be a most useful trait to have. The more authors I speak to, the more it is hammered home that the majority of writers have a rocky and circuitous route to publication. It is not straight-forward. It is not efficient. And most of the time, it defies logic.
It’s a long shot for someone (without connections) to simply write a book and to have that book published. Most of the time, behind the scenes, writers are dealing with a whole range of things that set them back:
- Querying and receiving form rejections, or worse, no replies.
- Full requests for manuscripts that get rejected for reasons that are either within your control, or not.
- Once with an agent, your edits might not work, the market might have moved on, your agent might decide not to represent your genre any more, or might not want to represent you any more.
- The ideas you have might not fit with your agent.
- The book you write might not be quite right to go on submission.
- Once on submission, you might get polite replies, enthusiastic rejections, rejections that are business decisions, rejections at acquisitions, or an invitation to meet a publisher which leads to nothing.
- The realisation that you have written 2/4/9/27 (*delete as applicable) stories so far and there’s no guarantee that the next one will get anywhere either.
Each of these set-backs shake your confidence and requires you to re-evaluate whether you are going to continue. This isn’t when you need logic. This is when you need gut instinct, the ability to overcome short (to medium) term pain for a long-term goal and to believe in yourself. I imagine this is why so many writers sign off with ‘keep the faith’; the belief that one day ‘it will happen’ can get you a long way.
Perhaps because the ‘fairy tale’ publishing scenario is perpetuated, I feel I should downplay just how hard I’ve worked to get to this new starting point. But be under no illusion. It’s taken me five years of treating my writing like a job, I’ve written nearly 500,000 words in picture books, young fiction, middle grade, teen and adult. I’ve tried flash fiction, short stories and short scripts. I was learning from scratch, I was exploring the word world and I wrote the stories that came. All of them. How else would I know what would work for me? And on the whole, the writing part of this has been immense fun.
I had a craft to learn and, fuelled by a fear of landing myself with the lifelong regret of not having given it my Very Best Shot, I kept going. In fact, I’m still learning; I’m off to Bath Spa and their MA in Writing for Young People. Writing isn’t something you stop learning. You might learn to deal better with the disappointments, or be able to spot problems earlier in your WIP, or learn what kind of plotting (or not) works for you. But essentially every story you write, you are teaching yourself the basics again. You are back to characters and plot and story. And the thrill of being able to finally share one of mine with everyone is out-of-this-world amazing and I feel proud that I persisted.
This blog is a reaction to the following things:
- Lots of people mentioning perseverance in relation to me getting a book deal.
- Maz Evans sharing how hard she’s worked to get where she is recently on twitter and my word, she’s worked her socks off! She has earned her success.
- A recent YA thriller event with Sue Wallman and Tracey Mathias where the scrappy and inefficient way books come about was discussed. The writing, plotting, deleting of whole sections, rewriting, editing doesn’t necessarily get less with time. Very few writers sit down and write their book from start to finish with minimal changes and just because one story might come easily, doesn’t necessarily mean the next one will.