The Writer’s Crescendo

You’ve queried widely. You’ve re-written your book a few times. No one wants to read it and no one’s listening to you. You’re shouting as loudly as your tiny voice allows, but the din of everyone else’s voice drowns your words. So what do you do? Hide your book under your bed and blame everyone else for not seeing your art? Give up? Maybe. Or maybe you become weathered to the tough world that is book publishing and you slog.

Recently, I received a comment on this blog from an author who was angry and hurt by the world’s failure to notice him. My heart sank for this author. I thought about that comment during my work day as I wrote rejection letters and joined my authors in their joy of getting published, during my 2-hour commute home, as I worked toward my master’s degree, during dinner and even as I put my kid to bed. I’m entirely too busy to let something that small irk me, but I couldn’t get that author’s frustration out of my mind. I can’t do much to help authors in this situation because the truth of the matter is, an author is the only person who has the power to amplify his own voice. My advice to aspiring authors: do all of the following to the absolute best of your ability and you will find success.

1. Love your work. Love it so much that you can’t not do it. Be obsessed with it. Live, breathe your work. Make it your devout religion. If you don’t passionately love your work so much that it defines who you are, stop.

2. Read. Read at least 30 novels (50 is better) in your exact genre. Make sure they are the best of the genre. Read them critically. What do they have that your book doesn’t? What does your book have that these don’t? What do neither of you have, but could? Then, read a few of the worst. Is yours better? Read as many relevant blogs as you can. Agent blogs, editor blogs, author blogs, blogs, blogs, blogs. Read Publisher’s Weekly. Check out Publisher’s Marketplace. Haunt the publishing industry by devouring every word written about it.

3. Write. Write part of your novel every single day, even Sunday. Blog. Tweet. Constantly.When you’re done with your novel, query agents with it. When you’re done writing your novel, write another.

4. Connect. Online, collect Twitter followers like nuggets of gold. They are. Tweet interesting things that others will want to re-tweet. That means don’t tell people your dog just got neutered. No one cares. When they do, all their friends might too and other people might be interested in what you say and follow you themselves. Then, when you need to market, you’ll have a captive audience of 1,000 people who share your interests. Write blog posts for others’ blogs, let other bloggers guest-post on your blog. Run a contest on your blog to spark interest. Then Tweet about it. Away from your computer, attend every writer’s conference you possibly can. Join a critique group and participate heavily. Submit your work to contests. Then tell everyone about it. Join every writer’s association, group and organization you can. Take every class you can on all things publishing and then network with all the people there. Attend all publishing events you’re able to. You should be able to find out about them from all your reading.

5. Improve. See opportunities to make your work better and let them sail. Always ask yourself how your work could be better. Because just when you think it can’t get any better, it can. Take criticism as seriously as you would a medical diagnosis. Because it is, to your book. Don’t discount the opinions of others. They are all expert opinions, because each critic–even that weird guy in your critique group whose own manuscript sucks–is the expert of his own tastes, and you have to market your book to wide tastes. Don’t hold on to what isn’t working. Trash what needs trashing, even if that means your whole book. Cut what needs cutting. Somebody (Faulkner? Twain? Both?) said, “Kill your darlings.” So, kill them if you need to. You’ll get over it and get stronger because of it.

All of the above, along with a day-job makes for a pretty busy person. And that’s okay. Because if you love what you’re doing, you’ll love doing it all the time. If you don’t love what you do enough to put that much energy and time into it, then put all of that time and energy into doing something you do love. Do all of the above and your work will get stronger and stronger, your voice louder and louder, until some agent hears you.


Posted on September 21, 2011, in Advice, blog, book, book publishing, Inspiration, manuscripts, publisher, publishing, queries, rejection, slush pile, submissions and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi, Lauren-

    Joey’s reply sums it up perfectly, but I’ll go ahead and say that I thoroughly enjoyed this post. A lot of authors, especially new ones, can get so caught-up in the horrible, sinking despair that is rejection, and they often forget that there is a person on the other end of the computer-screen. Reading this blog reminds me that, even though getting nothing but one rejection after another sucks, literary agents are humans, too (though the genius behind Slushpile Hell would likely disagree).

    Back when I started pitching last October, the process made about as much sense as trying to crack a binary code, but I rose to the occasion. After a few rejections, I figured out that, perhaps, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, and made an effort to get better… I’ve since joined my local writers’ guild, gone to fiction workshops taught by award-winning fellow Canadians Donna Morrissey and Lee Thompson, and exchanged query-letters with Doug Harris. I even met Margaret Atwood at the Northrop Frye Festival, Atlantic Canada’s biggest literary gathering, earlier this year; she referred me to her book, Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing, and said that ‘while it isn’t exactly a resource, I hope that you do find some encouragement in it… Just keep going, and don’t ever give up; the worst thing you can do to yourself is give up’.

    Fellow would-be writers, take note. And thanks again to you, Lauren, for this encouraging and informative post.

  2. Aw, I totally feel for him too. How frustrating. In all honesty, if I received rejection after rejection I might be ready to throw in the towel. That acceptance letter or offer of representation is a real boost to keep going. But if you constantly hit a brick wall, it would be devastating.

    My advice to the author would be to send that story to ten different people. Some authors and also to readers. I always try to get as many eyes on my story as I can before I submit it because everyone sees things differently. In the end, doing this gives me a stronger, tighter story. And always be open to the idea of change. Let their suggestions simmer in your mind a little to see if their advice could somehow make your story better.

    If all the feedback you get is, “WOW. I loved this story.” Then, you need to make decision. I’ve said it before—and I’ll say it again—editors and agents have their own opinion on what makes a great story. But that doesn’t mean your story isn’t fabulous. Yes, it’s hard to believe this when all you’re getting is rejection letters.

    But it’s true! I had a story that was rejected all over the place. I finally got tired of submitting it, hired an editor, and self-published it. Guess what? It became an Amazon bestseller and is one of my most beloved books. Because of that story, the success of it, is how I got my foot in the door. So ask yourself, “If the traditional publishing isn’t working for me, should I try e-publishing, maybe even self-publishing?”

    If traditional publishing is “your dream”, then dip into your pocket and hire a good editor to go over your story. Let them help you make it “the perfect” story before you send out another round of queries. Do anything and everything you can to polish “your baby” up!

    My heart goes out to this author. It’s very depleting to only receive negative reactions to your work and not know where to go to succeed. I wish this author the best and hope their story hits the shelves soon.

    Thank you Lauren for this post, your kindness is a wonderful thing! I’m so proud to be represented by you!!

    • Stacey, thanks so much for your thoughts. Getting published is hard and it’s easy to feel like giving up. Get enough negativity and you’ll become bitter. That’s just a given.

      I hope the author reads your comment, and hearing from someone who’s been there, feels encouraged.

  3. Joey, I have to disagree. The comment wasn’t whiney and I’m so glad that Lauren didn’t take it that way. She took it with a kind heart and that makes her a gem in my book. The author was simply frustrated and feeling rather down-trodden (no, it wasn’t me although I’ve been there).

    Yes, failure is necessary and anything easy to get isn’t worth having. I’ve heard all those. I suspect the author of the post has as well. But that doesn’t always make this business any easier to handle some days. I suspect the author does find other days but some days, maybe he/she just got in a bunch of rejections, or has received the 80th rejection on a book he/she knows is terrific and is faced with making decisions. And then to have an agent (no issues with Lauren’s previous posts at all), talk about how hard and everything, it was just one more negative thing in a tough business to break into. Again, I was there before. I know what it feels like.

    Call the author’s post venting if you will, but it certainly wasn’t whiney. It was heart-wrenching which is just how Lauren took it.

    Lauren, thank you. I hope the author of the post comes back and reads yours.

    And author, yes, there is hope. I sold a book I was ready to put aside. Now I have a career I’m happy with. You will too – just don’t give up and good luck!

  4. Wow. Thanks for that.

    I am taking it to heart right now.

  5. Make yourself. Great advice. You have mapped out a path to writing success. I thought the comment was whiny. You answered with kinder and more constructive words than I would have. Failure is necessary, and without it, there is no success. No fortune-cookie wisdom here, just the obvious. Obviously, the author of the comment has become bitter instead of motivated. That is sad. Oscar Wilde said, “Ambition is the last refuge of failure.” I would agree. Great post.

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