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.
Austin Madison, a Pixar animator, recently wrote, about the creation of art and content, “…slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair.” How crushingly depressing. Excuse me while I hide in my flannel pajamas eating a half-gallon of Ben & Jerry’s and pretending Madison didn’t just hit the slush-pile nail on the head.
But, ignoring the truth never helped anybody. Ignoring the fact that most of what I read is not publishable material would mean the end of my career. For you, authors, ignoring that what you’ve written has this problem or that weakness would mean the end of yours.
So, an optimist at heart, I can’t help but point out (with one finger raised and light-bulb over my head) that all things are necessarily defined by their opposites. If you’ve received 87 rejection letters from agents and suddenly you get The Call—an agent’s offer-of-representation—that glowing pride and joy will be 87 times better than it would have been had you received only one rejection that you chalked up to some fault of the agent. Save your rejection letters (Stephen King’s were on a railroad spike nailed into the wall). Wave hello to them even as they mock you. Perhaps one day, you can mock right back.
As for me, slogging through all of the material that is (generously) not so good enhances my excitement when something special comes along and the Flash Moment unexpectedly pops up.
Ironically, Walt Disney (a man whose company now works closely with the above-mentioned animator) had something different to say about the creation of art and content: “Keep moving forward.”
So, I don’t know about you, but I happily “keep moving forward,” because I know the more diligently I “slog,” the closer I’ll get to the next Flash Moment.