I’m one of those relentlessly positive people who doesn’t like to give up on anything. I don’t even officially not finish reading books; if something isn’t clicking with me, I’ll put it aside to finish later (whether or not I get back to it is an open question).
But someone asked me recently, “When should I give up on writing?”
As far as I’m concerned, you don’t.
This industry is tough, no doubt. That was clear from the outset when I was a college senior applying for editorial assistant jobs, and it’s clear now as I mull over how to better promote myself to sell more books. There’s adversity—agents or editors leaving their jobs, publishers closing, the vagaries of the market—and there’s rejection. Writing careers are too slow or too fast or too frustrating a great deal of the time.
And, heck, I got a rejection last week from a publisher who basically said, “this sub-genre hasn’t been a big seller for us” which is frustrating because that’s not something I can change or fix.
But I remember being twelve years old, browsing the shelves at my town’s bookstore with my friends and fantasizing about a time when my name would be on the spines of one of those books.
So maybe we have to approach things a little differently.
Consider: Say you’ve gotten some rejections. How do you deal with those? Are you angry? Ashamed? Unfazed? How does getting a rejection letter make you feel?
Not to dredge up past pain. Rejection sucks. But it’s a part of the industry. Someone will reject you at some point, be it a publisher who doesn’t know what to do with your sub-genre or an agent who doesn’t connect with your writing or a publisher who drops you due to lack of sales or a reader who leaves a negative review.
So do you take that rejection and consider it a reason to quit, or do you make it an opportunity?
Sometimes a book just doesn’t connect with a reader for no real reason, but sometimes a book is rejected because it’s not good enough… yet.
I’m of the philosophy that we can always learn new things. Whether you’re unpublished or you’ve published 100 books, there are still new things to learn. I still read craft books and attend workshops because I want my next book to be even better than my last one.
So consider that rejected book. What’s good about it? What can you fix? Is there a particular thing you can focus on fixing? Are there craft books about that thing? Or, is it time to put that manuscript in a drawer and start querying something else?
That’s not failure, to be clear. It’s the opposite, actually. Sometimes putting a manuscript aside (for now) and focusing on another project is the key to success. Sometimes making a difficult choice is just the thing you needed to do to get to the next level. Making changes, trying new things, continuing to learn, those are all the ingredients of a successful writing career. Persistence, in other words, is at the center of that success.
My advice: Hang in there. Keep trying. Persist.
Charlaine Harris has called her career a twenty-year overnight success story, which I love because it shows the value of continuing to pursue a career even if your first few books don’t take off. Maybe you’ve got a Sookie Stackhouse book in you that you haven’t written yet.
I’ve had some black moments. I’ve gotten rejection letters that made me think I was a talentless hack. But it never occurred to me to quit. Revise, yes. Try to make my writing better, of course. But never quit. I still think of my twelve-year-old self imagining my name on a book cover.
And I love writing. I want to write more. My career is just beginning.
And, hey, my sixty-six-year-old mother recently signed a book contract. It’s never too late.♥
Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America; and as Vice President of RWA/NYC. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.