A large part of succeeding as a writer boils down to your willingness to put in the time. Can you accept sitting at a desk, dreaming up worlds, typing (or scribbling) the words, and getting it done? The answer to these questions has always been a resounding yes for me, but I tend to fail when it comes to putting in the face time.
I did just that this weekend. I put in the face time and met dozens of wonderful writers and agents and editors at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC. It was fabulous. I participated in PitchSlam, in which authors are given one hour to pitch as many agents as they can in three-minute segments. (Truly, it’s any introvert’s nightmare.)
But you know what? While I was nervous going into my first pitch, it melted away quickly. Why? Because I discovered something as I delved into conversation with these agents. I found myself admitting something surprising. Out loud.
I love my book. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the interactions and the quirks and the personalities. It was a fun book to write and I had fun writing it! And when you enjoy your story, I think it shows. You start to enjoy talking about it and telling people why it’s something they’ll want to read…which makes it a lot easier to pitch.
Proof? I pitched 6 agents and all 6 made requests for partial manuscripts (requested lengths varied). This may or may not result in progress moving forward, but that’s not the point. The point? When you love your work, it shows.
Writers. Friends. I have one piece of advice for you. LOVE YOUR WORK. It’s yours. You wrote it because you loved it.
As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!
It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)
And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!
The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.
About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.
Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:
How do you argue with that?
If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.
You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.
And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.
So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.
Or at least base camp.
Yeah, I could be content with base camp.
* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!
I’ll admit that I’ve been slacking a bit when it comes to blogging (for the obvious reasons), but as I’ve scrolled through my Twitter feed, I’ve seen a lot of my writer friends elated either because they are about to send out their very first query letter or because they’ve received their very first rejection letter!
I vaguely remember that excitement. The feeling of being a “real” writer on a legitimate path to publishing my beloved work. How would my story unfold? Would my offer of representation from an agent come after one query? Ten? A hundred? What if I had multiple offers? How would I choose?
Oh, how funny I am! How naive. How cute and hopeful. The book I began querying nearly three years ago recently received its 85th rejection. To be fair, at least 30 of those rejections were really me trying to figure out how to heck to query an agent—what works, and what doesn’t. It should come as no surprise that for the entire first year that I queried, I didn’t get a single agent request for either a full or partial manuscript read.
My first full manuscript request didn’t come until after nearly two years of querying. To say I was elated would be putting things mildly. I shook with excitement. (Literally.) Needless to say, that agent didn’t offer representation, but what she did offer me was hope. What had previously seemed a futile attempt at baring my soul to no one who seemed to want to listen now suddenly seemed a legitimate line of communication. I had been sending out emails, but getting no responses for so long that I might as well have been using a megaphone to announce my intent to an empty parking lot. Getting that first request for a full read meant that someone out there had not only heard me, but was willing to having a conversation.
It’s been a year and a half since that first request, and since then I’ve received 3 more full requests and 2 partials on a manuscript that has continuously morphed into a deeper story than the one I originally wrote. That couldn’t have happened without accepting and embracing the feedback I received from each of those agents. So even though I’ve received 85 “no thanks” emails (or worse—cringe—no responses at all), I’ve got a stronger story and a better query letter than I had when I first began my journey.
Why mention all of this? Because I want my newly querying writer friends to remember not to be discouraged after they receive their 15th rejection and to keep going even after they receive their 50th. No one writer’s journey is the same as another, and the only way to be certain you won’t succeed is to stop trying.
Before kids, my husband and I each had a full range of hobbies to fill our time. (Amazing how those hobbies dwindle when parenting takes precedence!) Back in 2005, my husband went deep into the world of online Texas Hold’em and enjoyed throwing live poker parties (with real cards, real chips, and real stakes) at our house once a month. I guess it was a good thing that he was always good at it, or I would have lost my mind in addition to our money. Personally, I’ve never been one to understand a gamble. Why in the world would I put my hard-earned money on a bet, with no certainty that I’d make any profit? I’ve always preferred the solid return on investment that comes with hard work and dedication.
But sometimes, just sometimes, life’s about taking a gamble. So I paid my registration fee and I’ll be at the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop this Saturday, learning from other writers and getting tips from agents and editors. This is a big deal for me for a few reasons.
1. I’m a major introvert. The very idea of going to a city I’m not all that familiar with is daunting in and of itself. (New York is the exception to this rule. I don’t care how loud my anxiety screams, I will always be ready for a trip to NYC. Because really – theater, art, culture. Need I say more?) Generally speaking, though, just having to navigate the public transportation system to get myself to a specific location in a major city sets my heart into irregular palpitating thuds. To top it off, I’ll be around people (a lot of people) all day long.
2. Big Changes. Attending a conference means that I’ve crossed over from treating writing like a hobby and a dream and started viewing it as an honest career. To be fair, this is the second conference I’ve planned to attend, but this one is much bigger than the last one! It’s a big change in mindset and one that’s necessary to being successful as a writer. After all, if I can’t treat myself seriously as a writer, how can I expect that anyone else will?
3. Forgoing Reward. Go ahead. You can read it again. “Forgoing reward.” As I write this, my dearest husband is on an all-expenses paid trip in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, a trip I should be enjoying with him. Instead, he took a fishing buddy. Why? Because part of being dedicated to writing is committing myself to the job. I booked the conference before we knew about the trip and I’ve committed. So he can go right on and enjoy the amazing Caribbean cooking at the all-you-can-eat open air buffet, sip his strawberry daiquiri made with rum too high quality for US import, and snorkel in the crystal waters to his heart’s content. I’ll be too busy tackling a dream to think about the Caribbean. (And maybe I’ll just stop at the liquor store for some daiquiri ingredients on my way home.)
4. Pitching A Manuscript. As icing on the cake—I’m pitching my book to agent Eric Smith of P.S. Literary Agencyin person, someone I’ve been following on Twitter and admiring for months now. If I’m honest, it’s turned into borderline stalking. (Eric, I’m sorry! I love your tweets!) And part of the reason for my extreme nerves here is that Eric is not only a literary agent who’s constantly championing his authors. He’s also a YA fantasy author himself, so he knows the genre and he knows exactly what he likes to see in the genre. So, you know. No pressure.
So that’s it! I’ll be one big ball o’ nerves until it’s all over Saturday night, but it’ll be worth every minute! I’m pushing my chips to the center of the poker table and calling out, “All in!”