Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hopeful or Hopeless?

A popular post from December 2007

by Annette Lyon

When it comes to the dream wagon, I'm one of the first on board. I held onto my dream of publishing for many years through a large number rejections, and even though I have some publications under my belt, I still dream big.

I love cheerleading fellow writers, especially those who haven't seen their name in print yet. It's exciting to encourage and inspire others to keep going even after another rejection, to never give up. It's one of my favorite parts about speaking at conferences.

But this week I read something that stopped me in my tracks. It was a letter to the editor of a writing magazine, wherein the aspiring writer discussed how many decades (I think it was four) he/she had been working on a book, revising, submitting, getting rejected, and trying again with the same (theoretically improved) manuscript. "I'll never give up my dream" was the point of the letter.

I had a two-fold reaction to this:

1) Good for them for keeping at it and never giving up.

was quickly followed by:

2) How pathetic that they've put all their eggs in one basket for forty some-odd years.

Had this writer been regularly coming up with new ideas, writing new books, and following publishing trends, for forty years, I wouldn't have had this reaction.

But they've been working on the same book for forty years? Where is the logic in that?

Almost every published author I know has several manuscripts gathering dust that will never see the light of day, books that they cut their writer's teeth on. You learn to write by doing it. Many times. On different projects. In different ways. It generally takes writing a few books, going through the entire process, before you're good enough to be published.

Revising the same book forever isn't going to do that for you.

Additionally, there's a good chance that this person's book will be horrifically unmarketable; assuming for a moment that their idea was hot back in, oh, 1967, I'd bet my birthday chocolate that it wouldn't sell today.

And then there's the element of productivity: A publisher doesn't usually make much money on a first novel. They hope to eventually make a name for you and sell more with each book. If you can't promise that you'll produce more than one decent idea in forty years, you won't be on their happy list.

Cling to your dreams. I'll never tell anyone to give up. But I will tell them to be a tad realistic. Write your way toward your dream. That means doing everything it takes to be cross the finish line.

Don't kid anyone; circling the practice track forever is not called "pursuing your dream."


Rachelle said...

I'm curious then, how many books did you write before you were published. I have 3 almost 4 completed at this point, but they are all different.

Annette Lyon said...

Rachelle, I think it was seven. I might be missing one somewhere in there, though. I almost saw each one as another step down the road--I didn't know how long that road was, but each book finished, each rejection, was one more step toward that goal.

Rachelle said...

Wow! For some insane reason that actually makes me feel better, hopeful almost :)Because I never want to give up but sometimes it's hard to find anything to measure myself up to and make sure that I'm not just a glutton for punishment and rejection or something. At least I am not planning on working on the same novel for 40 years.

Annette Lyon said...

Good for you. I remember hearing a very popular author say that she had written a dozen novels before one was accepted. At the time, my thought was wow, that's pathetic. By when I reached #6 and #7, twelve no longer looked so bad. Keep on truckin! The writers who make it are the ones who don't give up--and don't work on the same book for 40 years . . . :)

Pete said...

I think it's a shame that someone thinks that a book written back in 1967 wouldn't be 'HOT' today.

Many good books written a lot further back get 'discovered' regularly and acheive great acclaim.

A good book never ages.


Heather B. Moore said...

I agree that a good book never ages, but I also agree with Annette's point that if an author never "moves on" from something that has been rejected over and over, they will not grow in their craft. Sometimes it is a timing issue, other times it's just bad luck (if the writing is decent). I had three novels written before I got one of them accepted for publication. Now I've written a total of 9 novels, four published, and one is submitted to a publisher. I continue to get rejections. I continue to revise old material, and I continue to write new material. Maybe someday I'll get my "rejects" published . . . but in the meantime I'm moving on.

Annette Lyon said...

You have a point--sometimes a good book is a good book no matter when it's conceived, and it could still break out and be discovered.

That said, there are publishing trends and cycles. Dickens wouldn't be published today without a serious overhaul, for example (and he's one of my favorites). Today's reader is a different animal than the average Victorian.

I guessed from this writer's letter that if their book has been consistently rejected for forty years, it's most likely poorly written or doesn't fit into current trends. Possibly both.

To make it as a writer, you have to be able to produce good writing as well as be aware of what is selling.

If you're concerned only with quality (and not the market), that's perfectly fine. But if your goal is to sell your work, you'll need to be aware of what's selling--or don't be surprised when you don't get a contract.

Thanks for your comment!

Julie Wright said...

Great post and totally true. Even if that first book really rocked the foundations of literature, publishers wouldn't want an author who couldn't produce more than one book every forty years. Even if the book was really great, it'll never be read because the author hasn't been willing to move on.