I’ve just returned from a long writers conference in the beautiful redwoods of Northern California. I made some great connections, but I noted the disappointment many writers felt as their book “baby” was dismantled or outright rejected. I saw more than one writer who stared in disbelief at the incredible pile of work they did for the conference, knowing they had to re-think or retool their book in a radical way.
Writing Tip for Today: If the agents/editors you query tell you your project isn’t ready for publication, how can you get your confidence back?
Fact or Fake News?
I tell all my writing students and mentees that the higher your expectations of conferences or queries, the farther you have to fall when those hopes are dashed. If you went in thinking editors would start a bidding war on your book but reality played out the fact that you have farther to go down this writing road, take heart. First, the reaction you got from Agent/Editor A may not be the same from Agent/Editor B. As many in this biz will tell you, it’s all subjective. Perhaps the timing isn’t just right (believe me, it counts!) or the market is presently flooded with the type of book you write. Maybe your ideas are ahead of their time or the world isn’t ready for your message or style. Maybe the agent/editor has a stomach ache when she reads/hears your pitch. The point is that professionals are people just like you. Their judgment is an opinion. An informed opinion, but subjective all the same.
Improve Your Skills
But what if you get similar feedback about your story/writing skills from several you approach? That your subject is more a niche market or isn’t right for the market in some way. If the feedback suggests you need more writing experience, pout a little if you wish—I only give myself 24 hours to brood. Then tackle those areas, and try to practice new skills as much as you can. Take a class, hire a mentor or coach, read some writing technique books and write, write, write. A word to those who think if they work on skills in one or two areas, they will then be able to wow those pros: Writing is a lot like taking the skin from an onion. The more layers of skill you master, the more you find out that you don’t know. Even masters went through some sort of apprenticeship where they failed multiple times before they succeeded.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
Finally, do that “24 hour pout and pity party” thing, then get back on the writing horse. You can’t get better at writing by not writing. Commit to practicing at least 10,000 hours of writing before you give up or label yourself a failure. Because unless you’re discovered posthumously, the point where you give up is all you get from writing. Hold onto those dreams and practice. Learn as much as you can from other writers and read as much as you can too. Get your BIC and make progress every day. Learn to take your book idea and fashion a set of Russian Writing Nesting Dolls, that is, your big book can be broken down into long article-length, short article-length, a brief tip or anecdote or even an epigraph. Get creative and pursue long as well as shorter assignments. The short assignments will add to your credits and prove to anyone who looks at your work that you really are a pro after all. Go write, and write often. It’s the best cure to banish those demons who say you can’t do it. Because you can do it. If you don’t give up.