Okay, you’re prayed up, you’ve educated yourself on the publishing industry, and you’ve worked on improving your craft. You’ve actually started writing seriously. Good! You’re well on your way.
But now comes a very tricky step number four. This step can vary from writer to writer, but generally it’s all about writing, revising, connecting, receiving rejections, and perhaps a few successes along the way. It’s really the step that both launches you and sustains you for the long haul. You’re planning what you’ll write, you’re writing, you’re connecting at conferences, and you’re patient.
Shall I remind you of the many famous authors who stuck it out during this crucial step four? Dr. Seuss, for example? His first book was rejected as “too different from other juveniles….” Popular mystery author Mary Higgins Clark’s first book was rejected with the words, “We found the heroine as boring as her husband had.” How about novelist Tony Hillerman who was told, “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff.” I could go on and on, but you know the stories. Rejection is the way of the writing life. Get used to it. If you’re called to write, just keep at it and let God find the right publisher. As someone has said, consider each manuscript a package in search of the right editor and each rejection as simply a report that the editor you seek is not at that publishing house. Stay upbeat and optimistic. Keep going to conferences. Make friends of editors, agents, and other writers. Right now I could easily rattle off a dozen names of aspiring writers whom I greatly admire and believe they will be published elsewhere someday as their proposal was not a good fit for Harvest House. Some of these authors I’ll see next week at the Oregon Christian Writer’s conference. I’m anxious to check in with several of them and see how they’re doing. I’m always a bit sad when I hope to see someone at a conference and they’re not there because for one reason or another they’ve had to put their writing on the back burner.
A word of advice during this often protracted time: be willing to try appropriate bending of the “rules” when it seems right. I bent a rule in landing my first book contract. I sent a query letter to my six top publishers, basically saying, “Yoo-hoo! Here I am! I’m a writer. Want anything written?” Okay, I spruced it up a bit, but that was my basic message….and it resulted in my two best selling books to date. One of my favorite acquisitions as an editor was a book that was “over the transom,” sent in by an aspiring writer who didn’t know me from Adam. I’m not telling you to break the rules, only to discerningly bend them when you have nothing to lose. (Please, don’t anyone send me a letter saying “Yoo-hoo! Here I am! I’m a writer. Want anything written?” That’s just so predictable). Maybe I should say it this way: sometimes God opens doors a crack and we need notice the crack and try to open the door a bit wider. To be honest, I have no idea what situations might present themselves to you to bend a rule. Just watch and be aware.
During this phase, do what you can to build the dreaded “platform” from which to promote your books. I hate the fact that platforms are so necessary, but for the most part they are. If you abhor doing a lot of publicity, then write something that doesn’t require a platform. I certainly have no platform to speak of and yet I’ve done about eight books now. But I’ve written books that are more of an impulse item than tied to my name and “platform.”
Also during this phase, as you have the occasional success, you can start to consider when you should get an agent. Having an agent doesn’t absolve you from keeping alert about the marketplace, but it does help to have someone who can represent you while you tend to the writing. Also, a good agent can help you plan your career and give you honest feedback on your proposals.
Finally, part of this step involves keeping your antennae up. What’s happening in the world—or going to happen in the world that might affect the kinds of books people buy? One anecdote along this line I often tell is the story of hockey great Wayne Gretzky. During an interview he was asked the secret to his success. He said, “other players go where the puck is now. I go where the puck is going next.” That’s somewhat your assignment as a writer. What will people want to read two or three years from now? Is that something around which you can write a book? Amish fiction is hot now (still!), but what might be the next trend? Quakers? Sci-fi? Cat mysteries?
Next week I’ll be away at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference. I’ll report on the conference when I return, and then conclude this series with the fifth and final step.
*Update. I wrote the above blog earlier this afternoon. Tonight I had an opportunity to bend a rule regarding my writing. I took that opportunity and I think it probably won’t succeed. No matter. I don’t regret the bend. Just be careful not to be obnoxious when you bend a rule. Be nice. Editors remember.