Happy Wednesday! Today as we come to the end of the year and people start to form resolutions, I have the honor of featuring guest author Carolyn Haley, with her essay on persistence, a necessary ingredient in achieving our goals. Read below about her journey to publication...
The Benefits of Being a Bonehead
Or: Persistence Really Does Pay!
I consider myself the poster child for perseverance, having labored for 28 years to get one novel published. Why did it take so long? More important, why did I bother?
After all, I never set out to be a writer. I was an artist, aiming for a career in illustration. Then one summer a 150,000-word novel sprang out of my head unbidden. The book was dreadful, of course, but I saw in it a good idea that only needed refinement.
Hah! That “refinement” turned into lifetime work. Just because I could write a coherent sentence didn’t mean I could structure a story or make my fantasy appeal to another person. So most of those 28 years comprised apprenticeship.
My first lesson came from an erudite friend who taught me the difference between active and passive voice. I rewrote the novel according to this guideline, and the book came alive. I submitted it to dozens of agents and publishers. Their responses showed that I needed more lessons.
So I consulted people, books, and websites to learn the tricks of the trade, such as trimming unnecessary words, especially adjectives and adverbs; presenting a story by “show, don’t tell”; pacing the plot arc; expressing voice; conveying character and viewpoint; crafting dialogue and narrative; and so many other details.
This education energized me. I found I could absorb, retain, and apply my new knowledge with an ease unexperienced in any other activity, which in turn provided deep pleasure and stimulating challenge. What began as entertainment-turned-labor-of-love became a goal of personal and professional importance. I vowed to develop my book to commercial standards and not rest until someone published it. I could only fail if I gave up trying.
But failure seemed inevitable despite my intent. I revised the book almost two dozen times, squeezed in around a full-time job and life. Each version brought such improvement that I submitted it to a fresh list of agents and publishers, who uniformly replied, “Not for us, thank you—good luck in placing your work elsewhere.”
Jeesh! Not only did I have to master the craft of writing, but also the art of selling! The query/synopsis package was harder to write than the book, and my ineptitude lost me many opportunities. Finally, at Year 20 in my quest, I submitted the first three chapters to a contest and won the Paranormal Romance category. Huzzah, on my way at last! But my subsequent pitches to publishers and agents brought the same parade of “thanks but no thanks” letters. Man, what was it going to take to climb this mountain?
It took a boost from a good writers group, who helped me identify and assess lingering issues. Some could be fixed with tweaks; others were more complex, and I resisted them—hard. These painful ones brought the turning point, because they forced me into new realms of creativity and insight. The same elements causing the problems were the ones I most wanted to keep. They also, it turned out, were the ones that made my work unique.
More years of submission-rejection-revision passed, until the day came when there was nothing more to fix. The book was as good as it was going to get, bar throwing it away and starting over. No way! If I ever write another book, it will be a brand-new one. So I devoted myself to getting this last, best version out into the world.
The Internet made it possible. While I had my head down, revising, the entire publishing industry changed. Doors slammed shut at the traditional print houses as more swung open at alternative presses. I learned that my novel didn’t slot neatly into any category; ergo, I didn’t have a ready-made audience who would line up to buy. Rather, it was a reader here, a reader there, across romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, adventure, mainstream, and contemporary.
This made my book commercially unattractive to traditional publishers. However, anything goes in the electronic world, so I invested time online to find a publisher suitable for my work. Many candidates whittled down to a handful once I studied terms and conditions. My final list included one star possibility and a few to try if that didn’t pan out. Happily, I didn’t need the backups, because my first choice chose me back, and we struck a deal.
From first draft in June 1981 to release in December 2009 took 28+ years—nearly half my lifetime—during which I experienced every form of rejection, from sympathetic letters to scathing insults. Even my loyal writers group had started urging me, oh so gently, to remember how many great authors threw away their first efforts before they succeeded; perhaps it was time to put my book aside and focus on a new project . . .
I refused. I had too much of my life wrapped up in this work—my personality, my time, my education, my energy, my relationships, and the skills that served my career. I had a message I wanted to convey and a story I wanted to tell. I needed to leave something behind to make an imprint, however tiny, on the world, some sign that I’ve existed. The world, in fact, was big enough to include people who would comprise my audience. I insisted on finding them. I would not let my effort—my art—be dismissed.
I knew I would never win an literary award or earn a fortune. I wanted only to achieve the status of Published Author, and I qualified. So I kept going until I succeeded. Pure boneheaded egotism for motive; pure boneheaded blood, sweat, and tears for technique.
The moral of this story is: Don’t give up. Ever. Learn what you need to know and apply it. Most important, believe in yourself, even if nobody else does. Only you can actualize your vision. Use my tale for inspiration, and know that if I can do it, you can, too.
[The book in question: The Mobius Striptease (Club Lighthouse Publishing, December 2009).
More info at http://carolynhaley.wordpress.com]
I am a freelance writer and editor who lives in rural Vermont. I write a mix of books, commercial copy, and magazine articles, while helping other authors with diverse projects.
The Mobius Striptease (Club Lighthouse Publishing), my first novel, arose from my own questions about anomalies, spirituality, and reincarnation, when I blended with romantic suspense and mystery. It is currently available as an e-book, to be followed soon in paperback.
My nonfiction print book, Open Your Heart with Gardens (DreamTime Publishing), explores the whys and hows of interacting with the living green world. It forms a volume in DreamTime Publishing’s “Open Your Heart…” series, which helps readers “master your life through what you know.”
See more about both at my book website, http://carolynhaley.wordpress.com/
I also have written numerous articles for regional and national magazines, such as Northern Woodlands, The Writer, and Birdwatcher's Digest. See samples of these at my business website,www.documania.us
As well, I post essays about yard and gardening in my blog, "Adventures in Zone 3," at http://adventures-zone3.blogspot.com
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