If I’ve learned anything (the hard way) in my life thus far, its that nature must run it’s course, and that the final results of my efforts are largely beyond my control. This is an intimidating concept, but I’ve come to slowly accept that for me to have any peace, I need to distinguish where the border lies which separates what I have control over, and what I don’t. From there, I can only work on those things that are within my bounds… and leave those things outside of them for the universe to manage.

I realize that from a social standpoint, this is a very counter-intuitive stance. We live in a world that tells us from a very young age that we have absolute control over the outcome of our lives… and while that is true for the most part, no one seems to tell us where our limits for control end, or the truth about the harrowing agonies of trying to control something (or someone) that can not or will not be controlled.  Nature will run its course, with or without my consent. This has been my constant experience and has therefore become one of my immutable truths ~ and my writing is probably the most difficult facet of my life I’ve had to apply it to. Like a parent sending a child into the world, as a writer, I have to learn to accept that I’ve done what I could and the rest isn’t up to me.

At this time last year, my manuscript The White Room was in New York being considered by an agent I met at a conference in Salt Lake City. In April, after five nail-biting months, I heard from her ~ and was given an impersonal rejection with no usable feedback. I was disappointed and I felt a little cheated… but I didn’t go into this business with the naiveté I’ve witnessed in many other young writers. I didn’t expect this to be easy, so ultimately, I licked my wounds and moved ahead, querying other agencies. But for those five long months… my life was at a complete standstill. And sadly, this was entirely due to some very erroneous thinking on my part.

Because this faulty thinking has made me wiser, I have nothing to be bitter about, and I have no regrets. However, there are some very heartbreaking pitfalls that, if at all possible, I would like to help any other writers to avoid. Below, I’ve listed some of my own intellectual glitches in hopes that I can not only offer such help, but to remind myself not to fall into the same traps in the future.

Pitfall #1 ~ I dedicated myself and managed to complete an entire 90,000 word manuscript! The hard part is done!

Oh, if only this were true. The fact is, you are one of hundreds of folks who’ve just finished their novels, too. Now it’s time to get in line (no cutting!) and wait your turn. Writing the book, as my mentor so truthfully put it, is the easy part. The hard part comes after “The End.”

Pitfall #2 ~ An agent asked to see my entire manuscript! I just hit a home run!

While having an agent or publisher ask to see your manuscript in its entirety is an exciting thing to be proud of, it doesn’t mean they’re going to take you on. Anything from too many grammatical errors, to a slight shift in the market, to a poorly written character, to a change in the wind pattern can inspire them to decline. Sometimes, you’ve got a great concept but need help executing it. Sometimes, as wonderful as you are with words, your concept just isn’t cutting-edge enough to make a splash… and sometimes, an agent really believes in your talent, but doesn’t have the capability of taking you on right now.

Pitfall #3 ~ I followed all the rules and still got rejected. Clearly, the rules don’t matter! Writing is art, and art is subjective… so obviously, I don’t really need to waste my time with the rules of good storytelling, proper grammar, character development and plot consistency.

Yes, writing is art, and yes art is subjective. But books are products and products are non-existent without consumers. And in order to obtain consumers, products need to appeal. As soon as your manuscript leaves your hands, it’s no longer about art. It’s about business. When handing a person your book, you are asking a person to spend hours and hours of their time on you. That’s a committment that deserves some serious consideration for the reader.

 Pitfall #4 ~ Agents and publishers don’t know what they’re talking about. They are mean and greedy people with no appreciation for authors!

This couldn’t be further from the truth… in most cases, at least. Agents are very real people with very heavy responsibilities. If they take your manuscript, convince a publisher to take it and your book bombs in the market, you can always write a different book under a pseudonym. Agents don’t have that same luxury. Likewise, publishers are people too. If they believe in your work enough to risk their reputations for you (and as a new writer, you are a huge risk) and your book goes over in the market like a fly in a cocktail, they lose credibility… and lots of money. In short, Agents and publishers care very much about your work. This is where your control of the situation ends. You have to trust them to be professionals at their jobs. The only control you have over the situation is to be a professional at yours.

Pitfall #5 ~ I will never ever get published!

If you keep getting better, conduct yourself as a professional, don’t bank your entire writing career on one project, and never, ever, ever give up… you will be published. I’ve seen too many success stories to believe otherwise. And this is where the issue of control comes into play again.

As a writer, it’s my job to write as well as I possibly can, continue learning and getting better, and keep submitting my work to publishers and agents. My only business is in the footwork. When I get published isn’t something I can control.  I can’t control the market, I can’t control the book industry, I can’t control the economy, and most of all, I can’t control other people. Agents and publishers, by the way, are other people.

 

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Comments
  1. Kim Justesen says:

    It’s easy to feel as though you have no control in this bizarre industry, but as you nicely pointed out, you have control over what you do and how you do it. What matters most is that – for those parts you do control – you handle yourself with kindness, professionalism, and seriousness. As you get better at writing, you also need to get better at the business of writing. Lots of people can string pretty words together and produce a manuscript, but learning to write a good query and researching the market are what provide the next giant step forward (mother may I?). These are things you can control, and as I know YOU are doing, these are the things that will lead to success.

  2. Linda Bennett says:

    Very interesting and informative. 🙂

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