Today’s post is by Olivia Newport
Okay, I confess. When I was seventeen, I sent a short story to Good Housekeeping.
Yeah, that went nowhere. The half-sheet form letter I got back in my SASE was my first rejection.
I moved on. I went to college, majored in English, and managed to find a string of jobs where wordsmithing mattered. But no matter how much I tried to focus on real life, whatever that is, my heart always drifted toward fiction.
Eventually, I wrote a novel. Or, sort of a novelette. I wasn’t quite sure if it was a story for kids who read independently, or nostalgic adults. But I liked it. Once again I mustered my courage and actually submitted it. This time I got a pleasant non-form letter with an authentic signature from an editor explaining that while she enjoyed the story, their lists were full for the next three years. No doubt this was true, but it was still a gentle way to let down an aspiring writer.
That manuscript spent a dark decade and a half in boxes and closets. When it called to me once again, I had to retype the whole dang thing because of the changes in word processing. And while I was at it, I expanded and deepened the story.
And then I put it back in the closet. It still had an undefined reading audience. It was an odd length. It did not fit into any currently popular genres. In other words, it had no market and I knew it.
So I moved on. I wrote another novel that is also in the closet. One agent said there was a novel in there somewhere but I should see a book doctor. One agent did not acknowledge or respond. One said that while I wrote about interesting things, she was not able to represent every worthy project. One said he really wanted to “get it,” but he didn’t.
The agent who decided to represent me believed in me as a writer didn’t think that particular novel was the right book to submit to publishers. So I moved on. We put our heads together about other projects and submitted four proposals that went nowhere.
So I moved on. This time I wrote the book that turned out to be The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. And it sold to a publishing house. I wrote two more in that series, and began another series that started with Accidentally Amish.
My point is, stuff some cards up your sleeve. Always have something else to move on to, a new trick, another book. Here are four lessons I learned from my journey.
1. The market is not always ripe. Publishing is a fickle business. But even if the time is not right for the idea you have, you learn something in the process that can help you move toward your dream.
2. Your creative energy is valuable. Consider carefully whether you can afford to expend it dragging one project around from agent to editor, or whether moving on would profit you more.
3. Some projects start to stink. When that happens, throw it out. Even if you’re 20,000 words in, or have written the whole thing, if you realize the trajectory is into the dumpster, give it the heave-ho.
4. Selling one project is not the end of the road. Don’t think you’re sitting pretty. Be ready with six more ideas.
Always have something up your sleeve that you’d love to write. And always be prepared to be nimble when it’s time to move on.
Olivia Newport is the author of The Pursuit of Lucy Banning (May 2012), Accidentally Amish (October 2012) and the forthcoming The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow (January 2013).