Resilience – Pushing past rejection

Today, I listened to the 88 Cups of Tea podcast, Episode 155, an interview with Julie Dao on pushing past rejection.

Pro Tip: “Get back to loving writing.”

“You can be the best writer ever, you could write the greatest story, and still be told no over, and over, and over. So you have to separate that being a writer and being an author is not always about talent – it’s about perseverance. It’s about wanting something more than anything you’ve ever wanted before and letting that desire to overcome help you push past all of the rejections.”

This interview begins with Julie’s story, her path to becoming published.

I won’t delve too deeply into that part of the interview, except to say that writing fanfiction had made her feel like becoming an author was actually possible.

In this one respect, my (short) journey mirrors Julie’s. I doubt I’d be brave enough to attempt novel writing had it not been for the incredible support I received from fanfic readers and writers.

It’s an amazing feeling having people you don’t know love your work and clamour for more.  

Julie didn’t have an easy go of it. She’d been writing for 8 years before she landed an agent, who she met through PidMad. She’d written 6 full novels before her her first novel was purchased by a publisher.

The hardest part for her was the year just prior to an agent offering to represent her work, as she had 15 agents sit with her full manuscript for over a year. She became depressed and started thinking about giving up on her dream.

Julie hit rock bottom when an agent asked for an R & R (a revise and resubmit). The agent called, didn’t offer representation, but gave Julie ideas for revisions. Julie took all those ideas to heart. She worked for 6 months on revisions. Then, after all that work, the agent rejected the story because she didn’t like it anymore.

During that year of hell, Julie found that all of the marketing parts of becoming an author had worn her down. She decided to get back to loving writing.

Julie explained, “Authors have to be marketers, but writers can just love words.”

“Being a writer and being an author isn’t always about talent. You have to separate that out. It’s about perseverance. It’s about wanting something more than anything you’ve ever wanted before. And … [use] that desire to push back all of the rejections. Because we all get rejections. No one is agented on the first try or published on the first try.”

Julie said that things got a lot easier after she realized that “rejection is an inevitable part of our business. Once I learned that being told ‘no’ is a natural and normal thing, it became easier to keep pushing on.”

While those 15 agents sat with her work for over a year, she decided to stop querying altogether. She took time to write a story just for herself. And that was the mindset that she was in when she wrote the book that was eventually published.

Julie shared that one of her mistakes was in thinking that it was smooth sailing after she had representation. The book that scored her an agent wasn’t purchased by a publisher. She received 30 rejections from publishers in the months that followed.

So, even though she’d gotten in the door, there was another series of doors that kept slamming in her face.

She said it’s incredibly important to write something for yourself first. A story you love, even if no one else ever wants it.

Julie closed the interview with this advice: “The day you give up could be the day before your dream comes true. Another day could bring something completely different. Each day is full of possibilities that you don’t know existed before.”

“So when you go to bed, and you feel dejected, just remember that the next day could bring something new. Be proud of what you’re writing and have confidence in your own work.” 

An Agent’s take on Dream Authors… and so much more

Today, I listened to the Beautiful Writer’s Podcast interview with Laura Yorke, Agent at Carol Mann Agency.

Pro Tip: “Getting published isn’t the be all and end all. It may seem like it… It can be the start of all sorts of incredible things… but if you don’t enjoy the writing in the moment while your’e doing it, then you’re wasting your time.”

I can only touch on what’s discussed because this interview is overflowing with information.

If this post intrigues you, listen to the full interview.

Some of the topics discussed:

  • What an editor needs from the author to take on their book
  • For an agent, what makes a dream/nightmare client
  • At least 50% of non-fiction books are ghost written, maybe more; likely 30% of memoirs are too.
  • If you want a job writing, be a ghost writer.
  • How often agents have to say no, and how they decide
  • How publishing has changed — it’s more like the music industry
  • The advantages of signing with a small publisher
  • What makes a best seller
  • General advice for success in the publishing industry industry

So these are the bits that either grabbed me or blew my mind.

What an editor needs to take a book

Editors need to really believe in the book that they are publishing. Not just the message. The writing too.

Even if it is an incredible and gripping story, if the writing doesn’t pull the editor in, they will pass on it. If the editor isn’t fully in love with the work, then it won’t make it past the editorial board.

An agent’s dream client

A dream client is aware of the industry. The author knows what it’s like today, not how it used to be because it’s changed a lot. The author is aware of other people’s time limits — because both agents and editors have so much material in front of them all the time, it’s insane.

And if they don’t already understand what that kind of overload is like, then they listen to the agent and they accept it.

For instance, with fiction, it can take months for an agent to let you know if they are going to represent you or not. And it can take months for editors to come back to you with a response. A nightmare client is one who is bitching about that.

When you get rejections, a nightmare client refuses to think that maybe it has something to do with their writing, or maybe it has something to do with other books that are out there on the market right now. 

An angel client says, “Well, thank you so much for trying. I know that it doesn’t always fly. It’s the way that it goes.”

A dream client is someone the agent can dialog with. It doesn’t have to all be pleasant. Just open and honest. Hear the agent out and believe them when they say they are doing their best. A dream author listens.

Some interesting facts about the publishing industry

An author is the person’s whose name is on the book. The writer is the person who wrote the words. Often the author has the market, platform, and experience, and the writer has the writing skills.

At the time of the interview, Laura estimated there were only 5,000 ghost writers in the US. She said it’s a great career. Ghost writers are always needed.

Laura estimated 50% of nonfiction books are ghostwritten.

Laura’s take on an agent’s job

Laura sees herself as a matchmaker. She puts a good author and writer together. The same is true for an author and an editor. It’s a critical part of the job. Being able to match people correctly. She does this by really listening to what her clients have to say. 

How Laura chooses clients

She said 95% of her clients are referrals. It is extremely rare for Laura to take something cold (blind).

Laura’s advice to writers without connections

Laura said, if somehow a non-referred pitch were to come her way, To even look at it, your pitch has to be well written, short, to the point, and so strong in its writing that I go, ‘Huh,’ this is (a) a really interesting subject and (b) this person can write. Those are the only two things that are going to make me pick something up cold.”

Nothing reaches Laura’s desk unless its vetted

Her agency has a stable of interns who go through all the mail that is submitted. Nothing gets to an agent unless it would be of interest to them.

Laura can’t even explain how that system works. She can’t say how many things come in a day, but about 40 pitches are sent to her from that team daily.

Authors have to sell their work

One of the first things she’s asks a client is, “What are you willing to do? Are you willing to get freelance publicity?.. .Do you have a company that’s willing to buy that book, at 10,000 or so?” She needs that info to pitch to publishers.  

The industry has changed

Publishing has become somewhat like the music industry because of digital publishing and blogging. People don’t buy books as much as they used to, and they want shorter books than they used to.

Passion used to drive this industry. Now, if an author doesn’t have a platform, it’s going to be a hard sell. “I’m sorry to say that so bluntly, but it’s just the fact of the matter. If you can’t give me ammunition to sell, then it’s hard.”

Smaller publishers, like Skyhorse, can offer partnership in building a platform, as long as you come to the table with something beautiful. 

Identifying best sellers

Sometimes amazing books that are really great aren’t best sellers. And it’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault.

There are so many variables in this industry that you can not control, whether you’re the author, the editor, or the agent. All you can do is keep trying and do your best. Put all your effort into it and believing in the book.

This comes back to being that dream client. A dream client will say to her agent, “Whatever happens, I know I’m in the best hands that I could possibly be in.”

Even in the face of rejection, a dream client would say, “This sucks, but it’s nobody’s fault. I’m frustrated by it, but I know everybody’s trying.” A horrible author is one that blames the publisher, editor, or agent.

Laura says she’s still surprised by books that don’t work that she was positive would hit the best seller list. Sometimes it’s because another similar book hit the list just before it. 

Laura’s secret to success

Laura says her success comes her ability to remain present. She offers the following advice to authors.

“As much as you can, stay in the moment, and do not let anticipatory anxiety take over your work. Writing is such a wonderful and fun thing. Enjoy writing. Just enjoy it.”

“This isn’t the business you go into because you want to become famous or to do for money.”

“People say, ‘I can’t quit my job. I thought you were going to get me that kind of advance.’ What century are you living in?”

“Stay present in your work and love writing. Love it. And you will get rewards.”

How authors can find their voice

In the Youtube Ask a Mentor chats, when discussing what grabs them in the first few pages of a book, the fabulous PitchWars mentors ? consistently said it was “voice.” If you, as an author, have a strong voice, then your novel will resonate and draw the reader in.

So what exactly is voice?

It’s your style. It is what you say and how you say it.

Elton John is a great example. He knows precisely what he wants to say, how he wants to say it, and what he’s going to wear when he’s saying it.

Today’s podcast review was The Creative Penn’s interview with Julia McCutchen. Julia, former publisher and now writers’ coach and mentor, talked about developing authentic voice.

Protip: “Write from your heart but also pay attention to what the public marketplace wants.”

Julia surprised me. She said that developing your own unique style is all about being present. (You know, like “The Power of Now” kind.)

I’m continually amazed at how much advice on how to be successful and happy comes back to the concept of being present. Apparently, all roads lead to Eckhart Tolle.

We’ll get back to that meditation stuff in a bit. First, let’s talk about the benefits of developing your voice, your own signature style. Julia said that the market craves authenticity. “Authenticity is what people want from you — they want this whole real connection.”

She offered 5 steps to discovering voice (fair warning, these are not steps you can take in a few minutes):

  1. Stop, be still, and pause. Julia talked about surviving a tragic accident, which forced her to take space, reflect, and think deeply about who she was and what she wanted. She urged listeners to create the time and space needed to bring themselves into awareness of the present moment. She recommended authors do this as often as possible, many times a day, to bring us to a more authentic space. (This isn’t what you were expecting, right? I’m right there with you.)
  2. Embrace the mystery. Your conscious mind doesn’t always have the answers. Let go of desire to pin down the voice and get used to not knowing. Live with the questions until the answers present themselves. Be receptive to the journey. (Ugh, this is a be-more-patient lesson I hate this lesson.)
  3. Sharpen your senses. Work at constantly being aware of all five senses and your feelings as well. Bring awareness to the sharpness to what your senses deliver up. Listening is a very important skill for developing voice. Listen to stories and be curious, which is outer listening, and listen to what’s happening inside you, inner listening. (I’m legit on board with this. I’m all about steeping in my environment and using it as fodder for my next written work.)
  4. Explore new possibilities. Play with this practice. Don’t try too hard to get it right. Just accept that discovering your voice is an ever-deepening journey. (And we’re back to being patient.)
  5. Go with the flow. Nurture the seeds of the first sparks of understanding. When you gain clarity, allow this understanding to unfold. You’ll know when you are on track when you feel clarity and joy — you’ll be discovering your authentic voice.

Okay, so I’m not going to argue with the expert here. I believe Julia when she says that a self-reflective and meditative approach will help authors discover who they are, deep down, what they want to communicate, and also precisely how they want to share that message. That long and excruciating journey will very likely lead an author to discover her (or his or their) authentic voice.

But I’m impatient. I want my voice now!

I’m sorry. I wasn’t being authentic ? I kinda feel that I have a voice already. It may need a bit of fine-tuning though, so I’m going to focus in on Step 3, because there’s some seriously good stuff there.

Sharpening senses will lead to writing in deeper perspective. That will help me to draw the reader in more. That is what I want.

So, did this podcast help me? Yeah, kinda. I guess. Did it help you? Meditate on that and let me know on Twitter ?

TL;DR: Keep it real. Figure out who you are, and then lean in.