Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Fast Track to Publication (A Modern-Day Myth)

All writers, particularly those who are published, are asked how they did it. "How'd you find the time?" "Do you have an agent?" "Who's your agent?" "Who's your publishing house?" "Is it a real book?" "Are you rich?" (That one always cracks me up.) Those are the easy ones. Inevitably, we also hear the dreaded, "Can you put in a good word for me with your publisher/agent/ editor?"

Now most times this is a simple, though naive, request by well-meaning writers who don't know where next to turn in their writing journey. I've been there. Believe me, I've been there. But there are others who mean, "Can you put me at the head of the line based on all the hard work you did to get to a place where you can help me skip all that pesky studying, learning, conferencing, actually writing, submitting, receiving rejections and then submitting again, looking for an agent, and taking advice? Please?"

The reason I dread that question is not because I resent the implication that it's a simple matter to get published. It's because there is no simple (or easy) answer, and no matter what I tell them, they won't be happy. But the truth is you can't get from the beginning of the publishing journey to the finish line (and there's never a true finish line) without working at it. Working hard. Working constantly. That's accompanied by learning, reading, studying, but most of all, writing. A lot. A whole lot. And that's not counting the "nots." Not watching television, not going to the movies, not hanging out with friends, nor sleeping, fishing, or whatever else you like to do in your spare time. That's not to say you can never again enjoy your favorite activities. But if you want to be a published writer, and unless you live under a rock with no job or other responsibilities to gobble up your time, you're going to have to make some serious adjustments to your life to accommodate your dream.

This is me being rejected time and time again, and realizing
I'd have to actually work at learning how to write. Wait, that's
not me. That's my granddaughter having a "I don't want to do
something or other" tantrum. Okay, okay. Same thing. 
In other words, there is no magic wand anyone can wave in our direction to assure we achieve success without doing what 99.99% of the rest of us have to do. Yes, there's that .01% of published writers who hit the jackpot the first time out. But for every one of those, there are hundreds, no, thousands upon thousands of others who have to do it the hard way. There's just no fast lane to publication. If there were, it would be an impossibly crowded, road rage-ridden bunch of desperate writers, I can tell you that.

Believe me, I know all this from firsthand experience. When I first started to write seriously, I too thought I could skip a few steps and cut into line. After a few months of absolutely no progress with that method, I realized I'd have to hunker down and do the work. So I did. I read every book I could find on the art of writing. Some were good, some weren't. But I learned to glean every bit of helpful information from even the worst of them and apply it to my journey. I signed up for the writing courses offered by the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild--first, the Apprentice, then the Journeyman, and finally the Craftsman class. It wasn't cheap and it wasn't easy. It took me four years to complete them all, but I did it, and I'll be everlastingly grateful to Jerry Jenkins and my mentors for introducing me to the real world of writing.

I wrote until I was blue in the face. Then I wrote some more. I picked my work apart, edited, rewrote, and edited again. I attended conferences, joined a writing group, wrote on my lunch hour, after the kids went to bed, and on weekends. When I felt it was good enough I submitted it, and more often than not, got a rejection letter in return. (In those days, it was done through the mail--and I don't mean email--and it took days or weeks and, in most cases, months before I heard back.) I was one with the mailbox during those years. The mailman fluctuated between being my best friend and my worst enemy. Once in a while, though, I'd receive an acceptance letter, and all the waiting and agonizing and praying paid off.

But there's a bright side to my discouraging answer to that question. Working hard simply works. Yes, it's slower than anyone wants it to be, but it gets the job done. It's harder than anyone expects it to be, but it's doable. Believe me, you won't miss that extra hour of sleep or that television episode, even that occasional evening spent hanging out with your friends when you take stock of your skills and realize your plan is working. I know I didn't. You're doing the hard work, and in return you're reaping the rewards. You will be published.

It might sound discouraging to any as-yet-unpublished writers to hear that my journey (and probably the journeys of many other writers) took twenty years. Yeah, twenty. While I had success with newspaper columns, anthologies, greeting cards, online writing, etc., along the way, my first book wasn't published until I'd written and studied and agonized and submitted for nearly two decades. I don't count those years as a loss, though, as it was through the passage of time that I realized what I truly wanted to do with my writing. It took me that long to become proficient enough and wise enough and to accrue sufficient life experiences to write inspirational, humorous books for both children and adults. God molded me into what He wanted me to be all along. He put the desire to write into my heart and provided me with the raw talent and perseverance to run the course. It wasn't easy, and there were times when I questioned my sanity, but in the end it paid off.

If you're reading this and you're a not-quite-published writer, please take heart. You will be. The work is hard, but rewarding. The journey is long, but will eventually end. You and I will never be able to stop learning, as no writer, published or not, is ever as good as he or she could be, and will never outgrow his or her need to learn more. Fortunately, there are many ways to learn, and reading is one of the best. I love to read books by the masters--both from the past and in today's world--and hope that a drop or two of their talent might spill out of their books and onto my keyboard. I may never reach their status (few of us do--that's why they're the masters!), but there's joy in knowing you and I are doing what we were created to do.

So what are we waiting for? Let's go do it!
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