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November 6, 2012

Can We Tell When We’re Getting “Close”?

Mobuis strip sculpture with text: Our Publishing Journey... Can We Tell When We're Getting "Close"?

Everyone’s journey along the writing path is unique. Yet it’s natural to watch for milestones and sign posts that might indicate when we’re getting “close.”

When we get our first request off a query, we might think our query won’t hold us back anymore. When we get our first contest final, we might think our writing is good enough. When we get our first full manuscript request off a partial, we might think our opening chapters are nailed down to perfection.

The list goes on and on for the first phone call with an agent, the first submission to publishers, the first recommendation to an acquisition board at a publisher. There’s no end to signs marking seemingly important events along our journey.

But what happens when we pass one of those milestones and then… Nothing. We don’t get more query requests, nothing comes from the final, they didn’t like the full, etc.

It can be hard to pass a milestone and think we’re getting close, think that we’re finally on our way, only to see that we’re back at square one. That kind of build up and disappointment can be enough to make us doubt ourselves and think about quitting.

The Yahoo loop of my local RWA (Romance Writers of America) writing chapter talked about this topic in the context of whether the many successful authors there had any “signs” before they succeeded for real. Of course, that’s a loaded topic and hindsight is 20/20. *smile*

Once an author is on the other side of “making it,” it’s easy for them to look back and see the signs of their journey. But another author could pass by the same signs and not make it.

Author Alexis Walker, a member of my local chapter, made a brilliant observation:

“We are so trained by going to school that if we do everything correctly we will get an A that we assume if we do everything correctly in publishing that we will get a contract, but that is not the case. Success is in having the right manuscript at the right place at the right time.”

That thought really resonated with me because—and this is something that won’t surprise my regular readers—I was often the “teacher’s pet” in school. However, that wasn’t a role I tried to acquire. I didn’t even like many of my teachers and held little respect for many of my schools and classes, so I certainly wasn’t trying to suck up to anyone.

I was simply one of those kids who wanted to work hard and get things right. I did well in school, not because I wanted a teacher’s or anyone else’s approval, but because it was important to me.

So I think this feeling of “if I do abc right, then I’ll be successful in publishing” is a big part of my—oh, let’s just call it what it is—internal conflict. Because what happens when we do abc right and success doesn’t follow?

This is where self-doubt often attacks with a vengeance. We must not have done abc good enough. We must not have known that we needed to get d right too. We must have gotten xyz wrong and that negated our abc accomplishments.

But that’s not how publishing works. The path to success isn’t linear at all. It can be more like a mobius strip with extra loops and curls thrown in for bonus craziness.

On the good days, all it takes is getting lucky in the right way, and we’ll skip several of those milestones. On the bad days, we can see those same milestones over and over like we’re lost in the desert and traveling in circles.

Neither of those circumstances reflects on us, or our skills, or the amount of work we’ve put into this career path. Not succeeding after passing a milestone doesn’t mean we did something wrong. And that’s a hard truth to accept for those of us who just want to study the notes and pass the test.

So I’m very happy and grateful that I’ve now heard from two more of the contests I entered, and Yay! Treasured Claim was named a finalist (under its former title of The Treasure of a Dragon’s Heart) in both the Gateway to the Best contest sponsored by the Missouri RWA chapter and the Hot Prospects contest sponsored by the Valley of the Sun RWA chapter. However, I know that 3 contests in a row resulting in 3 finals in a row doesn’t mean anything in the “am I getting close” journey.

The best takeaway I have is that I’ve gotten confirmation several times over that my writing is good enough. One of the judges gave me a perfect score, the first and only perfect score she’s given in 15 years of judging! Yes, that made my day. Several days actually. *smile*

I’ve succeeded at many of the aspects of a publishing career that I have control over. What happens next is more about luck, at least for as long as I’m pursuing traditional publishing with this story. And that’s a harder sign post to recognize along the road. *searches for a lucky charm*

Have you passed by signs that made you think you were “close”? Did anything come of them? If nothing happened, how did you react? Can you relate to the “I just want to study the notes and pass the test” attitude? Would some signs be a better measure of how close we are? Which ones might be a more reliable clue?

Photo credit: inlaix

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What do you think?

57 Comments on "Can We Tell When We’re Getting “Close”?"

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Susan Sipal

Congrats Jami on the contest finals! And so well deserved.

I love your post because, as always, you get so deep into the heart of a topic really important to writers. This isn’t getting that A at school; it’s o much more difficult and non-linear. Any every writer’s journey is so unique and personal, that there truly isn’t one signpost to look for.

I think the greatest signpost is internal — have you given up or not. Those who don’t give up will eventually make it in some way, shape, or form, though maybe not how originally intended.

Melinda S. Collins
Hi Jami! Thanks for another great post! You’re so right…it came as no surprise to me that you were a teacher’s favorite. 😉 I didn’t like it either because all I wanted to do was get my work done, get my “A” and be done with it. LOL! I whole-heartedly agree that this is all a game of luck, or chance. Once you’ve done your homework and gotten your skills where they need to be – which is what finaling in contests shows us (Congrats again on the finals! 🙂 ) – we now have to leave our future in the hands of fate, hoping she’ll help us get it into the right hands at the right time. That’s all it is. Right place, right time. If we query an agent at a moment where they’re looking for (or are open to) a PNR with dystopian elements, then our chances of snagging a partial request are higher than normal. And once we have the agent, if said agent gets it into the hands of an editor interested in the same type of story, then our chances snagging that contract are greater. But neither of those work without the other. And I think that’s what so hard to get across to nonwriters. My family seems to think that if my writing is on pointe, then I’ll get an agent and a contrat. Hmmmm….. yea, that made for an interesting educational conversation in which I wasted a lot of breath explaining this… Read more »
Teresa Robeson

This was so incredibly timely, Jami, as I’d just received a rejection email last night and am still moping about. I don’t know how you get into my head to post exactly what I need? 😉

I’ve not written a book yet, but a lot of what you said applies to those of us who write for the magazine/ezine markets. I’m already published in the magazine markets but every rejection still makes me feel like I’ve not done all the right things and if I could just find out what step D is, I’ll never have another rejection again. *sigh*

But anyway, CONGRATULATIONS to you on being a finalist in both those contests and getting a perfect score from one of the judges!!! I’ll do a happy dance with you! 🙂

Nancy S. Thompson

I passed each marker, sometimes moving forward afterwards & sometimes back, but no matter what, I never gave up or thought I’d made it. There were ALWAYS new things to learn and ways to improve. It’s all about perseverence. And then when I actually did make it, there were all kinds of new things to tackle. And now it’s time to start all over again. Yet it won’t be the same the second time around. Expectations are different. I’m different. My writing is different. So even with the experience of writing & publishing a book behind me, the journey keeps on going, with new markers to guide the way.

C.E. Schwilk

YES! Even though I’m nowhere near “close”, until very recently, I expected (yes, expected – I’m a silly newbie, of course!) a clear, linear path to publication. Now I just want people to know I’m alive and read me.

I agree to what you and Susan said – it’s the “not giving up” part that makes the difference. I thought I gave up years ago, but here I am again. Here’s to never giving up – for any of us! Great post, as always.

Carradee
Something I try to keep in mind: The choice to accept something for publication is often a matter of taste. I mean, consider your favorite author of X genre. You can find folks who hate that author, if you bother to look—they might think the writing bland, the characters flat, the plotting ludicrous, etc. Does that mean there’s something wrong with your taste or theirs? Neither. But some folks assume that their taste is objective and respond accordingly, ridiculing authors and people whose tastes don’t match theirs, as if they themselves are perfect. Those are the folks who bother me most. My standard attitude is to bite my tongue and bow out, because no amount of arguing will smack them upside the head. But it’s a fine line between letting them think they’ve cowed you and actually being cowed. And then when you lose sight of the detail that you’ve no reason to be cowed—you’re just pretending to be, so they’ll shut up—well. That can be a tough emotional funk to get out of. But otherwise, the publication game is a matter of matching up your story with someone whose taste it’ll fit. I play a similar game whenever I’m playing “What book will I recommend?” with a friend. I keep their tastes in mind so that I don’t recommend, for example, an adult dark fantasy novel to a friend who dislikes dark or fantasy. This is where that “point” system comes in handy. (Explanation here.) It’s been demonstrated by… Read more »
Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson
Oh crap, Jami. Yes! “If I do abc right, then I’ll be successful in publishing” is a big part of my—oh, let’s just call it what it is—internal conflict. Because what happens when we do abc right and success doesn’t follow?” I’m that girl. I’m the girl who has bought into that ethos. Even though I TOTALLY know that so many of my successes have been about timing. And luck. Things that are completely out of my control. This dilema has actually made me put down my WIP. I am not sure I have what it takes. Seriously. I’m reevaluating everything. Because what if I have this great book, but 50 people look at it and say it’s ugly. Too complicated. Too ethnic. No one will buy it. I don’t actually know if I am built to handle that kind of rejection. ANd of course there is always self-publishing, but the “teacher’s pet” (indeed, the teacher) in me clucks her tongue and laughs. I laugh at myself. Hahahaha. No one loves you. Because you suck. And your words suck. So I have to maker sure that before I start over with this thing that I am really ready to commit to it. To whole process. I’m feeling more than a little terrified of what I might find out about myself. Am I part of the 95% who doesn’t follow through and write their book? That is soooo not me. But I might be the girl who gives up after a… Read more »
Carradee

Renee, two blog posts I think you’ll find useful:

Kris Rusch on perfection
Dean Wesley Smith on the numbers game in publishing

🙂

Renee Schuls-Jacobson

Carradee! Just read that first article by Kris Rusch. Omigosh! Fantastic.

I’m going to read Dean Westley Smith now. Will it undo my happiness right now?

I think I just need to finish up what I have and send my stuff to Jami. She can give me some concrit which will only be helpful. I think I just need to have her demand it of me. (You hear that Jami! Nag me!)

Carradee

Dean’s article shouldn’t dishearten you—I know I find it encouraging.

Dean & Kris are spouses, so they often say the same thing, just from different tacks. 🙂

As for work getting eaten—that’s why I avoid writing in MS Office. Also part of why I love my Mac. I don’t think I’ve lost any actual text in the years since I started using the fantastic Autosave functions of TextEdit and Scrivener (which has a Windows version, though I’ve not used it).

MS Office? I lose work fairly often. I wouldn’t even use it, except I have to for my day job. And it still does have one of the best universally compatible Track Change functions—even if it has a glitch list to match. :-/

Upgrading my computer RAM has reduced the number of MS Office crashes, though.

Laura Drake

Great post, Jami. I had a glimmer that THIS would be the one, when I was writing it. But I’d thought that with my last novel, as well. My crit group all told me this would be the one. I won contests . . . but you’re right, so much depends on things out of your control, you’ll never relax until you sign that contract.

Looking back from the ‘sold’ side, I can tell you, this is great advice. Thanks.

Stina Lindenblatt

We think alike, Jami. I recently found out I’m a finalist in a RWA contest. It was nice to see that. Okay, it went beyond nice. But it still doesn’t mean I’m there yet. It just means my writing doesn’t suck. 🙂

Matthew Shields

BIG congrats Jami! I know you’ve been working hard at this for a long time. Keep it up!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Erm, I hope you won’t hate me for my very wayward take on this issue. Most likely everybody will think my opinion is mad—or even heretical, lol. (Warning: this will be a relatively long post—1255 words—uh…hope you don’t mind the length? ^_^’) From what I’ve seen from reading others’ feedback on my stories, reviews on published books, advice from forums and writing guides, and of course reading the many published books themselves, I’m finding more and more that there are no objective standards on what a great novel is. Readers keep disagreeing with each other: audience A would be very happy if you did X, audience B would despise you if you did X; if you did Y, you would immediately win the popularity of audience B, but audience A would hate you with the force of Twilight-hatred forever. Okay that was a bit exaggerated, but you get the picture. I mean, don’t you get really annoyed at how frustratingly subjective the “standards” are? There are things in the current writing world that we take for granted, like “show, don’t tell.” But then I find that I very often like reading “telling” even more than “showing”. I honestly really love it when authors tell me everything there is to know about a character’s personality from the very first minute we meet them. I also like it better when authors say “he said bitterly” or “she was happy”, rather than always trying to find an emotional gesture like “he grumbled” or… Read more »
E.B.Pike
Gosh, this scares me to death. I know that no matter how hard you work, and no matter how good you are, it still comes down to luck and a break. *moans and wails* But, since I’m a silver lining kind of person, I just have to remind myself that if I don’t keep writing, and I don’t keep working hard and producing new material, I’ll won’t be prepared when that lucky coincidence or break comes along. I’ve never had the “I’m getting close” moment yet. I got requests from my queries and first five pages, but despite a host of partials and a few fulls, my 1st MS never went anywhere. I’ve stopped querying it and decided to throw myself into new projects. I hope eventually I’ll write that MS that will just hit an agent or editor the right way, on the right day (*stars align and angels sing*). Keep the faith, Jami! I always remind myself of the fantabulous authors that got rejection after rejection and went on to be superstars. They say the editor that first decided to take on Harry Potter (after Rowling had been roundly rejected everywhere else) wasn’t even going to do so, but only agreed grudgingly at his ten-year-old daughter’s insistence. There are countless other stories like this. F.Scott Fitzgerald, Madeline L’Engle, Margaret Mitchell, Stephen King and Orwell all faced rejection after rejection. It’s going to happen eventually, Jami. Write on, sister!
Edith

Gosh what an interesting conversation! I a newbie to all this and some days feel as if I hardly know which way to turn. Should I follow my ‘heart’ and just write that novel that’s been bouncing around my brain for the last couple of years? Or do I focus instead on learning the craft, which doesn’t necessarily mean writing what I don’t like, but writing for particular target audiences?
In the end I have chosen the latter course, and do you know I love it! But I would love a couple of book recommendations from you, someone I admire, on the subject of structuring and organizing ones novel. There are so many books out there, such a plethora of possibilities, how can a beginner narrow it down? Could I ask you to name, say, 3 books you learned the most from? xxx

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[…] be so emotional—both during the creation process and during the marketing process. Jami Gold asks if we can tell when we’re getting “close,” while Jody Hedlund wonders if it’s healthy for authors to stalk review sites. Henri Junttila […]

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[…] Can We Tell When We Are Getting “Close”? by Jami Gold – is success about to find you? […]

Krysta

This might be a bit late, but congratulations on being finalist! Hearing people succeed always make me happy.

Sometimes I still feel like a newbie at writing – still on my second draft for my first story for traditional publication, but Krysta, why are you writing the first draft of the sequel? Other times, I feel like a pro when I look at my folder of drafts, settings, timelines and characters and know that the story I’m writing is wonderful. Then doubts creeps into my mind as I work on my novel. What if nobody liked the first story of the series? Should I work on another story (that is not from the series) when I query the first book?

I suppose it might be a naive, but I find that the biggest signpost is when your readers read the story and it kept them awake at night (doesn’t necessarily apply to horror stories keeping them from sleeping or not being able to put down the story because they want to keep on reading it, but also wishing that they could be one of the characters in the story – more like how people dreamed about getting a Hogwarts letter.)

Laurie Evans

Congrats on your contests! It has to feel great to final and get good remarks.

I entered my first contest Oct 1st…won’t hear anything until December. I can’t wait, yet I’m terrified!!

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[…] Jami Gold – Can We Tell When We’re Getting “Close”? Rate this:Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]

Joseph Sebastine

I enjoyed reading your post. Great.

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[…] comment on my post last week about “getting close” to publishing success, Krysta Man […]

Jordan McCollum

(Catching up on my feeds, saving yours to savor as always)

I love Alexis’s thoughts here. It reminds me of something I saw on author Kaye Dacus’s blog years ago—the reason why some people spout off writing “rules” (whether they understand them or not) is that they have this same legalistic POV. “If I stop doing X and D and 2134 wrong, I get my Golden Ticket” kind of thing.

Not how it works. Even good books don’t get published, and sometimes really, really awful books do (and apparently they aren’t copyedited first either…).

Congrats on your finals!

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[…] scores just don’t happen that often in writing contests. Before then, I’d received one perfect score last fall and a second one last month (in that Winter Rose contest I later […]

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