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?
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