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

by Jami Gold on November 6, 2012

in Writing Stuff

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

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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56 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Susan Sipal November 6, 2012 at 8:27 am

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.

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 8:44 am

Hi Susan,

“I think the greatest signpost is internal — have you given up or not.”

Love that! You’re absolutely right. We can guarantee that we won’t succeed by giving up. As long as we don’t give up, we can pursue other stories, other agents, other publishers, other paths to being published. Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda S. Collins November 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

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 becuase their heads are just as hard, if not harder, than my own. :)

I haven’t passed by any signs that made me feel as though I were “close” though. But I think that’s because until I have a contract in hand, I try not to pay attention to signs. All I want to focus on is writing the best story I can, honing my craft, and getting my voice out there in hopes the story’s right and it’ll bounce back with a request. Margie told me back in August that, based on my writing, she had no doubt I’d have a publishing contract within 2 years. Well, that’s *if* my MS is what someone’s looking for or open to at the time. But still, I sorta felt like I was getting “close,” but I tried not to get too excited about that compliment because I know there’s a lot more work to be done.

Because I always believed that nothing in this life is gauranteed, I’m not too sure there are some signs that would be a better measure of how close we are. Receiving a partial/full request doesn’t gaurantee a agent will sign you. Getting an agent doesn’t gaurantee you’ll get a contract. And getting a contract doesn’t gaurantee you’ll be successful.

Goodness, I just realized that may sound very negative, but it’s not. It’s totally coming from a realistic, protect-your-self-esteem, and keep-your-ass-from-hitting-the-ground-when-the-rug’s-pulled type place. :)

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 8:57 am

Hi Melinda,

LOL! Yes, and as for the teacher’s pet thing, it also didn’t help my reputation that I had to sit close to the front in order to see the board. ;) (“Really! I don’t actually like the teacher. I just want to see the notes!”)

Luckily, my family understands the nature of this business. And my parents mostly get it. But the rest of the extended family, or those peripheral family friends? Not so much. And when I tell them I’m working on another story from the one they heard about last time, they interpret that as “giving up” on the old one rather than moving forward to pursue more opportunities–maybe The Powers That Be will like this story. I’m of the opinion that having multiple stories “in the bank” isn’t a bad thing for once I do pass that step. :)

Ooo, I know what you mean about Margie’s comment. Martha Alderson (The Plot Whisperer) said a similar thing to me when we met this past spring. She loved my pitch so much it gave her goosebumps. And she said that’s a never-fail sign to her. :) But like you said, unless Margie or Martha kidnaps an agent for us (LOL!), we still have to do the hard work of pursuing whatever our chances are.

So I agree–it’s not about being negative. It’s about being realistic and knowing which aspects we have control over and which we don’t. My practical side tells me it’s just a waste of time to worry about those things beyond our control. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Teresa Robeson November 6, 2012 at 9:24 am

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! :)

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 9:34 am

Hi Teresa,

Thank you! :) And don’t worry–I don’t have a secret camera in your inbox. LOL!

The thought was on my mind because my parents did their “Wonderful! What does that mean?” reaction to my contest finals. And I had to think, what does it mean? :)

Sorry about your rejection. *hugs* Thanks for the comment!

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Nancy S. Thompson November 6, 2012 at 9:32 am

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.

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 9:37 am

Hi Nancy,

Thank you for sharing your story! Yes, you’re absolutely right that in reality, the journey never ends. Even those published (and successful) with traditional publishers still have to work at getting that next contract. Each crest of the path just reveals more road in front of us. Thanks for the comment! :)

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C.E. Schwilk November 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

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.

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

Hi C.E.,

LOL! Yes, here’s to never giving up. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee November 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

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 more than one professional that the number of “points” you have in the race directly correlates with when you start getting acceptance letters—and you’ll probably be getting them regularly once you have 50+ points. (I’m working on that.)

Folks who make jewelry aren’t thought foolhardy for making more than one piece before they open up shop. So why are authors?

I think part of the problem is a lot of folks speak of books as their authors’ “babies”. That language implies that it’s incredibly insensitive and irresponsible to set one “baby” aside and to birth another, when the other hasn’t even been properly cared for (“perfected” and published).

*shrug* :)

Note: My feed reader *still* isn’t showing this post in your blog feed, just FYI—I just stopped by because I know you usually post by now. :)

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Hi Carradee,

“Folks who make jewelry aren’t thought foolhardy for making more than one piece before they open up shop. So why are authors?

I think part of the problem is a lot of folks speak of books as their authors’ “babies”. That language implies that it’s incredibly insensitive and irresponsible to set one “baby” aside and to birth another, when the other hasn’t even been properly cared for (“perfected” and published).”

Great point! Yes, is it heartless of me to set aside the “book of my heart” to work on other stories I also love? No, because it’s all a choice about what we can do right now, at this moment, with current opportunities. Just because I’m working on new stories doesn’t mean I can’t go back to those previous ones when the situation changes. :) Thanks for the great comment!

P.S. Hmm, yes, RSS has been a bit flaky with its update times lately. I’m not sure why. *adds that to list to check* Thanks!

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Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson November 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm

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 few rejections. After all, I come undone by a mean word — in real life.

I have to gauge how I do when people crit my writing.

Jami: I kind of need you to kick my ass her. I need to send you my draft, as is. Maybe it’s got some holes. But maybe they are fixable.

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Carradee November 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm

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

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

:)

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hi Carradee,

Ooo, interesting. Thanks for sharing! I know I need to submit my story more aggressively, but my lack of confidence in my query letter keeps me from sending out as many as I “should.” *sigh* Thanks for the comment!

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Renee Schuls-Jacobson November 7, 2012 at 11:36 am

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!)

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Jami Gold November 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm

HI Renee,

Did you not see my other butt-kicking reply? :)

Although, with your other comment, I think we’ll be better off stepping back and talking about the pros and cons of your rewrite temptation. :) Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee November 7, 2012 at 1:38 pm

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.

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Jami Gold November 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Hi Carradee,

No, unfortunately Renee’s whole Mac died. This wasn’t just an application or program issue. :(

But I think she’d emailed her WIP to others and thus was able to get copies of some of it back. She used it as a good reminder to always have backups. :)

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Carradee November 8, 2012 at 8:37 am

By “whole Mac”, do you mean hard drive or motherboard? Or was it software?

See, if it was the motherboard, the hard drive (and therefore the files) should still be fine, if the hard drive is hooked up in an external enclosure. If it’s the hard drive, then there are still some possibilities—assuming it wasn’t an issue of the hard drive physically degrading (which I’ve had happen, too)—that might allow for data recovery.

Software issues can get a bit more messy, because it all depends on how she uses her computer and what, exactly, “died”. :)

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Jami Gold November 8, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Hi Carradee,

I believe it was a hard drive issue. :(

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Carradee November 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Assuming she hasn’t erased that hard drive, she could try having someone hook it up to a functional computer and using some data recovery software on it. I know some computer repair places near me will do that for cheap or free.

Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Hi Renee,

LOL! Consider this a butt kicking then. :) Let’s see, my Blogiversary Contest was when? July? Yep, it’s time. :)

Sometimes we can get stuck because we don’t know how to fix things, and that outside input can make all the difference in the world with us being able to see the answer. Just saying. ;) Thanks for the comment! And just do it!

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Renee Schuls-Jacobson November 7, 2012 at 10:12 am

That’s only part of it.

Remember, I lost a lot of my completed manuscript draft when my computer crashed back in August. I lost over 100 pages. I haven’t wanted to work on the WIP. At all. I feel like the cosmos was out to devour it because it isn’t the real story. It isn’t my real voice. It isn’t the way I want to tell it.

I want to rewrite it in first person (*in a whisper*) because a lot of it is autobiography. Not all, but a lot. So the question is should I just start over with the basic bones or should I just let this one go into the world as is — even though I think the real story is more compelling?

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Jami Gold November 7, 2012 at 10:14 am

Hi Renee,

Ah… Yes, I knew you’d lost a good portion of it. :( But I hadn’t known about the rewrite temptation. We’ll talk about that over email, okay? :)

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Laura Drake November 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

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.

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Hi Laura,

Thank you so much for sharing your story from the “success” side of the aisle. :) Yes, I’ve thought great things about all my novels–otherwise I wouldn’t have written them, right? So this is another one of those times where we learn not to trust our own instinct. Ugh. Thanks for the comment!

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Stina Lindenblatt November 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm

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. :)

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Jami Gold November 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Hi Stina,

Congratulations on your final! Let’s hear it for not sucking. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Matthew Shields November 7, 2012 at 6:48 am

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

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Jami Gold November 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

Hi Matt,

Thanks! Yes, there’s still a lot of hard work to go, but I can keep my fingers crossed that this is a good sign. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung November 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm

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 “she smiled”. It’s okay to see gestures, but it sometimes makes me roll my eyes when I see things like “smiled”, “grumbled”, “frowned”, “raised an eyebrow”, “gaped”, “rolled her eyes” (lol), etc. so many times in the book! I would be very thankful if the author just stopped being so insistent on following the “show, don’t tell” rule and be generous enough to give me HONEST ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS like “euphoric”, “sadly”, “madly”, “horrified”, “empathetically”, “angrily”, etc. Very often I find that simple adjectives and adverbs like these convey the character’s emotions much more clearly to me than “showing” me their various facial expressions and body movements. “Happily” conveys more ‘stuff’ to me because it’s abstract, and my imagination is given more room to paint what the character may look like at this moment. But “smiling so much that her smile reached her eyes” or something like this is okay, but “happily” carries a deeper, richer content than the concrete and fixed great smile, at least to me. And for some reason I like the feeling of “happily” more than “smiling so much…”—I’m not sure why.

Another thing is that there seems to be a rage to eliminate all “floweriness” of prose, and some writers even resolve to write with only verbs and nouns! That’s all very good, but some of us readers actually WANT to read flowery prose. A friend of mine thinks that Hemingway is so dry, and so do I, but no offense to Hemingway fans here. In fact, some of my favorite books are very descriptive, or at least with enough beautiful adjectives and adverbs to satisfy me, e.g. Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allan Poe, and especially Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc. So I was very astonished when I tried to emulate George Eliot in her very descriptive emotional passages, but was told in a writer’s critique workshop to tone it down and be much less descriptive and be economical. Yet I should have known that the guy who said that was a huge Hemingway fan who was very fond of really concise and bare prose, and I mean bare! I learned since then not to stifle my own feelings—not to believe that what others feel must be right and what I feel must be wrong.

Okay one more example. (Promise!) There has long been this vibe in the writing community that 3D, complex, and well developed characters are always “better” than flat characters. I subscribed to this view too until recently. I was reading this fantasy adventure story where all the characters were flat and clearly stereotypes. Yet I really, genuinely loved them all. Then there was this main character (a little boy) in a futuristic sci-fi novel who was even more of a stereotype: unhealthily obsessed with science—not interested in anything else in the world but science, hyper antisocial as in having literally zero friends yet not being at all bothered by this, physically inadequate and unfit, and has a comically huge superiority complex. But despite his flatness, I thought he was so adorable and loved him more and more as I read! LOL

From these examples, I really sound like a rebel, but honestly I have no intention of being deliberately different. I just feel very differently from a lot of people for some really bizarre reason. There are also miscellaneous problems where half of your readers think your story is too slow, the other half thinks it’s too fast, and you think it’s too fast. XD

So, about all of this subjectivity of what’s a “good” or “bad” book, I also acquired this weird opinion that though relying on publishers and fiction experts is good, I think that ultimately, we’re not trying to please the publishers or judges, we’re trying to please our readers. And our readers are likely to be a lay audience who doesn’t know about the standards we have in our writing community, and so aren’t…geared to think the same way as we do about how a book SHOULD be written. So we have to anticipate many different tastes, especially opposite tastes, and expect that many of the standards we were taught to venerate may actually repulse certain readers. Not all readers like plain, laconic prose, for example; and some don’t like simple words and sentences—they prefer harder words and more embellished sentences, like the 19th century style. And of course, you have readers that prefer just the reverse. This really makes you go: Argh! Readers, what do you expect me to do??? Haha.

Thus, seeing how hard it is to make a story appealing to all readers (or most readers), I gave up trying to please everyone and decided that I would simply please myself instead, hoping that would be my perfect solution. But just pleasing myself turns out to be a problem as well because I tend to like what a lot of people hate, or think is weird to like, etc, which alienates my readers. And sometimes there would be a new, special style that I tried out, really liked, but nobody else seems to like. Yet I really want to keep that style because I personally really love it. Just out of curiosity, what would you prefer? Writing a book that you love but everyone else hates, or a book that everyone loves but you hate? I would choose the former because why would I write in the first place if what I write disgusts me?

Yeah, I know I’m whining because I want to please as many people as possible, yet I have eccentric tastes which really isn’t helping, LOL

Hehe, my opinions are indeed very heretical, right? XD But I just want to say that I’m not implying that my view of this matter is The Truth, and I would be genuinely grateful if someone who heartily disagrees with me could explain their view and convince me that I’m being too extreme. I do think I may be too extreme, lol, but it’s just that I’ve lost all faith in the existence of objective standards. Subjectivity can’t completely rule the world, right? =(

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Jami Gold November 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Hi Serena,

You make a great point about how readers are all different and like different things. As you know, I’ve done several posts here about the subjectivity of writing (and readers). I think we all have to find our own readers, who will love our work for what it is and not bemoan what it isn’t.

Personally, some people love the way my stories open (with story issue scenes, establishing conflict right away) and some don’t (they want more heavy dialogue in the opening scene). I shrug. :) Conflict vs. dialogue is a preference, not a right or wrong thing.

And I think that’s similar to what you bring up, that your preferences are different from the prevailing “wisdom” of the “right” way to do things. But I also don’t think you’re that unusual. We could probably all think of some story we loved–or at least highly enjoyed–with flat characters. I know I can. :) Along the same lines, sometimes I’m in the mood for flowing prose and sometimes I’m not. And honestly, if I’m really into a story, I wouldn’t notice the “telling vs. showing” things.

So I think you’re right to write stories the way you enjoy them. We can lose our motivation if we don’t feel passionate about our story. That said, as you pointed out, that can mean we’re sacrificing broad readership for our passion. That’s not a deal breaker for everyone. Some will choose one way and some will choose another, and only we can make the best decision for our goals. Thanks for the comment!

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Serena November 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Wow such a quick reply! :D

“And I think that’s similar to what you bring up, that your preferences are different from the prevailing “wisdom” of the “right” way to do things. But I also don’t think you’re that unusual. ”

Thanks for that, I think I feel better now. :) I was probably just reacting to some people that DEMAND that one MUST stick to some particular standard (e.g. no adjectives or adverbs allowed!). Maybe I was annoyed because I thought they were ignoring all the other readers who didn’t feel the way they did. So maybe it would have been better if they said, “In OUR opinion, WE think that XXX is better because…” instead of implying that their rule is universal and that everyone must follow it. (Of course, perhaps it was my own fault in the first place for interpreting their tone as a commanding one when they only meant to share their own personal, subjective preference.)

“Personally, some people love the way my stories open (with story issue scenes, establishing conflict right away) and some don’t (they want more heavy dialogue in the opening scene).”

Ooh that’s cool. Sometimes opening with a beautiful descriptive scene of nature is nice too—as long as I’m not feeling too sleepy when I read it. XD

“I think we all have to find our own readers, who will love our work for what it is and not bemoan what it isn’t.”

Haha, yes. I’m really starting to feel the importance of this. My two best friends love my romances and they adore that perfect and unbelievably devoted spirit boy, but many of my other friends thought the perfect spirit boy was boring because perfection NECESSARILY means boredom to them, haha. (Also, if they looked more closely, they would see that this “perfect” boy had TONS of imperfections—how come no one noticed them??? Lol.) Also, there was a story where I wrote my first ever comedy/ farce, but only one friend thought it was funny–she loved it! But all my other friends thought it was plain ridiculous and I could tell they didn’t like that story as much as they did my usual works. Actually, that farce was even written in a fairy-tale sort of way–and then my friend tells me he doesn’t like fairy tales. LOL. I should have sent you something else. XD

“And honestly, if I’m really into a story, I wouldn’t notice the “telling vs. showing” things.”

Me too, actually. It was just after I submitted that post that I realized: Hey, actually I’m a lot more lenient than I made myself sound. As long as there’s something I really like, or many things I quite like, or a general sense of loveliness or pleasantness or even awesomeness about the book, I will forgive the author for just about anything. Even, in extreme cases, if their grammar is horrible, lol. It’s true that when we read, the pictures in our heads take over our consciousness, and the exact words and sentences cease to matter.

“That said, as you pointed out, that can mean we’re sacrificing broad readership for our passion. That’s not a deal breaker for everyone. Some will choose one way and some will choose another, and only we can make the best decision for our goals. ”

Yes, that summarizes my dilemma very well. I want as many of my friends (if not all of them), to love and enjoy my stories. But at the same time, it’s impossible to satisfy them all because they always disagree. And sometimes I make the situation even worse by disagreeing with all of them. XD Oh well, we writers just have to prepare ourselves for the times when literally NOBODY will like our story, even if we ourselves are passionately in love with it and feel shocked and hurt that other people don’t feel the same way as we do. (I was very upset and dismayed that most of my friends did not also think that that perfect lover character was breathtakingly and arrestingly beautiful in every way as I did, lol. (Sorry for the ridiculous use of adverbs–with a made-up word.) But now I understand that everybody has very different feelings. Plus, since writers develop a deep bond with their characters, writers tend to love and cherish the characters more than any reader ever will–or can.)

But anyway, since I find it absolutely impossible to write about anything I don’t really care about, I will definitely self-publish, so I can guarantee myself maximal freedom and control over my work.

Overall, I think I’m still growing up and learning. :)

P.S. I’ll need to check out your posts about the subjectivity of standards–or maybe I did but I didn’t notice it…

P.S. Just out of curiosity again, what do you think about made-up words in stories? I generally don’t object to them as long as they are clearly defined and are not too many, i.e. not Finnegans Wake, lol. (No, I still don’t have the courage to read that! I’ll probably finish War and Peace first….) I do like poems that make elegant use of made-up words though, like the “raindark snail” as I’ve read somewhere, and of course I adore the “Jabberwocky”.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Hi Serena,

I guess I’m of the opinion that adjectives and adverbs exist for a reason. ;)

I learn the rules, and then I break them. The point is that by knowing the rules, we know when we should break them. I use adjectives and adverbs all the time, but by knowing the rule, I know to pay attention to them and use them only when it adds to the meaning. And I think that’s the gist of what I take away from most of the rules.

We learn them so we understand why they exist. Then we can judge whether that reason applies to our specific situation, sentence, or story. :)

As for trying to please all our friends (or even all our readers), I don’t think that’s always a given, especially if we write in multiple genres. That’s okay. Plenty of authors have multiple audiences–one for their Y-type books and one for their Z-type books. So yes, I think you’d drive yourself crazy if you tried to write in such a way as to make all your friends love all your stories. Don’t do it. :) Thanks for the comment!

P.S. Ha! I write paranormal so I’m making up words–or new meanings for words–all the time. ;)

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Serena November 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I’m glad you’re not the nouns and verbs only extreme type, lol.

“We learn them so we understand why they exist. ” Yup. The cool thing is, you will eventually read a book that breaks that rule, but for some reason you still really love the book, then you work out why the book still worked without the rule–then that lets you understand why that rule was established but most importantly lets you QUESTION how widely applicable that rule is to different stories. I love it when books violate rules that I long hold to be sacred. It makes me THINK, rather than to just blindly apply things that I’m told will be “good” to do. (I love the example where everything was happy-dappy and absolutely without conflict for several chapters. Yet this section didn’t bore me at all.)

Haha, yeah, now I know that it’s impossible to please all my friends, so I don’t feel bad anymore about some of my stories disappointing my closest friends sometimes, lol. ^^

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Jami Gold November 8, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Hi Serena,

Exactly! That’s a great point. Analyzing a book that works–even though it breaks rules–is a great way to expand our craft knowledge. :) Thanks for the comment!

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E.B.Pike November 8, 2012 at 2:53 am

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!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Hi E.B.,

I understand. We want the guarantee that something will come of all this hard work. But I want to add on to something you said here:

” 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.”

If you don’t keep writing, that is the only guaranteed way to fail. :)

Seriously, as long as we’re trying, we’re not failing. Thanks for the comment and keep the faith in yourself! :)

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Edith November 8, 2012 at 9:11 am

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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Jami Gold November 8, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Hi Edith,

Yes, there are many craft books out there, aren’t there? :) There are probably enough that if you tried to read even most of them, you’d have no time to actually write!

My favorite of the structure books is Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering. However, I know that some people don’t like his way of explaining things. I also really enjoyed Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and that’s very popular. Another one in my pile is Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer.

If you want to get a preview of many of Larry Brooks’s story structure ideas, check out his website at storyfix.com (this link will take you to the beginning of his story structure series on his blog). I hope that helps! :)

As for the bigger question, I’ve found a similar path. I started with “the book of my heart,” but at the time, I didn’t have the craft to back it up. I then moved on to other stories that I thought would be “easier” to write. Ha! But I discovered so much more about my voice and my writing skills by branching out. And like you, I discovered that on some level, every story can be a book of our heart. We often deeply love things we didn’t expect to, and I think that applies to writing as well. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Edith November 9, 2012 at 3:47 am

Thanks for the recommendations and the encouragement Jami. Much appreciated! :)

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Jami Gold November 9, 2012 at 8:08 am

Hi Edith,

No problem. :) I’m happy to help!

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Krysta November 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm

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.)

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Jami Gold November 12, 2012 at 11:26 am

Hi Krysta,

LOL! Congratulations are never too late–Thank you! :)

Ooo, your comment about the “unsold series” issue just triggered an idea for a blog post. :) Look for it tomorrow. Thanks for the idea and the comment!

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Laurie Evans November 11, 2012 at 2:38 pm

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 November 12, 2012 at 11:27 am

Hi Laurie,

Thanks! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your entry. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Joseph Sebastine November 13, 2012 at 4:29 am

I enjoyed reading your post. Great.

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Jami Gold November 13, 2012 at 9:06 am

Thanks Joseph! :)

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Jordan McCollum November 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm

(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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Jami Gold November 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Hi Jordan,

Great insight! Yes, some people might cling to the rules (even when they’re wrong), just because they want the rules to be “the answer.” Thanks for the fantastic comment!

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Jami Gold November 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Hi Carradee,

Yes, I believe that’s what she’s doing. She hasn’t heard back from them yet with any news though. I think she’s considering her computer dead and any recovery a long shot so she can move forward. Sometimes holding out for any hope leaves us stuck in the “bargaining” stage of grief. :)

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