December 19, 2013

Are You Waiting for Permission?

Begging pug dog with text: Waiting for Permission?

This past week has been a good news / bad news / good news sort of week. The conflicting emotions have been *ahem* good for making me question my strategies (yet again).

On the good news side, I received the scores from my last contest, The Emily. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m calling myself done with unpublished contesting. After 3 wins and 6 other finals for Treasured Claim, I’ve gotten everything from the experience I could. The good news? My Emily score was 99%.

On the bad news side, The Emily was extremely competitive in my category this year. In fact, to final, an entry needed to have a score of 99.5% or higher. Yep, the bad news? I didn’t final in my last contest despite my score of 99%. *insert your favorite expletive here*

Back on the good news side, my good friend Buffy Armstrong did receive a 99.5% and did final! And since I helped her with editing and discussed openings for her story several months ago, I’m doubly happy for her. Yay!

My biggest disappointment was not getting my work in front of the final judge, an agent I respect. As I’ve bemoaned many times, I have a terrible track record with my queries, so I’d been using contests to try to circumvent the query process. But now that I’m calling myself done with contests, I find myself at a crossroads.

We Don’t Need Permission for Our Dreams

For a long time, I’ve held off querying my “dream” agent because I wanted some positive results before striking out with a method that doesn’t work for me. In addition to contesting, I tweaked my query with oodles of help from friends and readers. And then…

I dithered. I rationalized. I stressed.

It finally dawned on me that I was essentially waiting for permission to believe that my query was the best I could make it. “If only abc would happen, I’ll know it’s good enough to send to my dream agent.”

Ugh. How is that any different from waiting for external permission for anything else?

Answer: It’s not.

We shouldn’t wait for permission to call ourselves a writer. (If we write, we’re a writer—nothing “aspiring” about it.) We shouldn’t wait for permission to take our writing seriously. We shouldn’t wait for permission to make progress toward our goals.

In short, we shouldn’t wait for external permission for our internal dreams. Yes, it’s nice to have encouragement from others or validation that we’re “good enough,” but too often we let that “nice to have” aspect hold us back.

Perfectionism Rears Its Head—Again

I’ve been suffering from that permission problem for a while, especially with the validation aspect. What was it going to take to convince me that my query, my writing, my story was “good enough”?

Seriously, self, what am I waiting for? I mean—not to brag—but 3 contest wins and 6 additional finals? I’ve received more perfect scores than I can remember, and I have a list of judges (including two from The Emily) who have given me their names so I can tell them when Treasured Claim is published. This story deserves to progress toward publication, not be held back because of “well, maybe I’ll wait until xyz.”

So how do we cut off the perfectionism holding us back until “one more thing” happens? How do we stop the waiting game and move forward? How do we overcome these fears?

My Plan? Have a Plan

My perfectionism makes me so bad at this, but if someone else came to me with this problem, here’s the advice I’d give them: Create a plan for making progress—and then follow through with it.

Now I’m not recommending that people quit their jobs or negatively impact their families. However, we can usually find some way to make progress.

Maybe we’d join a critique group to improve our craft. Maybe we’d send out queries by the dozens or investigate self-publishing options. Maybe we’d start another story so all our hopes don’t hang on one possibility.

For me, I’m accepting that while this dream agent would be a “nice to have,” I also have plans for how to make progress if that’s a no-go. Yes, it might suck to hear “no,” but that answer doesn’t have power over my ability to move forward. If I don’t see this step as the end-all-be-all, I hope I won’t procrastinate about it anymore.

The recognition of my power to move forward doesn’t require permission from anyone else. This step is internal to me, and I have control over it. In other words, I’m not waiting for others.

So I’m putting this plan out there for accountability. *grin* In the next month (making allowances for crazy holiday schedules), I will query this dream agent, and I will be fine and continue making progress no matter what happens.

There. Done. *bites nails*

Do you ever feel you need permission to move forward? How do you overcome that issue? What causes your longing for external permission? Can you remove power from your fears by coming up with a plan? Do you have any advice for me?

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Have you read this piece?

I read it yesterday and was drawn to the very end, where she talks about how she now writes as a rebellion against the idea that external validation is the only thing that counts. I am a pleaser, and I struggle daily with the feeling that my writing will only matter if I can get an agent, get published and have something to show for it in the end: “See? I accomplished something!” Even though I know that I have always done it, even before I knew that writing was a THING, even before I really understood that you could write for a living or that you would even want to. But when you put so much of yourself into something, you feel like you need that external validation — yes, you were right to sink your time, money, effort, heart and soul into this. I have lost out on dream agents several times, and all I can say is, get up, brush yourself off and keep on going. It hurts, but it won’t kill you.

I am with you 100% on this one, Jami.

Davonne Burns

You could have been writing this whole post about me. I suffer from crippling self-doubt and non-existent self-esteem so just the thought of querying is enough to send me into a panic attack. I allowed the thought that I needed a reason to finish my series hold me back. I kept telling myself, ‘once I get an agent/publisher’ or ‘once the first one starts selling well I’ll write the next one’ and the most popular ‘no one cares so why should I.’ The problem is, I DO care and I cannot stop writing, but I did allow myself to get sidetracked (having kids does that too). I got sidetracked waiting for the validation that the book was good enough for me to continue with the series. It has seven five-star reviews and two four-star on Amazon and similar numbers on Goodreads. People have told me they love it. Yet, in my mind it was never enough. I’m still not sure what type of validation I was looking for, but I realized back in September that if I truly wanted to be a writer I had to stop. Stop looking for validation and just write. Write because I love to and because I love my characters. It’s not easy, especially on days when I feel like a leech, sitting here at home while my husband works 12-14 hour days. That’s when I go read a review and remind myself; I’m not the only person who loves these characters and they deserve…  — Read More »

Rachel Funk Heller

Hi Jami, Okay, here it is: I give you permission! I think what you might want to do is make a list of 20 “dream” agents. Rank them and start sending your queries to five of the agents, one from near the top, one from the bottom and one from the middle. And see what happens. Spread the love and put yourself out there. Good luck, this is a tough stage but just jump in.

Leslie Miller

Jami, I want you to go for it with your dream agent. (and others, of course) I want to hear all about what happens, how you felt when you hit “send” on your query, and what response you get.

I get great value out of your blog.

We are all in this together, which is so awesome!

I’ve already been rejected by my dream agent, with my first novel. She had asked for 30 pages when I met her at a conference, but she wrote back that she “just didn’t love it as much as she’d hoped.”

Of course, I was disappointed. Not crushed, just disappointed. But I fully intend to query her again with my second novel, currently in progress. And I am also open to the idea that there is another, even “dreamier” agent out there who I haven’t heard of yet!

Good luck! We, your audience, are rooting for you big time.

Diana J Febry

Everyone is the same with waiting for permission and waiting until we’re good enough and waiting and waiting and waiting. I think it’s all tied up with our fear of rejection. So one plus about writing – I’m pretty immune to rejection (well amost, sobs in corner of room). But seriously I think I have become a little more resilient generally.


I’m going to start querying and sending out next year too (as soon as I figure out how to WRITE a query — yikes), so I’ll be crossing my fingers for you. I hope that I’m better at coping with rejection now than I was in my early 20s, when a couple of snotty rejections and one rude writing teacher put me off of writing anything for a long time. I guess next year is when I find out if I can handle it.


You should definitely start sending out queries. Go ahead and continue with the contest route if you wish, but I think you’ve proved your writing is good, so go for it. You’ve waited long enough.

BTW, there’s no such thing as a perfect query. I’ve read enough articles by agents to know that each agent looks for different things in a query. And what works for one can be a turn off for others. Unless your “dream agent” posts articles about what he/she likes in a query you’re never going to know what works for them. So just start sending those queries out into the world and see what happens. Maybe it will turn out that your dream agent is someone you don’t even know yet.


I’m in the same boat. I have a story that I adore (at this point, I love it more than any of my others, and I love them all) and both of my CPs’ who have read it loved it, too. I have plans to submit it directly to a digital first publisher, to an editor I would love to work with.

I am now terrified to submit this story. What if it’s not as good as I (and my CPs) think it is? What if she rejects it? That would totally and completely suck, considering we follow each other on Twitter. What if she acquires it, but it gets horrible reviews?

I’m still in the final revision stages before submission, so I’m trying to muster as much courage as I can – and trying to detach myself from the story. I know I need to just suck it up and take a chance, but honestly, the thought of this story, this particular story, being rejected is making me balk at submitting it at all, and I’m having a hard time giving myself permission to fail (well, not fail, necessarily, but be rejected). And I pride myself on being fearless when it comes to submissions. Don’t like it? Okay, I’ll just move on to the next story.

Harder to do when you’re this invested. Grr.

DC Lozeau
DC Lozeau

Timely post, Jami. And I’ll tell you why. I published my first novel through a publisher, but without an agent. I have a lot invested in this book. I have some good reviews and have also been told by readers I know that they loved the book. But, I think I can do better. That’s why, having finished my second novel (a sequel to the first) I am in the process of looking for an agent. So, I put together what I think is a good query letter, but haven’t sent it out yet. What I did do, after much reading on the site, was send it to Query Shark. She is also an agent. Not sure if you are familiar with her, but she has a blog that you can send your query to and she will critique it. But not all queries get posted on her blog. But I’m hoping mine will. And there is a long wait list with no guarantee that your query will make it to the blog. So, here I am waiting to see. Problem is, how long do I wait? I’m at that stage where I want to satifaction of knowing that my query is ‘almost’ prefect, but that may be a moot point if there is no such thing. I’m not at the point where you are, in that, I have any ‘proven’ evidence of how good a writer I am. I think I am. I even took that leap of faith…  — Read More »

Sharon Hughson

Yes, I hate rejection. Yes, I am a Type A Perfectionist.

I have now completed my first step in the 12-Step program to recovery 🙂

I was thinking that perhaps I should groom some short stories for a contest or magazine publication while I’m waiting for an agent to snap up my novel (come June when it’s through edits and betas). I know it will be hard but publishing small or contest wins count as experience. Otherwise, I’m fresh out. Is this required? I don’t think so.

What struck me about your post is this: no writing is ever done. Most famous authors will admit they finally just had to STOP with revisions and send it out. We must give ourselves permission to “finish” a story, article, poem, novel or other project. Put it down. Send it out. Hide it in a drawer. Only you will know when it’s time to stop trying to “sell” a story.

Pauline Baird Jones

I got so tired of waiting for agents to respond, for publishers to respond, then I got trad published and got tired of waiting for my pifilous pay (LOL). I worked with small presses for years, but when my publisher passed away this summer, I went totally indie. So yeah, please give yourself permission to move forward!

Reminds me of some Ann Landers advice from years ago. This man wrote in that he dreamed of being a dentist, but if he started over, he wouldn’t be finished until he was fifty something. She pointed out he was going to be fifty something anyway, so he might as well be heading toward what he wanted to do. 🙂

Karen McFarland

Oh my goodness Jami, as I read this I couldn’t help thinking what a tormenting process this querying business is. Yet, I know how writers like yourself have worked so hard to fulfill your dreams of grabbing the right agent’s attention and trad publish your work. This post makes me wonder if this process is worth all the rejection. We writers seem to struggle with enough self-worth issues without subjecting ourselves to more. With all the accolades that you’ve received from numerous sources, would it not behoove you to self-publish as you continue on your quest for the “perfect” agent. Some writers have been discovered by doing just that. I think after all your time and hard work you owe it to yourself. You know you would have plenty of support. It’s just a thought. I wish you all the best! 🙂

Frank Colella

All self-doubt, pessimism, perfectionism and any other self-limiting, self-sabotaging, and self-defeating behaviors come from one place: your own brain… and, it is ALL based on “stories” written by a 5 yr. old, and forms your world view, which includes your core beliefs about who you think you are.

Change your story, change your life!! Are you ready to be reprogrammed??

Angela Quarles

Yes! I’m so glad you’re making this step, because it IS a step, and it’s been one that you’ve feared. I’d also suggest you query 4 others too. Though my suggestion is to maybe NOT query that agent until the second wave? Send out 5-10 from a list and B list, and if you get NO bites, tweak your query, and send it out again, this time including your agent. If you do get bites on the first wave, send out the query to the dream one right away. But regardless, you also might be thinking this person’s your dream one, when actually, she might not. Don’t get hung up on having to get that person, or you’re done. A dream agent is only a dream agent if you’re also her dream client too. If your story/writing isn’t her cup of tea, then she won’t be your dream agent. Just my 2 cents. Email me if you want to talk more, but I’m so glad you’re doing this, I’ve been worried about you on this point…

Haley Whitehall


Congratulations on getting a 99% score! That is something to be celebrated as is your other contest successes. You have the talent to get where you need to go, and you are indeed a writer. Never second guess yourself. I’m just waiting for you to hit it big.


Donna Hole
Donna Hole

Its good you recognize the problem, and can act on your own advice. Waiting for that “one thing” can seriously hold you back. That 99% score was awesome indeed though. Whatever happens with the query, you are ready to send it out. Best wishes for speedy success.


Serena Yung
Serena Yung

“We shouldn’t wait for permission to call ourselves a writer. (If we write, we’re a writer—nothing “aspiring” about it.) We shouldn’t wait for permission to take our writing seriously. We shouldn’t wait for permission to make progress toward our goals. In short, we shouldn’t wait for external permission for our internal dreams. Yes, it’s nice to have encouragement from others or validation that we’re “good enough,” but too often we let that “nice to have” aspect hold us back.” Yes, I agree with all of the above. If you write, you are a writer. You don’t need other people’s validation to confirm that. 🙂 Like I draw (even if not very well yet), and so I call myself an artist already. Lol. It doesn’t really matter what other people think in terms of whether I “qualify” as an artist. It only matters what I think I am, because in the end, it’s MY identity after all, not theirs. I define myself as a writer, because I myself really think I am one. And I also define myself as an artist, because I feel I really am one too. And as for lack of skill, why, I simply define myself as an artist / writer who is still improving on her skills, or as an artist or writer of CURRENTLY low skill and experience. However, IN THE FUTURE, I WILL become an artist and writer of HIGH skill and experience. But even then, I am ALREADY an “artist” and “writer”, just…  — Read More »


[…] for their own chosen route!) But, for me, it has been a salvation. Reading posts like these (Are you waiting for permission?) about the waiting and worry of the traditional route, I know now that I would have given up too […]


Marry Christmas, Jami … may you score all the loot your heart desired.


[…] Nice post from Jami Gold about writing – Are You Waiting For Permission? […]


Good for you, Jami! It is crazy how we don’t give ourselves credit, or don’t allow ourselves to go for our dreams. Writers are alway the hardest on themselves. Thanks for the inspirational post! It always makes me feel like I’m in it together with all the other writers out there when I see posts like this and realize we’re all going through the same things. 🙂

Shalagh Hogan

Nicely said Ms. Jami. A definite “thing” for me as well. I’ve fallen into your blog by happenstance today. And I am cheered to feel not so alone. I queried two publications prior to Christmas and heard nothing back. Holiday timing was probably bad. But it’s not a good feeling. I made myself do it and there’s no pay off yet. Do I feel like doing more. No. Will I get back up? Eventually. Thanks for the reminder I’m not the only one.


[…] myself, I took the step of querying my “dream agent” like I promised myself I would. Also, in addition to presenting at WANACon, I’ll be presenting at two in-person conferences […]

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