So you can read my books

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The cure for discouragement.

No. Sorry to disappoint you. I don't have it. Discouragement. That I have. In abundance.

I shouldn't. I walked into becoming a published author with my eyes wide open. And even if I didn't, I had a crash course in it every time someone asked what I was writing.

"A writer? Oh, wow. That's neat. Where can I buy your books?"

The look in their eyes when I tell them nowhere yet says it all. Dreamer. Wanna be. No talent.

I bet you had the same exchange with friends and relatives. What did Mark Twain write? "Everyone is a crackpot until he succeeds."

Let's face it. When you set out to be published, you've guaranteed yourself a lot of pain.

But is that any different from an Olympic hopeful, a want-to-be NBA player? Success is promised no one. Failure if we do not try is certain. And a gnawing, forever doubt will haunt us all our days if we turn our backs on our dreams.

We are creative. It is who we are. We have to write. Period. The end.

We are not defined by our failures. We are defined by what we have learned from them. Janet Reid, the literary agent, has a great blog :

Periodically she posts tallies of her replies to incoming queries. On the last day of last year, she posted an array of statistics that hopeful authors could torture themselves with :

She started keeping notes sometime this summer. Between that date and today, she requested 124 full novels.

Here's what happened:

Just plain not good enough: 21 (a novel needs to be in the 99th percentile-these were closer to 90%--not bad, but not good enough)

Good premise, but the rest of the novel didn't hold up: 11

Not compelling or vivid, or focused; no plot/tension: 10

Slow start or the pace was too slow: 9

I didn't believe the narrative voice: 5

Structural problems with the novel: 8

Interesting premise, but not a fresh or new take on familiar plots/tropes: 7

Had caricatures rather than characters: 2
Boring: 3
Grossed me out: 2
Major plot problems: 2

Needed more polish and editorial input than I wanted to do: 2

Good books but I couldn't figure out where to sell them: 7

Got offer elsewhere; I withdrew from scrum: 2

Great writing, just not right for me: 2

Not right for me, refer to other agents: 9

Not quite there/send me the next one: 1

Sent back for revisions with editorial suggestions and I expect to see them again in 2010: 9

Getting second read at FPLM: 1

Got offer from me: 2

(the rest fall into the miscellaneous category of problems too specific to list here)
How do you fight discouragement? With truth. And what is the truth we can find in Janet Reid's statistics?

It's not you. It's not that you are not cut out for this writing business. It's not your inability to get it.

It's just a problem to be solved. You have a head. You have intelligence. You have perseverance {or you wouldn't have stuck with me this long.} Your query or your novel simply has a writing problem to be fixed.

Look at Janet's list above and study your novel, holding her reasons for rejections next to your manuscript. Every carpenter needs a level. Use Janet's list as your level. You'll spot something in your creation that needs a bit of fixing.

Roll up your sleeves and start fixing. The cure for discouragement is getting back up and fixing that flat on your manuscript vehicle. It won't fix itself. But you have creativity and a dream. You can do this.

Difficulties are there to spark creativity not defeat.

You want the formula for success?

It's quite simple really. Double your rate of failure. Hold on. Stay with me here.

You're thinking of failure as the enemy of success. It is its tutor. You can be defeated by failure or learn from it. Go ahead. Make mistakes. Make lots of them. Each one is a lesson learned. And success? It's waiting for you at the graduation ceremony.

I had a friend with useless legs and a near useless left arm. He went about in a motorized wheelchair. And I cringed going out with him. Not because of his handicap -- but because of his optimism.

He would literally ask any girl we met out. Waitress. Nurse. Pretty blonde in the same elevator. Any girl. It drove me crazy.

"Steve!," I finally moaned, after the flustered waitress left our table, having been asked out by a total stranger in a wheelchair. "Why do you ask out every girl we meet?"

"Roland, it's statistics."


He looked at me with sad wonder at my inability to understand what was so obvious to him. "Statistics. I've counted. You have to ask out 10 girls before one agrees. Well, look at me. The odds go up to one in a hundred. So I mow through those hundred just as fast as I can. Oh, look! Here she comes back. I know she'll say yes."

And you know what? She did. She liked his spirit and sense of humor. And guess what else? He went out more times than I did.

Learn from Steve. Learn from Janet's statistics. Attack reality with intelligence, courage, drive, and humor. You will grow into a better writer, into a better human being.

"A problem is a chance for you to do your best."
Duke Ellington

And as the Lakota elders would say, "Learn from the eagle."


  1. Great post. I think the key is to stick at it. I want to right, so I write.
    If you want it enough then you will do all the revision, the learning, the rejections etc. What is that quote? Writing is revising. :)

  2. Absolutely - the solution to discouragement is perseverance, use set-backs to learn and improve and then you will move your MS into the group of two that get chosen. Cool post. :-)

  3. Great post! I know I will have bad times when I fail repeatedly but I must use that as a lesson. Just as you say here. I also try and not only learn from the mistakes I made but take the feeling of failure for motivation (drive) to continue on. To prove myself.
    Thanks I needed this.

  4. I used to help with proposals to the government at one of my jobs. We could all take a cue from that experience. They are ridiculously specific about everything. From font size and margins to page count (and not everything you put in counts as a page).

    After the first ever proposal was in the mail, I was in panic mode, had I quadruple checked the margins? Had I numbered the inserts? The slightest mistake could get our proposal tossed out.

    So my advice is do your very best NOT to get thrown out, and then let go because the rest is out of your control anyway.

  5. Hi
    Oh it's a tough tough tough tough world to crack - it really is!

    I am full of admiration for anyone who even starts to go up that long and arduous ladder towards publication!! It really does call for determination,guts, patient,talent and luck.

    I just wish all you writers out there starting out all the very best!! Good luck with your writing and stay strong and focused!

    Take care

  6. Great post. As with everything, you have to do whatever it takes (other than making a deal with you know who) to get better. If you don't challenge yourself, it'll never happen. If you don't listen to the advice of those who know what they're talking about (Janet), it'll never happen. And if you give up, it'll never happen.

  7. I think that we often forget that writing is a craft and needs to be learned. It seems a little too easy when you hear that Madonna/Fergie/KathyLee - really anyone has a book out there.

    We all go through rejection. It's necessary because you learn from it. The comments help you see what you couldn't see in the first draft. So you revise. Again and again. And each time it gets better. Not fun, but worth it. Once you've learned your craft, you get to share it.

    The biggest struggle is not giving up.

  8. Great post Roland. This is why I don't tell people I'm a writer, at least not unless they're friends or family or also writers.

  9. Thanks for the reminder, Roland. And yay for us for sticking our necks out and saying we want to be published! What would happen if nobody ever did that? What would everyone read? (= It is a noble goal and if we get to do what we love in order to reach it--all the better. I have to write.
    Someday I will buy your book with a big smile on my face. And call me quixotic, but I believe that someday people will buy mine. "Never give up--never surrender." (=

  10. Great post Roland! Definitely. Persistence and determination is the key. If we really want it, we'll work for it. And if it's meant to be, it will be. :)

  11. Woo! What a great post. I especially enjoyed the quote from Duke Ellington. Awesome! Keep it up guys. Write. Write. Write. Thanks for the follow and I look forward to more of your posts.

  12. This is a great post! I still find it discouraging that Janet Reid probably gets 300 queries in a WEEK and in a whole YEAR has only asked for 121 fulls--so rounding... out of 90,000 queries, she is repping two books... but hey... it just means we each need to send 5000 queries, yes?
    (seriously, you cheered me... I'm just in one of those moods at the mo)

  13. Just a quick note while the blood couriering business is sweeping me back up into overdrive :

    Another aid in writing a winning query can be found in GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS -- Chuck Sambuchino periodically prints queries that got accepted by agents along with comments by agents why they accepted the query. Today's post is by guest blogger Livia Blackburne, an MIT
    neuroscientist by day and a YA writer by night.
    In her blog, A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing,
    she studies writing from a neuroscientist's
    analytical perspective.

    In it she gives 7 Tips on Book Publicity. You'll find it quite informative. I know I did.

    Gotta run, gotta be the Pony Express for rare blood. See all of you on the flip side. Roland

  14. A while back, I had an assignment in college writing. I don't remember the exact phrase, but it was something along the lines of "If you were to finally get what you wanted, would you be happy you finally got it, or sad because what will you do now? I simply stated that my joy comes in both the chase and the capture: once I have acheived my goal, my next thought is simply "ok.... NEXT!" ;)

    Or to put it another way, in political correct fashion: It ain't dissappointment. It's a DARE to try HARDER.


  15. Great post Roland. Hang in there. Many of us are in the same boat (dreamer, wanna-be, etc.) And that list of Janet's helps us open our eyes into why we need to try harder. So we do.

  16. 'writing is re-writing'...

    'once you've completed your novel, it's time to get serious... and write it!'

    just the kick in the butt we all seem to need, bud! :)

  17. ooops... got the links to chuck and livia?

  18. Here are the links to Chuck and Livia :,month.2010-1.aspx

    And thanks for dropping by, Laughing Wolf

  19. Hey, Roland. I'm with you: the cure for discouragement is action. Plain and simple. Take what's wrong and DO something about it for chrissakes :D Love your topics, man.

  20. What a wonderful post. I think you just need to keep at it, because with every word you write you get better and your chances of rejection decrease!

  21. Thanks for stopping by my blog. What a great post. I appreciate your positive attitude, and thanks for reminding me to stay focused and driven, even when people ask questions that leave the room filled with silence and puzzled glances. Cheers to the creative community who always lift each other up.

  22. Uplifting post! I get discouraged somtimes too, but you're right, we have to keep trying, keep our spirtis up. Thanks for the links, too, and the video is lovely.

  23. Steve sounds like a great guy!

    I love Janet's blog - she can teach us a lot!

  24. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett

    "Beer is the cause of and the solution for all of life's problems." Homer Simpson

    Words I live by, both of them, not necessarily in that order.

    Great post. I especially like the statistics.

    - Eric

  25. Well, I've definitely got the failure part down. :-) But I'll get there eventually. Great post, Roland. You're like a cyber Buddha.

  26. I love you're posts! They always inspire me and give food for thought.

    Today I gave you and award on my blog *grins* because you're so cool

  27. What an encouraging post! I love your friend Steve's attitude - and it's applicable to writing too, how cool. :)

  28. Lots of awesome quotes here! I loved Edison's quote about failing!!! I also loved what you wrote about difficulties sparking creativity.

    I have to admit, I felt a little overwhelmed when Janet posted that list on her blog. But then I tried to take the same approach as you...keep on trucking and let the hurdles motivate me!