So you can read my books

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


How to win.

No. Sorry to disappoint you. I don't have the secret.

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 2011: 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 win? 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. You win by 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 every girl we met out. Waitress. Nurse. Pretty blonde in the same elevator. EVERY 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 here is a movie, that if it does as well as this trailer looks, may give agents the idea that a book on my undead Texas Ranger, Sam McCord, might sell well :


  1. Well, I really needed to read this post today and I think some divine something or other brought me here. I've had a hard morning, and this brought me back to reality. Thanks for giving me prospective. :D

  2. Brenda : I hate to hear that today has been rough. We struggle privately in the midst of family and friends who often don't "get it." I'm glad you got something positive out of this post. My profile has my email if you ever need to vent. Right now, Gypsy is venting that she needs to be fed!

  3. That makes two of us. I received my email from the Baker's Dozen contest and as I had suspected I didn't make the top 25... I was bummed all day. Then I came to visit my pal Roland, and as always has words of encouragement, wisdom, and heart.

    Thanks Roland,

    I needed this tonight. I am glad for one thing, if I have to get bad news, I'm glad it was on a sunny Florida day than a very gray Chicago one.

    Tomorrow I will finally get to Wizarding World so I must be grateful and happy for that!

    There is always another contest and another critique.

    A very unusual idea for a new novel came to me last night in a dream, perhaps that will be the one that gets published.... In Time....


  4. "You're thinking of failure as the enemy of success. It is its tutor."

    You are so right, Roland. As usual. Persevere regardless of the obstacles.

    Never give up. Ever.

  5. I try to keep thinking every rejection is one step closer to success. I guess I beleive in Statistics also.

  6. Everyone labels 'success' differently. If you try to measure your success with someone else's yardstick, you'll never 'make it'...nothing will ever be 'enough'.

    For some, getting published is the grail.

    For others, nothing less than bestseller/becoming a household name will do.

    For others of us, okay, well I can only speak for for methe greatest success will come in finding a way to make peace with my place in the world, and finding creative ways to share my work with others- when you realize, as I have, that you really don't fit the model for the industry.

    You can't make a Cadillac out of a carousel horse. But you can enjoy the view from either on a pretty day.

    I'm not ever going to be what the industry wants- after a year of research (if only less than a handful of queries) I know that. But it's okay, because I believe that my words will still find a way to go where they're meant to go.

    Keep at it, Roland, you have GOT to be just *this* far away at this point...


  7. February Grace : Please don't give up or think what you write is not what the industry wants. Enjoy the journey of writing true to you, of course. You say you sent only a handful of queries.

    J K Rowling
    got 12 before she asked Bloomsbury. The owner of Bloomsbury's daughter was given the manuscript to read and she immediately demanded the next chapter. Bloomsbury said they would only publish the Philosophers Stone if she promised to use Bloomsbury for her next six books (JK Rowling had already decided on her seven books and their plots).

    Never give up. Never surrender. No, I am not a reject from GALAXY QUEST! LOL. Thanks for believing in me. Now, believe in yourself.

    Susan : You have talent and a dream. Give up on neither. Mark Twain said it was an empty life without those two items in your days.

    wENDY : Thanks for believing in me. It helps. And thanks for visiting and commenting. Seeing your name here makes me smile.

    Michael : I didn't even make it out of the gate. At least you did. Enjoy your vacation, take in the sights, take some photos for your friends in blogville, and believe in the dream that gave you another idea. A dream led me to write THE BEAR WITH 2 SHADOWS.

  8. Hey, GREAT list. Trouble is, we're not always the best judges to tell if our stuff is boring (sure, sounds pretty fascinating to me!) or if our narrative voice is believable (sounds convincing to me!), etc. We're so close to our work, it's difficult to be objective...or we don't know enough to recognize plot flaws or character caricatures when we see 'em.

    I guess we need practice, experience, and a good set of beta critters--brutally honest ones!

  9. That was a great bit of information. Thanks for sharing.

    Here's to bleepin' optimism! *raises glass of something*

  10. You know, Janet R raelly goes out of her way for growing authors, this is a great list. What a top notch person, you know? And what a cute story abuot your buddy! It's what I hear too... persistance persistance & willingness to grow. Thanks for the time and thuoght you put into your posts.
    Happy T Day, Roland! ;-)

  11. Aww thanks for this positive and sage post! It's so easy to be discouraged but better to attack disappointment and rejection with Steve's optimism!!! Take care and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!