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On Learning, Growing...and surviving....

Last week, Natalie Whipple posted this amazing blog post. In it, she bares her soul and shows a rare bit of honesty for an on-submission writer. She admits that rejection sucks. That she's frustrated. Disenchanted. But like any writer who has what it takes to make it, she's also determined.

It' rare to see such honesty in the publishing world. We all "know" writers and authors online, but I've seen time and time again that what looks awesome and rosy on the outside rarely is. Debut authors are terrified they won't be stocked in chains, because many aren't. Someone announces a second printing but they don't mention that their next royalty statement shows a massive amount of returns. Someone gets a gigantic mid-six figure deal and hits the NYT list-- but they're spinnning wheels on the second book in the trilogy and their publisher just keeps putting them through more revisions. The first book did well, so the second has to be better.  

That's why jealousy and envy are such a dangerous thing for a writer to have. We *ALL* have times we seethe with envy-- its hard not to when we only need to look as far as Publisher's Marketplace for a six figure debut deal, or to the New York Times for a list which gives every author the stamp of approval they've always wanted.

That's why I applaud those who are willing to share a shred of honesty. That's why I've been so open with the rejections and challenges I've faced. Because unpublished writers aren't the only ones toiling in the trenches. The published are right there with you, pushing themselves to be better, bigger, to break out.

This industry is one big rejection machine. If its not the agents, its the editors, the readers, the besteller lists, the reviewers, the movie studios... the INSERT NAME HERE.

And *that* is why I try so very hard to focus on the only thing I can control: the writing.

While I was on submission through out late 2006, all of 2007, and half of 2008, racking up the rejections, I did the only thing I could do: I wrote. And wrote. My agent didn't even like most of what I wrote. She constantly sent things back to me saying, "You can do better." So I tried. And Tried. And again, "You can do better."

There were times publishing felt more like a dizzying merry-go-round, and I wanted off. For some people that means quitting. But I knew the only way I'd leave was when someone told me I had done better. That my book was going to hit shelves. That I'd have readers. That every stupid, stubborn thing I'd done for the last several years was worth it. Maybe it was just yet *another* form of my stubbornness that I refused to admit defeat. But for whatever reason it just... never occured to me to quit.

At the time of the never-ending-merry go round, it all seemed rather fruitless and maddening and just freaking a big-fat-waste-of-time. It was like... a perpetual waiting room with nothing to read and nothing to do but just WAIT.

It took a long time to realize that wasn't the case. Those years I spent revising and rewriting Prada & Prejudice, those years I spent being rejected by my own agent, those years I spent reading and critiquing other people's work, those years I spend reading and re-reading my rejections...

They made me a better writer. If a fairy godmother stood in front of me right now and offered to go back and wave her magic wand and launch my career in 2006-- so that I'd be three+ years post debut instead of just one, I'd say no.

If my original drafts-- or if my fifth draft-- of P&P had been published, I dont think readers would have liked it. i dont think it would have gotten good reviews. And I don't think I would have been ready to write a book like YOU WISH as a follow up. Becuase I struggled mightily to write that book in 2009, after three extra years of learning. I could not have written it in 2006 or 2007.

I know so, so many authors whose debut novel came out a year, two, three years ago, and they haven't had a sale since. Because their debut novel sold relatively easily, and they never had to push to dig deeper. To develop and hone their skills.

As much as everyone hates rejection, and as often as it seems unfair or unjust, sometimes... it works. Sometimes... it makes you a better writer. I hate to go all cheesey with "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger..."


Whatever rejection you may face, it will only make your writing stronger. If you have the hunger to be published and can take those and turn it around-- if you can take what they say is "wrong" with your mansucript and figure out how to make it your strength...

Then when someone says yes, You'll be ready.

To repeat what i said on Natalie's blog, "It can be a shitty silver lining when you're still standing on the wrong side of the great publishing divide." But it's still a silver lining. It's still something to be thankful for.

Even as you get dizzier and dizzier from that damn merry-go-round.


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 7th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Great post, Mandy. I read Natalie's post as well and thought how rare it was to hear such honesty. I haven't been out on submission yet, but I'm trying to prepare myself for rejection. I know how hard it is to break in!

Dec. 7th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
Awesome post. I finally got an agent in July and have been out on sub for about a month. It's scary and I'm glad not to be alone. In the meantime I'm working on other projects and trying to perfect my craft.
Dec. 7th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
I am SO printing this out and putting it over my computer. Every time I feel dejected or down, I'll read it and remember that everyone's journey is different and to be patient. :)

OMG! LOL My word to verify is "jealousy"! LOL
Dec. 7th, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)
Shitty silver lining
Thanks for this, Mandy... It's a really inspiring message -- I really like the "shitty silver lining" part. For *anything*, the hard times seem like total scheiße, but once it's over and you have that 20/20 hindsight, you can see it was all worth it...

When I read YOU WISH, what really stood out to me was Kayla's character... She was so much like me, and in so many ways, what I wanted to be during high school. I had the shittiest high school experience. I was 100% LOSER and I had only 1 friend, but unlike Kayla, I never got the guy. ::sigh:: Either way, high school has been blocked from my mind.

BUT like you say, if a fairy godmother offered to erase it all, I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't be where I am now if it weren't for the bullies and the high school teasing. :D I'm stronger, and I'm thankful for that.

Okay, sorry for the rambling. All that was just to tell you this is a great post. :)
Dec. 7th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this post. It came at just the right time. And I'm all for continuing to be stupidly stubborn and continuing to write and learn and grow -- no matter how long it takes.

Happy holidays to you and your family!
Dec. 7th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

I wonder how much of what's happening now within and between new authors is because of the interconnectedness of the Web and how much is the impact of living in the post-Potter world.

At the risk of sounding Jurassic, when I sold my first book in '98, no children's-YA authors talked about making the Times list (there wasn't one for us) or getting a six figure deal (the idea would've been laughable) and YA was allocated a shelf or two in the corner of the children's department.

In fact, I knew of a number of authors who looked down on books picked up by the chains. Unless of course they'd won the Newbery. Otherwise, the philosophy went, real writing was found in libraries.

Occasionally, your agent or editor might send you a review (in the snail mail) with a little note scribbled on it. Probably not if it was mixed or negative. Why bother?

Of course readership was smaller, you knew fewer people, and the global panache of the job seemed far less glamorous to outsiders. Far, far fewer folks could make a living, writing-speaking full time.

I wonder what the next ten years will bring.

But for now, I do want to offer my more enthusiastic cheers, love, and support to the recent debut voices and to assure them that it's not about how you start, it's about how you keep going.

Publishing is a lot less about splash (which you can't control) and a lot more about whether you keep kicking. So kick hard.
Dec. 7th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
Well said-- and great perspective. I am truly in awe of those who got published before everything was so readily and easliy done online and via email. I'm not sure I could have stumbled in the right direction. ;-)
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)

I really love those last few lines of your comment.

Back to kicking,
Dec. 8th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
Great post and great response...on a day I needed a little encouragement to keep plugging away. :)
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for another honest and inspiring post, Mandy!
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
Cyn was right on the money with "it's not about how you start but how you keep going." And I agree wholeheartedly with the great wave of camaraderie that we as writers have with the internet. It's always good to keep the next goal in mind but don't obsess over it. For me, it's all about the writing (and the reading!).

And I might add my entire office could be wallpapered with the rejections I've gotten. :)
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
Great insight. Thank you. :)

I can't help wondering if being honest online (as Natalie was, most admirably, in her post) affects how agents/editors view an aspiring writer. Did your honesty affect your journey at all?
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
giving up is for suckers
Agreed! After having two novels published, my third received a round of rejections, including from my current publisher. But you know what? They were right not to take it. The book wasn't ready yet. Now I've had the chance to make it better, and I know that my work still isn't done. A dose of humility on an already-fragile writer's ego certainly isn't pleasant, but it can be necessary. What did Annie Dillard say? "Are you a woman or are you a mouse?"

Published or not, we all live with fear. That our book won't be good enough, or our timing will be off, or someone else will sub something too similar. But we can't dwell on all of that and still have time to write. And that's why we're at this party - to write our stories. We're the only ones who can.

Dec. 7th, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post, Mandy. Thanks, too, for passing along the link. Great, brave stuff.
Dec. 7th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
I was blown away by Natalie's post. Sarah pointed me toward it on a day when I was really struggling, and I seriously just read it about half a dozen times. It's really true that you don't hear that very often--we're told to keep our fears and doubts and failures to ourselves, for fear of turning off any agents or editors who might look at our blogs.

It seems to me all we end up doing is cutting ourselves off from the only people who really understand what we're going through. Sometimes you don't need someone telling you it's going to be alright, you just need someone to say, "Yeah. Me too."
Dec. 7th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
Great post, Mandy, thanks for this :) I'm adding it to my 'memories' now
Dec. 8th, 2010 12:06 pm (UTC)
Making Spirits Bright
User jeniwrites referenced to your post from Making Spirits Bright saying: [...] Surviving ...," by author and agent Mandy Hubbard. http://mandyhubbard.livejournal.com/246140.html [...]
Dec. 9th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. It's all so true. Just. Keep. Writing.
Dec. 9th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
Thank you for this. I definitely need this reminder. Often. :o)
Dec. 9th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the informative, inspiring post. Now back to revisions...
Dec. 10th, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
I don't normally do this, but your honestly prompts me to bare my own soul: http://thezoe-trope.blogspot.com/2010/09/insecurity-i-haz-it.html
Dec. 11th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
Great post, Mandy! I've been knee-deep in crummy feelings about what seems to be an endless quest. Off to work on ideas for manuscript number six...
Dec. 11th, 2010 04:49 am (UTC)
Thanks for the great post Mandy! My dad used to call the hard lessons, "building character." I'll have to tell him that I'm continuing to build my character in publishing.
Dec. 11th, 2010 05:22 am (UTC)
"Then when someone says yes, You'll be ready."

Great thought. It takes some of us a little longer to be ready than others, but that's okay. It isn't a race.
Dec. 11th, 2010 03:23 pm (UTC)
Great post - thanks. It almost makes me grateful I'm just an un-agented, unpublished writer ... at least I'm not facing any of the pressures you are. Good luck!
Dec. 13th, 2010 09:28 am (UTC)
Sometimes the merry-go-round also feels like a money-go-round. It gets disorientating but we writers stay on board no matter what.
Jan. 23rd, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
I only stumbled on this post now, but I wanted to say 'thanks' -- it's really easy to get sucked up in the comparisons and the feeling of utter failure. All you see out there on blogs and Twitter is the good side of things. No one wants to flaunt their 'failures'. It makes it too easy to get a wrong impression of the journey. I think what really helps in that aspect is having friends who are in the same boat as you, who will share the downsides and commiserate. And cheer when things go right. ;)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
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