Thursday, December 11, 2008

If It Were Easy....

Writing is a tough business, and if you read the publishing blogs (such as the recent posts of my agent, Rachelle Gardner) you'll find that it takes real work and real talent to succeed. But, I guess that if it were easy everyone would be doing it. If you've ever sat down and drafted a novel of 80, 100, 120 thousand words, you know that writing isn't as easy as it may sound to the unitiated.

Just recently I signed a contract with Abingdon Press for the publication of my work of romantic medical suspense. They're just getting their fiction line started, and I'm thrilled at this opportunity, but there are bound to be some of my readers who are thinking, "Why him? Why not me?" Honestly, I've thought that many times as well. Let me offer an explanation and a word of encouragement.

First, the explanation. I've paid my dues and done my homework. I've been to conferences and been mentored by some of the best (and most giving) Christian writers around: Jim Bell, Gayle Roper, Alton Gansky, Randy Ingermanson, Karen Ball, and others. I've read book after book on writing--right now I'm looking at a bookshelf that contains more than twenty-five books on the craft, and there's no dust on any of them. I've practiced the art of what Anne Lamott calls keeping your rear end on the chair and your hands on the keyboard, even when I didn't want to.

That brings me to the second point. I persisted. Many writers of my acquaintance work for years to perfect a single novel. They revise, rewrite, agonize over words and scenes, getting them just right. I did that initially, as you'll see in a minute, but I've learned better. I just went over the chronology of my road to writing, and it might interest you that it's taken me a bit less than five years to become an "overnight success" and sign this contract.

I submitted the initial query for my first novel in the summer of 2004, just about the time I also submitted the proposal for what was to become my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse (which was accepted after seven rejections). That first novel garnered ten rejections. I revised it extensively, reworked it meticulously, and tried again. This time I garnered thirteen rejections. My second novel was rejected seven times, including a couple of revisions. My third novel was so bad that my (then) agent rejected it as not good enough to send out. My fourth novel was rejected ten times, and I figured that was enough. By that time I'd been writing for almost four years and, although I'd had a non-fiction book published and my work had appeared numerous times in periodicals, I felt like I wasn't cut out to be a novelist. So I ended my representation agreement with my agent and stopped writing.

Then editor-turned-agent Rachelle Gardner had a contest on her blog, offering a prize for the best first line for a novel. I dashed off one and was totally surprised when I saw that I'd won with my line. The prize was a critique of the first several pages of a work-in-progress, so I sent Rachelle the first scene of my latest novel--the one that had been rejected ten times. Her comment was, "Send me something that needs editing." One thing led to another, and I submitted a query about representation. She accepted me, and I got back to writing.

But the happy ending didn't come yet. There were three rejections before Rachelle pitched the work to Barbara Scott, the new chief fiction editor for Abingdon Press. Barbara liked the work, she and I met at the ACFW, and about six weeks later I got the call from Rachelle: "You've sold your first novel." It was wonderful, but the point of all this is that, before that call came, I'd written four novels (five counting totally reworking number one) over a period of over four years, been rejected more than forty times, and completely quit writing once!

So, to my colleagues who haven't received that phone call yet, my hope is that you won't give up. Just remember, "Nothing is impossible with God."

14 comments:

Myra Johnson said...

Very inspiring, Doc! I absolutely believe God has been in control of my life and my writing career from the beginning. I haven't always been happy with His timing, but I know He always plans the very best.

lynnrush said...

Great post, Richard. Thanks for sharing your story. I love hearing these.

God bless you and your writing!

Rachelle said...

This is a fabulous post, Richard. Thanks for sharing your story. I'm sure many will find it inspiring and immensely helpful.

Catherine West said...

Congratulations. Not sure if I've been rejected forty times yet, some days it does feel like I have. Ugh. There are so many contracts flying around these days I wish one would float through my window...but I guess not. I didn't hear about yours so forgive the late well wishes! Look forward to reading.

Randy Ingermanson said...

Richard, I'm so happy about your finally "graduating" to publication. It's been a long road, although you took six years less than I did, so I think you did it pretty darn fast.

I really enjoyed working with you in the mentoring group at Mount Hermon a few years ago. You're the kind of writer who says, "Thanks for the advice, I'll apply it." (There is another kind who says, "Thanks for the advice, but I think I'll ignore it.") I'll let you guess which kind gets published more often.

Congrats, once again! You deserve to get published, because you did what it took.

Anonymous said...

Many others have paid their dues, attended conferences, polished their craft, submitted and submitted and persevered and, and, and.

Of course it's in God's hands. Everything is. Too pat an answer.

Richard Mabry said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry you were offended by my posting the story of my own journey--at least, that's the feeling I get from your message. I'm not saying that doing all those things will bring anyone a contract. I simply wanted to encourage authors not to give up too easily.
To the rest of you, the ones who took the post in the spirit it was offered, thank you for your good wishes.

Deborah Vogts said...

Hi Richard, Thanks for sharing this post. I, too, followed a long journey to publication and know how discouraging it can be, but also encouraging in that here we are -- two new authors being published in a horrid economy. Crazy huh? Like you said, "Nothing is impossible with God." Many blessings to you! ;)

Timothy Fish said...

Richard,

I’m a little slow about posting this, but I would like to say that there shouldn’t be an author out there thinking “Why him? Why not me?” You demonstrate such an attitude of encouragement and of humility that I never doubted that you would eventually reach this point. I’m happy for you.

Meredith Teagarden said...

Very inspiring! Thank you!

allthingsartful said...

Richard
Your piece about your writing career prompted me to get our my red pencil again. I'm working on a child's story - What Does God Look Like? and an allegory, And Then Came Tomorrow. The latter is semi biographical and I thrill at the story line - rich with God's gracious mercy through my walk through widowhood. Sounds like you have had similar experiences. I congratulate you, honor your fine work. Linda Wilson, Tulsa, Oklahoma - allthingsartful@gmail.com

Richard Mabry said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry you were offended by my posting the story of my own journey--at least, that's the feeling I get from your message. I'm not saying that doing all those things will bring anyone a contract. I simply wanted to encourage authors not to give up too easily.
To the rest of you, the ones who took the post in the spirit it was offered, thank you for your good wishes.

Meredith Teagarden said...

Very inspiring! Thank you!

Catherine West said...

Congratulations. Not sure if I've been rejected forty times yet, some days it does feel like I have. Ugh. There are so many contracts flying around these days I wish one would float through my window...but I guess not. I didn't hear about yours so forgive the late well wishes! Look forward to reading.