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."