I’ve been hiking many times with my husband and family and I love it. I’m a terrible athlete: I ducked and avoided the ball in softball, never managed to hit it in tennis, and can well recall my body screaming “Stop!” whenever I ran. I’m good at hiking, though. Miles disappear under my feet in the silence of the woods. The quiet is broken only by the regularity of my own breathing in time with my steps. Woods are good for both conversation or introspection, whichever mood strikes.
Most hikes are designed to take hikers over a mountain or three. After all, the views are better up there and the views are the carrots that take so many people up so many vertical miles. On occasion, the view at the top is so spectacular it takes your breath. You sit down, crack open your water, and feel glad to be alive. A lot more often, however, the view is only of a more distant peak. When that happens, there’s nothing to do but keep going if you want the spectacular. Hiking back down the mountain without reaching the true summit seems ridiculous, pointless, impossible, even.
Publishing is like that.
The first peak is finishing that novel, the one that 95% or whatever of people want to write but never do. You’ve done it. You’ve typed “The End.” Your word count is reasonable. Your concept is hooky. Your parents brag about you. Your spouse looks at you as if you were an eleven when you were only a ten before. Celebrate that view, but there’s another peak in sight.
The next one is finding an agent. I’ll be honest: this hike is twelve thousand miles long, or it seems like it. The trail rises and falls often, tiring you out and making you think about going home for dinner. Every time you decide to, though, there’s a little glimpse through the trees and someone you know waving at you from the top of that next peak.
A lot of hikers bite it during this part. Sometimes you have to write more than one book. Sometimes you have to write more than two. It’s a hell of a slog, but if you hang in there, learning and working, it’s achievable.
Even after that, there are plenty more peaks: getting a book deal, getting a second book deal, completing revisions to an editor’s satisfaction, meeting deadlines, and keeping away burn-out. Nobody ever reaches the end: there’s always another mountain in the distance.
I’ve learned, in both hiking and publishing, that good endurance is a must. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s the whole damn Appalachian Trail. Bring water and food. The only thing stopping you from reaching the spectacular is your determination and your feet. Take care of them.
I Love Jodi Picoult and Gillian Flynn, But This Time I’m In the Mood for Something With a Convention. And Kissing
It’s rare that I go to the bookstore with enough money to buy more than one book. When I manage to get to Barnes & Noble with cash and without hangers-on, I have to browse within a limited amount of time (because the kids, and the dry cleaning, and my stomach growling). I grab what I grab. I grab what looks most enticing, for the mood I’m in, and—here’s the important part – I walk away from thousands of amazing books, many of which are on my mental TBR list. I go to the cash register. One author gets that tiny little royalty check. The rest don’t.
And I bet you do that, too.
Pitch Wars is exactly the same. I received 127 submissions. Each of them is the story of somebody’s heart. Each of them was written with care, revised, revised again, spell-checked, and then revised again. Each had memorable characters, beautiful writing, a brilliant concept, amazing dialogue. A lot of them had all of those things.
I could only choose one. The one I chose hit me in lots of places where I could relate. It had all those things – characters, writing, concept, dialogue – but it also had things that just happened to be right for ME. It’s set at a major convention. I just came back from one. It has a main character who is awkward and uncomfortable at the convention. I was awkward and uncomfortable at mine. The main character has a thing for hot British guys. I have…you get the idea. (Hi, Dear Husband Who is Not British!)
The bottom line is that story grabbed me in the place I am. The fact that I chose that one has nothing whatsoever to do with any weaknesses in the writing or the concept or the marketability of the others. I grabbed what I grabbed. This is what SUBJECTIVITY means. You’ll hear it a lot when you query. It sounds like nonsense. It isn’t. You wrote a great book, but it didn’t happen to have a convention. I was in the mood for a convention. With a hot British guy. And kissing. Trust me: someone will be in the mood for your serial killer or investigator or overseas trip or Regency duke or dark family secret.
If you submitted to me, please know that I am truly humbled that you trusted me with your work and that you wanted my help with it. The weight of that responsibility made me cry at one point.
Since starting this writing journey myself, I’ve been amazed at the strength of community in the writing world. I want to support you – all of you, even if you didn’t submit to me. Please keep in touch. Wednesday is going to be rough for something like 95% of you. Support each other. Get off Twitter to lick your wounds if you need to. Eat a lot of ice cream. But please, come back. Reach out to me or any other mentor you feel comfortable talking to. We can cry together. Do it on Twitter, or here in the comments.
Remember that you didn’t write that book to get into Pitch Wars. You wrote it because you loved it and you couldn’t NOT write it. Trying to get published is hard. Try hard to remember why you started writing in the first place (hint: I bet it had nothing to do with getting published).
There are thousands of books in Barnes & Noble. Every one of those authors has been where you are. Hang in there.
Coming soon: THE DARKEST FLOWER!