Sunday, April 14, 2019

Showing Up....and Up....and Up

This month’s theme is Notes of Encouragement to Beginning Writers, and I'm going to focus my little bits of advice on the importance of persistence in this industry. 

1) Show up. A lot. 

When I encourage writers to show up, I mean it in two ways. First, there’s showing up for what I call the art of the art—the writing itself; the disciplined butt-in-chair time; the drafting and endless revision required to push a book out of your head and onto the page. 
But then there’s also showing up for the business of the art—which is to say, the business of getting and staying published. That means studying the markets, taking classes, going to workshops, joining SCBWI, attending conferences, etc. In my experience, the people who make it in publishing are the ones who manage to give sufficient energy to both halves of that dichotomy. 

2) Keep an eye on the big picture. 

When I was new to kidlit and publishing, I was really good about showing up, in both of the ways I just described. But the mistake I made was in putting too much pressure on every effort I made. I wanted to come away from each conference with the name of an editor who was interested in reading my work. I wanted every workshop to yield me a Great New Book Idea. I wanted all of my networking opportunities to palpably broaden my professional network. 
The fact that it didn’t go that way disappointed me at the time, but that’s only because I wasn’t looking at the big picture. And in the big picture, without quite knowing it, I was, in fact, doing the right thing. I was showing up, and showing up, and showing up, not so I could score a distinct win every time, but so that I could eventually find myself in the right place at the right time. In my case, that turned out to be a summer manuscript workshop, where I happened to meet a guy, who happened to know an editor, who (as it turned out) happened to be looking for a writer on a new fantasy adventure series that just happened to be right up my alley, and which turned out to be my first published novels. 
Your mileage may vary, of course, but I always go back to the truth in a favorite quote of mine (paraphrasing), that the harder I work, the luckier I tend to get. 

3) Persistence is everything; it’s also the one thing you can control. 

Trying to break in, especially with the larger traditional publishers, might feel a lot like banging your head against the wall of an ivory tower. The industry can seem very inhospitable from the outside, and those people inside that tower can seem disinterested, disengaged, or even downright mean sometimes. 
Here’s a secret: They aren’t. Seriously. 
I have worked with a dozen or more kidlit editors over the years, and I’ve liked them all, as people. They love  books, good stories, and kids, just like I do. And guess what else? They are looking for you, too. They want to meet authors. They want to publish good work. And they want to have long, productive relationships with people who share in those same interests. 
If you read the trade publications and engage in social media, it can be easy to become overwhelmed at the Impossible Odds Of Breaking Into This Business. And yes, it’s hard. And yes, there are no guarantees. But I will tell you this much: persistence is everything in publishing. It's also the one thing you can control--how much effort you put in, how dedicated you are going to be to that work in progress, and how often you decide to show up for all of it... which brings me full circle, back to showing up. The fact that you are here, right now, reading this blog, means you are at least somewhat ahead of the pack. So keep going, and don't give up! 

Happy writing to you all! 

5 comments:

  1. Showing up - great post and keeping that balance of the biz and the writing is hard. I either skew one way or the other. Thanks.

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    1. Ditto... it's hard to balance, much less get everything done, all the time! (But at the same time, I try to remember, it's a nice problem to have.... the kind of too-much-work I once wished for!) :-)

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  2. This is SO TRUE. I especially relate to putting too much pressure on every effort.

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    1. It's still a trap I fall into...but the awareness of the fact that I'm doing it is, at least, worth something!

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  3. This is SOOOOO helpful, Chris. And yes, we can't expect a payoff from every single thing we do - but the more we show up, the more something wonderful may come our way. Decades ago, when I was single, I would sign up for all these singles-meet-and-greet events, already knew I probably wouldn't find my special someone there - but I MIGHT find him on the Metro getting there... and I definitely wouldn't meet anyone if I got in bed at every night at 7 pm with a book (which is still what I would rather do than anything!).

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