Saturday, February 2, 2013


I began my full-time pursuit of publication in the spring of ’01, just after receiving my master’s.  I was convinced I’d get published quickly…I’d already placed short fiction, poetry, and literary critique in a few journals while I was still a student, I’d consistently been referred to as one of the better writers in the English program in my university, and—if I’m to be completely honest—I hadn’t really failed at much of anything.  I was the typical Type A-er, racking up straight A’s.  Anytime I decided to try something new—take up another instrument, put together a garage band, do a little modeling around town—I never really encountered much in the way of an obstacle.  That’s not to say I didn’t work hard.  I just hadn’t heard many “no”s.

A year into my pursuit of book-length publication, the only thing I had heard was “no.”  When the spring of ’02 rolled around, I hadn’t had a single piece of work accepted.  Same for ’03.  Spring of ’04, I watched the graduation footage on the news and couldn’t help feeling like a complete and total…failure.  Ditto for ’05.  By ’06, I felt like the entire world had moved on—everyone I knew from college had wrapped up advanced degrees, were teaching, moving on in their lives.  I swore all I had was a hole in my office wall shaped like my skull, because I’d spent five years banging my head against it.  Spring of ’07, graduation rolled around again—still without a single acceptance.  And I very much felt like I was someone who had once been—but was no longer—an overachiever.  Spring of ’08, and I was still in the same place I’d been seven years earlier.  Still getting papered with rejections.  Piles and piles of failures.  Giant red “F”s.  More than a thousand of them in all.

…Late in ’08 (around Thanksgiving), things started to pick up.  By early ’09, I’d signed two deals: one with a publishing house for my first YA novel and one with an agent offering representation.  I didn’t jump for joy as much as I breathed a sigh of complete and utter relief.  

Seven and a half years it took just to ink those first deals.  And if I could do anything over again, it’d be this: I would not beat myself up for the time it took me to get there.  What I finally got through my thick skull after I’d signed a few contracts—and had that whole 20 / 20 hindsight thing going for me—is that success comes in external and internal varieties.  A book on the store shelves?  That’s definitely an external success.  But writing something that gets an editor’s attention, that makes her write a personal note along with her rejection, then taking that rejection to heart, learning from it, and revising?  That’s a success, too—an internal success. 

Looking back, I can now see the myriad of ways I grew between '01 and '09; I can see the hundreds—thousands—of  internal successes I racked up, even when those rejections were pouring in.  I’m proud of my published books and of the awards and reviews I’ve snagged.  But I have to admit, I’m every bit as proud of my internal successes, too. 


  1. Well said, Holly! It also took me about 7 years to land my first contract. And, I too, had succeeded at most everything I had tried prior to writing. This career path tested my mettle like nothing before it, which made each little victory all the sweeter. From someone's whose middle name is now Perseverance, a heartfelt congratulations; not only for your book contracts, but for each challenging step you took on that long climb to the summit!

  2. Beautifully said, Holly. And the wish not to beat oneself up for time spent on the journey applies to so much in life in addition to writing and publication.

  3. As long as you enjoy what you're doing - it's all good! Internal successes are the best!

  4. Thanks for this post. It's great advice, but it's also coming from "the other side." I hope to reach that side someday too--but let's face it, there's a chance I won't. Still, I'll try to take your words to heart and enjoy every second of this grueling and bizarre journey, no matter where it ends. Congrats on your hard-won success. You deserve it! I loved A Blue So Dark and learned much from your SCBWI articles.

    1. Thanks for your kind words about my work, Jen! You're right about "the other side"--believe me, I know exactly how you're feeling right now. But I'm also a firm believer that ALL writers get there eventually...the only ones who don't are the ones who throw in the towel. KEEP AT IT.

  5. I'm so glad this post resonated! I have yet to meet an author who told me their journey was easy...

  6. Wonderful post. It's a shame those internal successes don't receive the acknowledgements they deserve. In reality, they are the most important...and they help feed the external successes!