Thanks to Joan and the rest of the Romance Bandits for inviting me here today.
I want to begin by saying I thought I’d made it when I sold my first manuscript in 2001. Unfortunately, EXTREME MEASURES, a 2002 release, was my first and last book with that particular publisher. In fact, after that initial success, I couldn’t buy attention for any of my manuscripts, and there were many! No editor was interested. No agent wanted to represent me. Bottom line, I had sold a book only to fizzle out as a one-book-wonder.
I knew it was time to rethink my career path. I had to stop chasing the all-elusive second sale and decide what I wanted to write and why I wanted to write it.
Long story short, as I type this I am finishing my fifth contracted manuscript for the Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical line. I can safely say the dry spell is over. At least for now, but I know my success could vanish anytime. There isn’t a single day that I take my return to publishing for granted. I know how quickly it can fade.
So, what did I learn during those seven years (SEVEN years!) between sales? I took positive action steps that I could control. Here are my top ten steps for “staying the course” during a dry spell.
STEP ONE: Persist. Sounds simple, I know. But the only way to guarantee success is to keep writing. The only way to guarantee failure is to stop writing. Never, never give up. That sale could be just around the corner. It may take seven, ten, twenty years but so what? It’s all about the journey anyway. Trust me on this.
STEP TWO: Focus on what you’re doing right, not what you’re doing wrong. Do not go to the negative. Ever. Stay positive. Write down every success you have, no matter how small. Did you read a good craft book? You’re one step closer. Did you attend a book signing? Again, you’re on your way. Remember, every step counts.
STEP THREE: Redefine rejection. Try thinking of those nasty little letters as correspondence with editors. Remember, a rejection is just one person’s opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. You have not been rejected. That particular editor did not like that particular story at that particular time. Never say, “I was rejected.” You weren’t. Your manuscript was rejected. Reframe your thinking right now!
STEP FOUR: Compare yourself only to yourself. If you try to keep up with your friends and/or your rivals you will only make yourself crazy. Let’s face it; there will always be someone more successful than you in this business. Their success is not an indicator of your potential. Focus on your career and your success. Period.
STEP FIVE: Read and learn from other genres. If you only study romance you risk becoming a one-note writer. Not good. Want to learn how to write great action scenes? Study thrillers. Want to learn how to plot better? Read a good mystery. Want to know how to use language well? Read a literary novel. You can learn a lot about craft by studying other published novels. Like I said before, don’t stick to one genre. Your writing will benefit.
STEP SIX: Turn off the internal editor. Make this your new motto: DON’T GET IT right GET IT written. You can always go back and revise, but you can’t revise a blank page.
STEP SEVEN: Live your life. Turn off that television and get out of the house. I know this seems like a basic step, but it’s so important. How can you write about people if you aren’t interacting with, well, people? Study mannerisms, study speech patterns, study how strangers interact with one another. Airports are a great place for this. You’ll be surprised what you can learn by mingling with the real world.
STEP EIGHT: SUBMIT, SUBMIT, SUBMIT. You can’t get feedback if you aren’t submitting. You can’t make a sale if you aren’t submitting. Need I say more?
STEP NINE: Hone your craft! My personal favorite and the one step we writers can completely control on our own. Successful authors share one common trait: they never adopt the attitude that “they have arrived”. Each book is an open challenge to take their writing to the next level. They are constantly learning new techniques. Are you? Make a commitment to find out where your writing is out of balance (and, yes, everyone’s writing has areas that need honing). Commit to improving the weakest part of your writing.
STEP TEN: Finish manuscripts. You can’t sell a blank page. You can’t hone your craft by merely attending a workshop. You must practice, practice, practice. When that editor comes knocking don’t you want more than one manuscript available for sale?
There you have it. Ten steps you can control, whether you’re a published author or an aspiring one or suffering somewhere in between.