Last month I did my annual stint teaching dark-fantasy writing at the University of Toronto. Now I’m in Melbourne, getting ready to speak to aspiring writers at the Romance Writers of Australia conference. And despite the fact that I’m halfway around the globe, there is one question that will remain the same, one question I cannot answer. “Why am I not getting published?”
If it’s a new writer, there’s an easy response: Just give it time. Writing is like any other craft. It takes practice, and you can’t expect success on your first book.
But often the question isn’t coming from new writers. It’s from people who have been practicing—for years, writing book after book, getting feedback, doing everything they can to improve. They win contests. They get positive rejection from agents and editors (yes, there is such a thing as a positive rejection!). They are so close. And yet the offers—of representation or, better yet, publication—elude them. Family and friends, once encouraging and supportive, begin to quietly suggest they take up a new hobby. Their dreams teeter on the cliff, one small nudge from falling and shattering. And all they want is for someone—an agent, an editor, an author—to tell them what they’re doing wrong. Just tell them, and they’ll fix it.
If only it was that easy.
I’ve been there. I’ve teetered on that edge. I’ve raged that my writing is horrible and I’ll never be published and I should just stop trying. I’ve even thrown a manuscript into a fireplace…a grand gesture somewhat weakened by having backups on my computer. So how did I finally get published? Did I practice until I wrote the perfect book that agents and editors just couldn’t refuse? No. I broke in the way most writers do—by keeping at it until I floundered onto the perfect intersection of luck, talent and timing.
For me, talent equals craft. Craft, as I said, is about practice. Write, write, write some more, and eventually it doesn’t suck. My luck came when an instructor offered to recommend my work to an agent who turned out to be a perfect match for it. As for timing, that was also luck—I wrote a book that I thought was unmarketable, and the market just happened to be ready for it, primed by a resurging interest in paranormal fiction.
If asked how I got published, I’ll say, “I just got lucky.” But that’s a lie. I didn’t just happen to sit down and write a book and sell it. I had a lifelong dream, and I gave it everything I had. I wrote as often as I could. I joined writing groups. I took courses. I read voraciously. I experimented with genre and form. And you can bet I wouldn’t have thrown that manuscript in the fire if I didn’t know I had backups. So how did I get published? The same way I’m trying to stay published: perseverance.
If you’re trying to get published, keep trying. Keep writing. And keep trying to get published—it’s the only way you’re going to hit the luck and timing parts of the equation.
If you know someone who’s trying to get published, this blog is for you, too. Support them. Encourage them. Understand that it’s not all about talent. If they’re in for the long haul, be there for them. They’ll need it.
Thanks to Kelley Armstrong for sharing her experience and knowledge. Spell Bound is out now and is available in hardcover and for the Kindle.