Persistence Often Leads to Publication

What are your real hopes and dreams for your writing career? How vital are they to your sense of self-worth? If all your happiness is contingent on becoming a huge success in commercial terms, then you know you’re in for disappointment. You may reach that goal one day, but what are you feeling in the meantime? What does your day-to-day attitude look like?

Maybe you don’t want to be a best-selling author. Maybe your dream is to just get a publishing contract—to give you validation that you’re a good writer. Maybe you’ve set your goals a little lower, querying small publishers in the hopes that someone will buy your novel.

But when, after months of repeated rejections, you cannot land a contract or an agent to represent you, you fall apart and want to die. Maybe you wallow in misery for a bit, then brush off the dust and get back up again. Your year may be one long roller coaster of ups and downs—feelings of expectation and optimism one day, then despair and defeat the next. After some months of rejections, you decide you’ll do a major rewrite and submit again. Or you’ll shelve that book for a while and write another. Sometimes, if you just keep trying, something will sell.

 The One Still Standing Wins

And amazingly enough, that is often the case. I have been told by more than one literary agent high up in the book publishing industry for over three decades that “the one with the most persistence wins.” My agent fifteen years ago said that to me. It took me twenty-three years to finally sell my first novel (I had written eight or nine by that time and had had six agents over the years who all assured me they could sell my books, no problem . . . but the rejection letters kept pouring in.).

And it’s something I tell my clients too—that I truly believe if you will stick with it, persevere, apply yourself to improving your craft in every way you can, you will eventually get a book contract. You really have to be ready to stick with this writing thing for the long haul.

I wonder what I would have done if, before I started writing the first chapter of my first novel, someone had told me that hard as I tried, it would take me over twenty years to get published. Would I have begun? Would I still have written all those novels? If you ask yourself, “What would I have done?” how would you answer? Your answer will tell you a lot about how you feel about writing, and more importantly, how you feel about yourself.

I’m just tossing these thoughts and questions out to start getting you thinking about your motivation. Your joy in your writing is all tied up with that. As well as you self-image and feelings of self-worth. Unfortunately, we humans tend to define ourselves by what we do instead of who we are. And if what we do repeatedly fails, we feel like a failure.

But I believe if we focus more on the joy of creativity, look outward to encourage and inspire others, and adjust our attitude to embrace a different definition of success (read: significance), we can find joy day after day, regardless of if we ever sell our novel or not. In future posts, I’ll go into CRAVE—which is something I’ve come up with to help us understand what we crave and why and how it ties in with our writing life. But for now, I hope I’ve given you something to think about.

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  1. To be honest with you, if someone had told me that it would take me 20 years to sell my first book, I may not have ever started.

    I don’t expect to be rich and/or famous, but I think that every writer wants to do well, whatever that means to each of us individually.

    I do enjoy it and hope to get better and better with each novel, but if you were to tell me that none of them would get published…that I would be writing JUST for myself…then I probably wouldn’t be doing it forever.

  2. Hello…..Will Smith’s perseverance, drive and belief in himself and others is inspiring. Your words, too, motivate me to continue plugging along with my present YA novel which I am trying to believe will be published, hopefully in MY lifetime!!!

    I am enjoying your Blog.

  3. I have self published three business books and my next book is being published as a textbook by Jossey-Bass/Wiley. I have been writing fiction for a while and finally am in a position to either start chasing down an agent or go it through self publishing and ebooks with this mystery series. When I first started writing non fiction many people thought I would never get it out of my garage (stock wise) but my last book was a Canadian bestseller so I must have figured something out along the way. But in reply to your post, I think the number one thing in writing is to be able to persevere and have the self discipline to just keep on doing it. The perseverance is in the writing and the self discipline is in the marketing – whether it is marketing it yourself as a self-published author or marketing it to an agent and the publishers through that agent. Being an author is not for the weakhearted. That is why supporting each other is so important. It is a lonely calling.

  4. To me, twenty years doesn’t seem like so long. It has been 29 years since I graduated college…set down the novel I was writing for my Sr. project because I didn’t have enough background/historical/genealogical groundwork done in order to make the story convincing.


    When my children were in Jr. High and High School, I got hooked by genealogical research and started working on the background, only to find that that story was for the time being a dead end…so I found a greater on in my husband’s family tree. I’m now fine-tuning the research, organizing the data and writing the book. I know it will take time…I work a full-time, demanding managerial position in the food industry and am often so tired and fatigued that I cannot focus…but I am determined to break the cycle that has been in my family before me.

    My Dad was an artist, a painter, a teacher and lecturer. His work was displayed in galleries in the North East…one of his pastels was used in an advertisement for Strathmore paper. But he never became “successful” at his craft in terms of sales and recognition because he let his uncomfortableness with large cities get in his way.

    That is NOT an option for me. I can see my work completed. I can see it published. It WILL happen.

    Thanks for this post, and for the clip!

  5. My goal is to get a message out to humanity so that people will recognise a Tsunami when it is still on the horizon, and there is still time to run. It is my way of giving back for having lived in the best time and place mankind has ever known. The nearly 20 years I took in learning how to write a compelling story was unexpected, but not something that bothers me. Particularly in this case I was going to get only one chance to do it right the first time. I am satisfied that I have done a fairly good job. One has to pay ones dues to become proficient in any field of endeavour.

    Now we come to getting people to receive that message, i.e. to read. Once I persuade someone to read the manuscript they invariably pass it on to a few friends. I have not had one single negative review. It seems to me that the common advise is to get onto twitter and kiss as many frogs as exist in hopes that one will turn into a prince. Admittedly there are millions of frogs there, but I don’t see many potential princes. LinkedIn and Live, Write, Thrive, seems like a much more fertile ground to plough.

    Now the mission is to find intelligent people who are uncomfortable with the world as it exists today. Political turmoil around the world, financial crisis’, senseless riots and other social unrest, oppressive or restrictive governments, and other anxieties are making them ask ‘Where is this all leading? This can’t be good.’

    Once I have found where these creatures hide, the last job is to attract their attention so they will take a peek at a possible future as laid out in my novel, ‘Operation Phoenix.’

    Doing a job only half way, regardless of how well that half is done, is worse than useless. It wastes time and resources. A great idea that is communicated with no one is useless to humanity. A less great idea communicated with all of humanity has far more value. Our job as authors is to communicate, and finding readers is simply another part of the communication.

    Allen Currie

  6. Your posting is great inspirational as well as motivational. I’ve also written a novel and looking for an agent and continuously being rejected. Today i was a little depressed but your write-up boosted my morale……… be patient and to keep perseverance and to be confident in myself.



  7. “How long did it take you to write this book?” a Chico’s salesclerk asked me after we exchanged business cards.

    She was referring to my short story collection, FALLING WOMEN AND OTHER STORIES, Shelfstealers Publishers. The other woman behind the counter was also looking at me. I could tell they wanted me to say three months or some other ridiculously short amount of time.

    How disappointed they were when I laughed and said, “Thirty years.”

    When I started writing short stories in the 80s, there were paying markets. Over a period of five years, a woman’s magazine paid me $1500 each for three short stories. NPR gave me $500 for another. Every story in my collection has a history. Some found a home at the first publication I sent to; others made the rounds. Nine were eventually published. A tenth won a $4000 Virginia Fiction Fellowship, but never found a publisher until now. Go figure. My favorites were first published in literary magazines. More recent ones went to zines.

    I love the process of writing. I write what I want to, then I look for an audience. I read a lot, use a Kindle, but also buy deadtree books, mostly fiction. I teach creative writing at a university and at the Writer’s Center. I’m in a writer’s critique group and am a member of several writing organizations like Sister in Crime. This is my writing life. Maybe I’m persistent or maybe I’m just addicted. Whatever the case I’m still having fun writing.

  8. Susanne, thank you for sharing this Will Smith interview composite. It’s inspirational. Like you, I am an editor (I do narrative material). I’ve written my first novel and am starting on my second one. Having been turned down by more than 70 agents, I’ve decided to self-publish (all marketing effort is up to me, anyway). Please keep up your encouragement. We all can use it.
    Paul Samuelson

  9. Great post, Susanne! Oh how we need your words of truth. It’s very encouraging to me as I return my focus to “Seeds of Salton”, the novel I finished 2 years ago and have been querying to agents. In fact, this week I’m applying for an emerging writers grant specific to getting the mss into the hands of agents/editors. Your example of perseverence is a great testimony to the passion you have for your stories, which I so love. I’m thankful that God chose to cross our paths!

  10. I have been writing since i learn to hold a pencil and sense the world around me. I have gone through the highs & lows as an amateur writer… u r absolutely right to say that we often judge ourselves by what we do rather than what we are and like any other ambitious new writer i quit writing for around a decade at least for others, yet i realise that I had to resume it for my own sake and for the fact that i need expression to give meaning to my existence. I haven’t started my book yet but am planning to do so with the hope that it will get published in my lifetime and will get the readership it deserves since that’s the only thing that gives me true satisfaction. thxs for sharing the inspirational piece…!

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