“Make it so.”
— Captain Jean-Luc Picard,
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Whenever talking or writing about this profession, I have always stressed the importance of persistence,
which is the single most essential quality for a viable writing career—well, for my career, anyhow. I've been
through too many setbacks in which, without perseverance, my career would have ended on the spot.
Admittedly, my first book sale was relatively easy. After being rejected by a dozen literary agents, I started
submitting directly to publishers. Within a year, I got my first book offer.
And that was the very last time anything in my career was easy.
Shortly after that book went into production, my editor left, and I was reassigned to a sullen, sulky person
who described me as unwanted extra work that had been dumped on her desk against her will. She told
me baldly that I would never sell to this house again because she had no intention of reading any of my submissions.
Well, my approach to rejections and setbacks has always been based on this simple philosophy: If I send a
rejected book out again, or aim for a career goal, or attempt to resolve a business problem, I don’t know
what will happen; but if I don't try, then I know exactly what will happen: nothing.
So, rather than just lie back and think of England, I contacted sulky-girl's supervisor and politely requested
reassignment. It worked, and I got a real editor this time, someone who was very good at her job—and who
promptly rejected four of my next six submissions. Indeed, during the five years that I wrote for it, this house
rejected more of my proposals than they bought. I nonetheless sold a dozen books to the house; only because
I persevered. In the end, though, they dumped me—the exact same week, as it happens, that my secondary
publisher went out of business, too.
It's always something.
I subsequently hired my third agent (yes, I had also run through two agents by then), who spent about a
year declining to send out my various proposals. This being a steady problem throughout our association, I
sold several books on my own during the next few years, which I'd never have done without persistence. Unfortunately,
no sales in this period led to fruitful relationships. One of my editors was laid off and the program
folded; another editor quit and my contract was cancelled; another house folded its program shortly
after acquiring me; I was (courteously) fired from a ghosting project; and I was very stressed-out, unhappy,
and a poor fit at the only house where my agent got me a deal.
This long-ago period was also the origin of the project that specifically inspired me to dwell this month,
all these years later, on the importance of perseverance.
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