Tag Archives: rejection to success

Waiting by Rebecca Van Slyke


Lord, please grant me patience. And I want it RIGHT NOW!


Last month I wrote about getting The Call. As with most deals, I had to wait until it was official to be able to share my joy with my family and friends. When I could finally announce something, I got the same reaction over and over: “That’s WONDERFUL! You certainly have waited a long time for this to happen!”


Yes I have.

I’ve been waiting to be a “real author” for a long time. When I was four years old, I discovered that books were made by real people. I wanted to be one of those magical people called “authors” and “illustrators.” So I wrote stories on my Big Chief notebook and drew pictures on typewriter paper.

Skipping ahead to college, I took an educational literacy class where the professor offered us this choice: write a research paper, or write a children’s book. That was a no-brainer for me. I spent happy hours writing and illustrating a picture book. The professor liked it so well that he gave me an A… and passed the book along to his publisher. Unfortunately, they did not publish picture books, but it was all the encouragement I needed. The next thirty-mumble years were spent sending manuscripts out. I started with the first story, but gradually added others. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I joined SCBWI. I learned. I wrote. I sent out new manuscripts. I read. I went to conferences, to classes, to lectures. I learned more. And I waited. Every time I sent out a manuscript I knew that this could be the time.  And it wasn’t. Again and again it wasn’t.

I just went back and re-read this last paragraph and realize how pathetic it sounds. Good gravy, what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I give up? Thirty years without a nibble? That right there is some special kind of stupid.

Except I was making progress, I could tell. I finally took the plunge and decided to do more than take an occasional class. By now I was a teacher, and I did what teachers do. I went back to school. I got a master’s degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. That led to getting an agent. Now I was guaranteed to get an offer.

But the offers didn’t materialize. I watched classmates sell a book. Or several books. I had several near-yesses. I tried not to be jealous. I kept writing. I kept waiting.

A quote from Anne Lamott’s book, BIRD BY BIRD helped:

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.

So while I waited, I watched and I worked. I cheered on my published friends. I became more involved in my regional chapter of SCBWI. I started giving talks on writing. I critiqued. I mentored. I didn’t give up.  And the dawn DID come. I switched agents, and, after still more waiting, I got The Call in June.

So now that the excitement has settled down, what am I doing? Waiting. Waiting on revision notes, decisions on illustrators, opinions and decisions on new projects.

I have several friends who are waiting to get The Call. They’re close, I can tell. I know because they’re showing up. They’re waiting, and watching, and working.

Some of you reading this are in “waiting for The Call” mode. I need to tell you not to quit. Keep waiting, but while you’re waiting, keep watching for the next opportunity. Will it be a class? A conference? A chance to help someone else on the journey? Keep working to improve your craft. Write. Read strong literature. Illustrate. Study. Read craft books. Show up. And never, never, NEVER quit. Because The Call could be waiting just around the corner for you, too.


Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Education, jealousy, Rejection, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call

And So Our Story Begins . . .

by Amy Finnegan

When I vacationed in Scotland a few years ago, I was crazy excited to visit this wondrous country with its towering Highlands, history-making castles, and beautiful Loch Ness (if I were a sea monster, I’d live there, too). But the site I was most eager to see was a little cafe in Edinburgh called the Elephant House.

Trip to the UK 2010 040_2

As a writer—and especially a reader—it was #1 on my globetrotting bucket list. And this is why:

If you have eight extra minutes, watch that video. If not, here’s a summary: This is a very early interview with J.K. Rowling, filmed at the Elephant House. She often worked on the Harry Potter manuscripts at this cafe before . . . well, before she simply couldn’t step out of her home for fear of being kidnapped and forced to reveal the contents of the next book.

Here are just a few magical things in this video that make me smile:

1) Check out her awesome frazzled-author hair (Is she a Weasley or what? And I mean that as the highest compliment in the world! Okay, I’ll get serious now).

2) She is totally ecstatic at this point about HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE selling over thirty-thousand copies in the UK (the series has now sold over 500 million copies worldwide).

3) I love her agent’s warning that she wouldn’t “make much money in children’s books.”

4) She says that the unprecedented American acquisition of the rights for the first book “scared the hell” out of her. She became “panic stricken” halfway through writing the second book, and was then very self-conscious about her writing. Just imagine how she felt later on.

5) When Rowling is asked to describe her plot, she can hardly get a coherent sentence out. Classic writer’s stage fright.

This has totally happened to me too . . . #5 that is. And #1.

My point is, everyone—superstar authors included—starts somewhere, and it’s always, always at the beginning.

Rowling says in this video that she worked on the first Harry Potter book for seven years before it sold. According to various sources, it was rejected by at least nine editors during her year-long submission process. Then she finally got an offer for it . . . with a £1500 advance. (Don’t all of you debut authors feel really good about your advance now?!) That, my friends, was her beginning.

When I first started writing, I thought my career would go something like this: I would finish a book every two to three months, send it off to a publisher, then a few weeks later, they would send me a big check. Then I’d write the next book, and the next, and the money would keep rolling in. I’d be a mega hit.

It’s incredibly embarrassing to admit how naive I was, but there it is. ((I might’ve also had a daydream or two about getting a call from Oprah because she loooovved my novel. Don’t even try to tell me that you haven’t done the same thing.))

Then about a year into writing my first novel, I finally started attending conferences that taught me about craft, and an absolutely devastating thing happened: I realized I sucked. SUCKED.

I out-sucked all of you, I promise.

mean-girls-2The thought of submitting a single sentence of what I wrote was suddenly horrifying. I imagined the cast of Mean Girls standing around a publishing house water cooler and reading my manuscript aloud for their afternoon entertainment. “OMG, did you see this? We should publish it as The Dictionary of Clichés!” Then Mean Girl Editor #2 would say, “I was thinking more like, Pathetic Teen Angst for Dummies!

Cue (size zero) belly laughter.

After a few more years of working twenty to thirty hours per week on learning the actual craft of novel writing—writing, revising, tossing out a few manuscripts . . . writing, revising, burning through a few laptops—I finally gathered the courage to start submitting.

I didn’t exactly get laughed at, but a line penned by Robert Munsch comes to mind: “Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.”

Long story short, after that glorious experience, I didn’t submit again for three solid years. During this period, I seriously questioned all the sacrifice, all the time away from my family, all the money spent, all the lunches I’d turned down with friends because I had to revise my novels. And for what? I felt humiliated. I now did everything possible to avoid discussing my writing. I didn’t tell anyone new in my life that I was a writer.

I dreaded hearing this same thing, over and over again: “You should self-publish instead. My brother’s boss’s wife’s second cousin just self-published a novel which is now #1 on Amazon. And she wrote the book in just thirty days while her triplets crawled around her ankles. You, too, can be a published author!”

(Okay, thanks. Clearly all I needed was some triplets!)

I said a lot of naughty words in my head during this time, while speaking to perfectly lovely, well-meaning people.

Trip to the UK 2010 045And now we come full circle, back to Edinburgh, Scotland.

This particular trip began on Interstate I-Suck, and ended in . . . oh, forget it, a map metaphor would be plain stupid here (see, I have learned a bit about craft). I’ll just say it straight: I had a life-altering moment while sitting at a table in the Elephant House.

I realized I was about seven or eight years into my dream of getting an offer from a traditional publisher, the same amount of time it took J.K. Rowling to first get noticed. Had she ever had similar thoughts of doubt? Of course she had. No one works on the same novel for seven years without questioning their ability as a writer, otherwise Rowling would’ve finished it up in six months and mass-submitted to every agent and publisher in the UK. Surely, she had also wondered, “Will all this work be worth it? What if I never get published? Why am I doing this?”

This last question really got to me as I took in a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle, framed perfectly by a large cafe window . . . sitting high atop dark craggy cliffs . . . mysterious and magical . . . and I was reminded of another castle I knew. A castle where I had spent so much time, I could’ve navigated the hallways and moving staircases in the dead of night, with or without the Marauder’s Map. A castle that had made me fall deeply in love with not only children’s literature, but with the idea of creating characters who others would want as their best friends, and fictional worlds that readers would wish they could live in.

Trip to the UK 2010 044_2Hogwarts cast an unbreakable spell on me (and I know I’m not the only one).

I traced it all back, right there at the Elephant House. In the beginning, it was the power of a beautiful story that gave me the desire to be a writer.

So during those long years of doubting anyone would ever find my manuscripts worthy enough to publish, I didn’t write because I still had lofty dreams of becoming a famous author; I continued to write because I’d grown to love it. Writing had become such a significant part of my very being that I couldn’t have let it go if I’d tried. My motivation for improving my manuscripts then evolved into an unshakable desire to create stories about characters who seem real, people who experience genuine joy and pain, heartbreak and love, just like we do. It now came from deep, deep within me.

This difficult period of doubt taught me that good writing doesn’t happen when we type the words, it happens when we feel them.

As I sat in the Elephant House that fateful afternoon, I recalled how Rowling had written on napkins when she ran out of paper, so I wrote something on my own napkin. I was too embarrassed at the time to show anyone what I wrote, but I’ll reveal it now. It simply said, “I am a writer.”

It was about time I at least admitted that to myself.


Crazy enough, all those years of hard work and patience actually did pay off. My debut novel for young adults—NOT IN THE SCRIPT—is being published by Bloomsbury, just like J.K. Rowling’s debut.

For me, it’s a perfect beginning.

((Disclaimer: Don’t read too much into this—I do NOT expect Rowling’s success, nor am I truly comparing myself to her. #ha! #keepinitreal #stillsendingmynoveltoOprah))

Has anyone else out there also had long periods of doubt? If so, how did you get through them? And . . . the all-important question, what/who inspired you to write in the first place?


IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

Just for fun—check out these messages I found on a stall door at the Elephant House (warning, big time plot spoilers here):

Trip to the UK 2010 048_2


Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Introduction, Patience, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

I’m Pat Zietlow Miller. And, I’m a book geek …

I’ve always been a book geek.

When I was young, that involved walking to the bookmobile and trying to convince the librarian to let me check out more books than the rules allowed.

It also involved visiting the public library whenever my parents could take me. That’s where they got me an adult card rather than a child’s so I could take as many books as I could carry home with me.

But I didn’t just read those books.

I read everything I could see. Magazines, newspapers, brochures, cereal boxes, junk mail. In fact, the first time I had to do a demonstration speech on a hobby, I loaded my backpack with all these items and shared my passion for the written word.

Maybe that’s why I wasn’t invited to more parties.

But I honestly didn’t care. Who needed parties when there were words? I remember having to put books down and stop reading because I was so in awe of how the writer had turned a phrase or constructed a sentence.

And, sometimes, I’d laugh out loud. Not because the sentence was funny, but because I especially liked a particular combination of words on the page.

Eventually, I started writing myself.

In fourth grade, I wrote awkward stories about a cat named “Salt” and a dog named “Pepper.” (Guess what colors they were?) Around that same time, I wrote terrible songs about sisters named Madeline and Adeline. I read “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?” and then tried to write essays that sounded like Erma Bombeck. All I remember is that one of them made my mother mad.

But in fifth grade, I wrote a poem about a yellow duck on the run from the law that made my teacher laugh so hard he cried. And in sixth grade, I wrote a paper about my grandmother’s swishy, swirly, square-dancing skirts that another teacher said gave her chills.

When she asked me how long it took me to write it, I answered honestly — about a half hour. Everyone in my class gasped. That was the first time I realized that writing wasn’t easy or fun for everyone.

Then one day, I was flipping through the school library’s card catalog when I realized something. Every book in there was written by somebody. A real person. And maybe someday, I could write a book too.

I flipped to the Zs to see where my name would fall.

Well, my name will probably never be in a card catalog. I’m not sure any still exist. But it just might be on amazon.com and goodreads and in the Library of Congress.

If all goes well, my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, will be illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf and published by Schwartz & Wade in the fall of 2013. And I find that — almost — too cool for words.

Here’s how it happened:

  1. Four years ago — after writing newspaper articles and a wide variety of technical memos to pay the bills — I decided I wanted to write books for children. No, I did not quit my day job.
  2. Instead, I started spending three hours each night after my kids were in bed writing manuscripts. They weren’t as bad as my songs about Madeline and Adeline, but they were far from lovely. Miss Clavel of MADELINE fame might have said, “Something is not right.”
  3. So, I brought piles of picture books home from my new public library and read them. I read everything Kevin Henkes has ever had published. Everything by Mem Fox.
    Everything by Judith Viorst. Everything by Kari Best and Jill Esbaum and Dori Chaconas and Mo Willems. Plus a ton of stuff by authors whose names I don’t recall.
  4. I went to my my first SCBWI conference and hid in the back row hoping no one would realize I didn’t belong and ask me to leave.
  5. I joined two critique groups and got feedback on my stories.
  6. I kept writing. I kept reading.

Then, I cautiously began sending out submissions.

Lots of form rejections. Lots of silence. Then, one day, a little blue card with a handwritten note. “Cute, but not quite right for us.” I almost had it framed. A real, live editor thought my story was cute.

As I kept writing, I got enough tiny bits of encouragement in between the rejections to keep me from giving up. More personalized rejections. A story that sold to Highlights magazine. An honorable mention in a writing contest. A few requests to revise and resubmit.

But always, ultimately, a rejection.

Until my phone rang almost exactly a year ago. The area code said “212,” and the caller ID said “Random House.” And the voice on the other end said, “Hi! This is Anne Schwartz. You probably don’t remember sending us SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but …”

That was the fateful moment that led to my being part of this EMU’s Debuts blog. I’m so excited to count down to my book release — and those of my talented agency-mates — with all of you.

Because a confirmed book geek like me can never have too many books.


Filed under Celebrations, Introduction, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call

Perspective, Vulnerability, and Action Figures (or things that aren’t just about Lynda, you know)

Wow. Here I am, two months after the launch of EMU’s Debuts, bringing up the rear. As of today, we here at EMU’s Debuts have rolled through a complete rotation, in which each of us has written a Monday post on the topic of our choice, and each of us has also written a follow-up Wednesday post in response to one of our colleague’s Monday posts. Our rotation repeats after today. So here I am, bringing up the rear.

Coming full circle. Happy Completing-The-Rotation-Day, EMU’s Debuts and fans!

image: renjith krishnan

Okay, true confession time. What I am really doing is procrastinating. How does someone follow up a post like Lynda’s from earlier this week? She talked about vulnerability. She talked about shifting perspective. She talked about brushing yourself off and getting back to your feet and making your dreams come true!  Heck, I was so inspired just from reading it, I immediately queried six or eight agents right then and there!

Memo to self: try to get those emails back before they get read—or before Erin Murphy reads this blog post.

Okay, okay, I’m kidding here. Probably because Lynda said something that resonates so deeply it’s terrifying, and I’m trying to hold it at arms length by kidding around.

She said (deep breath!)…

we have to be vulnerable.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Yeah. Okay, so anyway, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar—

No, Jeannie, get a grip! Don’t blink. Don’t flinch. Say it, Jeannie.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Cracking yourself open--it doesn't get much more vulnerable than that!

Vulnerability—cracking yourself open, as Lynda so aptly put it—is at the heart of what we do if we write.

Is there a career path out there with a more cruel paradox than this?  First, take a person who lives mostly in her head because she’s always been a bit introverted—heck, she might even have been, just hypothetically, say, the fat kid with glasses in grade school which is why she fell in love with books in the first place—convince her to lay her heart open on paper, then have her send it out into the world of normal people, where it will be judged for its professional and economic value by people who aren’t particularly focused on sparing her feelings. Oh, and while you’re at it, why don’t we throw in the BONUS feature of extreme competition–only one in ten heart-spillings-on-paper (aka manuscripts) is going to meet with success!

Anyone puking in the toilet yet? Let’s face it. Vulnerability sucks.

And yet, Lynda is right, we HAVE to be vulnerable. So why would anybody do this—especially anybody who, as the fat kid with glasses, acquired enough humiliation in fifth grade alone to shred a life-time’s worth of self esteem?

That’s the question I’ve been contemplating since reading Lynda’s post on Monday. For me, I think the same experiences that drove me into my head as a kid, drove me back out as an adult, and as a writer. To me, being vulnerable is hard and scary, but it is also so, so, SO affirming.  Putting my heart and soul on the page and having a reader say, “wow, that’s just how I feel too!” makes me realize that even in the years I was in my head, I wasn’t alone. That the me that had to hide was a person of value, a person who has something to say, a person who (and here’s the biggie) can change the world, at least for one other fat kid with glasses out there who can find friends and solace and joy on the page.

I remember very well the moment when I had to decide what I was doing with my writing—was I going to just write as an outlet for myself, or was I going to reach for publication? My biggest fear in that moment was that the business of publishing would ruin the joy of writing. I wrote because it gave me joy, did I need more than that?

Weighing against that was the complete invisibility of my art if I didn’t put it out there.  I realized that if I was a painter, or a sculptor, or a potter, my art could hang on the wall or sit on the table and people would walk by and see it. I could sell it at a local craft fair and someone would enjoy it. But a manuscript? How else is anyone going to see that?

That was the moment of my perspective shift. And I don’t mean I wanted fame. I wanted to be heard—be understood, be ALIVE, and have the joy of my living reaffirmed in the world—that was what writing became about after that moment.

That was the shift in perspective that made the risk of vulnerability worth it.

Was it easy? Did it come with humiliations and stinging rejections? Were there times I wanted to be puking in the toilet?  I think we all know the answer to those questions. But if you have been following along here at EMU’s Debuts for the last few months, you also know about the sweet spot, the tears of joy, the relief, and the sheer joy that are part of the process too. Perspective is all about keeping the highs in mind when you meet the lows. Writing comes with both, if you keep at it.

And so, as we wrap up our first rotation here at EMU’s Debuts, Lynda made this brilliant observation:  “Maybe I need my own action figure.” I think everyone does who dares to put their vulnerability out there to create something beautiful.

EMU's Debuts ACTION FIGURES! Enlarged to show detail. Operators are standing by.

So here they are, coming soon to a retailer near you: The all new EMU’S DEBUTS ACTION FIGURES (you know you want them!):

The Lynda Mullaly Hunt, that comes with red knee-high boots, and a sports car (perfect for long drives to meet dream agents!)

The Cynthia Levinson, that comes with a tidy writing desk and fights for truth, justice, and civil rights. Comes with amazing civil rights marcher dolls that want their story told!

The Mike Jung, funny, happy, and (of course!) comes with a specially hinged jaw and a selection of shoes that fit within it!

The Michele Ray, that comes with a LOT of hats to wear, and cries when you squeeze it!

The Natalie Lorenzi, that comes with twenty-five admiring letters, and one very sweet spot!

The L.B. Schulman, that comes with so much empathy she only whispers her good news politely when you pull the cord!

The J. Anderson Coats, that comes with a flooded basement and a lot of common sense about what to say in public!

And the Jeannie Mobley, that comes with deeply buried insecurities, and a pretty bad joke about a priest, a rabbi, and a minister!

But all of them are writers, so they come with fear, determination, a variety of scars and bruises…

And best of all, a soon-to-be-published book. Because they dared to be vulnerable.

So go on. I dare you. And while you’re at it, give yourself a pat on the back and an action figure of your own. You deserve it.


Filed under Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

L.B. Thinks Twice about Spreading the News

Right before I got “the call,” I remember thinking how perfect the timing was. In just a few days, I was heading to an SCBWI conference. It would be a huge party, I figured, full of congratulations and hugs. But once I got there, I went very quiet. Didn’t want to tell anyone. The conference attendees were mostly pre-published writers, and I could easily remember my own feelings of jealousy whenever writers would talk about their book deals. I also remembered an even more unpleasant feeling–that because they had found success, it was more proof that something was wrong with me.

It’s funny how we sometimes look at other people’s successes as strikes against ourselves. When someone congratulated me at the conference, I found myself sharing how long it took me to get to this point (ten years); how many agents I ran through before finding the right one (Joan is number three); and how many turned me down during that year between agents before I signed with Joan (48. No joke.)

So you see, I didn’t just scratch out a manuscript on a pile of napkins in a cafe, land an agent and score a publisher on my first time out the gate. I put in my time and then some. I kept at it, trying to ignore that downer voice in my head. (“What if you’re 95 and on your death bed and have wasted decades toiling over words with nothing to show for it? Have you thought about that? Huh? Huh?”) And then one day, I got The Call.

I’m not going to tell you that it will happen to you if you don’t give up, but my book getting published is evidence that if you keep trying, keep revising, keep sending query letters out, keep going to conferences, keep studying successful books to improve your craft….you’re 100 percent more likely to reach your dream than if you don’t.

First of all, have faith. Then go write. It’s the only way to get from here to there.


Filed under Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing