Waiting for the elevator in the Grub Street lobby were two women, one of whom was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. I recognized her immediately as Boston's chief investigative reporter, Hank Phillippi Ryan. I tried to melt into the walls as I eavesdropped on their conversation; to this day I'm not sure they realized a third person rode up with them. Hank was telling the other woman her agent was sending out her manuscript that week. She has an agent, I thought, she's going to be published. We sat next to each other in that writing class -- Hallie Ephron's Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, hands down the best writing class I've yet taken -- and became friends. I expected Hank's book to sell within days, but it didn't. Sent out as chick lit just as the publishing world grew weary of the genre, Hank's novel was rejected. Was she disappointed? You bet. Devastated? Well, that would imply Hank was somehow paralyzed by the experience. No, Hank took her manuscript and after a matter of weeks, she rewrote it as more of a mystery. Her agent had to have been impressed. Prime Time sold in a two-book deal. It's been one of my favorite books of the year, I fell in love with her character, Charlie McNally, and can't wait to see her again when Face Time is released next month. By the way, after the success of Prime Time, Hank's publisher bought the rights to her next two books.
One writer I adore wrote and submitted for two years, receiving nothing but rejections. Friends and family were generally dismissive because they knew her only as Judy, no one particularly special, certainly not a writer. They said she was a dreamer, too big for her britches, they reminded Judy that the odds did not favor the likes of her. Still she continued to write, submit, and be rejected. Until her first book was published, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. A fluke then. She continued to prove them wrong when it was followed by Iggy's House, then Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and on and on...Thank goodness Judy Blume never gave up on her dream, never gave in to the naysayers. How would we have survived childhood without her?
Have you read Michelle Zink's blog? She tells it better, it's her story, but it's ours, too. She gave up her job, her family sacrificed vacations, she had trouble paying her bills, all so she could write. How many times have we told loved ones not right now or I'm sorry, I can't go. How many nights have we lain awake wondering how to pay that credit card bill, or in Michelle's case the mortgage? Michelle wrote FIVE books, none of which were published, all the while struggling, doubting, though still forging onward. And then Indigo Sky came to her and as Publishers Marketplace reports, earned Michelle a much-deserved six-figure advance.
Writers I know have similar stories. First manuscripts rejected by agents. First books submitted by agents and rejected by editors. Second, third, fourth novels, memoirs, non-fiction. Every writer I know. Every last one.
Amanda Eyre Ward (if you haven't yet read her work, run right now to your local bookstore; I just finished and LOVED Forgive Me) hosted a Grub Street South workshop and she said the people in her MFA program who were published were the writers who never gave up.
That's the difference.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007