Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Difference

By Amy

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.


Lisa said...

I find these anecdotes to be very encouraging -- on the surface, it might appear that they're not. On the surface, it would appear that every published writer underwent extreme challenges, rejection and frustration before finally selling a book. To me, it's encouraging to know what really happens and it's encouraging to know that the one thing these authors all have in common is persistence, persistence, and more persistence. What this confirms to me is that writing, much like growing older, is not for sissies :)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, I do find it encouraging. It's within our control to make a life for ourselves on our own terms. What more could we want?


Shauna Roberts said...

Thank you for this dose of inspiration. I love stories about people who take a long time to sell and then become bestsellers. I can just picture all the agents and publishers who rejected the manuscript kicking themselves.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Shauna, my favorite story is of Sara Gruen's editor who bought her first two books, but then rejected her third. You know the one, right? Water for Elephants. Book Sense's #1 pick for 2006, NYT's #1 bestseller in paperback for 14 or 15 weeks now. Imagine? Just goes to show how tastes vary. Of course there have been some bestsellers I haven't cared for either.


Michelle Zink said...

Thanks for the mention, Amy!

Persistence is, without a doubt, the Wild Card most writers discount. At one point I stopped going to most of the online message boards because it seemed like when I did, all I heard were how stacked the odds were against me.

I finally decided if some of those people spent as much time writing as they did figuring out the odds, they'd probably be a lot closer to realizing their writing dreams.

If you LOVE writing, if it's your passion, the thing you'd keep doing even if you never got paid because you can't help yourself... Well, then you can't help but get better and better and better and better with every book or project.

And if you keep getting better and you keep producing work, I can't help but think the odds are stacked decidedly IN your favor.

Thanks again, Amy!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Michelle, I like to think everything in lifeis50-50: either it will happen or it won't. Certainly we increase our odds when we keep moving forward, learning as we go. Congratulations again on making your dream come true.


Larramie said...

The key to improving your odds of publication are: PTP -- Patience. Talent. Persistence.

Congratulations to Michelle and Lynne who obviously have all three.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

I love these stories. And one of the most important lessons I learned over the years when I was collecting 300+ rejections was "It only takes one 'yes'." And you want that "yes" from someone who loves your manuscript as much as you do. So, wait for the agent and the editor who love it. Let those who don't say "no."

And keep plugging away.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Larramie, mind if I borrow PYP and pass it along? Love it.

Judy, I love your positive nature. When can you stop by for a cup of coffee?


Sustenance Scout said...

Amy, I referenced a Mr. Rogers song in a class yesterday, "You've Got to Do It" while introducing a documentary about Anne Lamott, who certainly teaches by example how to keep plugging until the job's done.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi, SS, thanks for joining us. Anne is an example. Did you read all of the hub-bub on the anniversary of Jack Kerouac's On the Road? His agent, Sterling Lord, proved himself to be a determined man. He submitted the manuscript for 4 long years before it was snatched up. Like Judy said, all it takes is one yes.