Writing through Rejection

Ed. Note: In our spring/summer series – “The Tough Times, and How I Wrote Through Them” – one of this site’s regular contributors will write about a complication they’ve faced in writing and/or publishing, a complication you’re likely to experience someday, and they’ll disclose how they got past it (alcohol may be part of the answer but, no, it’s not the whole answer).

By Elizabeth Heiter

My first book released on New Year’s Eve, 2013.  By the end of this summer, I’ll have ten books on the shelves.  But along the way, there were rejections.  A lot of them.  Nine years’ worth, to be precise.  And that’s just before I was published (because, yes, I’ve had rejections since then, too).

How many rejections can you pile up in nine years?  I stopped keeping track, but it was certainly over one hundred.  They came on one manuscript after the next because, obviously, I didn’t quit. I also couldn’t keep shopping the same book (although my debut was a rewrite of an early manuscript – I’ll get back to that).

So how did I keep my enthusiasm for writing when agents and editors alike kept saying “no?”  It wasn’t easy.  There were definitely days (weeks, months) when I wondered why I was giving up so much of my free time to write books, going straight from a day job to the laptop over and over again with nothing to show for it (or at least, no book deal).

Partly it’s because I’m stubborn, I’m determined, and this was my dream.  And I think that’s important, because after nine years (or even a few months where you’re dedicating time to a book instead of other things), there are going to be people who suggest you focus on other things.  And when they do, perhaps you should remind them that Agatha Christie had five years of constant rejections only to end up with more than $2 billion in sales, or that Louis L’Amour had 200 rejections before becoming his publisher’s best-selling author ever.

But that’s the big picture.  Sometimes the hardest part is putting your butt in the chair day after day, chasing after a goal that seems subject to the whims of editors, agents, and the market.  It’s feeling motivated to keep working on a new book when nothing you’ve done before seems to be working.  That’s when you need to remember why you’re doing it, and hopefully it’s because you love writing.

Publishing is frustrating.  No matter how much – or how little – success you’ve had, parts of it will always be out of your control.  But the writing is completely in your control.  And for me, I try to keep the two as separate as possible.  I still think of creating the books as something fun I’m doing for myself, and the publishing side as a job.  Obviously, they have to overlap, but the more I can keep them separate (I even write in a different place than I do marketing and other publishing work), the more I keep the joy in the writing process.

Before I was published, I used a lot of methods to keep myself motivated while I waited for “the call.”  First, I surrounded myself with people who really understood what it meant to be a career-oriented writer, because they were doing it too.  I met up with a critique partner at a coffee shop one evening a week, every week (which meant that no matter what else was going on in my life, for those hours, I was always writing).  I joined writers organizations, especially local ones, where I could sit for a few hours a month soaking up industry and craft knowledge, and sharing frustrations and excitements of the business (seeing other people succeed reminds you that you can do it too!).

Secondly, I focused on methods that kept me writing.  I set goals every week with my critique partner (that accountability is important) and the two of us also set rewards for meeting those goals (it’s amazing what I’ll do for chocolate or a spa trip). I set aside a regular writing time that I tried to stick to, because then it becomes habit and that’s important too.  If I ever couldn’t write in that time, I edited, because at least then I was still moving forward.

And perhaps most importantly, I believed I could do it.  Remember what I mentioned about stubborn and determined?  Those may be the most important tools in your arsenal.  Of course you have to hone your craft and learn the industry and keep writing, but at the end of the day, when one hundred agents and editors tell you “no,” you have to believe in yourself enough to think “I know better than they do.  I’m going to get there.”

Back before I was published, I attended a book signing for Suzanne Brockmann and she told me a piece of advice that I’ll never forget: “The difference between an unpublished writer and a published author is perseverance.”  I had that quote written on the board above my desk for years, because every time I looked at it, it reminded me that even if this manuscript hadn’t resonated with this agent or editor, I could always send it out to someone else, or write a new one.  And if I kept working hard, and kept writing, I would get where I wanted to be.

And I did.  Remember what I said about my debut being a rewrite?  Well, I originally wrote the concept in 2005.  After that, I was getting close over and over again, but not selling.  But when the market came back around to darker psychological suspense and my agent asked if I had something like that we could pitch, I pulled it out, re-read it and then set it aside.  I re-wrote the whole thing (because my writing had come a long way since then), but I did have the plot and character basics already worked out.  That book sold, along with an unwritten sequel.  A week and a half later, three more unwritten books in a different genre also sold.  Why?

Because I refused to give up.

Critically acclaimed author ELIZABETH HEITER likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range.

To learn more about Elizabeth Heiter’s newest book, click on the cover below:

Previously in The Tough Times (And How I Wrote Through Them):

Writing Against Deadlines, by Rob Brunet

Facing Your Personal “issues” and “Issues,” by Shannon Kirk

Shutting Down Places Like Eliot Ness, by J.J. Hensley

On Time Management, by Mark Pryor