Friday, July 05, 2013

In the Beginning...

Hi Hope,
I'd be interested in hearing about before you were published and any challenges or failures you may have encountered at that point of your writing journey.  Like-- how did you navigate those rough waters?  Did you ever think of giving up? You are hugely successful now, but what was the road like that got you there?  Might be an interesting topic for your newsletter, as many of us readers are in the "struggling" category and could relate.


~Sarah

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Oh WOW. When I received this, I sat back in my chair, marveling. Rather than protest about the validity or realization about my "fame," I decided to answer her questions as written, thinking that my challenges might help her see that the uphill battle can be uplifting as well.

First, the challenges never go away. They just change what they look like. In the beginning, I struggled to write any story with a beginning, middle and ending that didn't slump a third of the way in. Then I struggled to find a voice. That process took, like, forever. As a shy writer, I feared putting material out there that wasn't any good, but the pressure to publish was fierce, so of course I learned that through...failure.

FAILURE: I jumped too soon and produced a self-pubbed book . . . through AuthorHouse, no less. And almost as soon as it was out, I regretted it. I immediately recognized its shortcomings, and my premature urge to hold a book in my hands. I worked hard to banish it from the planet. It's not to easy to obtain these days, thank goodness.

There was the struggle to find magazine markets to earn some money while I struggled with the books. I got crazy trying to write "what I know" to every editor with an email address or post office box.

FAILURE: I pitched feature stories to two competing magazines, on the same topic, but written differently from different angles. Both magazines took my pitches. And unfortunately, both articles came out in the same
month. One particular editor was NOT happy with me . . . for several years.

Platform wasn't a buzzword when I started out. Branding was the term. To me, it was about getting published enough times online and in print to get noticed. I created a website and a newsletter.

FAILURE: I used a free service to deliver my newsletters and learned you get what you pay for when the newsletters couldn't be delivered reliably. I used a free service for my website then learned that with FREE comes restrictions.

Other lessons I learned along the way:

1) Marketing takes at least 25% of your "writing" time or nobody ever hears of you, much less remembers you.

2) Social networking is a Godsend in terms of name recognition . . .assuming you work it and don't let it work you.

3) Don't work so hard to repurpose articles. In the time it takes for you to "disguise" it for another publisher, you could have written a new one and literally sounded fresher.

4) The more you try to be like others, the less you are yourself. Editors, publishers and agents want something and someone new.

5) I have to write ten times as many words as I keep. And of those, I'll probably sell ten percent. I accept the fact I have to write a lot of words that will never see the light of day, in order to learn how to write better.

6) Because I wrote something doesn't mean it has to be published.

7) About the time I think I don't need help writing better is when I need the most help.

Note the frequent use of the word STRUGGLING.

Change never stops.
We never arrive.
We can't rest on laurels.

We operate in a profession that's fickle and ever-changing. And humility is one of the best tools we can include in our writer's toolbox, because trust me, you'll need to use it often.

6 comments:

Sioux said...

"We never arrive." That is something perhaps I'll spray-paint on the wall of my "office."

Yes, I embrace humility and its zany second cousin, self-deprecating humor. If I can make a joke first about the rejection email I got THE DAY AFTER I submitted a piece (it sucked that badly, apparently), then everyone can laugh with me.

Hope Clark said...

Yep - gotta laugh and roll with the punches...and learn from it all.

Sean McLachlan said...

"Because I wrote something doesn't mean it has to be published."

If only some of the indie publishers would take this to heart. There are a lot of great indie books these days, but they are being drowned in a sea of mediocre first drafts and adolescent experiments.

Hope Clark said...

Yep, you're so right, Sean. Patience is a huge virtue in this business.

Jordan Clary said...

I loved this post! It's so reassuring to read someone who is honest about making mistakes, yet still keeps going and is able to laugh about them as well. Thank you.

Hope Clark said...

We all make mistakes and learn from them. Why not let others know as well? We're human and always in search of a better way. Stumbling is the best way to learn. Thanks for your comment, Jordan.