Writers, Publishing Professionals, and Other Humans: How to Get the Job Done

Last night I attended an event at Wix Lounge, hosted by the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, The Making of a Young Adult Bestseller: From Acquisition to Reader. The panel was stellar, including Susan Katz (President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books), Joy Peskin (Editorial Director, Farrar Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers), literary agent Jenny Bent (The Bent Agency), Marisa Russell (Publicity Manager, Penguin Young Readers Group), and the inimitable YA/MG author Hannah Moskowitz, all moderated by rock star librarian and blogger, Betsy Bird (I’m a total fangirl; I can’t help gushing!).

So, just to set the record straight, they did not answer the how-to question or hand out an algorithmic rulebook for writing a blockbuster YA bestseller. What there was though, was some smart and interesting discussion,  appropriate for both publishing professionals as well as writers. And as with most WNBA-NYC events, it was a great opportunity to meet other people in the industry, engage in intelligent discourse about books, and of course eat cheese and crackers. (So that’s called networking, by the way…)

Now I learned a couple of things about the publishing process, I was entertained, and I made some nice contacts. All good. But for me, the takeaway lesson was about something that anyone, trying to achieve anything, might do well to think about. After the panel, I introduced myself to Jenny Bent and we spoke a bit about agenting. She couldn’t have been kinder and more encouraging to me, still a newish agent. But one thing in particular about our conversation has stuck with me. She said, “People who persevere, succeed.” (That’s how I remember it, anyway…) But yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you for reminding me of that, Jenny! It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, if you quit something then what are your chances of succeeding at it? That’s right: zero. She also told me that having self-doubt may never stop, that she still has self-doubt, but that it shouldn’t actually influence my actions. Holy moly. Jenny Bent still experiences self-doubt?! Ok. I’ll get over myself. I guess I’m in good company!

Then, later in the evening (yes, we were up to the cocktails and yummy food part) Hannah Moskowitz said the most brilliant thing. (Yes you did, Hannah!) We were talking about publishing, ebooks, getting/keeping an agent, the submission process, etc…Now this is what I think she said, not necessarily what she actually said. It was something like, “If your manuscript isn’t selling, write another one.” Write another one! Now please people, pay close attention here. Hannah is 21 years old. She’s copped to writing about 15-20 novels in her life. She’s had 6 accepted for publication so far. There are 4 in bookstores already and another 2 in the tubes. Did you hear me?! SIX NOVELS. 21 YEARS OLD. Is Hannah a prodigy? Perhaps. But what she also is is tenacious, indefatigable, incredibly upbeat, and a poster girl for the word persevere. (Not that this is relevant, but she has nice teeth, too.)

Ok. So takeaway for the evening: keep at it. If you’re a writer, keep writing. Write another manuscript. And then another. And then after that, another. If you’re trying to get into publishing, keep trying. Try something new. Try something old. But keep trying. When you stop trying your chances for success will drop off considerably.

Do you give up?

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “Writers, Publishing Professionals, and Other Humans: How to Get the Job Done

  1. I get frustrated often but I never give up, ive been wriring since I was little and I love it! However as someone who is recently started the process of trying to get published sometimes I take breaks from writing in order to give myself time to breath and think of fresh ideas. But the best thing that works for me is to have at least two manuscripts I’m working on at a time so when I’m frustrated with one, I can move on to the other. It works most times :)

  2. Quitting is relative. I’ve passively quit writing fiction many times, only to find that what I’ve really done is take breaks, some long and extended-in the years long category, some a few days or months. I’m lucky I have other professional writing gigs of the non-fiction type that keep my writing chops (relatively) activated. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have the fiction writing bug. Often it’s like an endless slog up peaks and crashing descents to the valleys below. Damn, my life would be so much simpler on one even prairie! But maybe…boring?

  3. Hannah Moskowitz

    thank you, m’dear! those teeth were EXPENSIVE.
    :) <3

  4. I give up all the time, and the older I get, the more I see my own limitations. But I also have a default setting that is stuck on stubborn optimism — and a compulsion to use words to try and make sense of the world. Those keep me going, along with the fellowship and encouragement I get from other writers.

  5. The poet Molly Peacock had a similar effect on me when she said “In a world where talent is common, persistance is synonymous with success”

  6. Self-doubt is my middle name. I am most definitely my own worst critic, but I’m also very stubborn so when I hear no, I say fine. I’ll just write something else they can’t say no to! :)

  7. So not quitting in a broader sense may mean quitting on a novel. Maybe we harbor too much fear in letting go of those practice novels for fear they are our only good idea.

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  9. Linda, what a fun panel and it was lovely to meet you! Thanks for sharing this.

  10. Yes! Excellent advice! Thank you!

  11. Liz deBeer

    Great advice. Thanks.

  12. From the list of the people on the panel, I only follow Jenny Bent … reading her blog and some of her tweets. And she seems to be very nice and does well. The cover for her client’s book THE SPLINTERED is a beautiful work of art. It’s very easy for both newish authors and agent to give up, odds of success staked against them. I’m not sure that the advice of writing another manuscript and another one, if the author can’t sell at least one of her/his previous manuscripts, is wise. Best wishes to you and all those who left a comment.

  13. Rhona

    “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” I think it’s a Frederick Forsyth quote, but it is true no matter who said it first.

    It’s like all those ‘overnight success’ stories that had 10 or more years of hard graft before them.

  14. Ah, man! What a great event. Now that I’ve attended my first SCBWI event, I’ll have to branch out and check out WNBA!

    On the topic of giving up: no, I’ve not once considered giving up. But that may be my past talking–in product development, approximately one million ideas end up in the trash can before a product hits the shelves. I was super-thrilled to have a 25% success rate. That’s damn good in consumer design.

    So, for writing, that means writing one good novel for every 3 craptastic ones. And I’ll take those odds. Because I can’t produce my own products if I want to–you have to have serious start-up capital to succeed. You just do. But words are free. And so I write the “hell out of them,” as a wise agent once advised me to do.

    While my previous MS lives on, and who knows, maybe the agents who are reading it now will love it, the new one makes me happier than happy. Because it’s new. So I feel new. And that’s the best feeling.

    Write on, writers!

  15. I think about giving up a lot. Sometimes I even think about it very seriously. One of the things that keeps me from doing it is that the thought of giving up is much, much scarier than the thought of keeping on trying. And I guess I’m just not that brave.

  16. I definitely don’t give up! Well maybe for a day or two. But I keep trying to go back. My first novel is being rewritten, and it’s depressing that it’s taking so long to get it into a shape that I think is okay. Still, I just finished a second one– and I feel like that first draft is probably better than my first first draft. So by the time I write my third, it should be brilliant (maybe not, but I am definitely recognizing improvement and growth, and hopefully someday that’ll get me to the point where I can have an awesome agent + book deal).

  17. R.L. Saunders

    I give up every day. But then I have a pot or two of coffee and get people out of my house and remember that quitting isn’t really an option, since writing is the thing at which I suck least.

    Speaking of sucking, have I sucked up yet today? Well, either way, I also keep at it because I remember how lucky I am to have you in my corner. You have incredible talent and work ethic and passion for this tough business. Really, thank you.

  18. I know how to persevere. A newspaper editor pointed that out when I was a teenager and kept asking him for a job, which he finally gave me. I never quit but while forging ahead with fiction I also try to remind myself that if I haven’t succeeded yet, there’s something else I must need to learn. And I keep looking for good learning and networking opportunities like you found in that wonderful event.

  19. Judy R

    Thanks, I needed that! :)

  20. Good advice. Self doubt is a constant companion, but I like writing too much to give up. And I’ve got this annoying large stack of future novels in my head that want to get written.