Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pearls of Wisdom

Why Aren't You Published Yet?
by Tami Brothers

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard this phrase. Five simple words that are equivalent to nails on a chalk board for me. Yet, when someone asks, I smile and try to block out the image of the villain rubbing his hands together in glee with this newest reminder that I am a total looser. Now, I know this is just silly talk and I don’t actually think of myself as a looser. But I have to admit to the blinding frustration that swamps me with each rejection and each new year that passes without any appearance of moving forward.

Six years have come and gone since I started writing, five year since I joined GRW. In the beginning I had huge plans. When I became published, I would like to do… After I am published, I will do… The phrases are numerous. As a wide eyed innocent in the publishing world, I assumed it was normal to receive a call from the first agent I sent my writing to. But after three years of highs and lows, I was back to square one with nothing published and no agent.

Today when I attend a monthly GRW meeting, I look around at all the new faces and wonder where the old ones went. There are quite a few friends who made the leap to the other side of the publishing fence. They are the carrot dangling at the end of the stick that keeps me sitting at my computer. I do see a few die-hard souls (like myself) who are still trudging along waiting for that “golden ticket.” Many of them are blessed with witty ideas and perfect grammar. Yet they’re still in the same position as I am. So why aren’t we published? And after being slapped down so often, why do we continue to put ourselves out there?

The answers to these questions differ for everyone. For me, the desire to write far outweighs the multiple rounds of getting kicked in the head. Like most addictions, the writing bug has me by the throat and will not retract its claws. When I walk away from the computer, my mind is bombarded with images, characters and story lines. If I didn’t write them down, I’m quite positive I’d go mad.

To keep myself outside the doors of the nut house and to keep myself motivated, I’ve had to result to some very inventive tactics as I try to work a few moments of writing time into my crazy everyday schedule. Here are just a couple of those tactics.

  • Blogging. This has turned into one of my biggest salvations, as well as a constant writing exercise. With my personal blog, I have certain posts set for each day of the week. If I miss one, then I feel like I’m letting down my “readers.” With this group blog, I have a scheduled day once a month and a daily theme idea that I have to come up with. Both blogs have a deadline and I feel learning to stay on these deadlines will be a huge benefit for when I am writing for an agent or editor in the future.
  • Staying active in my writing chapter. I’ll be the first to admit that I have overdone this a bit the last few years. Yet when I’m being active on the board, writing an article for the Galley, confirming registrations for the conference or giving a review for one of my PAL’s, I am constantly reminded of what I’m striving to be. A writer. These activities keep this idea fresh in my mind.
  • Reading. Any time I pick up a book and read through to the end, I’m reminded of what I have accomplished with the five manuscripts I’ve completed. I know how it feels to make the characters come alive and do whatever my imagination wants them to do. I feel that euphoric sense of accomplishment when I read that last page and am reminded of typing those two little words we love to type. The End.

These are just a few of the motivators I use every day. I’m sure everyone has a different perspective on what keeps them going. One writer’s list will be completely different from another writer. Whatever your carrot happens to be, encourage it. Embrace it. Feed off of it. Let it remind you of why you got into this masochists way of life in the first place. For some other neat ideas, check out this article by James Scott Bell on 10 Disciplines for Fiction Writers.

Okay, enough doom and gloom. If you are a writer, I’d love to hear what encourages you to keep at it. I’m sure all of us could benefit from the different tactics.

If you are a reader, I’d love to hear what you think about all this drama we create as we work towards creating the books you like to read.

And the next time someone asks “Why aren’t you published yet;” instead of biting their head off, turn this experience into a motivator and use the frustration to write a few more pages on your manuscript. Ignore that villian and maybe these words will be the added boost you need to reach that carrot and find yourself on the greener side of the fence.


Dianna Love said...

Hi Tami -

I know you were talking to those other than me, but this is a topic that is dear to my heart and why I spend as much time as possible helping other not-yet-published writers. I'm always saying it's so much harder to write everyday and polish a book when you don't have a contract for it yet. I admire everyone who does that - especially around family, work and what little social life they manage.

In our Golden Heart group (for those who don't know - an unpublished group that comes together because of a major contest), we had one person who had written ten years. She won her category but they passed on the book. She was ready to throw in the towel, because she figured that was the best she'd write. But everyone in our group rallied around her to not quit. Six months later she sold to the same house that had passed on the book because a different editor read it in another contest.

So - one big key is to do exactly what you're doing here. Build a network of writing friends who are gutting it out with you, support each other and keep pushing. All my critique partners were unpublished when I started and the majority is now published.

Just ignore the people who say "when are you going to get published" (if it's a jab - they are jealous that you're going after your dream). If they are friends or family tell them you'd rather be asked "how is your writing coming?"

Cinthia Hamer said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who suffers from others asking that question!

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but for me, it's very often followed by "why don't you just publish it yourself?" I grit my teeth, forcibly prevent my eyeballs from rolling back into my skull and just explain that it's not so simple as they think. It's become a mental script I recite automatically.

I've been tempted a few times to just quit. I went so far as to leave GRW and RWA a couple times. But the entire time, I had a gigantic hole inside me yearning to be filled. I couldn't NOT come back.

Putting it simply, I write because I must. Even if there were no RWA, no GRW and no publishing houses, these stories that spill from my imagination like water from an artesian well would still flow onto the page.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Dianna,

Wonderful advice!!! This is exactly the kind of camaraderie we are working on here at PFHT and exactly what I was hoping to find. My biggest roadblocks are the lows after a rejection. No matter how often I tell myself it’s just another rung on the ladder, I usually spend more time wallowing in it then I would like. I love the story about the Golden Heart winner selling her manuscript to the same house after they initially turned it down. Very encouraging…

I should have mentioned in my post that a lot of the people who ask why I’m not published yet are well meaning. Many are family members who have no idea the work that goes into trying to get published. In fact, I’ve asked this same question of some of my fellow writers. I shouldn’t, but it’s very hard not to when a person looks like they have it all going for them. In fact, I’m actually intimidated by the fact that some of the people aren’t published yet. I often times wonder “if they aren’t getting published, then how do I think I ever will be.” I know. I know. Major blob of self doubt here, but the longer we go the harder it is to swat them away.

I wrote this post after talking to a fellow GRW member who is so frustrated right now that she just wants to give it all up. I’ve seen far to many people come and go over the 5 years I’ve been a member of GRW and it seems like those who persevere end up finding that “golden ticket” in the end, if only they keep at it. I hope some of what I’ve said might encourage others who get into these little funks and that some of your comments might help as well.

Thanks, Dianna, for taking away from your very busy schedule to pop in here every once in a while. We LOVE having your encouragement and friendship.


Debbie Kaufman said...

I know that all of us "unpubbed" get a little tired of that question. Even at GRW meetings, we use a variation of this question, leaving off the "yet." However, the difference there is that when our any of our members hear that answer, so many are ready to help, encourage, and cheer you on when they learn that the answer is "no." Without the support, it would be so much more difficult.

Chicki said...


This entry came at the perfect time for me. Just the other day I told my husband this is the last year I will try to get published.

I've been a member of GRW for two years, but have been writing for nine years and submitting for seven.

Since the RWA contest route doesn't work for American-American romance writers, I have concentrated on consistently submitting to agents and editors.

Thank you for the encouragement!

Dianna Love said...

Thanks Tami. I love stopping by here when I can. When you don't see me pop in it's usually because I'm doing something all day like a workshop and can't get to a computer.

Publishing is a worthy goal, but one that will suck the creative joy from writing a lot of days. There will always be a need for stories and there will always be a need for better stories, so working on your craft and writing something that makes you happy is the best thing you can do. You can't blame yourself - which is what happens when we get discouraged - if you don't sell by a certain point because someone else is in charge of handing out the ticket to NY. Those people change all the time, the key is to be ready for your opportunity when it comes along, but don't lose the joy of writing. If you do, instead of making a major decision to "quit" consider giving yourself a 3 month vacation from it. You'll either leave it behind with less angst or return to writing because you love it and miss it.

If you continue and are fortunate enough to have a circle of writing friends, you'll always have the support you need to continue.

Marilyn Baron said...

Great Post, Tami, and Dianna, thanks for stopping by and giving us your advice. Tami, your post was inspirational and Dianna is an inspiration to all of us.

I seem to recall that a lot of famous writers were on the verge of giving up right before they made it. Many of them had scores of rejections before someone took a chance on them. So Chicki, hang in there.

Trying to get published is frustrating, but then you attend GRW meetings and listen to the success stories of our published authors and most of them have been where we are.

Tami's advice about reading is good. But that can be frustrating, too. You read a book and think, I could have written that. Then you read another book and think, I could never write like that. But it's the great books that make you want to achieve your dream. You want to write a book that provides that same "satisfying read" experience. Or you write because you have to.

I'm stubborn so I won't give up. But being a part of this blog, editing The Galley, my involvement in Georgia Romance Writers and the writing itself is keeping me going. And the encouragement and generosity of the published authors in GRW and the friendship and support of all the members.

The advice of most published authors I've met is to KEEP WRITING and don't give up.

Marilyn Baron

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Cinthia. You are definitely not the only one. Trust me on this. It is nice to have that confirmation, though…grin… I highly encourage you to keep at it. From being on both ends, I know how easy it is to give the encouragement but how hard it is to take it. Sometimes you feel like you are one of many on an island and someone is magically rescuing only a few. You just wish your chance at rescue would come and soon! BUT I love your comment about if there were no RWA, no GRW and no publishing houses, you would write anyway. This is definitely something I should focus more on…

Hi Debbie. I agree that we are good at the giving our support. I honestly wouldn’t have kept at it this long without GRW. In one ear I have family and friends who suggest looking into a new dream or hobby. In the other, I have my fellow writers who know how hard this journey is. Without this support network, there is NO way I could have gotten as far as I have. I thank you all for that!!!

Hi Chici. I am so glad I could help. I know the place you are coming from. I highly encourage you to keep coming to the GRW meetings, though. Even if you feel that RWA doesn’t have some of the routes you are aiming for. I have to tell you that it wasn’t until year three that I began “fitting in” and that wasn’t until I started volunteering for some smaller roles in GRW. It was then that I began making friends who asked me to sit at their tables or included me in conversations that held some real knowledge in some areas I was working towards. If you aren’t already doing this, I HIGHLY recommend it. And this is coming from a person who was too shy to do anything but smile at my first couple of meetings. Seriously, I barely said a word (even when someone tried to talk to me…).

Hey Dianna. I can totally see where you are coming from with it totally sucking the “creative joy” out of everything. All I can say is THANK YOU for pointing out that New York is changing as much as we are. That really helps to keep this in perspective. AND I wanted to tell you that you have everyone buzzing about your workshop this weekend. I can’t wait for your book, Break Into Fiction, to be released. I will definitely be standing in line to pick it up.... http://www.breakintofiction.com/

Hey Marilyn. Thanks a ton for you words of encouragement. I agree that trying to get published is frustrating and I also believe that attending the GRW meetings has been a huge benefit. Not only does it help you interact with others who are in the same place as you, but it REALLY helps to hear those success stories. And thanks a ton, Marilyn, for all you do. You and Elaine do an awesome job with the Galley. I know how much works goes into that and I hope you know how much we appreciate it.

Cinthia Hamer said...

JPerry and I were chatting about this topic and came to the conclusion that when the question is asked by another writer or someone who's read your work, it seems to question the wisdom of the agents and editors we've submitted to.

But when asked by family, coworkers and friends who are not writers, who have not read the work, it comes off as more of an insult. As though they question the quality of your work or even your talent as a writer.

You have to look at the context.

Carol Burnside said...

Your post really resonated with me, Tami.

Most of you know my situation. After moving to Maryland, I'm just beginning to get back into the groove of writing. I wrote nothing of note for three months. It's difficult keeping my butt at my desk and the doubts are plentiful, but this blog group is helping in the same ways you mentioned, especially with the demand of a schedule and encouragement. Thanks for being here, all of you!

Carol Burnside said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention... instead of "Why aren't you published yet?" I get "I'm still waiting to hear about your book so I can read it."

I know they're trying to be encouraging, but it comes off the same way to me, like a "Hurry up already, will ya?" Grrrr!

J Perry Stone said...

Extremely important topic, Tami.

What seems to be working for me is that I've decided to look at this question more as a reinforcement than an insult (as my darling CP, Cindy, already said).

I've decided to translate, "why aren't you published yet" to "you who are worthy of it ... why haven't you met with a measure of success yet?"

If I look at the inquiry through the latter lens, I don't have any choice but to answer that question with continued effort.

Continued effort. That's the crux of it all.

And maybe I'm delusional, but so what. I've actually gotten to a place where I honestly believe it's just a matter of time. What's more, the fear of "WHEN will I be published?" has significantly less paralyzing power than "WILL I be published?"

Getting your mind under control is more than half the battle, I think ... and then comes the confidence to get it done, get it done to the best of your ability and to do so with your individual flare.

The other thing that keeps me at this is that I continuously see myself as a student with room to improve. When I sit down at a critique, or when get my WIP back from the Maggie judges, before I open the envelope I think, "If my whole purpose is to be a good writer then I must be open to learning. To change."

I'm getting better and better.

And the last thing is I refuse to compare myself to anyone but the me who came before.

Already I'm a success.

J Perry Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J Perry Stone said...

Okay, admission time:

While I'm generally pretty positive about the writing process, I freely admit to being scared witless of the submission process.

I'm starting to do it anyway.

Cyrano said...

Thank you, thank you for this post. I, myself, feel like it was needed.
In my own world, I am the Queen of self doubt. I don't want to be queen. I don't even want to be duchess. My insecurities stifle my ability to write nearly every second of the day. The insignifigant section of my brain responsible for confidence battles the insecure remainder in an effort to sit down at the computer and tell my tales. The war rages daily because I'm sure what I write is going to be crap.
I would love to be able to give everyone my strategies for defeating self doubt. But I have none. I'm not sure what made me this way, but I sure would love to pin point the culprit.
I love writing. I love telling stories and most of all creating characters I can fall in love with. I hate worrying if I'm good enough, worrying if I'll be rejected, worrying if I'll ever be published. Unfortunately the worrying usually wins. Uggg! It's so frustrating.
I will tell you this, however, my blog sisters help me everyday. Whether they know it or not their words of encouragement and wisdom give me the strength to keep battling self doubt. And I do believe that one day I'll actually defeat it. If not for you all and my wonderful critique partners, I might have given up years ago. And that would have been a shame. I am proud to call myself a member of this group.
Thank you again Tami.
Have a wonderful day everyone,

Tami Brothers said...

Hi Cinthia. I do agree. When it is asked by another writer, they do understand where you are coming from. From family and friends, I think it feels more insulting because these are people you “expect” to understand where you and your dreams. Of course, we shouldn’t judge them for not understanding. Unless they’ve wanted something this badly, they really wouldn’t understand the burning desire that seems so obvious to us… Great point.

Hey Carol. I feel for you. I know how badly the conflict is to want to get some paint on the walls, yet on the other hand you want to get those characters bickering in your head onto paper. For me, if I don’t actually write something, then I start laying the guilt trip on myself. No one else has to do it for me…grin… Funny story, my dentist’s assistant just asked me a similar question, “When’s your book coming out? I’ve been waiting to read it.” Who knew how much they actually understand when we talk with their fingers in our mouth…

Hey JP. I like that you are a “glass is half full” kind of girl, even if you do have your confessed moments of being scared witless about the submission process. I think that’s pretty cool. We need more people in this world with this kind of attitude and POV. I also LOVE your “student with room to improve” comment. I might even have to type that up and put it above my computer.

Hi Tamara. I totally knew you’d understand this. I remember talking to you almost a year ago. You asked me how my writing was going and I mentioned that I was in a funk and just couldn’t get any words to flow. I remember you saying you felt pretty much the same way. It was then that I actually realized how many of us actually have these funky blue feelings. Some are just better at hiding it than others. Like JP, I think of you as a very positive person who others love to be around. You have that personality that people wish could be bottled and sold. Just from the comments and kudos today, I feel a lot better about where I’m at. I think I might actually copy all these comments into a word document and print them out as a reminder during some of those down times that I’m not the only one with doubts and fears.


Chicki said...

I'm hanging, Marilyn!

Tami, I absolutely love GRW and look forward to our monthly meetings. Since joining I've learned so much about the craft and met a lot of great people.

Hopefully this year I'll have the money to attend M&M. Even if I don't, I will be submitting to the Maggies this time.

Anonymous said...


I've been writing for over 8 years and submitting for 7 1/2. (I thought my first efforts were so good that I immediately submitted them and wondered why no one snapped them right up) Guess you could say that I don't have the doubt issues, but actually it also includes the fact that I am VERY stubborn. I can't quit. I have to write.

This year when I got THE CALL, the questions changed. Now I'm asked if I've published and then I'm asked...You've only sold one? And you've been writing for 8 years?

So, have pity on them for their ignorence of our struggles and tell yourself that each day, each time you write another chapter, you're one step closer to publishing. The rest of your life starts with your next step and your professional (published) writing career starts with the next hundred words written or the next chapter.

Just never forget: We're in this together and together we will all cross the finish line of the race...providing we don't give up.


J Perry Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J Perry Stone said...

You know what should be bottled and sold? People with personalities that naturally acknowledge everyone, and make them feel entirely special.

Like you have, Tami.

Linsey Lanier said...

Tami, this is a very thoughtful post that has obviously hit home with many of us. It did for me. Thanks for baring your soul.

Love that picture at the top. Another comment I sometimes get is, "You should get an agent." I just smile.

And thank you so much, Dianna for your support and encouragement. That Golden Heart story was uplifting.

Marilyn's comment made me realize it's the "satisfying read" that I'm after in my writing. Trying to achieve it is what keeps me going. And the support of all my friends at PFHT and GRW.

I wrote several books a number of years ago and gave up when I couldn't get published. I was not a member of RWA or GRW back then. If only I had been, I often think, I wouldn't have quit and maybe I could be published now. So I think Dianna's advice about a three month hiatus instead of quitting permanently is a really good idea.

I think I'm going to save this post and all the comments, too.

One more thought. Don't you hate it when they call it your "hobby"? This is my passion. This is art. Not needlepoint.


Tami Brothers said...

Hey Chici. I can totally relate about loving GRW. I came from a small town in Wyoming where I had to drive 4 ½ hours to Denver if I wanted to attend a writers meeting. It was very easy to brush the whole thing off and say it wasn’t important. I still live 2 hours and some change away but I like how inspired I get after each meeting. Honestly, that is the addictive part. If you can find a way to budget M&M, I highly recommend it. My first M&M conference I came away so energized that I wrote 6 chapters within a week on my manuscript. I finished the whole thing within a month. I can’t express how much I learned or how fun it was. It’s definitely at the top of my “to do” list.

Hi Sandy. I LOVE your story. I remember the first time I met you. You came to that first meeting with a huge smile and introduced yourself to everyone. I am so excited about the sale of your book. I love the story behind it and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the others. I also think it’s hilarious that you go from one set of questions to another as you move up that ladder… Thanks a bunch for sharing this story with us. And I’m almost certain that this group won’t let anyone give up.

JP, you are so sweet. I totally appreciate that. You made my day!!! Thank you.

Hi Linsey. I do love these LOL Cat pictures. I’m not even a cat person (even though my son’s cat won’t stay off my lap when I’m sitting at the computer…). I’ve heard that agent question a few times over the past few years. It’s funny how easy it sounds, yet the obstacles in our way tend to get taller and taller the closer we get. I’m glad you didn’t give it up completely. I love to read your posts and one of the things I’ve learned about you is that you are a great cheerleader. I LOVE the “hobby” comment. Heard that one too many times too!!!


Mary Marvella said...

Excellent post Tami, I've been around since 1991 and am still trying to do things the hard way. Most rejections say a version of "Your writing doesn't suck but." I have to tell my stories!

I'm either a slow learner or VERY stubborn!

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

I won't mention how long I've been writing, but we used charcoal on rock back then. I find the hardest part is to have to answer those questions about why you haven't sold anything. Several years ago I let life and the disappointment of rejection drive me away from writing. However, it was always there at the back of my mind, the need to write, to tell my stories, to put the words on the page. So, I came back. Back to writing, back to GRW, back to RWA and back to the friends who have always been so dear and supportive. I'm very glad that I did. I missed all my friends!


Tami Brothers said...

Hey Mary. Thank you for stopping by and visiting us from The Fuzzy Slipper Writers. We always love having you here. And I'm thrilled you kept at it. You are a generous person and I know Karma is looking out for you!!!

Hey Scarlet. I'm glad you came back to RWA and GRW. We all missed you as well. I may not have known you before, but it's always nice when we see old friends return... Stop me at one of the meetings and say hi!


Maxine Davis said...

Tami, (was out of town so my comment is late.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne said it best: Easy reading is damn hard writing.

People who ask about publishing should pause for a moment and remember the crumpled pages that were thrown away in English class trying to write that 5-page essay.

It's hard to say I haven't been published. I think that is why I kept it a secret for so long (and still not many know) that I am a writer. The few that do know are wonderful. I get so much encouragement. Oh, I feel quite certain there are some that secretly think I do not have what it takes. I’m not a ‘told you so’ person, but I think one day I can give them an autographed book!

I don’t think “starving artists” have a thing on unpublished authors. We do what we love.
So for many writers, it is: "I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die." - Isaac Asimov


Nicki Salcedo said...

I'm not published yet, because I'm that cat sleeping on your keyboard!

Maybe the answer is "I'm trying to right a really good book." :)

What I try to do is take my writing both very seriously and not too seriously at the same time. Ask me again in a year if its worked out for me!

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Maxine. Better late than never. I hope you had a great week... I know what you mean about not telling people you are a writer. I didn't for the longest time and there are times when I wish Ihad not. It would be so much easier than having to explain why I'm not published yet...grin.... You're doing great and I'm happy you "came out of the closet" and joined our wonderful group!!!

Hi Nicki. How are the eyes??? Or is that Friday? Either way, I hope you are feeling great.... I too am that cat most of the time. I really need to make my writing more of a priority and let the chips lay where they fall. I will definitely be asking you again in a year. Ask me, too!!!