Monday, March 24, 2008

Buckle Up ... It's Going to be a Bumpy Ride!

“Come in and make yourself comfortable.”

I blinked. Comfortable? With sweat on my palms and an eye twitching to the beat of my pulse?? Dear God, why had I switched deodorants???

She closed the door with an ominous click and extended her hand. “I’m Zsa Zsa Gabor (name changed to protect the innocent), Acquisitions Editor for Steeple Mountain.
And you are …”

A basket case … on her first conference pitch ever. I swallowed hard. “Lessman, Julie Lessman.

She nodded and settled in on a worn paisley couch with all the grace and dignity of a queen on her throne. “Tell me about your manuscript,” she said.

I sucked in a deep breath, genuflected in my mind, and let it fly … “Well, you see, it’s a story about an Irish-Catholic family in pre-World War I …”

She extended her hand in the air, palm facing me, and for a moment I thought she was going to do the princess wave. The air fused in my throat when I realized she was halting my spiel. “I’m sorry, we can’t have Catholicism in our stories …”

And there you have it. My maiden pitch to an editor … a glorious seven seconds long! I went back to my hotel room and did what I’d been doing all conference long—cried my heart out and wanted to quit. God help me, the room maid had to think I was pilfering Kleenex!

Nobody ever told me what a bumpy ride it would be on the road to publication. No one ever mentioned that it’s truly an exercise in humility and perseverance that few have the stomach for. That it takes a unique individual to even try. All you know at the time is that you have this story burning a hole in your heart and you want to get it out. You want to pour your passion—for God and for writing—onto paper and … well, yeah, get paid for it.

So you buckle up and grit your teeth, and keep your eyes riveted to the road as you embark on a journey that has more pit stops (as in “in the pits”) than the Indy 500. And, regrettably, the bumpy ride doesn’t end when you are finally published, at least not for me. But with God’s voice on my GPS (“Turn right at the next 1-star review and pray till you get to Forgiveness Lane …”), you plot out a route for publication that hopefully won’t have you driving in circles.

Over the last few months, I have had a number of new writers ask me what advice I can give them as far as traveling the road to publication. The only thing I have to offer is the road map that worked for me, which I have outlined below. But I invite the other Seeker authors (or any authors who read this blog) to chime in regarding their own personal path to print. Let's share the wealth of tips for the many excellent writers out there just waiting for that one, wonderful green light...

Mile Mark1er #1: Get connected. This is the FIRST piece of advice I ever received, and it’s some of the best. I joined RWA, ACFW and FHL and trolled their Web sites for “travel tips” on my way to publication. I joined an ACFW crit group and made wonderful friends and partners in writing. I networked with fellow writers, whether on a blog post or in crit groups or book clubs or at conferences. And I was blessed enough to fall in to this wonderful group of talented ladies called The Seekers, and the blessings have been phenomenal! Not only do you acquire AMAZING friends, but you interact with fellow writers and are able to draw upon their wealth of talent, humor, support, expertise and publishing savvy.

Mile Marker #2: Improve your craft. I took a fiction-writing class at my community college, then attended several writing seminars and conferences. I also purchased tons of writing and self-editing books and studied them like crazy. Books such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King or Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas and The Synonym Finder by Rodale Press (my writer’s bible!!) have proved invaluable. I submitted my work to my crit partners, entered contests for feedback, purchased paid critiques at conference—all of which helped me to grow as a writer.

Mile Marker #3: Enter contests. As far as testing the waters of publication, I think contests are absolutely essential. They helped me to obtain insightful feedback, some name recognition, WONDERFUL friends and toughened me up a lot … which, trust me, comes in handy when you get 1-star reviews!!

Mile Marker #4: Go for an agent first, publisher second. I spent two years and about 31 rejections on unagented queries to publishers, some of which took as long as three years to reply. In fact, within six months of signing with my agent, I sold to a publisher who STILL had an unagented proposal (requested from me at a conference) lost somewhere in their very deep slush pile!

Mile Marker #5: Pray your guts out and stand on Scripture. This is pretty much the most important step, in my humble opinion, so I have a habit of posting “billboard” Scriptures that help me along the way. Here’s a listing that I put together, along with prayers for each. Pick one or two to tape to your computer or print the whole list off and keep it in your Bible. Either way, I hope they fortify you as much as they fortify me. And I wish each of you much success and a safe journey on the road less traveled!

Psalm 90:17
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us –
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Oh, God, pour out your favor as we send proposals,
enter contests, submit stories to magazines, etc. and grant us favor and success
in all we set our hand to. Establish the work of our hands
so that we may honor You.

Psalm 45:1
My tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.

Father, pour out Your grace and wisdom
as we strive to honor You with the gift you have given us.
Let our tongues, our hearts, and our minds be the pens of a skillful writer,
and let our words always be worthy of You.

Matthew 6:21
For where your treasure is, there your
heart will be also.

Dear Lord, Let our treasure not
be in getting published or the plot of our next book,
but let it be first and foremost in You,
the true joy of our heart.

Psalm 119:116
Sustain me according to your promise,
and I will live. Do not let my hopes be dashed.

Thank you, Oh Lord, that hope does
not disappoint. And thank you, Oh God, that You
are the God of Hope. This day and always,
I rest my hopes in You,
for I know you watch over both them
and me ... to bear fruit.

Psalm 143:10
Teach me to do Your will,
for You are my God; may Your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

As we strive to do Your will, Oh Lord,
keep us steady and strong, humble on the heights
and lifted up in the valleys. But wherever the
path of our life shall take us,
keep our faith, always, on level ground.

Psalm 71:14
But as for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise You more and more.

Dear Lord, as we press on to become the writers
you want us to be, fill us to overflowing with Your hope.
And may our lips never cease their joyful
song of praise to You,
our God.

Micah 4:2
He will teach us His ways,
so that we may walk in His path ...

Heavenly Father, precious Holy Spirit and dear Lord Jesus,
thank You that You not only have a path for
each of us, but a plan to equip us to
walk it. Let your Word, oh Lord,
be a lamp unto our feet and
a light unto our path.

Psalm 138
The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me;
Your love, O Lord, endures forever –
do not abandon the works of Your hands.

Thank you that you have a plan and a purpose for each of us.
Fulfill Your purpose for us -- strengthen us, fine-tune us, humble us
and guide us to be the writers You have called us to be.
That we, the works of Your hand, O Lord,
may serve You with ours!

Proverbs 16:9
In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.

Lord, prepare us for your plan, your steps for our lives.
Help us to keep focused on You
as we walk the path You have for us.

Hebrews 10:35-39
Therefore, do not throw away your
confidence, which has a great reward. For you
have need of endurance so that when you have done
the will of God, you may receive what is promised ...
my righteous one shall live by faith, and if
he shrinks back, my soul has no
pleasure in him.

Lord, even though we suffer
rejection and disappointment in our
dream of wanting to write for You, please
give us endurance and hope so we
will not shrink back from
all you have planned.

Isaiah 40:31
Those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run
and not grow weary, they will walk and
not be faint.

Renew us, O Lord, from
the fatigue of the day, the oppression of
the world and the heaviness of
our obligations. Let our spirits and souls be
filled to overflowing with Your hope
and Your strength.

2nd Corinthians 11:3
But I am afraid, lest as the serpent
deceived Eve by his craftiness, your mind
should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of
devotion to Christ.

Dear Lord, before our families,
before our jobs, before our writing ...
let our devotion be to Christ,
pure and simple. And let the effect be seen ...
in our families, our jobs, our writing,
and our lives.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jules, what a great post, from beginning to end!

Perfect, my gifted and talented friend.

I love your choice of scriptures, girlfriend. Quick and to the point.

Our Julie doesn't mess around, she rails the heavans at warp speed with wonderful and amazing results.

Love you, Jules.


Melanie Dickerson said...

Beautiful post, Julie. I love those scriptures. I already have several "hope scriptures" taped to my computer monitor, but I am going to have to copy a couple of those.

I guess I'm on Mile Marker #4, because I finally decided to stop feeling like a loser and do the best I can to find an agent. Right now three agents have the full, but if they all reject me, I'll just keep sending out queries, as long as I can find someone who accepts them.

I know every writer's journey to publication is different, so I try to put all my trust in God, that He will make a way. I try not to trust in my own talent or ability, in my stories, in contest finals, or, if I get an agent, in my agent! I want to trust in God, that He has the perfect publisher and the perfect plan. He will make it happen in His own perfect timing.

Melanie Dickerson said...

I also want to say that the writing correspondence course I took when I first began to write again emphasized the fact that every writer gets rejections. They really harped on not letting those things discourage you, and I have to remember that very often. But it helped to know that it's a normal thing and doesn't necessarily reflect on your writing ability.

That course taught me a lot, but especially helpful was what they taught me about it being a LOOOOOONG bumpy ride sometimes. Just as you said, Julie. I might have given up a long time ago if it hadn't been for that, because my confidence level was so low in the beginning.

Julie Lessman said...

Aw, Ruthy, you're embarrassing me ... and making me wonder what you're up to!! :) Love you, too, you soft-hearted tyrant.

And yeah, Mel, hope Scriptures are essential for writers!! Gosh, my Bible and computer look like a New Year's Eve celebration with Scripture confetti EVERYWHERE!! Can't have too many, in my opinion. And I am SOOO proud of you for sending those queries out!!! You're on my prayer "hit list," kid!!


Kim said...

This was an awesome post! And whether you are a writer or avid reader, the way you pray scripture is an inspiration to all of us to do more of that on a daily basis!!

Thanks for your beautiful encouragement!


Mary Connealy said...

Something Julie doesn't admit very often is that she got published ... by comparison to me at least ... really fast. What was it Jules, three years? Four years?

I mean c'mon, they practically handed it to you, baby doll.

:) I'm now going to leave the keyboard and hide under my desk.

Julie Lessman said...

Thanks, Kim, for your kind comment. But the truth is, I'm such a wired and emotional person, I'd be dead without God's Word to anchor me -- both literally and figuratively -- which makes me a little more prone to practice it, I guess ... :)

And, Mary, "practically handed it to me"??? Well, yeah, I guess you could say that ... if you don't count the 45 rejections, that is ... :)

It actually was five years, Mare, from writing the story (which took 8 months) to signing the contract, and almost eight years from the first line to the bookstores. Which compared to you (ten years, was it?), might be considered "handing it to me, I suppose."

Grin. But then again, that's coming from a woman who has been commissioned for 19 books within two years of getting her first contract, correct????


Mary Connealy said...

It was ten years for me from, hmmm how do you turn this computer on again, to that moment in Nashville where they called my name.

THEN two MORE years until the book came out. So well...I suppose this isn't a contest I want to win anyway.

I've heard from one person who got a Rita call. Cheryl St.John who is guest blogging for Seekerville one of these days.
Well, if she didn't have contest news before, she's sure got it now.
Plus I've checked that blog a couple of times.
Golden Heart adn Rita Finalists

Mary Connealy said...

Do you all SEE THAT???
I put a working link in a blogger comment. Camy taught me. And, except for leaving the plain link and mispelling AND it's pretty cool.
I'm very impressed with myself. :)

Patricia W. said...

What an excellent post!

Never thought of receiving reward as requiring confidence a la the Hebrews reference. Got to think on that one.

I'm not published so it sounds like a great roadmap to me.

Janet Dean said...

Julie, Great post! It sounds so much like you that I could "see" your facial expressions as I read it. That's talent.

Love your love for the Lord and your powerful witness. Love how you take scripture and pray it so beautifully. Love you, kiddo.

Thanks for the excellent road map. I can't add a thing to what you've said.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, I'm sure no one from this group or this loop has been to that website....

Less than twenty times, LOL!

Thanks for posting it, kiddo.

And now, back to my knitting.


Anonymous Tyrant

Janet Dean said...

Mary, I'm totally impressed you added a clickable link! Awesome. I clicked and checked the GH and Ritas. No inspy finalists named yet.


Lorna said...

Julie, thank you so much for the incredible post. I'm going to print it an post it by my computer as a reminder to pray for those scriptures. Great road map, too! Thank you for sharing.

Mary Connealy said...


I think you all don't realize quite what a fete it is for me to do that. Feat? Feet? pheet?

I had to semi-understand some code-y thing.

I also have a neighbor named Cody, I don't understand him either.

Carla Capshaw said...

Wonderful blog, Julie. I love hearing your story and all the scriptures.

Mary, good job on the link! :-) But still no Inspy finalists? What's up with that??

Julie Lessman said...

Wow, Mary, YES, I for one was very impressed ... which is really not saying that much because it takes me three days to post a one-day Seeker blog. And why am I NOT surprised that Camy was involved???

Patricia, Lorna and Carla -- thank you sooo much for your sweet comments and taking the time to post ... And Carla, I just gotta tell you I get a chuckle everytime I see your sweet, little cartoon face. Grin.

Thanks, Janet! It blows me away at how lucky we are that we know each other well enough to actually "see" facial expressions in our comments and blogs!! The Seekers are blessed to have each other AND all the wonderful adopted Seekers who join us every day!!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Amen for the adopted Seekers!!!

And no inspy calls.

Maybe none of us finaled.

Maybe there was no inspy category and they forgot to tell us because of other, more pressing things, like laundry or bathtub ring.

Maybe Kermit really likes being green.

In any case, I spent the day (when I was determined to NOT think about stupid contests again, EVER...) creating chocolate-coated sponge candy, chocolate/toasted coconut drops, eating chips and enjoying Sweet Home Alabama as background noise so that I could pretend I couldn't hear the non-ringing phone.


So, what's the big deal if you gain 15-20 lbs in one day, right?

That's what gyms are for, keeping the economy and our butts moving.




I got nothin'.


Myra Johnson said...

I'm starting to think the same thing, Ruthy. They canceled Inspy and forgot to tell us!

And what a perfect day for Julie's inspirational post. Several of us are really going to have to lean on those scriptures to weather the one day we wished the phone would ring and it didn't.

Mary Connealy said...

Linda Goodnight for A Touch of Grace and
Susan May Warren for Redeeming Rafe
both Rita, still no GH.

Carla Capshaw said...

Congrats to Linda and Susan!!

'Bout time some Inspy calls went out. ;-)

Camy Tang said...

GREAT post today, Jules!

Good job on the link, Mare! I'm proud of you, grasshopper...


Janet Dean said...

This waiting is driving me nuts and I'm not up for anything.

Congrats to Rita finalists Linda and Susan, just in case they stop in. I loved the book of Linda's I read, but can't remember the title.


Melanie Dickerson said...

I have to say, right now, I'm glad I didn't enter the GH.

Katherine Harms said...

I so admire your courage and perseverance, obviously fueled by prayer. Thank you for sharing your scripture prayers. I truly need to be reminded of this important discipline as I work toward publishing success. I have a terrible time coping with rejections for silly reasons such as "We can't have Catholicism in our stories." I need to remember that the Lord has given me the story, and he will take me to the right publisher.

Ausjenny said...

great post very insightful.

Mary congrats on the link,
(i sort of know how to do it, its hit and miss sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't)

Mary Connealy said...

Link or link not.
There is no try...

Julie Lessman said...

Thanks, Camy and AusJenny, for your sweet comments!!

And Katherine, thanks for your kind note that said: "I so admire your courage and perseverance, obviously fueled by prayer."

But, grin, I'm thinking it's more a matter of knee-knocking fear (rather than courage) that drives me into the Father's arms!! But I guess it doesn't matter how you get there ... as long as you get there, eh?

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Julie, I LOVED THIS POST! You truly have the gift of encouragement to go along with that gift of intercessory prayer.

Thank you for a fabulous post!

Made me laugh and think and everything else. What a blessing to have you storming Heaven on my behalf. I feel blessed.



Missy Tippens said...

Julie, thank you so much for posting your Scriptures! I had meant to print it ages ago when you sent it to the loop.

Love the photo!! You look so cute (and make me sick because you always look so young!) :)


pat jeanne said...

Julie, I loved your heartfelt post. I needed the encouragement I received from it to keep on keeping on. Thanks for all the useful suggestions and particularly the scriptures.

Julie Lessman said...

Cheryl & Missy -- I love you guys!! Thanks for your support!

And Pat Jeanne, I am SOOO glad I could encourage you to "keep on keeping on"!! When there's a fire in your belly to write, it doesn't just happen -- it's God-given! Which means if He's for you, who can be against you??? (I know, I know -- editors, agents, contest judges ... :))


Kara said...

Oh my gosh I didn't even enter either of these contests and this is stressing me out. I can only imagine how you gals feel! :)

luv2read said...

Julie it was nice to hear what it is like the first time out on being published. The five key points are helpful. I apprecitated your GPS analogy on how God worked.

Jennifer AlLee said...

Julie, I had the exact same experience with my very first pitch. The first sentence into it, the editor said "That won't work for us." And I was devestated, because I'd written this book with her house in mind. I was a soggy mess that day! It gives me hope to know you started out the same way.

Thanks for sharing and encouraging, as you do so well!

luv2read said...

I forgot to leave an address with my last post. I have thought about writing a book before but with so many people out there writing it seems like a one in a million chance of getting published. What are the statistics anyway, anyone know? Are some companies easier to get published with then others?
spowell01(at) bellsouth (dot) net

squiresj said...

Thanks for all the verses and I need them for something besides writing. I am going through a fight with SSI and also with family members shunning me. I have been so discouraged and these scriptures uplifted me and encouraged me. God Bless.

Julie Lessman said...

Kara, Luv2Read, Jennifer and SquiresJ, thank you for leaving comments!! I didn't see them until just today.

Jen, I can't believe you had the same experience I did, but I have a feeling it's more common than we know!

Luv2Read, I'm not really sure of the statistics, but I think guest blogger Robin Lee Hatcher said "less than 1% of the novels written every year get published," which is pretty daunting, I know. I don't know if that's an accurate statistic or not, but I prefer not to think in terms of statistics. I suggest just writing your passion, working on ways to improve your craft and praying your heart out.

Squiresj, I am so sorry to hear about what you are going through. I am saying a prayer right now that God gives you the grace to get you through and to somehow, someway, bless you through this situation.