Close your eyes ... Can you hear it? The jangle of the spurs? The reverberation of guitar strings? The haunting wah-wah voice while Clint Eastwood strolls into the desert graveyard for a showdown with an Italian cigar slowly rolling in his mouth? And then, all at once, beyond your control … your stomach growls and you realize you’re hungry for spaghetti. (Sorry, for all you sweet, young things out there, you’ll just have to ask a baby boomer what that means.)
Ah, memories. Ol’ Clint mowing ‘em down with his Colt 1851 Navy revolver in a movie about three gunslingers who dig and claw their way to gold buried in a cemetery. Which, now that I think of it, is faintly reminiscent of a writer’s golden dreams of publication—we dig and claw in the sands of Unpubbed Island in search of the “gold” while editors, agents and contest judges gun us down. And, as in the case of my 45 rejections for A Passion Most Pure—the potshots kept whizzing by, over and over again!
Sigh … to have our names emblazoned across the cover of a book—oh, yes—a golden dream to be sure, but as the old adage points out, all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s the glint of a jealousy in one’s eyes when somebody gets pubbed instead of you or the sheen of tears when a contest judge slices and dices your ms., or even when a reviewer calls your work “scum reading.” Sniff … will somebody pass the Kleenex, please?
So … as a war-torn veteran of five years (which really needs to be multiplied by five given my CDQ personality that imposes excessive wear and tear on the mind, spirit and tear ducts), I want to talk about the “good, the bad, and the ugly," and no, I’m not talking how a certain baby-boomer CDQ looks first thing in the morning after a rough night of sleep—I’m talking publication and beyond.
Oh, the wide-eyed wonder of being a newbie! There’s something so innocent about it, you know? Like after I finaled in the Golden Heart in 2005 with Janet Dean, Tina Radcliffe and Myra Johnson (who won the gold, the brat!), and I sent out 25 query envelopes to agents? Yeah, I even stickered those little suckers with a cute, little gold emblem that said “2005 Golden Heart Finalist” because I was certain that would open doors, right? Well, it certainly opened envelopes, yes, each promptly thrown away, no doubt, to the sound of maniacal laughter. But open doors? Uh … not so much.
Which brings me to the “GOOD” on my publication journey. One night an e-mail pops up in my mailbox from a certain Natasha Kern after twenty-four agents had already rejected me, and I’ll be honest—I thought it was a hoax! I mean, come on—I was savvy enough to know that Natasha Kern had appeared in Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the top 25 agents for new writers to have, but when her e-mail asked me to call her at a Portland, Oregon phone number, I balked.
That’s the GOOD, now enter the “BAD” with fear, doubt, trembling and nausea … “What if it’s a scam?” I asked my husband, chewing my lip raw, “or a cruel joke somebody is playing on me?” My eyes flared wide. “I mean, Portland for heaven’s sake—everybody know agents only lived in New York!” “Well, you have nothing to lose by calling, Julie,” my husband said with a squeeze of my hand. Oh, yes, I did, I thought. My confidence (what was left of it), my hope and, yes, even my supper—in that order. I took a deep breath and reread the e-mail three times, which went something like this:
"Julie, do you have an agent yet? If not, please call me at this number immediately. I am leaving on a trip and was hoping you could overnight your manuscript so I can read it on the plane.”
Yeah, right. Twenty-four reputable agents send rejection letters through the mail for A Passion Most Pure, and I’m supposed to believe somebody obviously posing as Natasha Kern e-mails me to express mail my ms. to OREGON, of all places??? And all this after seeing only FIVE pages and a synopsis (her submission guidelines back then) when all the others saw three chapters and a synopsis??? I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t buy it, and yes, the scary part is that I realllllly was that green, and I’m not talking environmentally.
BUT … I was also desperate, so I called … and the GOOD news is it WAS Natasha Kern and yes, she did actually sign me, the poor dear. The BAD news? She didn’t fully realize till after the ink was dry just how many times I’d been rejected. I believe the word she used was “daunting.” But apparently not too daunting for her amazing skills as an agent because she landed a contract for me within six months. OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!
So there I was, a newbie with a three-book deal, visions of sugar plums (masquerading as Ritas, and Christys and 5-star reviews) dancing in my head, completely certain that getting published would validate me as a writer. (Shaking head here.) Boy, did I have my pajamas on, ‘cause I was definitely dreaming.
Not that good things haven’t happened, because they have, but NOBODY warned me about the roller-coaster ride ahead. Sure, I launched into the sky shrieking with hands high when Revell told me A Passion Most Pure was the “fastest fiction release” they’d ever had up to that time (the “good”), then whooped for joy when I crested the height of that coaster with five-star reviews that brought tears to my eyes. But I wasn’t prepared for the plummet down the rails (the “bad”) when sales took a dive along with the economy and 1-star reviews maligned my books, my character and my faith in God.
And that’s when the “ugly” began—tears and self doubts, jealousy and low self-esteem, causing me to question my ability as a writer and whether or not my type of romantic passion was what God had called me to do. An ugliness so painful that I actually considered quitting writing altogether at least twice in the last four years, begging God to PLEASE lobotomize that part of my writer’s brain that was enamored with book sales, contest wins and 5-star reviews.
Well … He didn’t, although to some of you, I’m sure it seems like it at times. Nope, He did something even better—He taught me how to defend myself, to draw my Colt and gun down the bad and the ugly, and let me tell you—ol’ Clint has nothing on me! I have learned the true stance of a gunfight—to keep my eyes fixed straight ahead on God (Proverbs 4:25—Let your eyes look straight ahead) and not look to the right: contest wins, book sales or good reviews—or to the left: not finaling in contests, low royalties and scathing reviews (Proverbs 4:27—do not turn to the right or the left) and above all else, guard my heart (Proverbs 23). For me that means:
1.) Praying for blessing on every person who gives me a bad review (now, don’t take this as license to have me pray for you, please!).
2.) Praying for authors of whom I am jealous to go to the bestseller list (my good friend, Julie Klassen is a good example, a true story I talk about in my Seeker blog entitled Oh, For the Love of God, Part 2 at http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2008/11/oh-for-love-of-god-part-2.html).
3.) Keeping my mouth free of perversity and corrupt talk far from my lips (Proverbs 24) by asking God to help me to repent and pray when I complain, whine or gossip.
4.) Drumming into my head that it's ALL about His glory, not mine (He must increase; I must decrease. John 3:30) and focusing on others instead of ourselves because to God, the story we write with our mouth and our actions is far more important that the story we write with our pens.
4.) And instead of praying for God to take the desire for awards, good reviews and sales away, to pray for strength to bear up under the job He has given me to do. (This has been a HUGE help to me because God ALWAYS gives you the grace to do what He has called you to do!)
There is no question the life of a published writer—Christian or non—is a blindfolded walk through a minefield of the good, the bad and the ugly. Where a writer can go from being awarded a booby prize for the most rejections in a year like I did at the 2005 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers conference) … to winning the 2009 ACFW Debut Book of the Year for the very same book. But … as Christian writers, we’re not in this alone. We are writing for a God who according to Romans 8:28, makes all things—the good, the bad and the ugly—work out for the good of those who love Him (i.e. those who obey his commands, John 14:15—if you love me, obey me) and are called according to His purpose (which is all of us who are writing for Him!).
So, I don’t know about you, but for me I plan to aim high and go for the real gold—honoring Him rather than myself—in my attitude, my words and my actions, ONLY doable with His help, of course. Because take it from someone who’s been there WAY more than she likes—fixing my eyes, happiness and hope on contest wins, great book sales or good reviews is nothing but fool’s gold. And trust me—I may be slow for my age, but I’m no fool!
Over the last four years in Seekerville, I’ve learned a lot about the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” things as both an aspiring writer and a published one, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you today. Who knows? Maybe I can spare you some pain and give you a push in the right direction.
THE “GOOD” THINGS I DID AS AN ASPIRING AUTHOR:
1.) Joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers at http://www.americanchristianfictionwriters.com/), FHL (Faith, Hope & Love at http://www.faithhopelove-rwa.org/) and RWA (Romance Writers of America at http://www.rwanational.org/), both to get connected with other like-minded writers and to learn a lot about your craft.
2.) Took a fiction-writing class and attended writing seminars.
3.) Attended writer conferences such as ACFW to learn, to make friends, to network and to pitch to agents and editors
4.) Joined a critique group (you can do that through ACFW).
5.) Purchased and study writing books such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King or Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas, AND invest in a great thesaurus such as The Synonym Finder by Rodale Press or utilize FABULOUS Thesaurus websites like the OneLook Reverse Dictionary(my writer’s bible!!) at http://onelook.com/reverse-dictionary.shtml.
6.) Entered contests for invaluable feedback, growth, confidence, networking opportunities and to get my name out there.
7.) Frequented websites/blogs that deal with writing, such as The Seekers at http://seekerville.blogspot.com/, My Book Therapy at http://www.mybooktherapy.com/index.html, Inkwell Inspirations (who have a GREAT page on writing resources at: http://www.inkwellinspirations.com/p/writing-resources.html), and Writer’s Alley at http://thewritersalleys.blogspot.com/ to mention only a few.
8.) Go for an agent first, publisher second.
9.) Query, Query, Query!
10.) Then pray your heart out and put it in God’s hands.
THE “BAD” THINGS I DID AS AN ASPIRING AUTHOR:
1.) Compared myself to others, inciting jealousy and ingratitude (http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2009/09/conference-cpr-julie-lessman-style-and.html 2.) Queried publishers without an agent (biggest reason my rejections topped at 45 rejections on A Passion Most Pure.
3.) Didn’t get a website or platform till a few months before my first release (NOT GOOD … need to start building that platform NOW).
4.) Wasted time over-editing books when I could have been writing more, especially since publishers pay editors to edit your book!
5.) Didn’t research publishers and their guidelines before I pitched to them.
THE “UGLIEST” THING I DID AS AN ASPIRING AUTHOR:
1.) Went off hormones when I was entering contests — YIKES!! (http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2007/10/caution-hormone-free-zone.html
THE “GOOD” THINGS I DID/DO AS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR:
1.) Connect with my readers through blog interview/giveaways, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail as much as I can because to be honest, after writing, this is what I love to do the MOST!
2.) Issue a newsletter 2-3 times a year with book excerpts and new covers, giveaways, pix of my reader friends and contests such as having a character named after you in my books.
3.) Build my newsletter list with special contests/giveaways for newsletter recipients only.
4.) Speaking engagements and teaching workshops.
5.) Maintain a weekly personal blog called Journal Jots where I keep my reader friends apprised of all that’s going on in my life and feature contests/giveaways.
6.) Set up blog tours during a book release.
7.) Contact all good reviewers on blog tours and ask them to post their reviews on CBD.com, Amazon.com, etc. Pray for the bad reviewers while staying FAR away from them … :)
8.) Sign up for Amazon’s Author Central at https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/landing?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0
9.) Establish a group blog like Seekerville. :)
THE “BAD” THINGS I DID AS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR:
1.) Scheduled too many book signings. To be honest, according to my publisher, book signings are not worth the time and investment, and I’m inclined to agree.
2.) Scheduled too many blog interviews during a book release—not a good idea if you actually want to write. NOTE: I do believe this is beneficial if you are a new writer trying to get your name out there, but according to my publisher, it’s not an effective use of a writer’s time after you are more established.
3.) Checked my rankings on Amazon WAY too much, which according to my publisher are not valid indicators of sales.
4.) Entered too many unnecessary contests, which is not worth the money, the time and the grief when you don’t final.
5.) Spent too much time on e-mails, especially to reader friends to whom I simply cannot write a generic note to save my soul.
THE “UGLIEST” THINGS I DID AS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR:
1.) Compared myself to other writers. DO NOT DO THIS!!! We are all unique to God, and He has appointed each of us to a particular journey, so embrace where He has you and ENJOY it! Mantra: For His glory, not ours.
2.) Measured my success and worth by sales, figures, contests wins and Amazon rankings, which might work in the secular market, but when you write Christian fiction, these things are NOT an accurate measure of either your success or your self worth … EXCEPT in how you handle them before God!
GIVEAWAY TIME!! Please join me in celebrating the Seekers birthday month with a special giveaway—one lucky commenter will have the chance to have a character named after them in my next book, A Trust Restored, a signed copy of any one of my books including A Trust Restored and your choice of a new top CBA book from my own personal library.
AND ... anyone who bothers to read down this far and tells me they subscribed to my Journal Jots weekly blog by clicking the "subscribe to Journal Jots" button on the lower right of any page of my website will also be entered in a SEPARATE contest to win their choice of top CBA book from my personal library OR a signed copy of one of my first five books. Here's the link: http://www.julielessman.com/journal-jots1/
If you’re not published yet, shoot me some of the good, bad and uglies you’ve been wrestling with and how you’ve handled them. Or if you are pubbed, PLEASE, share some tips on the “bad” and “ugly” situations you’ve had and how you’ve dealt with them. Or just leave a comment about what you’re fixing for dinner tonight—I don’t care—anything will get you into the contest, so GOOD LUCK!