Saturday, May 29, 2010

Guest author June Shaw: When should you give up on your writing?

June Shaw lives along a lazy bayou in south Louisiana. She became a young widow with five children, completed a college degree, and started teaching junior high students, then her deferred dream of becoming a writer took hold. Her first novel, Relative Danger, was nominated by Deadly Ink for their new David award for Best Mystery of the Year. Harlequin reprinted it, and Books in Motion bought audio rights. Killer Cousins is her second book. June represents Louisiana on the board of the southwest chapter of Mystery Writers of America.


When should you give up on your writing?

Many of us asked that question long before we had anything published. Some who eventually sold things we wrote still wonder about pieces of work we haven’t sold yet. Often that manuscript is something dear to our hearts.

Early in my writing career, I learned an important lesson about not giving up. I had read in writers’ magazines that a wanna-be author should not put her first work in the mail and then wait for a contract. Make sure you put a SASE in with what you’ve written, and record the date and place you sent it. Then start working on something new. The article said the saddest thing in the world is a writer standing next to her mailbox, waiting for a check to arrive.

I envisioned myself waiting next to my mailbox. It’s black, plain, and across the street. My imagination did not paint a pretty picture of me standing in front of my neighbor’s house.
The piece I was sending out was really special to me. Called Five Left to Love, the essay described my five wonderful children aged five to eleven coping with strength after a major struggle. I studied the excellent source Writer’s Market to find the best place to send my work. A detailed description of a certain magazine made me decide it would be the perfect fit for my story. I sent it out, recorded the date and place, and started on something different, anticipating the editor’s excitement when he read about my tremendous family.

I didn’t wait near the mailbox but must admit I rushed outside each time I spied the mailman, knowing he’d brought me fabulous news. He finally did bring a response. No thanks.

I sulked awhile and felt sorry for myself. For my children. How could that editor say no? Soon I remembered not to sit around and mope, so I sent the piece out again—to Living with Teenagers magazine. I soon heard from an editor there—with a congratulations letter and a check! It wasn’t much, but it was so exciting and with all of my kids, every little bit helped. I was feeling slightly cocky and thinking I should write to that other magazine and tell them “Ha, somebody knew my work was good enough.” (I wouldn’t really do that but must admit I considered it a moment.) I did check back to see where I’d sent the piece first. It was to Living with Teenagers. The same magazine that had turned it down bought it! One editor rejected the piece; another editor at the same place bought it.

The magazine no longer exists, but I certainly appreciated their publishing my story. And I learned so much from that experience. Since then I’ve discovered that most writers have their work rejected many times, so expect it and don’t give up. I know Mary Higgens Clark had her work rejected forty times before she sold her first story. A current popular mystery novelist, K.A. Konrath, wrote nine novels and received over 500 rejections before he sold a book. How many people would have given up? As Louisa May Alcott wrote the classic Little Women, her family was encouraging her to find work as a servant or seamstress instead. Over 100 publishers turned down the Chicken Soup for the Soul books before a wise editor snapped up the first one. Others had said “That’s too nicey-nice,” and “Nobody wants to read a book of short little stories.” Star Wars couldn’t sell for a long time. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers; the 28th publisher sold over 6 million copies.

So when do you give up on your writing?

Perhaps something you wrote isn’t quite up to par, and you need to work more on it. Or maybe the right editor hasn’t seen it yet.

Recently I sold Deadly Reunion , third book in my humorous Cealie Gunther mystery series. Last week the editor of a popular magazine for writers emailed me, apologizing for the delay, and asked if I would still be willing to write an article for their Breakthrough column. I said I would and then looked back to see when I’d first queried him about writing such an article. It was two years ago, soon after my first book came out.

So give up? Are you kidding? I believe that if you love to write, you keep writing. And you keep submitting your work, sometimes working to improve it. And eventually you sell!!!

~

If you’d like a chance to win one of my humorous mysteries, Relative Danger or Killer Cousins, please leave a comment below. The winner will be chosen on Monday night, May 31 and contacted the next day. Thanks for letting me share thoughts with you. Maybe you’ll also contact me at my web site, www.juneshaw.com.

Best,

June

24 comments:

Shauna Roberts said...

Hi, June! Thanks for visiting at our blog today!

Since I joined RWA many years ago, I've been watching the first sales column to see how many manuscripts and years it takes on average for people to sell. Few people sell their first manuscript first, based on those data. The median seemed to be about five years from becoming serious to selling. The longest interval between starting and selling that I saw in the column was 18 years.

Someone in my current RWA chapter wrote for 20 years before selling. Her book hit the NYT bestseller list in its first month.

I've come to the conclusion that if someone is in RWA or otherwise gets some writing training and if they just stick with it long enough, they'll probably sell.

Coco said...

Thanks, June, for your encouraging words for us writers who are still trying to become published authors. My agent is diligently working to this end for me on my first book, but meanwhile I wrote a short story that was published in an anthology. That really gave me the impetus to keep writing. Your advice is sound! Good luck to you!

Laurissa Kastle said...

Thanks, June, for your wonderful advice to keep on writing! I'm a new writer and the more I'm reading about the path to becoming published, I can see where it might become easy for a writer to get discouraged. If I ever start to feel that way, I'll remember your advice and experiences.

June Shaw said...

Hey, Shauna! Yes, I was so happy I'd read that most of the writing we do at first is practice just like for people learning anything else.

June Shaw said...

Coco, congratulations on having a story published in an anthology! That's a great start. And you have an agent? Good for you. Thanks for your good wishes and the best to you.

June Shaw said...

Laurissa, I believe you have to write because you love to write. Most words that people pen won't get published. Read and write more. Good luck!

Allene said...

June - Thank you for a great blog. This year I will celebrating my 60th year as a writer. My first rejection arrived at the age of nine. Did I give up? Obviously not. And, I have been published, a lot, but haven't fulfilled the dream of holding my own book in my hands. It is still possible although my children and grandchildren are threatening to bury the laptop with me in case I want to work on 'the other side'.

shirley said...

I am so glad that writers persevere as that hard work makes for good reading and keeps my TBR stack healthy :-)

boots9k at wowway dot com

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you for being our guest, June!

I agree with Shirley - so many books that give us such pleasure would not have been published without the herculean perseverance of the authors. Never give up!

June Shaw said...

How funny! Allene, I love the image of carrying our laptops with us "to the other side." Keep writing because you love it!

June Shaw said...

Shirley, I had no idea that most writers needed to persevere so long. Working hard makes achieving success that much more joyful.

June Shaw said...

Thanks for inviting me, Liana. So nice to be here with y'all.

Helen Kiker said...

Never give up. The fact that your first novel Relative Danger was nominated for the David Award proves that it pays to keep at it.

Helen Kiker
hdkiker@comcast.net

jenny milchman said...

Great topic and post, June! I linked to it in a little write up of my own

http://www.jennymilchman.com/blog/?p=811

Jean Lamb said...

May I reprint this article in our local writers group newsletter for June? We always need some good encouragement, and I would love to use this, but only with permission.

June Shaw said...

Thank,Helen. I couldn't believe Deadly Ink nominated my debut book for their award. And then all of those great reviews came in. Wow. I am so glad I didn't give up.

June Shaw said...

Thanks, Jenny! I'll go and check out your blog.

Last night I shut down my computer early because lightning was flashing all around.

June Shaw said...

Hey, Jean. Of course you can use it for your newsletter. We all need encouragement from time to time.

I just sold an essay about not giving up to THE WRITER magazine. It will appear in the October issue which comes out in September.
Thanks for your kind words.

Kathy said...

Thank you for the encouragement. There are times I wish I could quit writing, just walk away and be content reading what others have written. But the desire to write is too great. Thank you for the encouragement. It's good to see that persistence can be rewarded.

Kathy said...

I meant to edit out one of those "thank yous," of course. But both were sincere--I need all the faith and hope I can get--so I claim them both. And again, thanks.

June Shaw said...

So glad to be of some encouragement. Good luck, Kathy. If you love it, just do it. And let me know when the sale happens.

Sarabeth said...

June, thanks for this. I was in need of it.

June Shaw said...

Sarabeth, so happy I could supply what you needed. Keep the faith!

June Shaw said...

We have a winnter!!! Shirley from Ohio has won an autographed copy of one of my mysteries. She's chosen KILLER COUSINS and will receive her copy soon.

Thank you all for leaving comments. Here's hoping you don't give up!