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Three Things to Tell Your Teenage Writing Self: #3 A stop sign is just a pause

The advice I wanted most and never got as a teenage writer was not about craft but about the writing business.

My English teachers didn’t know. Stop sign.

My Mom said flatly, “you can’t get published, you’re a girl.” Stop sign. (This was in 1969. She should have known better.)

Later, I met published science fiction writers at conventions who wouldn’t share writing business advice because they felt their career had ended after their first book, when their series was orphaned, when their agent died or their publisher dumped them, and they felt helpless to give good advice. In my eyes, they’d gone light years past me, and they still felt they’d failed. They didn’t mean to discourage me, but they themselves were so discouraged that I saw that stop sign again.

When I joined Romance Writers of America, though, I plunged into an ocean of business advice. I met many published authors willing to dish. The attitude at chapter meetings among published and unpublished members alike was, “This can work. How can we make this work?” The basic optimism of the field revived my determination to write books.

I did something odd at RWA conferences. I would sit down next to some old broad who was fatter and grayer, who wore a badge covered with little golden Rita Award pins, and I would ask her:

“How many times have you reinvented your career?”

She would look at the ceiling. Her lips would move. She would look back at me and say, “Three. No–five!”

Then she’d tell me how she’d written two books for Publisher A and got dumped, so her agent dumped her. Then she wrote five books for Publisher B, got a new agent, and got orphaned. Lost that agent. Then she started a series for Publisher C, who closed the line, leaving her with 200,000 words she couldn’t sell. Then Publisher D and her third agent both dumped her, then Publisher E went out of business owing her $12,000…

And now? Oh, now she’s writing two series in different genres for different publishers. Of course, twenty years even later, that same author is probably also self-publishing her backlist, commissioning audio, running an 80,000-subscriber newsletter, and installing a bookstore on her website.

What this taught me was that a stop sign is just a pause.

My science fiction writer friends had warned me that a stop sign is inevitable. My romance writer friends showed me that it isn’t the end. Shit is going to happen. If you are persistent, it’ll happen over and over.

And it did happen to me. And I didn’t give up. I haven’t counted lately, but I think my flops are up to five or six, not counting agents. Hey, they’re just stop signs. Sometimes I haven’t even bothered to pause.

Don’t give up. Try something new. Pivot and redesign your plan. This can work. How can we make it work?



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