Tuesday, October 21, 2014

30 Opening the Door to Failure and Starting the Path to Success

I quit writing for almost fifteen years.

I cringe to think about that now, because I imagine what I could have learned in that time. . . . Where would my writing career be now? I look at the young writers starting out, and I’m envious of all the years they have left to hone their craft.

So why did I quit?

I could say it was because I had two young children, both with medical problems. I could say that it was because the Air Force sent my husband away to school for a year. I could say that I started a business because we needed the money, and I ended up working close to eighty hours a week. I could say it was because the rock-star agent who intimidated the crap out of me dropped me like a hot potato and I didn’t know where my manuscripts had been or hadn’t been. . . . All those things are true.

But there’s a bigger truth.

I was scared and discouraged and tired to my soul of being rejected.

There’s also another truth.

I didn’t realize that failure was an opportunity.

Thomas Stasiuk - Do Not Fear Failure


As writers, as artists, we need failure to enable growth. If we don’t fail, we keep writing the same thing that everyone else is writing, which is great if we want to write fan fiction. But if we want to earn a place on bookstore shelves and in the hearts of readers, we have to write something that only we could write.

Writing something unique is scary. It opens us up to even more failure and rejection—a different kind of rejection, the kind that doesn’t have the safety net that comes with subconsciously knowing we’ve held a little something back and protected ourselves at least a little bit. Fear is what holds us back

But fear can also push us to a breakthrough.

Celestine Chua - Life's Real Failure


The breakthrough that finally got Compulsion published came from fear. I had amassed a list of about ten agents who, while rejecting a previous manuscript, had asked to see more work. Writing Compulsion, I had already pushed myself further than ever before. I wrote a southern gothic paranormal romance when I knew that paranormals weren’t really what agents were looking for anymore. I wrote bigger than life characters, knowing that some people wouldn't get them. I wrote a heroine who makes lots of mistakes, knowing some people wouldn't identify with her. I tackled a huge story. I scared myself writing this book. And I fell in love with it, with every single aspect of it. When it came time to start thinking about querying it, fear that others wouldn't love it the way I did kept me staring at my lists instead of typing up the query letter.

At that moment, it wasn’t just the fear of rejection that held me back. I had finally learned enough about writing a novel to know how far I still had to go in mastering my craft. I feared that I hadn't done justice to the characters and the story. I feared losing the opportunities I had built with the agents who had asked to see additional work.

I needed a safety net of expert opinion.

Ross Mayfield - Experts Only


I considered doing a mentorship. Cynthia Leitich Smith, one of my writing heroes, offers a mentorship for several months, as do other writers. Ultimately, I opted to hire a private editor to look at overall structure. For me, that didn’t work out. The changes she suggested were minimal, but they didn’t resonate, but because I didn’t really trust myself, I implemented them anyway. Every one of those was ultimately taken out in the editorial process.

Next, I looked for a workshop that was intensive and craft-oriented. I found one called Your Best Book through Free Expressions Seminars and Literary Services. The timing, price, and duration were right. It was a week-long, craft-based program mentored by Lorin Oberweger (half of the Noelle August of Lorin and Veronica Rossi who wrote Boomerang), Brenda Windberg, Emma Dryden (former Vice President and Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster), and literary agents Josh and Tracey Adams. Not only did they all provide brilliant suggestions and insights over the course of the week, but the caliber of writers attending the program was truly stellar. These were writers who knew their craft and were looking to push themselves further. Many were already published, or agented and on the point of publication. Working with them opened my eyes and showed me how much talent agents and editors see every day. That was both daunting and exhilarating.

BK - Robert Warren Painter Jr. Good things are coming
I took my manuscript home, incorporated the suggestions I’d received and carried them through the rest of the manuscript. I sent off my queries with a sense of calm assurance. I knew this manuscript was going to be “the one.”

Of course, that assurance disintegrated as the querying process drew out. I got to the point where I convinced myself it wasn’t going to work after all, and decided maybe I needed to do another round of revision. But right at that exact moment, I got the first email from an agent wanting to schedule “the call.”

I ended up getting multiple offers of representation for Compulsion, and then interest from multiple publishers that resulted in a pre-empt from Simon Pulse. I couldn’t have landed with a better publisher, and I’m a firm believer that everything that happened along my journey needed to happen to bring me to this point.

Is every manuscript publishable? No. Is every publishable manuscript published? Sadly, also no. There is an element of luck involved, I’m not going to lie.

All we can do is learn our craft, study what others have written, read what publishers are publishing AT THAT MOMENT, and write the best version of a manuscript that only we can write.

Once we’ve done that, we send it out. We hope it finds a home, and if it doesn’t, we write the next manuscript. That previous book will still be there, waiting for us to look at again after the next is published.

What we can’t do is quit. Not if we have something to say. Not if we have a compulsion for writing and sharing our ideas with others.

To help YOU make the breakthrough, Lorin Oberweger of Free Expressions is generously offering a ten-page critique to a random winner, and I’m offering a $100 gift certificate to any of the Free Expressions seminars or services.



I want you all to learn from my mistakes. Don’t quit. Don’t tell yourself you aren’t good enough. Don’t tell yourself you don’t have time to become good enough.

Tell yourself instead that everyone fails. Tell yourself you’re going to embrace failure as a badge of honor, as a mark of courage.

Feed your compulsion to write.

And if you’re writing and you’re struggling, I’m sending you an enormous hug. Keep going. It’s worth it.

Compulsion hits stores in less than a week. I had my first school visit a week ago.


And my first book signing on Thursday. While I was there, I got to open the package with my first finished copy of my book. An actual, really-truly, never-thought-it-could-happen book.



Best feeling EVER, especially when the road has been so long.

It can happen. It will happen.

Just believe!

Want to win the Free Expressions gift certificate or critique from Lorin Oberweger, or a critique from Kent D. Wolf, my agent, or critiques from other agents, and tons of other gifts and prizes?


1) Why you're compelled to write
2) How or why you almost quit
3) What brought you back from the brink of quitting
4) Your favorite bit of advice or inspiration you'd like to share with other writers

Then join us tomorrow, 10/22/14 from 6:00 PM Eastern to 7:00 PM Eastern for live chats, prize drawings, and MORE spur-of-the-moment prizes!



30 comments:

  1. Great and inspiring post. Thank you!

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  2. Great advice for us all! Now I want to track down Compulsion. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Kessie! I truly hope you enjoy it! : )

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  3. Yeah, pretty much feeling all that pre-success stuff you described. It's so easy to get discouraged and want to quit. I'm querying a project now, so I'm at that stage where I promise to quit writing forever at least once a day. :P

    Thanks for the encouraging story. Good timing for me. And congrats on your release!

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    1. Thank you -- and don't listen to yourself. Keep going. I got to the point where I craved those rejection letters because i convinced myself that each one was a step closer to acceptance. Push yourself and know that it does happen! Fingers are crossed for you!

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  4. So glad we got to share that moment with you! Wish I'd known your story then--it's amazing in and of itself! Big congrats, Martina!

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    1. Thank you so, so much, Tiffany! I was so lucky to be able to share that moment with you guys -- and it was amazing to be able to meet you in person! XO

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  5. I've been in a funk lately, so I really needed to hear this. Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to read Compulsion!!

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    1. Funks not allowed (says the Queen of Funk) -- you're so close! And XO for that!

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  6. This piece really resonated with me in a profound way. I feel like its so easy to get lost in so many aspects of publishing that we can forget why we even wanted to write in the first place. Thanks for reminding me, and congratulations!

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    1. Isn't that the truth? It's got to be about the characters and the story -- and then the joy comes back. The rest? It will eventually fall into place, but that story will always, always be there!

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  7. It can be difficult to see the speck of light breaking through the thick, rumbling, billowing clouds of rejection, Inner Critic Bitchery, doubt from others and the even more dibilitating doubt that toils bitterly within ourselves. But continuing forward, stretching for that light is best. It seems, in many stories like what you shared today, the breakthrough came upon the precipice of giving up. Which is why it's so important not to give up.

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    1. That's exactly right. But it's like the trajectory of the stories we write. We need that dark moment to show us the courage and the last bit of wisdom and determination we need to get through the final ordeal! : )

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  8. Great post, Martina. You certainly did what it takes to get to the manuscript that is the "one" for you. Yes, fear can stop us and we have to walk through that door. Thanks for reminding us how.

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    1. You're going to get there, too, Natalie. I know you have doubts, but you will. I don't know anyone who deserves it more or who has spent more time investing in supporting others! XO

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  9. I SO share part of your journey--the quitting for a number of years and returning and regretting how much time I've lost. I hope to continue the publishing part in the future. Thanks for your story!!

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    1. Just keep believing Traci! Don't get discouraged and apply the wisdom you've learned in the years away. We have fewer years at the keyboard, but we've got more years of other experiences that we bring to the table. That counts, too! XO

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  10. Oh Martina, you are quickly becoming one of my favorite people on this planet. What a kind, sweet, encouraging post! As someone who was lucky enough to win Compulsion from you a couple of months ago, it's very hard for me to believe you went through such difficulty getting published because Compulsion was AMAZING. But I understand what you mean about how hard it can be to not give up. Kudos to you for keeping on keeping on. I'm glad you did!

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    1. I can't tell you how much that means to me, Sierra. Thank you! It's hard anytime we try to do something a little different, and as you know from reading Compulsion, it isn't exactly like anything else. It took a lot of time for me to learn to juggle so many things in a story, but that's just how my brain works, so I had to persevere. So many people were kind enough to encourage me and help me along the way, so I'm honored to be able to pay that forward, just a little bit! XOXO

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  11. Thanks for sharing this, Martina. Maybe it's just the kick in the pants I need.

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    1. Anytime you need a kick or a hug, Rosi! Love you!

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  12. This is a great post, Martina. Fear and self-doubt can be crippling. I'm so glad that you never gave up on COMPULSION, I loved every page, and I know readers will too!

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    1. As you know LOL, the fear and self-doubt are never over in my case. THANK you for helping me get over it -- over and over again! You are such an inspiration, Erin!

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    2. They are never over for any author, my dear -- I think it comes with the territory :) You always amaze me! If I searched your basement (and I just might) I think I'd find a cloning machine!

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  13. A very inspiring post. Thanks Martina! And I'm SO happy you came back to writing. --as I completely adored COMPULSION, as you know. :)

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  14. Thank you so much for this. I really needed it. Your story is a great reminder about the powers of persistence and how there is always more to learn.

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  15. I think getting constructive feedback is so important. I have learned so much by participating in the First Five Pages workshop. I think it has helped me to improve my writing and begin to see where there might be confusion in my writing. It is so scary writing from the heart, thank you for letting us know we are not alone in our fear of rejection...

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  16. This post connected with me so much I emailed it to several of my family and friends who support my writing goals. Thanks for sharing it!

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  17. I really enjoyed (rather belatedly--sorry, I was moving from California to Oregon!) reading your journey, Martina! Sounds like your hard work and some great critiques really paid off. Rah!!! So proud of and happy for you.

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