April Henry on Rejection, Dry Spells, and Tenacity (Writing for the Long Haul Series)

New York Times bestselling author April Henry started writing in 1989 and published her first book a decade later. She joins the long haul series today to talk about rejection, career hard patches, and the one thing she believes long-haul writers need more than anything else: the tenacity to never stop writing.


Do you want to be a writer for the long haul? I think the key is tenacity. Tenacity is at least as important as talent.

In 1989, I had a dream: to write a book. I didn’t know a single writer.

Two years later, I had a finished book and a new dream: that it would be published and I could quit my day job. Instead, I got a ton of rejection letters from agents. Was my career over before it had even begun?

I wrote a second book and sent it out to agents. Agent after agent rejected it. Finally, an agent told me the book was one of the best she had ever seen. It was so good, she said, that she was sure I hadn’t shown it to any other agents. I did not tell her that over 50 agents had already rejected it.

A year later, it was clear my second book would never sell, despite complimentary rejection letters from editors. So I wrote a third book. Which got nothing but ho-hum rejections.

I could have given up, but instead I had been keeping busy writing a fourth book. Circles of Confusion sold to the first editor who saw it. The advance was certainly not “quit your job” money. We bought some new furniture.

But at least I was a real writer, right? I thought the hard part was over. I didn’t realize that just because you have been published once, it doesn’t mean you will be published again.

Circles of Confusion got nominated for several awards and got good reviews. I wrote a second in the series and then a third. I was on a publisher-paid tour for the third book when I learned they were dropping me because the sales of my second book hadn’t been double that of my first (an idea they hadn’t shared with me, although I’m not sure what I could have done about it if I had known). Would I ever be published again?

My heroic agent managed to move the series over to a different publisher for less money. I put out two books with them. The new publisher put very little effort into promoting them. One did great. The other not so great. We came to a mutual parting of ways.

Somewhere in here I wrote a few books that didn’t sell. One was on the chick lit side, the other really didn’t fit into a category.

In 2004, not only did I not seem anywhere close to quitting my day job, but my day job was starting to suck. I worried that I would never be published again. But that did not stop me from writing a new book, one with a 16-year-old main character. It was a YA according to my agent. (I had just thought of it as an adult book with a young main character.)

After that first YA, Shock Point, came out, I hit another hard patch. I had written another YA, but the release date kept getting pushed back and my editor had pretty much stopped answering my emails. Not only had my dream of quitting my day job faded, but my job had actually gotten worse. There were frequent “emergency” meetings in which I would realize one or two co-workers were missing. Then the meeting would turn out to be about how they had just been let go. It felt like everything was falling apart. But I didn’t stop writing.

I finished writing a YA book I really liked, about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when someone steals her step-mom’s car—with her in it. My editor didn’t like it, saying that books about kidnapping were overdone.

In late 2007, I got approached about partnering with a TV legal analyst on an adult mystery series. When we made a four-book deal, I knew I would never again have such a biggish chunk of money at one time. So I quit my day job in 2008. It was the scariest thing I have ever done. A few months later, I sold the book about the blind girl—Girl, Stolen—to a new editor, Christy Ottaviano at Henry Holt.

In 2009, that first adult coauthored book, Face of Betrayal, hit the New York Times bestseller list. And I learned that Girl, Stolen would be a lead title for Holt the next year.

Girl, Stolen, which was originally turned down by my first editor, has since been on nine state lists, named a Quick Pick, and is on the recommended curriculum in Ireland.

From 2010 on, I have published two books a year, one adult and one YA. And I’ve managed to continue to make a living as a writer. I think the key has been being tenacious. Even if—and it’s probably when—I hit another dry patch, I will keep writing, keep trying.


April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. April had one detour on her path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children’s author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children’s magazine. By the time she was in her 30s, April had come to terms with her childhood and started writing about hit men, drug dealers, and serial killers. Look for two new books from her in 2015: Lethal Beauty (written with Lis Wiehl) and Blood Will Tell.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Kelly Bennett on Quitting Writing
Pete Hautman on the book that will save us
Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
Steve Miller on building a writing life
Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Kate Gilmore on Perseverance and Writing at Midlife (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Kate Gilmore had already had careers in theatre and as a legal secretary before she came to writing fiction in her fifties. She joins the long haul series today to talk about her winding path that led her to a professional writing career—and the ways in which that path has continued to wind since then.


Although I spent much of my time in college writing plays and vaguely planning a life in the theatre, it was not until my 52nd year that I saw myself as a professional writer for the long haul. The idea arrived suddenly and took root in what most people would regard as poor soil.

My husband, Jack, was taking a vacation from tedious, annoying work as a high level programming consultant and writing a book about the early days of computers. I was sort of supporting the family as a legal secretary. This was a specialty I had acquired during a previous hiatus in the family fortunes—the time when I finally decided I would have to do something to make money. I was a terrific typist who could spell and construct a grammatical sentence, so temp work led to law offices and more substantial jobs. Thus at 52 I stood on the threshold of an actual career. There was still a lot of drudgery and much to learn, but I found the law interesting, and my final group of lawyers loved me.

So what happened to derail this attractive scenario? Well, I was in Central Park and, I think, contemplating a poem, when I realized that all I wanted to do was write and write and write, whether paid and admired or ignored and periodically impoverished. I have no idea why this happened but suppose it must have been bubbling along in my subconscious for some time. Obviously, I would have to give up my job, a major (and exciting) decision.

On an impulse, I asked an old friend to help me make up my mind. “Sally,” I said, “Jack has accepted a new and very well paid consulting job, and I am longing to stop working and write. What do you think?”

This query had a predictable outcome. Sally, who had known us for some years, pointed out that the consulting job would not last forever and said I should stick with my new career. “Think benefits,” she said, “and perhaps even some modest old age security.” I thanked her warmly and the next day gave notice to my three well-loved lawyers, one of whom actually shed a few tears. I was off to write for the long haul.

Did I ever regret this decision? Not for a minute that I can recall. Jack and I continued our chicken-feathers existence (chicken one day, feathers the next), and I began a novel that I intended to publish. I wrote, pretty much through thick and thin, using temp jobs to stuff in the cracks.

My first book was a teenage caper inspired by our fourteen year old son, who was leading a colorful and, to us, alarming life as a graffiti artist in the New York subway system. It told of a small group of middle class kids whose ambition was to paint the word PEACE in glowing, graffiti style letters on an international jet plane. Of Griffins and Graffiti was great fun to write, but I failed to take into account what was then, in the 80s, a rabid hatred of all things graffiti, the art as well as the trash, the people who produced it, and, of course, my jolly little book. This loathing was felt throughout the entire publishing world so far as I could see during a year of sending it around, but eventually it occurred to me that the Brits might not feel the same, and Penguin, at that time entirely British, snapped it up.

I don’t think that manuscript acceptance or rejection is any faster now in the electronic age than it was when my early books were making their stately way through the mail, over the transoms and into the slush piles where they awaited the attentions of a “first reader”. Houghton Mifflin mislaid my second book during this process, but eventually it was found and appreciated by a senior editor, Matilda Welter, who promptly called me. I shall always remember the sound of her voice, which was somehow both silvery and warm, when she told me that Remembrance of the Sun was beautiful, and she would love to publish it. There was only one problem, and I was to do as I thought best. In those days HM had a rule that young adult novels should not be more than 200 pages long. That left me 200 to cut. I gulped and agreed.

I learned a lot from Matilda Welter, not only a lot of clever ways to cut so a manuscript would appear shorter than it really was, but many ways to get rid of stuff that even I, after the initial pain, would never miss. We waged small wars, most of which I won, over what she sometimes felt was my too literate English, and we had increasingly luxurious lunches together as management came to admire my writing and Matilda published three more of my books.
It was a halcyon period for someone who was rapidly becoming addicted to writing. The books were extremely various. Even the research was fun, and I still have all the books I acquired for the ones I didn’t know much about. Two others were rooted in my life experiences—not memoirs but also not from the entirely invented world of the novel.

Remembrance of the Sun was the fictional story of the love affair between an American teenage girl and an only slightly older Iranian boy on the verge of the revolution that overthrew the Shah. I was there at that time with my family; and I had as well an intense, if strictly imaginary, emotional involvement with an Iranian man.

Then, after the admittedly splendid Enter Three Witches was written and published, came Jason and the Bard, drawn on my summers with Shakespeare Under the Stars and, like the Iran book, researched only in my head. This one was fun for me but not popular, having been judged “elitist” because the young actors and stage techs spouted Shakespeare (as I happened to know they would).

The Exchange Student, about a young traveler from a planet that had lost its animals, took me five years to finish what with delightful research at various zoos and the study of many books. Nevertheless, my still faithful publisher gave me a contract and waited patiently.

Matilda, for health reasons I had not understood, retired after the publication of The Exchange Student. The disastrous effect of losing one’s editor is an old story I have since heard a number of times and can confirm. The editor I inherited did not want my next book about an American girl stranded in Venice, so I published it on Nook and, typically, did nothing to sell it.

Then came the recession and a wretchedly new Houghton Mifflin where the idea of two sequels to The Exchange Student was entertained and then dropped. In this climate it was folly to even contemplate writing two unwanted books, but once I had the idea I plunged like a retriever into a duck pond and wrote steadily for another five years.

And now, at last, I have arrived at the theme of this blog. I have had trouble getting my trilogy published and expect to have more, but what a joy it was to write those sequels! Others have said it, and I will add my two cents worth: When I am working on a novel I feel a kind of deep contentment, a self-confirmation. Writing is, I think for most of us, extremely hard work. Yet I am glad to get up in the morning and go to my computer and begin again to do what somehow I feel I am meant to do. Yes, even if there is a problem, a block, a part that doesn’t work, I tell myself that it will resolve. The story will flow on, and the pleasure will still be there.


Kate Gilmore lost her heart to the theatre as a student at Antioch in the 1950s, where she participated in at least 80 theatre productions and took on nearly every theatrical task, from writing to directing to prompting. Along the way her verse play, Dark Wind Light Wind, was performed as the senior project of her friend Niela Miller. After college she went on to write more plays until meeting her husband, mathematician and computer game designer John Gilmore. She spent the years that followed living in New York, Italy, London, Iran, and rural New Hampshire while raising their two children.

She sold her first novel, Of Griffins and Graffiti, at the age of 50-something and has gone on to publish five more books since then, including Remembrance of the Sun and Enter Three Witches. She’s also written a series of science articles for teens for Earthwatch expeditions focused on subjects ranging from Australian frogs and Madagascan lemurs to cocoa farming in Ghana and medicinal plants of antiquity.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Kelly Bennett on Quitting Writing
Pete Hautman on the book that will save us
Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
Steve Miller on building a writing life
Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Kelly Bennett on Quitting Writing (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Children’s book veteran Kelly Bennett has been publishing picture books and children’s nonfiction for a quarter century. She joins the long haul series today to discuss something many writers think about: when (and how) to quit–and when (and why) not to.


bennett_vampireReTIRED and Better for It!

I’m honored Janni invited me to discuss Writing for the Long Haul. It’s an interesting topic, especially as I recently quit.

Someone asked me once. “What made you think anyone would want to read what you write?”

Snarky as the question sounds, it wasn’t intended to be an insult. It was posed as a query, more of a “Why did you become a writer?”

The idea that I could . . . should . . . must be a WRITER struck me like a tractor trailer on an empty New Mexico highway. I was driving Route 66 from California back to Oklahoma, in a metallic green Cadillac with my two children—then 2 and 4—when it smacked me upside the head. (We were listening to kiddie music on an 8 track.) Unlike many authors I know, I had never before considered becoming a writer. While I had earned high marks on school writing assignments, I was not a writer. I didn’t even keep grocery lists, let alone a journal. Nevertheless, I answered the call.

At the first opportunity, I enrolled in a writing class. Along with introducing me to the business of publishing, that first class also brought me together with Ronnie Davidson, a kindred spirit who soon became my writing partner. Within that first year we’d sold our first book. However, as our co-writing career took off, my personal life crashed.  Frankly, as passionate as I was about writing, if it had not been for Ronnie, and the support and accountability that comes from being part of a team, I probably would have quit.

By writing team, I mean Ronnie and I sat side-by-side every school day for as many hours as our schedules allowed, with Ronnie at the computer keyboard (one of the earliest home systems) and me scribbling on a legal pad, bouncing ideas, plotting, creating, and finishing each other’s sentences . . .  As a team we set goals—primarily to publish—and set our course of action. What we wrote—poems, puzzles, How-To, Travel, parenting magazine and newspaper articles, memoir, True Confessions, fiction, non-fiction—didn’t matter. The fun was writing and publishing, and being paid (no matter how small the check; every dollar was one less I had to make waitressing.)

Being part of a writing team came naturally to me. As a kid, I preferred team sports—volleyball, kick ball, badminton—over individual sports. Even in Tennis, I preferred doubles.  So, when after more than 12 years, 6 books and a binder-full of articles to our credit, we dissolved our writing partnership, I floundered. For the first time, I questioned the call. Was I really meant to be a writer? Or, was I only a writing partner? Could I even write by myself? Did I want to?

Fast forwarding through the ensuing agonizing self-appraisal, I determined, partner or not, I was a writer. I plunged into a new writing life. Partly out of fear, partly loneliness, this included becoming active in writing organizations I had only been vaguely connected to while team writing, including a critique group. Through them I found the supportive community I craved and began realizing success in my solo career.

Odd as it sounds, publishing can wreak havoc on our writing lives. It did mine.  Having a “career” requires us to split ourselves in two: part creative writer, part business-minded author. Whether it’s true, or it’s just my excuse, the last few years I’ve been so busy moving, marrying off children, caring for aging parents, traveling, etc. etc., I haven’t had much time for anything else. Of necessity, what time I did have went to “must dos” and “should dos”—promotions &; marketing, presentations, social media—author stuff. As a result, the “want tos”—everything I enjoyed about writing, including writing and fellowship—went by the wayside.  I came to one day and realized my writing life was no longer a joy. It was a job. And, judging by my actions—splitting with my agent, neglecting revisions, not sitting my butt in the chair—a job I might not want.

I was wallowing somewhere between miserable and pathetic when it dawned on me that, called or not, I did not have to be a writer. There were a zillion other careers out there, a zillion other things I could be doing besides writing. So I quit. Being free from the publish-and-promote-or-perish pressure felt grrrrrreat! . . . Honest.

While on hiatus, I attended a retirement dinner for a colleague of my husband’s. After the dinner was over one of the young, non-native English speaking attendees approached him. “Mr. Michael,” he said. “After you get your new tires, what will you do?”

New tires! We all enjoyed his naiveté, and some among us filled him in on the “real” meaning of retirement. (Although I’m not sure we should have.) In a Chauncy Gardnerish way, he was correct. In retiring, Michael was replacing a worn set of work tires with a comfy new set for rolling into the sunset. Yes, retirement is an end. But it’s also an opportunity for new beginnings.

I didn’t want to quit. Writing is my chess, my Suduko, my Candy Crush.  Even when the writing isn’t going well, I’m happier writing than not writing. I had been called to writing. And not heeding that call was driving me from crazy to cranky. I wanted to retire so I could begin a new, fulfilling writing life.

Just as there are different kinds of tires—on road, off road, snow, etc.—there are different ways to approach our writing lives.  After deciding that I wanted—want—to be a writer, I visualized what I wanted that new writing life to be. Next, I set goals to ensure I don’t forget or ignore my “want tos” again! These include:

  1. Staying connected to my team by attending one writing retreat, workshop or conference (as a participant, not a speaker) bi-annually chosen to inspire and energize me.
  2. Interacting with my readers regularly (preschoolers and elementary students) at paid events, and as a volunteer.
  3. Challenging myself to try new things (by taking classes and group study).
  4. Scheduling quarterly check-ups to evaluate my professional life with an eye to maintaining balance between author duties and writing—with prime time going to writing.

Writing for the long haul is no different than other professions, harder perhaps considering the paychecks may not be as plump or regular. It’s easy to stay busy attending to the “must dos” and the “should dos” while ignoring the “want tos.” But, attending to those “want tos” is what brings us joy.  And while I don’t recommend doing anything as dramatic as calling it quits, I do suggest doing what I should have:  in the same way you take your car in for servicing, schedule regular career check-ups.  Ask and answer those defining questions:

  • Why did you become a writer?
  • What kind of writing life do you want?

Depending on your responses, make necessary adjustments to your writing life. Could be it’s time for you to re-tire, too. Oh, the places we can go on a brand new set of tires!


Kelly Bennett started telling stories when she was two, using her mother’s mascara to write on her neighbor’s car. She’s gone on to publish more than a dozen picture books and nonfiction children’s books under her name, as well as several books co-authored with Ronnie Davidson under the pen name Jill Max. Her most recent titles include Vampire Baby, the Writer’s League of Texas Book Award Winner One Day I Went Rambling, Your Mommy Was Just Like You, and Your Daddy Was Just Like You. She’s a graduate of the Vermont College Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Visit her online at Kelly’s Fishbowl.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Pete Hautman on the book that will save us
Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
Steve Miller on building a writing life
Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Pete Hautman on the Book that Will Save Us (Writing for the Long Haul series)

National Book Award-winner Pete Hautman has written everything from science fiction to mystery to romance, for everyone from teens and pre-teens to adults. He joins the long haul series to talk about another of the reasons writers write, even if we only admit it to ourselves.


The Next Book I Write Will Save My Life

hautman_godlessMy bona fides: I’ve been a full-time professional novelist for twenty years. I’ve published twenty-eight books in various genres with four different publishers. Some of my novels have won prestigious national awards, while others have tanked so badly that my royalty statements show negative sales. I had a couple of years where I made more money than I could spend, and far too many years with an income that would have qualified me for food stamps. My books have been both praised and condemned by great intellects, and given a similar treatment by great fools.

I have hours and sometimes days in which I cannot imagine why anyone would want to read what I write, much less pay for the privilege, and other moments when I cannot imagine why anybody would want to read anything written by anyone other than me. I have written novels that will never see print, and novels that I wish hadn’t seen print.

What keeps me going? Why write when there are so many other things I could be doing with my one and only life? Why not become a savior, a saint, a martyr? Why not make a ton of money and surround myself with luxury? Why not raise a litter of children and disseminate my DNA far and wide? Why not watch TV and drink beer all day? Why not stop breathing and maybe find out that I’m wrong about what happens next?

A few years back I read a novel called This Book Will Save Your Life, by A.M. Homes. I picked it up in part because I’d recently heard a radio interview with Homes, and I liked what I heard. Mostly, though, I was attracted by the title. I enjoyed the book. It’s a funny, smart, magical-realistic tale about a lonely, dissociated man who discovers that he is not alone. I would recommend it to many people. But—and this is not intended as a negative—the title was my favorite part.

There is this writer thing that writers don’t often talk about, not even to each other in the dead of night. You see, we are all drowning, and that is the reason we keep writing, because every new book is the book that will float us above and away from (choose three) irrelevance, poverty, mediocrity, madness, obscurity, obloquy, ourselves.

I believe that at bottom this is true of all writers, be they poets, literary writers, genre hacks, ghost writers, memoirists, or diarists. It may be true of all artists, of all craftspeople, of anyone with the arrogance to attempt to create something that does not already exist.

The next book will change everything. The next book will make sense of all that I have experienced. The next book I write will save my life. And as pompous, as hubristic, as crazy as that sounds, I believe it to be true, and so I write.


Pete Hautman is the author of more than twenty novels for adults and teens, including the 2004 National Book Award winner Godless, Los Angeles Book Prize winner The Big Crunch, and three New York Times Notable Books: Drawing Dead, The Mortal Nuts, and Rash. His young adult novels range from science fiction (Rash, Mr. Was, Hole in the Sky, and The Obsidian Blade) to mystery (Blank Confession) to contemporary drama (Godless, Sweetblood) to romantic comedy (The Big Crunch, What Boys Really Want.) With novelist, poet, and occasional co-author Mary Logue, Hautman divides his time between Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Stockholm, Wisconsin. 

The next book that will save his life is The Klaatu Terminus, due out this April. His recent books include the first two books in the trilogy, The Obsidian Blade and The Cydonian Pyramid.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
Steve Miller on building a writing life
Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Elena Acoba on Touching Reader Lives (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Elena Acoba has been writing and editing newspaper articles, marketing pieces, web copy, and other business communications for more than three decades. She joins us today with a non-fiction writer’s perspective on what it means to write for the long haul, and on something writers in all genres seek to do: touch readers’ lives.


acoba_article2When I tell people I’m a writer, often their first impression is that I author books. I don’t.

As a writer and editor of business communications, I craft the messages that companies want to present to their employees, customers and communities. I tell the stories that already exist.

From information comes power. That’s the motto I’ve lived by for decades as I’ve told stories that spur people to action.

Inspired by journalists of the 1960s and 1970s who revealed the truth about the Vietnam War and a corrupt president, I decided to get into the news business. Here I could make a big difference.

elena_article1Once I got into the newsroom, however, I discovered that I didn’t have the stamina to stick with long-form investigative journalism. Instead, I was drawn to the breaking story—controversial city council meetings, campaign speeches, jury decisions—and features that focus on trends.

Journalism didn’t have to be complex to be impactful. I saw that I touched people’s lives in big and, more often, small ways.

  • My story about a monopoly on selling fireworks opened the way for a Boy Scout troop to run a stand to raise money.
  • Adults comforted kids after reading my article about how children watched on television as the Challenger shuttle exploded.
  • Spectators cheered a couple riding in the Tucson Rodeo Parade on their 50th wedding anniversary because of the feature I wrote on how the couple watched the procession on their honeymoon.

I moved to corporate communications in 1989. The focus is different; now I write about the stories of companies and organizations. But my personal mission is the same: Let people know something that will touch their lives.

acoba_pimaBased on comments I’ve heard, I know that my work has saved a household money on its phone bill, convinced a Chicagoan to ditch the Illinois winter for a warm Arizona vacation and assured an employee that a company expansion wouldn’t affect his job.

This kind of feedback over the decades confirms that as a writer I am making a difference in my work as messenger, revealer, teacher.


IMG_2679low_resElena Acoba has been a professional writer since 1978 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Long Beach. Her award-winning work has appeared for the Coast Media chain of community newspapers (Los Angeles area), the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Arizona Daily Star, Pima Community College, and the Arizona Office of Tourism in partnership with Madden Media Inc.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Steve Miller on building a writing life
Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Steve Miller on Building a Writing Life (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Steve Miller sold his first story in the 1970s and, with his wife and collaborator Sharon Lee, has been building a career around words ever since. Today he joins the long haul series to talk about the many threads that can go into a writing life and about centering that life around the work we most want to do.


To make a long story short, I’m a professional writer. I’m in this for the long haul.

I’ve always intended to be a professional writer, that is, once I got over my childhood ambition to make a living as a chauffeur polishing and driving fancy Cadillacs. In high school I bought writing magazines and my grandmother sent me books on writing – including a fateful Writer’s Market, full of dozens, nay, hundreds, nay, thousands of places willing to pay me to write, if only I wrote what they wanted.

I started out as a poet; my first few publications were poetry and for some time I made a semi-life by writing poetry, doing coffee houses, guesting at parties as a poet, and covering (as a substitute teacher) the dreaded “poetry sections” for beaten-down English teachers. I made very little money from the writing (you’ve got to sell a lot of poems at $3 or $5 each to cover the rent!) and I made not much more as a substitute, and eventually I put the poetry aside.

But wait. There’s another thread. You see, in college I wrote for the college paper – a paying gig! – starting off as Chess Reporter and moving rapidly into a News Editor slot. I made decent money in that part-time job, learned a lot, and started writing reviews of books and movies and reporting. I made more money as a reporter and editor than I did as a poet, yessir! Just before I dropped out of college following the Kent State shootings one of my articles on the protests was syndicated across the country. I started working then as a freelancer for the local community tabloids, paid by the inch.

Oh, another thread! When I was in college I also was writing for science fiction fanzines, back in the days that they weren’t crowded with fanfic but were discussing fannishness and interpreting the field, and were filled with reviews and commentary. Sometimes they paid in copies, more often in egoboo, but they also led me to the semi-pro zines paying 1/4 or 1/2 cent a word (this was many years ago, I assure you!) for features and, yes — for original fiction. I started submitting to the semi-pro magazines and the first real success I had was with a story that won a $25 prize … and which has since been anthologized multiple times, earning far more than that original prize.

There’s something else: in high school I helped with the literary magazine, and in my senior year, I was Editor. I learned a lot, including how to make chapbooks.

What all of these disparate things say about that busily confused period in my life is that 1) I centered my life on writing, and 2) I was writing for money. Writing was always my way forward.

By the time I met Sharon Lee — now my partner, wife, and frequent co-author — I’d had bylines in dozens of publications in this country and abroad, was a regular chess columnist in several papers, had been translated, and had unexpectedly blossomed into one of the Baltimore-Washington area’s premier — um, music reviewers. It was an accident, I swear.

What happened next is a very mixed history of desperate times mediated by short-term successes and then longer term success, one that over and over again fell back on the understanding that this house is a house centered on, and yes, even powered by, word work.

We traveled in SF art and books for awhile — even starting a bookstore — while our stories started earning attention and a little cash. When the bookstore lost its lease I ended up managing editor of a short-lived SF-oriented newspaper, Sharon went to work for an ad agency as a secretary but leveraged that into a copy writing job. The newspaper folded and I got a job as assistant manager in a rapidly expanding game store chain — and when that died, I took my last $35 and started a monthly newspaper. Sharon started a copy writing service and ad agency.

We never stopped writing and we started selling more frequently, and when we sold three books to Del Rey we were set — we thought — and moved to a small town in Maine, where I had landed a newspaper job that turned out to be vaporware.

lee_crystalsoldierThen, Del Rey’s sudden new editor was a disaster for us, halting the Liaden series in its tracks, and we got by for awhile as writing instructors. I taught a local adult ed class and we both taught correspondence students for the British American School of Writing. We got a well-paying gig writing a novella for a game company (a project which was never published, though) and Sharon got a job editing night-side news for the local daily paper while I did columns and computer articles for the same paper. I also was picking up part-time hours as children’s librarian for a nearby library, and when that proved a dead-end I moved to managing a computer store — where I ran the newsletter, wrote the TV ads.

When the local paper went though a series of layoffs Sharon found herself freelancing for a weekly, turning out features like mad. I was working with a dotcom by then

Suddenly, and without warning, after eight years or more of being “former novelists” we got a phone call — an offer to reprint the three Liaden novels — but that turned into a sale of those three books and four more – seven in one fell swoop! Because we’d continued to write we had four new Liaden books to offer as well as the standalone The Tomorrow Log, and we had a publisher who suddenly wanted whatever we could turn out for him — including an anthology. We were invited to be Guests of Honor at a convention, and then at another … So we worked with that company until they were caught in an over-expansion just when the market was contracting.

In the meantime, though, we’d diversified somewhat, starting our own small press and selling chapbooks and t-shirts to the burgeoning Liaden fandom.  With our publisher suddenly gone we then finagled our mortgage and such with our chapbooks for another few months while Sharon went to work as a secretary at a local college and we also went direct to the internet, doing an early private crowdsourcing arrangement to write Fledgling, and then Saltation, online.

miller_saltationA publisher came to us for ebooks, and then for all our books; Sharon stayed at the college for awhile, where she single-handedly out-published the English department for several years.

And so it goes. We’ve got a five book contract in hand now, which means we’ve sold more than twenty five books together, and we’re doing what we’ve always done — we’re focusing on the words. We’ve had agents along the way, and friends and fans who’ve helped us tremendously. We didn’t do this alone, yes, that’s true. But the core of our experience, the key to being here as writers now, is that we kept looking to the word work whenever things got tough, and when they weren’t tough, we were doing the words.

Advice? Center your life around what you want to do. Immerse yourself in the culture but continue to keep your own visions — and to make them central to your work. If you’re writing a series make sure there are multiple ways in for new readers, so they won’t be overwhelmed by the weight of what’s gone before. Vary your protagonists. Write a book without a villain. Keep an eye out for side-work of short stories or articles, but maintain a clear sight of what your aim is — to pay the bills while enjoying the heck out of life.

So let me make a point. I got my first check for writing in 1969. My byline’s been on fiction, reviews, features, news, poetry, how-to articles, and columns. I’ve also done radio and TV ads, greeting card verse, and store openings. I don’t disdain any of my work, and some of my earliest fiction continues to earn money for me going on forty years after it was written.

To make a long story short, I’m a professional writer. I’m in this for the long haul.


Ebook pioneer Steve Miller is a lapsed reporter, book reviewer, publisher, con-running fan, poet, and librarian who writes Science Fiction and Fantasy, most frequently in the Liaden Universe® he shares with Sharon Lee. He attended Clarion West, was Founding Curator at the UMBC SF Research Library and has been a Guest of Honor, Special Guest, and panelist at SF conventions across North America. Steve sold his first professional fiction to Amazing in the mid 1970s and since then his byline has appeared on dozens of books and dozens more chapbooks and short works of fiction as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles.

Steve and Sharon shared NESFA’s Skylark Award in 2012 to go along with various individual and joint accolades over the years. Trade Secret, the latest Liaden novel, was published November 5 by Baen in paper and electronically and by Audible for the audiobook market. Steve and Sharon have just started on their latest five book contract for Baen.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Sharon Lee on Remembering We’re Not Alone (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Sharon Lee has been publishing for more than three decades, both on her own and with her collaborator and husband Steve Miller. Today she talks about the dangers of letting others tell us whether or not we have a career — and, perhaps more importantly, of assuming we’re alone when they do.


I’ve wanted to be a writer — specifically, a fiction writer — for as long as I can remember.  I don’t know why.  Possibly because stories gave me such very great pleasure as a small child. Also, I noticed that my mother was never angry when she was reading me a story; so I might have thought there was some magic involved.

Possibly, it was because, as I grew older, I realized that, in stories at least, things came out as they ought.

Possibly, I was just never really fit for any other kind of work.

Whatever, take it as given:  I have always wanted to tell stories.

I started writing for publication in March of 1972.  By which I mean that I first submitted a story I had written to a magazine in March of 1972.

My first pro sale — to Amazing Stories — was in November 1979.

In 1980, fellow writer Steve Miller and I married; and in 1983 we began collaborating.

In 1984, we wrote our first novel together; it was published in 1988; and two more quickly after it — later in 1988, and in 1989.

After which, we ascended to publishing nirvana on a rosy cloud of pulp paper, where we’ve dwelt these long years since, breathing the rarefied air of success, sipping milk and honey from a silvered glass. . .

Er, no.

What happened then, having published three mass market originals with Del Rey is that. . .

. . . we were told that our books had not garnered sufficient numbers; and that we had no career.

Now, it would have been bad enough, to only have been cut loose from our publisher for “bad numbers.”  But this “no career” business — that really twisted the tail of a discouraging situation.

I stopped writing.  I felt like I had cheated, somehow; that I was a pretender, not a writer at all; that my books weren’t — had never been — real.

Like I wasn’t real.

So . . . a period of unrealness ensued; I withdrew from most of my writer-friends — being a pretender, you see — and tried to take up a . . . not-writing life, with a not-writing job, and not-writing . . . hobbies.

Sad truth told; I wasn’t very good at not-writing.  Before I knew it, my clerk job at the local newspaper turned into a copy editing gig, and my experience there got me a side job as a reporter for another paper.  Even if I was an imposter as a science fiction writer, my skills were in demand for non-fiction.  I began to feel. . .a little. . .more real.

So much more real, in fact, that, at home, I started sneaking to the computer — back in those days before the internet — and writing little bits of . . . things.  Vignettes.  Description.  Snatches of dialogue.  Proto-stories.

Until, one day, without quite meaning to — I wrote an entire short story.

I didn’t send it out.  I mean, I wasn’t crazy; I knew perfectly well that I had no career.  Despite which, I wrote another short story . . . and another one.

Then I wrote a mystery novel, and, well . . . I began, quietly, to submit.  Little things, you know; small stories that nobody would notice.

I didn’t sell anything.  Not under my byline, or under the Lee-and-Miller byline.

By then, though, I’d gotten together the moxie to open a file and start typing a novel in the universe Steve and I had created.  I showed it to a friend — one of the two writers I still kept in contact with — and she made some suggestions.

One of her suggestions was that I submit the manuscript for publication.

Which, after a great deal of soul-seaching, I did.

It didn’t sell.

I’d like to say that I didn’t care, but that wouldn’t be true.  I did care, a lot.  More, I believed in the stories and in our universe; and I knew that they had a readership.

Now hold it right there, you’re saying.  I thought the publisher cut you loose because your books hadn’t sold.  Suddenly, they had a readership?  How did that happen?

Well . . . we became aware of our books’ readership because Steve had started a computer bulletin board, called Circular Logic.  And Circular Logic was part of FidoNet (this is all pre-internet, now), and, well, we started to get messages from people in far-flung places, like North Carolina, and Japan, and California, and Finland. . .asking if we were the Steve Miller, the Sharon Lee, who had written Agent of Change/Conflict of Honors/Carpe Diem.

And they wanted to know when the next book was coming out.

So, yeah; I knew we had a readership.  It was getting to them that was the problem.

None of the publishers wanted to take on a broken series, which is what we had, at that point.  And we didn’t want to start over with a new series.  We had things we wanted to say; a vision that we wanted to pursue.  We liked the Liaden Universe® just fine.

The clamor for something new from those readers who had found us was reaching a crescendo, so Steve did the only logical thing:  He started a small press, SRM Publisher, for the sole purpose of publishing a chapbook containing a couple of our stories that hadn’t sold, and selling them to our readers.

That was supposed to be a one-shot; it wasn’t.  For fifteen years, SRM published Liaden short stories, and distributed them to readers by mail.

That was, if not the turning point, then certainly a major intersection in our road as writers.  People wanted our work.

We weren’t alone.

After that . . . no, our pumpkin didn’t magically turn into a coach.  But we did eventually find a publisher who not only re-published our first three novels, but also the novels I-and-we had written during what amounted to nine years wandering the dark: Four complete novels in our Liaden Universe®, and one more outlined.  Seven books at once.

We didn’t feel like imposters anymore; and we worked with that publisher for eight years — eleven novels and an anthology — until events overtook them and they crashed, messily, leaving us once again teetering on the edge of Publishing Death.

This time, though, it was easier for us.

For one thing, we knew that this situation, though of kind of Epic on the Catastrophe Scale, was not our fault.  We had a career; we were not false writers; we had been doing very well for the house, and for ourselves, before the crash.

More importantly, this time, we had two things that we had lacked before:

We had readers . . .

. . . and we had a way to reach them — the internet.

Not to put too fine a point on it; this time, we didn’t get depressed.

We got angry.

And we formed a plan.

Far from quitting writing, we decided to write more; to write, in fact, an original novel in our universe and publish it to the internet, for free, one chapter at a time.  The only catch was that the next chapter would have to earn $300 in donations before we would released.

Not too long after we began the Fledgling project, our agent sold two books that had been circulating, in proposal, to Baen.

When the web-novel was completed, Baen purchased it, along with its surprise sequel, Saltation; and then offered contract for another novel.  And more novels, after that.

As of this writing, Steve and I have done nine novels with Baen; I’ve done three fantasies; and we have a contract for five more titles.  Every single novel ever written in the Liaden Universe® is available, in print, as ebooks, and as audiobooks.

. . .

Having now told this story, of having come back from the dead twice, I’m not certain what lessons you — or I — ought to take from it.

That, as Anne McCaffrey told me, many years later, sometimes it takes a book or a series a long time to find its “legs”?

That being proactive is better than being inactive?

Follow your vision, and rewards will follow?

That story will out; no matter what?

That we’re none of us alone?

. . . I think, that last.  If I had it to do over again, I hope that I wouldn’t hide from my colleagues when disaster struck.  Knowing that you’re not alone; that others have gone through similar rough patches and Epic Disasters, is . . . priceless, really.

Thanks for listening.


Sharon Lee has been married to her first husband for more than half her lifetime; she is a friend to cats, a member of the National Carousel Association, and oversees the dubious investment schemes of an improbable number of stuffed animals. Despite having been born in a year of the dragon, Sharon is an introvert. She lives in Maine because she likes it there. In fact, she likes it so much that she has written five novels set in Maine; mysteries Barnburner and Gunshy, and three contemporary fantasies: Carousel Tides, Carousel Sun, and Carousel Seas (available 2015).

With the aforementioned first husband, Steve Miller, Sharon has written twenty-one novels of science fiction and fantasy — many of them set in the Liaden Universe® — and numerous short stories. She has occasionally worked as an advertising copywriter, a reporter, copy editor, photographer, book reviewer, and secretary. She was for three years Executive Director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., and was subsequently elected vice president and then president of that organization.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Betty G. Birney on Seeking New Challenges (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Emmy-award winning writer Betty G. Birney has had highly successful careers as an advertising copywriter, children’s television writer, and writer of children’s books. She joins the long haul series to talk about one thing each of these careers has taught her in turn: the need to never stop challenging ourselves.


It’s Up to You to Challenge Yourself

birney_worldWhen I was seven, I loved books so much, I knew I wanted to be a writer and decided to give it a try. I wrote Teddy Bear in the Woods, illustrated it, stapled it together, gave it to my parents and announced, “I’m going to be a writer.” I never changed my mind.

Throughout my growing up, I was praised for my stories and poems, and in college, I got “A”s on essay after essay. When Sister Deborah, the head of the English department, called me in her office. I was sure she was going to commend me. I was shocked when she said, “I think we’ve established that you can write an A essay. Don’t you think it’s time you starting finding more challenging topics?”

Busted! I knew she was right, and I began to dig deeper. It wasn’t enough to please my professors. I had to challenge myself in order to grow.

Throughout my subsequent career as an advertising copywriter, I discovered that success didn’t mean coming up with ideas that pleased the client. I had to dig deeper to give them more than they expected.

birney_peabodysI switched careers and for over 20 years, I wrote hundreds of live-action and animated children’s television shows. It was often a struggle to please the networks and producers and please myself as well. I was rewarded with numerous awards, including an Emmy and a Writer’s Guild award.

But I still wanted to write books, and I knew I wanted to write children’s books. It wasn’t easy to switch to writing narrative fiction after writing in script format so long, but I finally sold a couple of picture books. Success–right?

Wrong! After those two books, it was nine years before I sold another book.  Nine years of writing, submitting, selling nada. One day, I realized that it was time for me to start fresh, to kick it up a notch, to challenge myself. My work had to be stronger, smarter, and fresher. When I made those changes, I got an agent and sold two middle grade novels, The World According to Humphrey and The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs to two different publishers within four months of each other.

birney_secretsHumphrey turned into a successful series. Book 10, Secrets According to Humphrey, comes out soon and there will be more. I’ve finally got it made–right?

Wrong! The biggest challenge in writing a series is to make each story fresh and original -and that intensifies with each new book.

The second challenge is to find time to experiment with new ideas. This has proven to be the most difficult creative hurdle, because every time I’m rolling along on something new, the deadline for another Humphrey pops up and I have to write that one now.

There are also external pressures to write something just like what I’ve written before, while my heart yearns to break out–and I will! Because the secret of writing for the long haul is to challenge yourself to aim higher on every level, time and time again. Sometimes I forget, but luckily, Sister Deborah’s words are still in my head, if I choose to listen.


Betty G. Birney’s According to Humphrey series has been on 24 state lists, won seven state awards, three Children’s Crown Awards and a Christopher Award in the U.S. as well as receiving numerous honors in the U.K. Book 10, Secrets According to Humphrey, comes out January 2, 2014, and there will be more. She is also the author of The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs and The Princess and the Peabodys. In addition, she’s written episodes for numerous children’s television shows. Awards for her television work include an Emmy, three Humanitas Prizes and a Writers Guild of America Award. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Betty now lives in Los Angeles with her husband.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Writing for the Long Haul on vacation this week

 
The Writing for the Long Haul series is on vacation this week. See you next Monday!
 


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Nora Raleigh Baskin on Making Deals with the Writing Gods (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Over the past twelve years middle grade and young adult writer Nora Raleigh Baskin has published nearly a dozen books. Today she joins the long haul series to talk about something most writers never stop hoping for, no matter how long their careers: just One More Book.


Advice to myself

I wanted to be published so badly. I could taste it. Or rather, I couldn’t. I couldn’t taste it. I couldn’t even see it. I could imagine it, but I couldn’t see it.

I wanted it more than almost anything in my life at the time and I knew it wasn’t a sure thing, by any stretch. I was the downer in my SCBWI critique group. I was the one that made sure no one forgot that we could all be doing this forever and never make it.

“There’s no guarantee,” I would say, just in case anyone had forgotten. “It’s not like you stand in line until your turn comes up.”

They practically kicked me out.

And I was the one at the NJ SCBWI who spoke up when one of our guest speakers, a NY editor, told his eager audience that we shouldn’t be writing to be published. We should do it just because we love it.

“I doubt you would say that to a room full of men,” I countered. “Would you tell a class of medical students they should just be doing it for the love of being a doctor?”

Nothing to do with my outspokenness (I don’t think) or my negativity but I wouldn’t be published for nine years. Five years of writing adult short fiction and sending it off to The Atlantic and The Paris Review (whatever was I thinking?) and then five more writing for children. I made all sorts of secret promises to the forces that be. One of those bargains with the universe was that if I could only publish one novel I would never ask for anything else. Ever again.

Just one.

Just this one.

Please, let me just publish once.
Then in 2000, I sold my first novel to Little, Brown and for a while I kept my word to myself. I felt completely validated. This was enough. More than enough. Just sitting at my son’s basketball game, high up in the bleachers, completely anonymous, my manuscript bought but a year from publication, I was content within myself. Now I was truly a writer.

Then, the inevitable. I just wanted to be able to write a second book. One more. Just to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke. That I wasn’t a fraud and fake. Just a second book. Two published books. Two books, that’s all I ask.

I struggled with that second book, for all the reasons of self-doubt and insecurity I just outlined. And then I met Patricia Reilly Giff who assured me that me the second book is always the hardest. She understood completely and validated my fears. I published my second book in 2003.

It’s 2013. I have ten published novels. Subway Love will be my 11th in May, 2014 and every time, I am terrified. I’m terrified I can never do it again. I will run out of ideas. I’ll be too old. My brain will rot. I won’t sell enough and no one will offer me a contract again. I’ll get such bad reviews no one will want to publish me again. It really was a fluke after all. I am fraud and fake and it’s just a matter of time before everyone figures it out.

Still, I keep writing.

And keep making my deals with the writing gods:

Just keep me in it for the long haul and I won’t ask for anything else.

Just let me keep writing because I love to write.

I find peace when I write. I find meaning in my life. I feel validated and alive. So–

Let me sell, at least well enough, to stay in good favor with my publishers which is something I have no control over. Let me remember what I do have control over: To always be appreciative. Always listen the advice of my agents. Listen the suggestions of my editors because after the shock and ego-busting of seeing all those comments and marks it’s just a process. It’s all in the process.
Always be grateful. Don’t be a pain in the ass. Remember to accept the business of my business and know that the marketing people and the publicity people are doing the best they can. They have many, many titles and the work they do is often not seen or obvious. Thank everyone. This is a privilege not a right. Handle bad reviews graciously. Handle good reviews graciously.

Then I put everything and everyone else out of my head and try, once again, to write the best book I possibly can.


Nora Raleigh Baskin started writing in the 5th grade and never stopped either telling stories or believing in the power of words. In 2010 her novel Anything But Typical won the Schneider Family Book Award along with numerous other honors. Her most recent books, the young adult Surfacing and the middle grade Runt were both published this year, and her next, Subway Love, will be out in 2014.


Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity