Five Lessons from the Road to Publication

Our guest post is by Ginny L. Yttrup who is the award-winning author of five novels including her latest, Home, which released earlier this month. She writes contemporary women’s fiction and enjoys exploring the issues everyday women face. “Publishers Weekly” dubbed Ginny’s work “as inspiring as it is entertaining.” When not writing, Ginny coaches writers, critiques manuscripts, and designs websites for authors. To learn more about Ginny and her work, visit www.ginnyyttrup.com or www.wordsforwriters.net. I had the privilege of “discovering” her as an unpublished novelist at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers conference many years ago, but her journey to that point is incredible. She later won the Christy Award for “Best New Writer.” After you read this article you might laugh at the words “new writer.”

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I pulled into the driveway of the cabin, put my car in Park, and turned off the ignition. I stared into the inky night. The giant redwoods that surrounded the cabin, boughs stretched wide, offered strength and steadfastness in the light of day. But at night, they loomed. My hand gripped the door handle, grief my only company.

I opened the car door, then reached for my book bag on the passenger seat. Did the bag weigh more than it had when I’d left this morning? I got out of the car, dragged myself up the steps of the front porch, fumbled for my key, then let myself into the quiet, musty foyer.

I flipped light switches to illuminate the empty rooms, but my soul remained a dark and unnavigable terrain.

I made my way into the living room where I set my bag, filled with materials from the week-long writers’ conference I was attending, on a chair. Then I dropped to my knees on the floor. I’d damned my tears throughout the afternoon and evening sessions of the conference. But now they flowed in rivulets down my cheeks. I dug my fingers into the carpet and grasped a handful of the shaggy strands.

I’d worked so hard. For so long. I’d chased the dream of publication for over a decade. My chest ached as I gasped for air between my sobs. I could run no longer, chase no further. I untangled my hand from the carpet and pounded the floor with my fist. “No more. I’m done!”

The rejection I’d received from an editor that afternoon would be the last.

I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, do this to myself any longer.

Nothing is Wasted on the Road to Publication

Twenty or more years and five published books later, the memory of that night stands as a marker on the map of my road to publication. A road I traveled for seventeen years.

Long years.

Often discouraging years.

But not wasted years.

The lessons I learned over that seventeen-year span are lessons that serve me well now both in life, and as a full-time author and writing coach.

Here are my top five lessons from the road. Maybe they’ll help you navigate your own journey to publication:

Lesson #1 – Dare to Dream

Dreams are dangerous business. Dreams embody desire which leads to vulnerability. Surely it’s better to stuff the desire and focus instead on the realities before us. Just take the next step… While I’m a proponent of living in the moment, there is a time for dreaming. Without examining the desires nestled in our hearts and nurturing the dreams those desires lead to, our growth becomes stunted and the character arc of our lives remains undeveloped.

It was many, many years before I allowed myself to risk dreaming of publication. In retrospect, a dream may have propelled me forward rather than leaving me stalled for so long.

Are you taking time to dream?

Lesson #2 – Equip Yourself to Attain the Dream

While it would be nice if our dream, fully realized, arrived in a gift wrapped box, most often the attainment of the dream is the result of determination and hard work. If you dream of publication, how do you propose to reach that milestone?

Whether you choose to self-publish or seek an agent to represent your project to traditional publishers, the first step toward creating a quality product requires honing your craft. There are many venues, tools, and professionals to help you strengthen your writing and prepare it for publication: blogs devoted to the craft of writing, critique groups, associations for writers, writers’ groups, conferences, mentors, and coaches.

Set a few realistic goals and commit to honing your craft so you offer your best possible work.

Also commit to a lifetime of learning. I still attend, when possible, writers’ conferences and I still seek out mentors who will challenge me to continue my growth as a writer.

Lesson #3 – Persistence isn’t Optional

Persist. Persist. Persist.

The offer of a contract from a traditional publisher will come only after you’ve honed your craft, spent time researching and submitting your work to agents, secured representation by an agent, and after your agent has taken the time to shop your manuscript to publishers. Add the time each of these steps can take and most often you’ll measure the sum by years rather than days.

To say reaching that offer is a work of persistence is an understatement. It requires patience, determination, and…persistence.

Persist. Did I already say that?

Lesson #4 – Surrender the Dream

 Why would I extol the virtue of taking the risk to dream, encourage you to equip yourself to attain the dream, exhort you to persist, and then encourage you to let go of your dream? Good question.

First, let me clarify what surrendering means: surrendering embodies the idea of giving over control to someone else. We surrender control of what happens, how it happens, and when it happens. When we relinquish something, we give it up. Or in the case of a dream, we give up. We stop believing in the possibilities and walk away from that which we desired and worked so hard to achieve.

In my pain and frustration that night so many years ago, I was ready to give up. But later, after my tears were spent, I recognized that giving up would lead to defeat. Instead, I surrendered.

In my case, I surrendered control of my dream and placed the outcome in the hands of God. I quit grasping and striving and instead accepted that if the dream was meant to come to fruition, then I would continue to do my part, but leave the results in God’s hands. I would trust.

With surrender came peace. And eventually, contentment. Whatever happened, I knew I’d worked hard, done my best. I could be satisfied with that.

When we find ourselves focused on our dream to the exclusion of all else, when we find ourselves striving, it may be time to surrender.

Lesson #5 – Trust the Timing

 Whoever said “Timing is everything” was both wise and right.

After fifteen years on the road to publication, which included several detours, and a few near fatal accidents, I submitted the first twenty pages of a novel I’d begun writing to an agent through a writers’ conference I planned to attend. The day before the conference, I received an email from that agent asking me to find him as soon as I arrived on the conference grounds. He wanted to discuss my project.

By the end of that conference, I didn’t have an agent, but I did have the probability of representation once I’d finished writing the manuscript. I glibly promised the agent that he’d have the completed manuscript within six weeks. I went home and got to work. And then…

Life.

Somehow, in the midst of one of the most daunting and painful years of my life, I finished writing that novel. But rather than six weeks, it took me more than a year to complete and submit that manuscript.

It took almost another full year for me to edit the manuscript and for my agent to shop it to publishers.

By the end of that second year, year seventeen on the road, I’d nearly forgotten about the manuscript. I had other concerns: two young adult sons, a twenty-nine-year marriage that had come to an unexpected and disastrous end, and the task of figuring out how to support myself for the first time following nearly thirty years as a housewife and stay-at-home mom.

Two weeks after my marriage ended, I received an email from my agent asking me to call him “ASAP.” I’d barely had the energy to drag myself out of bed that morning, let alone make a call to my agent. But since I’d evidently missed a call from him already, I punched his number into my cell phone then stood dumbfounded as he announced the offer of a three book contract from my dream publisher.

Three books?

Three advances?

Three years worth of work?

Perfect timing.

Sure, that’s just my story. But I’ve heard similar stories over and over as I’ve talked with other authors about their first contract. The offer arrived when they were ready for the offer.

The old axiom has proven true over and over again since that first contract. Timing is everything.

Trust it.

If you’re embarking on a journey to publication, pack these lessons with you. Refer to them when you reach a crossroad, or when you’re seemingly facing a dead end. They will lead the way…

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