Yes, It’s Personal

We’d all like to think everyone will love all our books. But it just won’t happen. It’s personal, and that’s okay.

Based on past posts, regular followers of this blog might conclude that I don’t like any book I start. That’s not true, but I’ll admit I’ve ditched a couple more books lately. One is a classic, but I didn’t like spending time with a protagonist mixing copious amounts of drink and drugs. Despite his appearance in a book, by page 80 I can tell he’s no fun at all. The second is a general market suspense novel by a bestselling author. As a lover of the genre, I’m the author’s natural audience. Yet after reading over 130 pages, I don’t care about the outcome. The author’s fans would disagree since this series is into well over 40 books. But there you have it – one reader’s opinion. I wish the author well. The other author died long ago.

But let’s talk about your book. Sometimes it’s personal when an editor declines a manuscript. Why? Because even though you’ve read many books in the genre and have targeted that house, for some reason, your work didn’t resonate with him. Does this mean you’re inept? Not necessarily. Your book just didn’t hit the mark with that particular person.

How to fix this?

You can, and you can’t. Your agent might submit different books from you to the same editor, but your work never makes it into the acceptance stack. The disconnect may lie with the work itself, or the list is too full with similar authors, or she doesn’t think she’ll get it through committee. Or some other reason no one will ever know.

Cast the net wide

Your hope is to write the best book you can for the most extensive target market you can. When your book is a strong possibility for a number of editors, chances of success are higher than if you go too narrow.

Write something better!

But what if it still doesn’t sell? Don’t cling to a lone book as though it’s the last life raft floating past the Titanic. No time you’ve spent writing is wasted. UNLESS you keep pitching. And pitching. And pitching the same book that never sells no matter which agent or editor you approach. Please, for everyone’s sake, write something else.

You know those lime green trousers hanging in your closet that you wore only once? And you paid $250 for them? Yes, those, or maybe in your case it’s a sunflower-patterned orange blouse you bought at a yard sale for $2. Anyway, the trousers seemed like a good idea when you bought them. Lime green was the IN color that year, and they looked smashing. But they no longer work. And now you hold on to them because you don’t want to “throw away” the $250 you spent on them. I hate to break it to you, but you will never get your money back.

The trousers are just like your book that won’t sell after years of trying. Except at least you’ve learned from writing your book. So place it lovingly in a special file on your computer and say not “goodbye” but “’till we meet again” to it. It will always be there, ready to be revised later, if you like.

But for today? Keep writing. Do what works for your life now.

Your turn

How many books have you written?

If you are published, how many books did you write before you were published?

What would you say to encourage writers today?

61 Responses to Yes, It’s Personal

  1. Avatar
    Janine Rosche October 19, 2017 at 4:15 am #

    Love this. Thanks, Tamela! The lime green trousers metaphor is very helpful!

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    John de Sousa October 19, 2017 at 4:38 am #

    Priceless wisdom. And the heart of encouragement and compassion behind that wisdom, even more so. Well done!

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    Melissa Ferguson October 19, 2017 at 5:17 am #

    Great questions. I especially look forward to reading other responses on this one!
    I finished two manuscripts and am working on my third now. And just like you said, my first was my baby for much too long! Then, starting out, I spent so much time trying to figure out having a blog/website, reading books on the craft and industry, joining writing groups, mastering the proposal, etc that I didn’t spend the time I should’ve on the actual FUN and joyful thing: writing. It’s so easy to get discouraged that way. So yes. Write! If only for the sake of sanity and happiness!

    • Avatar
      Janine Rosche October 19, 2017 at 5:39 am #

      Yes, Melissa! I wrote three manuscripts in 2016. So far, I have spent all of 2017 revising, editing, deleting, undeleting, deleting again and focusing on all the necessary platform building. While I’ve loved growing as a writer and strengthening my existing works, I have really missed simply penning love stories. I need to find a good balance between the necessary and the life-giving parts of a writing career. I’m so thankful to have people like Tamela who offer mentoring advice!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 5:58 am #

      Melissa and Janine, the basic advice I have heard — and I think it’s true in practice — is to spend about a half hour on social media a day. I’m counting that as per business day rather than seven days a week, to give yourself a break. As for a blog, I recommend starting out with no more than one post per week. Hope this helps!

  4. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson October 19, 2017 at 5:23 am #

    I laughed when I read about the lime green trousers. What a great message! I truly appreciate the knowledge and wisdom of other writers. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray October 19, 2017 at 5:41 am #

      I sheepishly confess that I had a gorgeous pair of lime-green slacks in the 1970s. I got a little too blessed in the waistline and could no longer fit into them, but I held onto them for years thinking, “Someday … someday I’ll be able to fit into them again.” 😉

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 5:59 am #

      Too funny!

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    Kailee Diaz October 19, 2017 at 5:31 am #

    “Do what works for your life now.”

    Love this post! It’s so true. Thanks for the incites and thoughtful encouragement.

  6. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray October 19, 2017 at 5:39 am #

    Tamela, there is gut-wrenching truth in you words above.

    I have a question for you. What constitutes pitching, and pitching, and pitching? How many “pitchings” constitute an over-pitch? I do have a manuscript that I’ve been submitting various places for almost a year now. That said, I have three others started while I continue to pitch the completed one. How do you know it is time for it to go to the drawer?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 6:03 am #

      Since I don’t know how many people you’ve pitched to, it’s hard for me to give you a definitive answer. It’s one thing to pitch to three agents over the course of a year, and another to try fifteen, obviously. However, after a year, if you’ve pitched to the editors and/or agents you were aiming for and heard a “no” or nothing from them all, then I’d say it’s time to try something else. Hope I’m on your list!

  7. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson October 19, 2017 at 5:56 am #

    I’ve written two manuscripts. The first one sold to a small publishing house. I’m releasing the second one independently (they belong to a series) Nov 8th. I’ve gotten more pre-orders in the last week (without promoting it) on the independent novel than actual sales of my first traditional novel in the first two weeks.

    That being said, responses on the first novel have been very disparate. Lot’s of 5 stars and 1-stars (with the 1-stars still mentioning it’s “very well written”). It’s extremely hard to deal with how personal it feels, and I’ve learned a lot from that first book and pivoted my approach.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 6:11 am #

      Brennan, your website is gorgeous and well-executed. Yes, I can see the price difference as one of the major factors of a different marketing approach. I looked at your reviews on the first book and in my opinion, they are much like many bestselling books. Most seem to be five stars, with a good spread over the rankings. I think this is healthy because it demonstrates that you are finding readers outside your circle of family and friends. I’d say you’re doing a great job! I hope your new novel leads to more sales of your first novel as well. All best!

      • Avatar
        Brennan S. McPherson October 19, 2017 at 8:17 am #

        Thanks, Tamela. I hope the same, and you’re very kind! Absolutely, price is a huge barrier. But alongside that, I actually have a platform now, and that makes all the difference in the world. I see now why publishers are hesitant to take on new writers. Selling book 1 with no platform was extremely difficult. I wish I’d known what I was getting into at the beginning. But I suppose everyone has to start somewhere!

  8. Avatar
    Rachel McDaniel October 19, 2017 at 6:42 am #

    Great post, Tamela! I’ve written three historical romance stories, but to be honest, the first two are tucked away. I wrote those strictly on a desire to create while not taking the time to learn the craft. Seriously, I had no clue what “telling” was. Yep. That bad. Then I made the brutal mistake of sending the first manuscript out to major contests, family members, and even my boss! *blushes* This was about ten years ago, when I was in my early twenties and excitement trumped good sense. But the lesson was grasped—honing the skill is vital. So I devoted myself to learning. I bought books, subscribed to blogs, attended conferences, etc. Now writing is the perfect blend of knowledge and passion. Though I confess, I still get nervous about sending my work out into the world. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 7:03 am #

      What a great testimony of growth! I have “growth” novels filed away, too. Keep writing!

  9. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 19, 2017 at 7:01 am #

    There is a story on my computer, and it goes like this…

    Long ages ago, the Unicorns of Tassfaronga were a proud and noble race of warriors. Word of their fighting skill went far and wide along the land, and even across the Sound whose dark waves lapped the beaches of their home. They practiced their martial skills, but with no new foes they practiced for the last war, and their abilities became more stylized than effective.

    And their pride made them haughty; the young who were not white of coat and golden-straight of horn were banished to swim across the Sound to Malaita…or drown in the attempt, and they could never return. The lost and rejected were attacked, now and again, by the fierce and cunning Oryxes of Matanikaere who shared the land with Tassafaronga but were reluctant to challenge them, and, strong swimmers, would occasionally raid Malaita, just for fun.

    Thus it was that Bubba, born with mottled and wavy horn, one day was rolled with the waves onto Malaita’s Black Beach, to live or to die.

    He lived, and found a mate, and they had strong sons, dappled of coat and wavy of horn. They learned, father and sons, that a wavy horn was no handicap in battle, for it could look the paired horns of an Oryx and swing him to the ground, for the wavy horn was common on Malaita, and the elders of the rejected people passed down its use…and the marauding Oryxes kept that practice current.

    And he had hate for those who had cast him out; it only made him stronger. A unicorn could never take revenge, but also could never forget, for such was it with the soul.

    One day, in the passing years, came the clamour of battle from across the Sound. The crashing waves brought a gored and dying Unicorn, blood bedraggling his coat, and his horn snapped away.

    “Please,” were his last words to those who had been cast aside. “Please, help us, and in your aid, offer forgiveness!”

    The forsaken unicorns of Malaita had the weapon, that wavy horn, that could turn the tide and save their parents…but did they have the strength to lay down the bitter burden they carried?

    I love the story – otherwise I would not have shared it here – but it’s got a huge number of strikes against it, and it’s destiny is to sleep in digital stasis.

    First, it’s derivative. The theme is “the stone the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone”, and this goes back, in popular culture, to “Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer”.

    Second, it’s got an assumed audience for which I am NOT aiming, if that makes sense. Ten-year-old girls love unicorns, but this story isn’t for them (well, it’s for some of them, the kind who learn karate, maybe, and read at a high level).

    Third…well, this is getting long, and two strikes is enough.

    I had a great time writing it, and wrote in the hope that it would be saleable, but my maturity in the profession grew along with the manuscript, and by the time it was done it was an obvious also-ran.

    And that’s not bad; it helped hone the craft.

    And like I said, it was fun. The ten-year-old girl in me (no wincing, guys, YOU have one, too!) had a blast.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 7:05 am #

      What a great story! And see, you got to share it with our readers!

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby October 19, 2017 at 9:51 am #

        So, did the wavy-horn warrior unicorns go help? You shouldn’t leave us hanging when we can’t read the whole story, Andrew.

        • Avatar
          Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 19, 2017 at 10:21 am #

          Oh, very well, Carol.

          Only a few of the outcast unicorns could bring themselves to return to Tassafaronga, but they, and the straight-horned unicorns whom they had been able to train to fight properly, were able to keep the Oryxes at bay.

          But the battle had really been lost, and not enough straight-horns were left to defend their home. They could not withstand another attack, so in the dead of night, straight and wavy-horns together, they slipped into the waters of the Sound to begin a new life on Malaita, as equals.

          Days passed in sad exhaustion and mourning for that which had been lost…and then one noon there came a splashing at the beach, and a single Oryx broke free from the waves, and standing upon the black sand, said, “O, Unicorns! Brave fighters all, we of the other shore have a request…that you for pity’s sake COME BACK!”

          The Unicorns looked at one another in astonishment, for who would want to rejoin an ancient enemy?

          The Oryx went on. “Without you to fight, we’re fighting each other, and soon we shall all be dead, by our own brothers’ hands.”

          The Unicorns did not think this a bad thing, and some said so.

          The Oryx looked down, and sadly traced a black-sand pattern with a wounded hoof. “As our own enemies, we are unworthy foes, and there’s no honour. We die for nothing, and the world will not care to know our memory.”

          There was silence then among the Unicorns, and then Bubba, followed by his sons, and then followed by the multitude, stepped past the Oryx and took to the Sound, to return the Favour Of Honour.

          That’s it! And title is, perhaps obviously, “The Favour Of Honour”.

  10. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore October 19, 2017 at 7:02 am #

    Loved this post, Tamela—thank you!
    For the first few writers’ conferences I attended, I continued pitching the same story—I’d edited, rewritten, and polished, but still no lasting success with pitching that one. Finally a light bulb moment (yes, it took me a few years) 😉 when I decided I needed to move on to something else—and since then I’ve written six more stories and am working to complete lots more. So your post really resonated with me today (although I’m very thankful I don’t have any lime green pants in my closet, hehe!). 😉
    Blessings on your day—wish I could send everyone our Georgia blue skies and sunshine today. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 7:06 am #

      Enjoy the journey! Your comments have already brought Georgia blue skies and sunshine our way.

  11. Avatar
    Hilary October 19, 2017 at 7:35 am #

    I wrote a book about 5 years ago when I was in the process of losing my job due to my program being closed down. I think it had a lot of potential, but I was writing frantically and trying to decide if I wanted to be an author or continue in my field of social work. Looking at the book now, I think because my motivations were all over the place, it is not as well written as it could have been.

    However, I don’t view it as a waste because I realized that I could actually write a full-length manuscript that received good feedback! After that experience, I have spent the past few years focusing more on writing articles, my blog, and reading about the art of writing Christian fiction (plus serving God as a counselor). Now, I think my second book is much stronger because I actually spent more time learning the art of writing, versus just trying to imitate other books in the same genre.

    I hope to edit the first one and perhaps resubmit in the future (I’m not quite ready to throw away those lime green pants) since I did have some interest from agents, but after I’ve finished my current book.

    I’ve learned from the experience to value the process of writing, and that if I could write a book once, I can do it again and make sure that it’s even better!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 7:40 am #

      Thank you for sharing your story! Sounds as though you have a wonderful background to write a great book.

      • Avatar
        Hilary October 19, 2017 at 7:56 am #

        Thank you! One of the benefits of being a social worker for the past 10 years is that I’ve learned a lot about human behavior and relationships, which I think lends itself well to writing believable characters in a book!

        Or at least I hope. 😉

        Thank you for writing this article, it is definitely helpful!

  12. Avatar
    Katie Powner October 19, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    I’m working on my fourth manuscript. I, too, have a green trousers manuscript tucked away in my closet, but I’m keeping it for sentiment’s sake only. Not because I think I’ll ever pitch it again.

    The only way I can endure waiting on responses from proposals I’ve submitted is to start a new manuscript and pour my energy into that. Otherwise, the wait would be torture!

  13. Avatar
    LK Simonds October 19, 2017 at 8:05 am #

    I heard Petula Clark singing Downtown and Don’t Sleep in the Subway in my head when I read your paragraph about the clothes. That was great! Also this, “But what if it still doesn’t sell? Don’t cling to a lone book as though it’s the last life raft floating past the Titanic.” Oh my, true in writing and in life, right?

    I’ve written two novels, chunks of several others, and a lot of stories. The first few (unfinished) novels were written on steno pads and legal pads (pre computer) and are probably in the top of a closet or possibly the attic. (Note to self: It’s time these went into the recycle bin.) I self-published the first finished novel in 2002. I finished the second novel this year and am still having readers go through it. I’m writing stories again to submit to contests and anthologies. Forgot how much I love short stories.

    The stories from a long time ago were some children’s stories that still get passed around the family. Also, a few sentimental stories based on my grandfather that are on my website. There was one story that was published in a university journal years ago, and lots of unfinished stories that were really just images, before I realized I needed more than an image to work with.

    It’s fun to share this stuff. Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby October 19, 2017 at 9:24 am #

      Maybe you shouldn’t recycle them, LK. Maybe there are some real jewels there, and all you need to do is rewrite them with all the knowledge of craft you now have.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 11:15 am #

      LK, your comments show the value of stories well beyond formal publication!

  14. Avatar
    Jay Payleitner October 19, 2017 at 8:06 am #

    I’ve got four ready-to-publish manuscripts in a “someday” folder. All certain megasellers(!) I told myself that as soon as I sold a half million books I would force a publisher to publish them.

    Silly me. It doesn’t work that way. I’ve sold a fall million books. And they’re still in the folder.

    Of course, writing them and finding the courage to set them aside is all part of the process. No regrets.

    Great post.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 11:17 am #

      Funny how our feelings about certain projects can change over time! Thanks for stopping by, Jay!

  15. Avatar
    rose mccauley October 19, 2017 at 9:10 am #

    Great advice from a superb agent!

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    Carol Ashby October 19, 2017 at 9:21 am #

    Love this post, Tamela. I’ve written five and partially written two more. The first three were in omniscient narrator. (Thanks, Genesis judges for helping me learn that.) Not for today’s market, but the plots were sound. I rewrote all three in limited 3rd person POV. So far, I’ve brought two to market with reviews that draw big smiles and sales that are high enough to satisfy me, but probably not a traditional publisher. Most are Roman era, and that’s what my platform is (a Roman history website that draws internal visitors and book sales).

    But I love the 1925 Colorado romantic thriller with the half-Siamese cattle rancher, the New York polo-playing rich kid whose dad made him work a summer to taste “real life,” and a psychopathic neighbor who gets progressively worse until… I’ll probably polish and release it someday, but I don’t expect it to soar because it is so different from the ones that are building a following.

    I never bought lime green anything. I look like I have advanced liver disease when I wear that color. If I had it, I might wear it. I’m still wearing some skirts I had before my 20-something kids were born. No one ever accuses me of being a slave to current fashion.

  17. Avatar
    Joey Rudder October 19, 2017 at 11:13 am #

    I’ve written two manuscripts. The first is AWFUL and I have the rejections to prove it. 🙂 I’m now working on the final revisions for my second manuscript, and I have to admit I found myself gulping while reading this post. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for the rejections if/when they come and looking forward to writing the next book I’ve got on hold in my mind. I’m praying God will open doors and if not, help me handle the closed ones so I won’t keep running into them. I hope to know when to let go and move on before I bust open my nose and suffer a slew of concussions.

    What encouragement would I give to other writers? This may not sound like much, but I’d say, “Do the work.” I know it’s not very uplifting but it keeps me going and it reminds me that writing is work. It’s a sacrifice. It’s carving out time throughout the crazy seasons of life because it matters; it’s a calling.

    What joy it must be to have finished the work and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23 NIV). And what a smile it must bring to hear, “Your book really touched me.”

    I’m praying for both of those moments.

    Thank you for this post, Tamela. (I’ve had my share of “lime green trousers” I’ve had to part with over the years! 😉 )

  18. Avatar
    Tracey Dyck October 19, 2017 at 11:38 am #

    I’m not published yet, but I do know what it’s like to place a book in the drawer in order to focus on the next one. Funny thing about that first one is that I’m always pulled back to it. Despite the many growing pains it has gone through, there could be something in there worth using down the road.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 19, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

      Agreed, Tracey — when the time is right, your book is sure to be published. Just keep applying your new knowledge to revising.

      • Avatar
        Tracey Dyck October 19, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

        Thank you, Tamela! I’ll keep trucking along. 🙂

  19. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks October 19, 2017 at 12:28 pm #

    Twelve books written, three books published and one due to release next year.

  20. Avatar
    Michael Torres October 19, 2017 at 7:29 pm #

    The timing of this post is, well, almost unreal. I wish I could share specifics, but suffice it to say almost to the hour the email with this post arrived in my inbox today I received another personal email about my writing, and your encouragement spoke directly to me. Thank you, Tamela.

  21. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson October 19, 2017 at 8:04 pm #

    Jumping in late here, but I agree. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit. I’ve written three novels and I’m not published yet. However, I learn more with every one I write. I know my time is coming, but during the process, I’ll keep on writing. I encourage writers to keep pressing in and don’t give up.

  22. Avatar
    Tisha Martin October 20, 2017 at 1:50 am #

    Tamela, I have a pile of short stories and sixteen handwritten series of novels tucked far, far away.

    Out of those sixteen books birthed four books, then three, and now a stand alone. The stand alone has held its own through the pitching circuit this year. God has been good. I’ve started researching for a second novel and plotting a third while making some edits on the stand alone.

    While not novel published yet it’s been great to support debut Author friends and keep building plank after plank of my own platform.
    Thanks for your insightful and honest post. Keeps us motivated.

  23. Avatar
    Angela Arndt October 20, 2017 at 3:22 am #

    I had at least one pair of literary lime-green pants: a small-town mystery that I carried to conferences in various reincarnations for several years. There were several others that I never could push through to the end, too.

    Things finally clicked last year with much coaching and encouragement from my writer friends. I also entered my manuscript in several contests. The judges’ feedback finally helped me develop my heroine into someone that I’d like to know. And although this one doesn’t have a home yet, I’ve already started another.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 23, 2017 at 9:29 am #

      Keep going! Your original mysteries may find a home yet — or at least be blog fodder later!

  24. Avatar
    Lauren Luckhart October 20, 2017 at 6:09 am #

    Such an insightful post that spoke directly to where I am in my writing journey! After an incredibly long span of time working on the same manuscript, I’ve decided to tuck it in a digital drawer for now and move on to a new story I feel God is calling me to write. I still love the completed manuscript I have, and hope to someday bring it back out of that drawer, but it’s time to start fresh. Thank you for the encouragement this morning!

  25. Avatar
    Edward Lane October 20, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that info about putting manuscripts into drawer until another time. Means to me you never give up. I used a pic of you and Lynette Eason with my article I wrote about her book Always Watching recently. I wish I had gotten your permission before I used it. If you object to it, let me know, and I will substitute pics. Please accept my apologies.

  26. Avatar
    Anne Carol October 24, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

    I loved the honesty and straightforwardness of this article! Thank you for the wonderful advice!

    I’ve indie published two novels and one short story. I’m currently finishing up my third book. These are the only books I’ve written, unless you count the very early version on my first book, which I wrote as a preteen.

    I tell aspiring writers to see their projects to the end. I sort of mentor a young writer, and she’s started countless writing projects with much excitement, only to stop halfway through when she gets another idea. Also, and this should be obvious, read writing craft books. Get into a community of writers, so you can find mentors. These are all things that have helped me! I’m still a work in progress, and I hope to eventually pitch a project for traditional publication.

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