Monday, February 27, 2012

Writers Should Tell Their Stories

When I first started rerevising Sacred Fire (my book about the Vestal Virgins), part of me felt like this is getting ridiculous. If I have to rewrite a novel this many times, doesn’t that mean I should move on? There’s no point in forcing a story that won’t work.
Another author’s experience made me look at this in a different light.

Kathryn Stockett wrote The Help, a phenomenal break-out novel that was made into a successful movie. Goodness knows how much money she’s making off of it. But she didn’t experience success right away; she sent her novel to 60 agents before she found the right one.

You can read her story here.

Every author has stories about rejections (we've all read dozens of them). They make us unpublished people think, “If she can prove those agents wrong, I can do the same to the agents who rejected me!” But there is one huge difference between Kathryn Stockett’s story and the dream of putting agents to shame:

After each agent rejection, she revised her book.

She spent a year and a half writing the novel and a year and a half querying it. After rejection 40, she spent all her time rewriting it… so much time, she got embarrassed and started lying to people about it. She said she even worked on the book while she was in labor.

Her story taught me not about the value of perseverance, but the rather the value of revision. She didn’t prove agents wrong at all; back when she first submitted her book, it probably wasn’t good enough to publish. If she only persevered, she would have kept sending her query to agents until there was no one left to send it to. Instead, she was able to take a novel no one would accept and transform it into a novel that blew everyone away.

Her story helped me to make a vital decision. I’ve rewritten Sacred Fire so many times that I thought the novel could get better, but never to the point where it would make bestseller’s lists. Sometimes, it’s best to start over with a new novel to get a clean slate. I might have moved on to my second book if I hadn’t read about Kathryn Stockett’s experience. If she can do what she did, I can too.

Sharing our stories with other writers strengthens us and unifies us. I read as many author experiences as I can, and whenever I have experiences of my own to share, it's important to me to give back. I hope you give back, too.


  1. I like to read about other authors too. It does help to know we're not alone with our rejection letters and bottle of wine.

    I've got a novel that I continue to work on, very intermittently - I started it about 20 years ago. I haven't looked at it for a couple of years because I read an article about over-writing your work. Maybe I should get it back out again.

  2. Great story about perseverance. Keep at it!

  3. "She said she even worked on the book while she was in labor."

    *le gasp* Oh my. I've got a long way to go.

    Thanks for the inspiring post

  4. I've always liked Stockett's story. The trick is getting enough feedback from agents in order to do the proper rewrites. Most agents just don't do that anymore. But yes, perseverance is key. I don't believe in rewriting yourself into a hole, to the point you hate your novel. Moving on to a new idea is never a bad idea.

  5. See, another reason women have an easier time getting published than men. I mean, I can't get any sympathy saying I was working on my book when I was in labor. And few would care if I said I was working on my book during a prostate exam.

  6. Stephen and Deborah, don't misunderstand me: I do not recommend writing while in labor. I think that's crazy. I guess a woman is in labor for so long (for my mother in law, it was 20 hours), I might work on my book if I were bored in the hospital and had nothing better to do.

  7. Great post! Very validating. It's true that after enough queries or pitches, you start to notice trends in the feedback, which can often point you in the right direction for revisions. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. I was inspired by reading about her publication journey, too. How many of us would have given up long before 60?

    I also like a couple of other authors' stories. I think I feel a blog post coming on... :-)


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