Milestones happen in everyone's life. The day of your first communion, your first date, your first kiss, your wedding day, the birth of a child, that child's first step, the death of a loved one -- well, you get my drift. Milestones are important dates in your life, dates you never forget and that are tinged with emotions good and bad.
Milestones happen in our lives as writers as well. I hadn't really thought about it too much until this week. But these milestones are what keep us writing. Some of them are also what keep us sending out our work, allowing us to forget the pain of rejection much like the joys of watching our children grow up helps us forget the pain of childbirth -- okay, guys, you don't have the pain but every woman out there knows what I mean.
So what are these milestones? For me, as someone who hasn't been in the business very long, they are easily identifiable.
The first is that day when I finished a book and knew it was something the was publishable. I'd written a number of other "books" before then. Fan fic, not-quite-fan-fic and others that will never see the light of day. They were learning experiences for me. They were outlets of various sorts. But they were never meant to be read by anyone else. But this book, well, it was different. I knew it and, heaven help me, I told Sarah about it. Then she, of the famous pointy toed boots, told me to get off my duff and send it out. Hence the milestone. That sense of fear and excitement, panic and pride as I checked my formatting and spelling one last time before hitting the SEND button and off my baby went.
The second milestone is, logically, getting that first rejection. Oh how it hurts. Someone didn't like your baby. A lot of people never get past that first rejections. They don't persevere and get stubborn. Well, I was born stubborn. I was also born inquisitive. When that rejection came, I instantly reached out to some people in the industry I know and trust and asked what the rejection meant. Had I been wrong about my baby and it really wasn't as good as I thought? These wonderful people walked me through the different levels of rejection notices and reminded me that just because my book wasn't right for one editor or agent didn't mean it wouldn't be right for someone.
The third milestone for me was also a rejection. But this was a very special rejection in my eyes. It was the first one I'd gotten that had a handwritten note from the editor not only encouraging me to keep trying but telling me he liked my writing and wanted to see my next story. Let me tell you, there was no depression over that one. No, I was on Cloud 9 for a couple of days after that. When an editor takes time to add a handwritten note to a rejection is the time you know that you not only made it out of the slush pile, but also that your story actually got read by someone other than an intern or editorial assistant. Whee!
The fourth milestone is the big one for me. The first professional sale. Any sale is a big step, but that first one meeting the "professional" level is huge. At least it was for me. Maybe because it was for a short story and those are foreign to me. I've never been comfortable writing short -- ie, anything less than 60,000 words. Maybe part of it was because the short story was going into an anthology instead of a magazine. So it would be part of a book...a book! That sale had me grinning like a loon for three days or more.
Another milestone is that first fan letter you get. I received one this week. Well, you might not classify it as one, but I do. The letter was from someone who had seen my request for a beta reader for a novel over on Baen's Bar. She'd responded and I'd sent her the novel. That was about three years ago. She had just finished reading the novel for a second time when she emailed me to ask if the book had been published yet because she really, really liked it and wanted to buy it so I'd get some money for it. That's heady stuff, folks. Has the book sold yet? No. But it is sitting on an editor's desk waiting to be read. So my fingers are crossed -- as are my toes, my legs, my eyes...well, you get my drift. ;-p
So, why are these milestones important? Because they are your signposts of your journey to being a writer. It doesn't matter how long you've been in the business, there is always one more milestone for you to achieve. Whether it is making the best sellers list or seeing your book go into the fifth or tenth or 100th printing, or seeing your book turned into a movie or TV series, there is always something up ahead. Sometimes, the milestone is a bump in the road. When that happens, you get a day or two to deal with it. Then you have to get back behind the wheel and continue your journey. It is all part of the process.
I've told you my milestones. What have been some of yours? What milestones are you aiming for?
In other business, I promised to announce the winner of the title contest from last week. The winner gets a line by line edit/critique of their first chapter or first 5k words (please limit it to 5k words even if your chapter is longer) of a novel or short story. There were some great entries and I thank all of you for taking part. Now, drum roll please. The winner is "By My Hand" from Linda. Linda, if you'll email me at amandgreen-at-gmail-dot-com we can get this ball rolling.