Sunday, July 18, 2010

Milestones

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.

11 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda, that letter from your reader must have made your day!

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, it really did. Especially since I really, really like the book it referred to and patience isn't one of my virtues. So waiting to hear from the publisher has been sheer torture.

Stephen Simmons said...

Milestones ... yes, the first story that I felt might be good enough for someone else to look at was a big one. Finding out that the very first semi-pro market I submitted it to wanted to buy it was another (My wife says I was insufferable for a couple of days).

The first vanity-press contract offer was another. (Thanks for your advice on that one, Sarah.) Not a fun one, but I learned from it, pulled the work back before I had actually signed anything, and sent it off to someone else.

Actually getting Volume One of one of the three series-length ideas that have been gnawing at me polished to the point that I was willing to kick it out the door in search of an agent was another. Here's hoping ...

matapam said...

I'm doing it backwards. Sold the first flash fiction I ever wrote. Rejection slips ever since.

I much prefer writing novels, and yes, a milestone was an editor adding, "...but I'd like to see what else you write."

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, isn't it a wonderful -- and horrifying -- moment when you finally decide you have something good enough to let someone else read and then you actually turn it over to them? I remember how, after hitting the SEND button, I tried to pull it back. If there had been anyway to make the internet go in reverse, I would have done it that day.

And yes, some milestones are of the painful sort. But those are also the ones you learn the most from. At least I do. And, frankly, they help you develop the thick skin you need to be a writer. Otherwise, every non-glowing review, every rejection is going to eat away at you until you never send anything out.

Let us know how the agent search goes. I swear sometimes it's harder to get an agent than an editor.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, the success followed by rejection slips is pretty much my short story career. But I keep trying, probably not as hard as I should. However, in my defense, that's because short stories are NOT what I'm comfortable with, so I don't write as many of them as I should.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Amanda. I guess the next major milestone I am chasing is a UK or USA novel contract. I've had a small press fantasy novel published in Australia, which did well in its class (I still get regular emails from readers asking for the next one in the series - are you listening, Mike?:)), and around fifteen shorts and novellas published here and overseas. I've won competitions, been shortlisted for awards etc. For me getting a contract with a 'major' would be a significant milestone that signalled the beginning of the 'rear' career.

I have to admit to having limited patience for people who have scored these sort of contracts and whinge about deadlines!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

The other corollary is that between milestones, it always seems like they'd never come. Like I got "used" to not selling, and when I started to sell it was a huge shock. Unbelievable, really.

So... Buck up. It will come. All of it. And oh, yeah, still have pointy boots!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

And, Matapam, I got a personal rejection first story sent out. Then nothing but standards for YEARS. It will come. Hang in there.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, good luck and fingers crossed that the contracts you want come through soon. Of course, I'm waiting for the same thing right now. So let's commiserate together ;-)

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, your pointy boots don't scare me. You aren't close enough to use them on me...bwahahaha.

But you are right. Just when you think that next milestone isn't going to come, there it is. And it's that carrot that keeps us, or at least me, going.