by Elizabeth Camden
I daydreamed about my first manuscript for years before I got up the courage to start writing it. I put a lot of work into honing and polishing it to a diamond-bright shine. It was exactly the kind of novel I liked to read and I considered it to be a masterpiece. I sent it off to a handful of top agents and checked my mailbox daily, prepared to select from among the best who offered. When no offers came, I was stunned.
Was it possible my query was reviewed by a secretary? Or an intern too green to spot blazing talent? Or maybe you had to know someone to get your foot in the door. It wasn’t my writing that was holding me back, it was “the system.” To make a long story short….this kind of thinking went on for a couple of years.
After more rejections than I can count, I came to accept that these excuses were not getting me any closer to landing an agent. I swallowed hard, did a gut check, and started from scratch. I read voraciously. I read the classics, genre literature, memoirs, anything that exposed me to writing that was fresh, original, and sparkly. I also read dozens of books about the writing craft to learn the ropes and spot some of my problems.
And you know that manuscript I thought was a gleaming diamond? I realized it wasn’t that great. Not even worth revising. I ditched it, and when I completed a new manuscript there was a marked shift in the reactions I received from agents. My rejection notes got more flattering, but still no offer. Rewind and repeat this scenario for the next several manuscripts.
Then came phase three of my writing life. I was convinced I was awful. I was too blind to spot my problems and I needed to let go of this irrational dream to ever write a novel.
But the thing was, I liked writing. I liked everything about it and didn’t want to quit, even if no one ever read my work. That gave me the freedom to be a little more risky in the type of manuscript I submitted to agents. This was when I finally found my voice and things took off for me…. and it took off fast. I think it may have been a willingness to critically assess my work and take some strategic risks in stretching the genre that finally bumped me up to the next level.
The best advice I ever got was from a writer who told me to dump that first manuscript that wasn’t working and try something entirely different. Publishers don’t want to sign a writer with only one manuscript beneath their belt. They want someone who has a ton of stories ready to burst out and can reliably deliver a new novel year after year after year. The only way you know if you are up to the task is to complete those manuscripts. Set the ones that aren’t working aside and try something new. Be brave. Play with different styles, settings, maybe even genres. This is how you will find your voice. Good Luck!
- Manuscripts that will never see the light of day: Five
- Years from beginning to write until publication: Six
- Experience of seeing my first book in print: Priceless
Bethany House, June 2011
Clara Endicott is beginning to make a name for herself as a journalist who is intent on exposing the dark side of industry. In the splendor of gilded age America, she soon finds herself face to face with the childhood sweetheart who is no longer the impoverished steel worker she once knew.
Daniel Tremain has risen to become a powerful industry giant. He always idolized Clara, but when she writes an exposé about his company, her words trigger a series of events that threaten to destroy them both.
A research librarian and associate professor, Elizabeth Camden has a master’s in history from the University of Virginia and a master’s in library science from Indiana University. She has published several articles for academic publications and is the author of four nonfiction history books. Her ongoing fascination with history and love of literature have led her to write inspirational fiction. Elizabeth lives with her husband in central Florida.
Elizabeth blogs at http://elizabethcamden.com/blog