Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Perseverance Payoff

Seven years is a long time to run after a dream.

While I've always written, I began writing seriously in May of 2005. Since then I've typed THE END on six novels, and I've penned the first scenes in book number seven. I contribute to two separate blogs, Spire Reviews and Inkspirational Messages, and I have a website (Brenda Anderson Books) that's currently under reconstruction.

Also, during those seven years, I've attended five writing conferences where I've learned from Angela Hunt, Ted Dekker, James Scott Bell, Tim Downs, and many more accomplished authors and teachers.

I'm in two critique groups with the best partners anyone could ask for (Thanks Lorna, Shannon, Jerri, and Steph). I've entered a handful of contests but never advanced past round one. I've met with numerous agents/editors; twice, I nearly signed with an agent. I've paid for several critiques, gaining improvement with each. And I've received some strange advice: frequently, I've been told that women won't read books with a male protagonist. (Really?) One editor told me that my characters were too messed up, they needed counseling, and should never get together. She said I should take out all the messy stuff and write something sweet. (Not gonna happen.) Once, when pitching to an agent, I told her my protag had previously lived with his girlfriend-- The agent stopped me right there and told me that women who read Christian fiction don't want to read about that. (Oh my!) It was a mutual decision that we weren't right for each other.

During these years, I've cheered on three critique partners as they published and have happy danced with friends as they signed with agents. But, I couldn't stop the niggling thought, "I've been giving it my all. When is it my turn to win?"
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.     Corinthians 9:24
In 2010, I attended the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis. The conference began with a very encouraging paid critique from a well-respected, multi-published author who told me she loved my writing and that she fully expected to stand in line for my autograph someday. Oh, I was flying high at that moment.

Then I crashed.

After pitching to editors and agents, no one requested I send more. That had never happened before. Even at my very first conference, with a terrible manuscript, an agent requested a proposal.

It left me wondering, "What do I do now?" After years of perfecting and even completing a novel in the romance genre in order to appeal to a wider audience, no one wanted me. I had no where to run.

But I couldn't stand still--I kept running, this time without seeking outside approval. While I still worked with my critique partners, I didn't attend a conference or enter any contests. I just wrote. I didn't write for the market, but rather what was on my heart, and I completed two more novels. In the process, I rediscovered my voice.

A voice I'm ready to share again.
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me Heavenward in Christ Jesus.     Philippians 3:13-14
And I shared by entering two stories in the ACFW Genesis contest, one in women's fiction, and one in contemporary romance. To be honest, I didn't expect much, and my gut told me I wasn't going to semi-final, but then last Wednesday, April 18, at 12:16 pm (yes, I recorded the time), I received a call from the coordinator for the contemporary romance category who told me I semi-finalled. Needless to say, I was ecstatic! I called my husband right away, then I hurried an e-mail to my critique partners.

Then at 12:34 my phone rang again. I peeked at the caller I.D., and my heart started palpitating. It was the coordinator for women's fiction! After managing a thank you amid my shock, I called my husband again and flung off another e-mail to my critique partners.

I don't think my feet touched the ground for two days. After the Genesis contest coordinator announced all the semi-finalists later Wednesday evening, my Facebook page and e-mail were flooded with congratulations. My celebration was tempered, though, with the knowledge that several talented friends did not advance--I know too well how that feels and wasn't about to offer them the platitudes. Believe me, empty encouragement doesn't help immediately after a rejection.

Now, does semi-finalling mean that a publishing contract is around the corner? Nope. This is just the first lap in a multi-lap race. The precentage of finalling in this contest, of being in the top three in either of my categories, is a mere 15%. Not great odds, but not impossible either. With help from my critique partners, I know I did my best.

What this does mean is that working hard these past seven years has finally paid off with confirmation that I'm running the right race. To advance this far, I must have talent worth harvesting.

And so, regardless of the outcome of the Genesis contest, regardless of the results of the ACFW Conference in Dallas this fall, I'll persevere. I'll keep running this race, and I will continue to give it my all and leave the results in God's hands.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...     Hebrews 12:1


  1. Brenda, I am still so excited for you I'm about to burst. You have grown so much as a writer and I feel privileged to be part of your journey and privileged to have you as part of mine. The publishing business isn't for the faint of heart, is it? I expect your autograph soon!

    1. Lorna, you're one of the main reasons I've grown so much! I'm very blessed that God placed us together in our critique group all those years ago. And I'm thrilled that I've been privileged to share in your writing journey.


      (Mini shout out for Lorna's new release, The Ride of Her Life. You can get the paperback or e-reader edition for an excellent price right now! http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Her-Life-The-Summers/dp/0800734475/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1335275047&sr=8-2)

  2. From all this and from everything over the past several years, I can see that what Lorna said is extremely true. This business is not for the faint of heart. You have my admiration for how you've stuck to it. My heart tells me you do have a voice that others should hear. My prayers are for that to happen! And I love you no matter what.

    Your Older Bro

    1. Thank you, Gary! No, it's not for the faint of heart, or the thin skinned. I'm so blessed to come from a family that is so supportive (and I have THE BEST big brother ever!). Thank you for always being there for me :)

  3. "What this does mean is that working hard these past seven years has finally paid off with confirmation that I'm running the right race. To advance this far, I must have talent worth harvesting."

    Touche! You do. And rock on!

    (And what a sweet older brother. I miss mine.)

    1. Thank you, Nicole! You're one of my biggest encouragers, and I'm blessed by your friendship.

      Oh, I do have a sweet older brother. Growing up, I wanted to be just like him. I still feel that way. :)

  4. Oh, Brenda, I wish I could give you a big hug right now! I'm so proud of you, I could burst! I think during my "writing sabbatical," which I call it to make myself feel better, I've come to realize that it's GOD'S plan I need to strive for, not my own. HE is the one who continues to tell me to find contentment simply writing for HIM. I think your year of no contests and simply WRITING was exactly what HE wanted, Brenda. Thank you for being in MY cloud of witnesses! :)

    1. Regina - here's a big virtual hug for you! (Hope we can share the real thing very soon.)

      Simply writing for a year was wonderful. It brought my focus back where it belonged--to my Audience of One.

      As long as we're running the race all out for Him, we can't fail! I may just take us a few more laps than we anticipate. ;-)

  5. Brenda,
    I'm so happy for you that you are finally getting the acknowledgement you deserve for all of your hard work. You know I will be one of the loudest ones to scream when your name is finally called.

    I have heard some of the same discouraging things about my writing. I am not the "sweet" writer either. There is a place for us. I feel it in the depths of my soul. Otherwise I would have given up. We are beside each other in this race and that is more than encouraging.
    Dawn Ford

    1. Thank you, Dawn! It really is rewarding to finally get some acknowledgement. I hope there's reason for you all to scream at the conference.

      I look forward to reading your work, Dawn. I've heard wonderful things from Lorna. :) If it's not "sweet", then it's all the better to me.

      Keep plugging away & hopefully next year we'll see your name on the list.


  6. Brenda,

    Take heart. I began learning how to craft fiction in the early nineties, won my first award as best new fiction writer in 1994, have had two agents, and three of my stories won a series of awards in 2011, but I did not receive a contract (or even a request for a full read) until last month. Count those years. Count them.

    Even if you begin the count in 1994, this has been a long, long wait.

    But, you know what? I'm so very grateful my work didn't find a home before now. Why? Because I'm a better writer for the wait. I wrote non-fiction and work for hire in earlier years when I wasn't actively editing, but there's a huge difference in methodologies.

    I've much yet to learn and many miles yet to go. But we'll keep on in this race, doing, to the best of our ability, whatever it is our hands find to do. Amen?!

    Congratulations on your semi-finalist status!

  7. Thank you, Normandie, and congratulations on your upcoming release! It's definitely on my to-read list.

    Looking back, I am so grateful for this waiting period. When I consider those first drafts I showed at conferences, I wince. My writing has improved exponentially since then, and I'm certain it has much more room for improvement. Going through the waiting period is rarely fun, but almost always often beneficial.

    It is very nice, though, to get the pat on the back that semi-finalling gives me.

    Thanks for stopping by, Normandie!