Saturday, June 04, 2005

NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER by Author Shelley Bradley

Yes, I know, this is a line immortalized by Galaxy Quest, but it applies to writing as well. Lemme tell you a story:

I started dabbling with writing almost 20 years ago. And I enjoyed it. The good news: I didn't get rejected back then. The bad news: I didn't have anything to reject. I didn't finish anything. I wasn't serious at the time. I'd go for months without writing. People thought it was cute that I wanted to write a book. (Considering I wasn't yet a legal adult, maybe it was.) The fact is I did nothing, so nothing happened.

Fast forward 5 years. I'd gotten serious. I started really writing and writing and writing. The good news: I was learning my craft and writing some books I was really proud of. The bad news: I was getting rejected all over the place. It wasn't enough that I was a Golden Heart finalist or that I'd won or placed in lots of other contests. I wanted to SELL. I started learning the business. I joined my local RWA chapter, got involved and listened to the published authors talk about their joys and woes.

Then came the first snag. I didn't sell that Golden Heart book quickly, like everyone thought I should. In fact, it wasn't long after that Golden Network released a survey of Golden Heart finalists and revealed that something like only 53% of the people sold their GH finalist books. That stunned me. As the summer morphed into the fall and the rejections mounted, I cried a river. One day after receiving a pair of rejections, I literally got a box of heavy duty trash bags and started dumping every research book, craft book and paperback book I'd ever bought in them. I was quitting. Done. Finished. No more. My husband laughed and put them all back on the shelf. I wailed and asked him, "What if it takes me another five years to sell? I'll go insane!" Well, gang, it took me another 4 years and 10 months. But I kept going, believing I could.

Now jump another 5 to 6 years. Yeah, I was published. That was great news! Finally, my career was taking off. My first two books had come out with a third on the way. Nothing could stop me! I did stop to wonder why all but one of those published authors who had been selling and selling five years ago had dropped off the face of the earth, but I heard reasons--sick husband, household move from hell, writer's block. But none of that was going to happen to me! I felt like the bionic writer. Yes, I had a full-time job and a sickly infant. But I'd wanted it for so long, I could do it.

A few years later, we hit another bump in the road. I'd written 9 books in 4 years while still working, while dealing with a child's illness no one could seem to correct or understand. I was exhausted, in bad shape and tired of writing. Reader mail was the only thing that made me smile. But after I turned in my last historical, my editor announced that she was leaving. I turned in another proposal...but not quick enough. She'd already gone. The book was ambitious. I didn't know where I was going to get the energy to write it if my new editor did buy it. I couldn't imagine finishing it. My new editor and agent started discussing an offer for the book. Quickly, I realized that we weren't going to come to terms. I slipped into a depression. When I realized that I enjoyed having written more than the actual writing, I stopped. For a whole year, I wrote nothing.

In that year, I read a lot. Soul searched a lot. What did I want? If I didn't want to pursue writing anymore, why were all these stories running around in my head? Why was I still going to RWA meetings? Going to National conferences? Talking to writer friends? Attending critique? I knew the answer: I did want to write. But every time I approached the keyboard...I just couldn't find it in me.

Then one day, I decided to write something for me. Something I'd share with no one. It would be my little secret. So it didn't matter how bad it was, how unmarketable it was (who was even buying contemporary comedy erotica suspense?). I didn't care how off the wall it was. I was only amusing myself. The writer in me had decided to concoct something for the reader in me. I had a ball! I grew brave enough to show it to a friend or two and got positive responses. I wrote more. Showed it to a few more people. They still liked it. And while that was important, this was still for me. Finally, I showed it to Deidre. She loved it. So did Berkley.

When the offer came, I gulped. Did I want to do this again? Did I want to put myself into the stress of deadlines and promotions and always having to deliver, only to potentially find myself out of sorts and questioning my direction in a few years? That offer sat on the table for three days while I thought about it. And thought. My editor called me, and we clicked. I realized from that conversation that she understood the book every bit as much as I did. So I agreed to the offer. Because I rediscovered the joy of writing again. Because something in me just wouldn't quit. I may hit another snag or two--or ten--in the road. That's life. I'll just keep writing.

Over the years, I've seen a lot of talented people leave this business, some before they ever sold a word. Between their experiences and mine, I've learned one hugely important thing: The people who succeed over time aren't always the most talented; they're the ones who were too stubborn to give up and surrender.

Visit Shelley Bradley on the web at


Blogger Bonnie Ferguson said...

Great article :)

Saturday, June 4, 2005 at 6:40:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Sarah McCarty said...

Oh Shelley! I can so relate and I am so glad to hear I'm not the only one who did this. I took a little longer than you to get to the burnout point and, unfortunately, I was caught at the level where an editor at every house wanted to see whatever I wrote, no query, just send, but at a time when the market was closing up tighter than a drum while houses reanalyzed/restructured. Everything I wrote was great as a second book, but not quite that first big BREAKOUT book needed to justify taking on a new author. My father's terminal illness, while a horrible life experience, was the best thing that ever happened to my writing career. I took care of my father at home until his death. That year with him was precious and I didn't even feel the need to write, however, after his death and after my mother settled, I felt the urge to write again. But I wanted to write with joy not angst. I wanted to write MY stories the way they called to me without outside factors modifying the tone. Basically, I wanted the pleasure back.

I sat down and looked the multiple series I had planned so long ago. I picked out the three that were of my heart. And then I went to work. It felt so good to bring those people to life. To enjoy them. To frolic with them. To cry with them, but then came the day when my husband asked me if I was going to submit them anywhere. I jumped so hard I spilled my drink. He'd gone and done the unthinkable. He put into words the thing I'd been trying to avoid. And I reacted the same exact way you did. With fear and nervousness. I just never wanted to go back into that dark no fun place again. Not having an agent or prior published status, my choice was the... slush pile. The hot bed of rejection.

I sweat the submit or not submit question for 3 weeks, and then I thought of my Dad. He was just a normal guy, but he is about the only person in all my years of writing that alwasy beleived in my careeer choice. He was also the only person I've ever known who has never given up. On himself or one of his kids. And damn him to hades, he'd gone and instilled that in me.

So, I gathered my courage and my common sense and I looked for a house that was open minded. The rest is history. I'm published. People are reading my stories and I'm blissfully happy as a writer and with the house I write for. I recently started looking at NY houses again because I have a couple series that I think will do and expansion is a good thing, but I'm not going unless I have an agent.

That whole burnout thing taught me a valuable lesson. I need a buffer between myself and I also need time off from the hunt. I've given myself until June 15th this year to find an agent and then the rest of the year is mine to just enjoy my kids, my life and my writing. Having rejection hanging over my head 24/7 365 days of the year is too subconsciously draining for me to handle, so I'm simply not doing it. Amazingly enough, I never felt free enough or confident enough to say that before. People told me I had to have something out there at all times, preferably multiple somethings, and I blindly followed the advice, without looking at the wear and tear on me. (You can all slap me aside the head and say DUH!!! now.) It was an amazingly easy trap to fall into.

Of course, when I gave myself that deadline, I made a mistake in the calculations. I factored in the agencies I queried stated response times and added two months for variables, but, *sigh* this must be an incredibly busy year because everyone is way behind, so I'll probably have to resume the hunt in 2006 with an adjustment to the schedule. Either that or start earlier. :)

Didn't really mean to blather on, but it is just so wonderful to know that I was not alone in my experience or my fears when coming back. And that it actually might be quite normal. Thanks Shelley and Dierdre for posting such a great article.

Saturday, June 4, 2005 at 7:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Shelley Bradley said...

Sarah, hugs to you on your journey and your father's passing. You'll find a great agent, I know. You found a great publisher to write for at the perfect time in the market. Whatever you're doing, you're doing it right. All the awards! But it's important to keep your priorities straight and take time for the things you enjoy. Sounds like you've got that firmly in mind. Good for you! Thanks for sharing.
Shelley (off to spend a little quality time with my family and kiss my little one.)

Saturday, June 4, 2005 at 9:26:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Sarah McCarty said...

Thanks Shelly,

It will happen when it happens. Or not. And, again thanks for the enlightening post. That little "everyone else does it" monkey has been sitting on my shoulder this week, whispering seductively in my ear. Reading your post reminded me WHY I made self imposed deadlines. And their importance.

In my excitement yesterday to see another has gone through what I have, I forgot to say; I'm glad you've rediscovered your joy and it looks like a new niche. Congratulations!


Sarah, embarrassed about how long her blog entry was yesterday and trying to figure out how to delete it

Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 5:33:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kate Echols said...

Shelley, thank you so much for this inspiring post. Your contemporary comedy erotica suspense sounds fantastic to me. I did a little searching, and I'm so upset it isn't coming out until February 2006!!!

Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 8:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jaci Burton said...

Perfectly put, Shelley. Those who quit may never know what opportunities they could have had if they had only stuck with it long enough to believe in themselves and their work.

I think the doubt demons plague all of us, some more than others. There are days I think I couldn't possibly fulfill all my dreams. But for the past few years I have been, because I refused to give up.

And though I'm a huge believer in destiny and things that are meant to be, I also believe that we have to make our own destiny, we have to push and push until our dreams come true.

And I loved that line from Galaxy Quest. It's a great motto, isn't it?


Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 8:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Shannon Canard said...

Shelley, your story is an inspiration. A quote I've kept close to my heart these last few years is from the movie, A Coal Miner's Daughter. Tommy Lee Jones as DooLittle Lynn tells Loretta: "Successful people don't quit, baby."

And neither do I.

Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 3:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Shelley Bradley said...

Kate, thanks so much. I had a blast writing Bound and Determined. Hope you enjoy it! February isn't that far away (at least that's what I keep telling myself...)

Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 4:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Shelley Bradley said...

Shc, good for you. Keep on. Know your limits. Rest when you need to and come back ready to fight some more!


Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 4:19:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...


You're entry is GREAT. Don't delete it!


Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 4:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Ashley Ladd said...

What you say is so true, Shelley. I've seen talented writers give up or drag their heels and never submit their work. Meanwhile, I've seen less talented writers who are very motivated, who keep writing, keep submitting -- and they're published. Talent is only part of the equation to become publishing. Drive and spirit are extremely important. You have to know what you want and go for it. You have to assert yourself, and (gulp) put yourself on the line and accept rejection on the road to publication whether it takes nine months, nine years, or nineteen years. I'm very happy that your muse came back and I appreciate the inspiring story. We all need a kickstart every once in awhile.

Thanks for the article.

Sunday, June 5, 2005 at 11:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Gina Welborn said...

Shelley, thanks for the encouraging and inspiring story!


Monday, June 6, 2005 at 9:04:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Natalie said...

Shelley and Sarah, thank you both for sharing your stories!

We work so hard to achieve our dreams that a lot of us forget that just because it's a dream doesn't mean it's Utopia. It's a career like any other and has positive and negative. Achieving our goals doesn't make everything perfect...yet quite often, when the negative aspects show themselves, we compound the issue by adding unnecessary negative emotions to it--the "everyone else's" and "I shoulds" are more detrimental to some careers than anything else.

You both have shown that success can still come even on the other side of these troughs.

Natalie, who will now go try to mix several metaphors on someone else's blog :)

Monday, June 6, 2005 at 9:33:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Sarah McCarty said...

Thanks everyone for not smacking me for my over wordiness. :)

FWIW- I think the hardest stage of the road to being published is the "on the verge" stage. Before that, when your partial comes back, you can look at the editor's comments or the line edit they gave you and take the pain of rejection and convert it into the positive of shoring up your area of weakness. However, when you've nailed the techniques, have a popular voice and are close, so close, just waiting for that one book to find that one opening with that one house, there's just nowhere to go with the rejection except to internalize it. It's my personal belief that's why many writers give up when they are almost at their goal. It's just a real rough (emotionally) patch on the road.


Monday, June 6, 2005 at 11:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Shelley Bradley said...


You are absolutely right! During the "on the verge" stage, I heard from a lot of editors who liked a lot of things about my books. They never cited any one thing so that I could go fix the book. They all simply said it wasn't for them or wasn't right for their list. The irony is that when I did sell that book and it was published, I received great reviews and lots of reader mail. It's still one of my favorite books (of my own) to this day. If I had given up when it was tough, I would have never known the sweetness of that moment. When you're almost there is the hardest time do your impression of the Energizer bunny--but it's the most important time to just keep going!

Monday, June 6, 2005 at 11:43:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Shelley Bradley said...


You're spot on! The "I shoulds" and "everyone elses" will kill you. Like all of publishing, it's about having the right book with the right editor at the right time. There will always be people ahead of you in publishing. There are also people who would love to be in the shoes of any published author. Since coming back to writing, I've tried to be in competition with just myself. To make the next book better than the last, to get a little farther up the list than I was before. You can't control anything about this business except your product and your behavior. It's better to just offer congratulations or condolences as appropriate to other writers and focus on what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Good luck!

Monday, June 6, 2005 at 11:47:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Temperley said...

Thanks for the inspiring words Shelley! I'm at the stage where I know what I can do in concern to writing, but am stuck because of plot,setting and character issues--I have this thing for "unmarketable" historical romance settings. *G*

But your post has caused me to realize that not getting out of the starting gate even more of a defeating gesture than recieving a rejection letter--at least a rejection letter shows that one has taken the time to write and had the courage to submit. Once again, I thank you.

Monday, June 6, 2005 at 8:16:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Shelley Bradley said...

Evangeline, gotta submit. Editors can't buy something they haven't read. And you never know about "unmarketable". You may be the one to set the next new hot trend. Keep at it!


Tuesday, June 7, 2005 at 12:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger MaryF said...

WONDERFUL post, and something very close to my heart. I sold all my writing books earlier this year, debated renewing with my chapter, all of that. I've finalled in the GH twice, and was told the first time that my career was made. Well, here we are over two years later and still unpublished.

But at least I'm still writing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 at 2:00:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Sarah McCarty said...

I was told my historicals were too edgy to be marketable. Wouldn't you know just as I submitted the market started to turn and they are in high demand? As Shelley said, you just never know and you can't win if you don't enter. So submit them, hope for the best, but be ready to try again.

It's the only way to get to where you want to go.

Good luck.

(Once again Shelley, great article!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 at 5:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Amie Stuart said...

Great post Shelley!!! You know I actually had a VERY talented writer friend tell me she didn't want to go through the agony/angst/trials of submitting and getting rejections etc. And I hate that she feels that way but it's her choice (and she's actually really young). It's such a tough business, I think we need to remember to be kind to ourselves.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 at 12:21:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lynne Connolly said...

Great post! We're a bit like actors, but they have to take their rejections face to face, which must be worse. We have the agony of waiting and waiting, which is pretty bad. I don't know which I'd rather have.
If I hadn't found a home online I would have given up long ago. Now, despite that, success seems to have come to me, albeit in a small way.
I've come so close, so often, that I would have given up by now, had my only aim been to acheive publication. I want to write, not be rich, famous or anything else, so I can give up everything except the writing.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was something from one M J Putney. "Keep Going."
So I have.

Sunday, June 12, 2005 at 1:19:00 PM EDT  

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