Getting It Done

by Jon Sprunk

Thank you so much for inviting me here today. I’m still new to this “author” thing, so contributing to a blog like this is very cool and exciting for me. I’d like to talk a little about Getting It Done.

I’ve been writing with an eye towards publication for just over twenty years. I’ve had some ups, and a lot of downs. There were times when I wanted to give it up altogether, but of course I couldn’t, any more than I could give up breathing or eating M&Ms. My first taste of validation came when one of my short stories was printed in an anthology. I didn’t make much money from that first sale, but it was priceless because it was proof that someone out there thought my writing was good enough to buy.  After that, I went into a flurry of activity. I wrote two new novels, shopped around for an agent, queried publishers . . . and nothing.

I was crushed. After working so hard for so long, I thought I deserved to be published. I told my wife I was done. Burned out. I wasn’t writing anymore. She’d heard it before, but she commiserated anyway and said all the things I needed to hear. Keep working, she urged me. You’ve been doing this too long to give up now.  Two months later I signed the contract for my fantasy series.

In the end, I had two things going for me. The first is perseverance. I’m not any more talented than many other aspiring authors, but I kept plugging away until I got the right manuscript in the hands of the right person at the exact right time. Part of that was luck, but I always believed in my heart-of-hearts that I had the talent to be a successful author. So I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

The second thing is that I wrote. You might be thinking, “Yeah, I write, too. What’s the big deal?” But let me tell you. I didn’t just think about writing. I didn’t talk to my family and friends about writing. I didn’t sit around daydreaming about being a writer (well, maybe a little). For the love of heaven, I surely didn’t tweet about writing. I just wrote. I’ve talked to writers who can go on and on for hours about their wonderful story ideas and their philosophy of writing, but when asked what have they produced—what are they actively shopping to agents and editors right now—they have a shockingly shallow body of work. Lots of times they only have one novel that they’ve been trying to sell for years. My advice is simple. After your manuscript has made the rounds with the publishers and agents, toss it in a drawer and start a new one. The sooner the better.

I can hear the pitchforks being sharpened and the torches alighting, but if you’re at that stage where you’ve been writing for a long time, and you know deep down that you’ve got the chops to make it, then that old manuscript might have become an albatross around your neck, holding you back from your true potential. An informal poll on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) website revealed that, on average, it was a writer’s fourth book that got published.

That’s what happened to me. It took me five years to write my first novel, mainly because I waited around too long for “inspiration” to strike. Then, after the first draft was finally done, I didn’t have a clue how to professionally revise it. I must have written the entire manuscript over from start to finish at least ten times. By the end I was a mess of frustrations. The best thing I ever did—the thing which I feel put me on the path to eventual success—was putting that manuscript in a box in my attic and forgetting about it. My second and third novels were better, but I was still struggling to put together all the elements of a complete novel. Four was my lucky number.

So if there’s a magic formula for success in publishing, it must be “work your butt off and never give up.” Deceptively simple advice, but in the absence of inescapable talent, it’s the only thing that ever worked for me.

Jon Sprunk lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and son. His first fantasy novel, Shadow’s Son (Pyr Books) was published in 2010. For more on his life and works, visit www.jonsprunk.com.

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