Shannon Stacey

The long, but not-so-winding road

Diana and Jaci have both posted about their journeys to NY success. I found them both inspiring, but I’ve seen a little mild snarkiness in response. I’ve known them both for about 5 years, and neither of them has ever mentioned finding some magical potion in a flea market somewhere. What they do have in common is talent, discipline and being market-savvy.

I was privvy to some private whining about the above posts which I can’t share. But let’s take a look at the journey that Jaci and Diana didn’t take, shall we?

1986-1997: Rehash every romance novel ever read.

1997-2001: Take time off to do the baby/housewife/career thing. Read every how-to book written and rewrite manuscript according to each book as it’s read.

2001: Get online! Join RWA and every writing community on the internet. Spend 16 hours each day surfing them, then 2 hours rewriting manuscript to fit every rule learned that day. Enter a contest even though it’s not ready because everybody else on the board did. Go into depression when it doesn’t do well. Make every change judge suggests.

2002: Oooh, there’s a new editorial assistant at XYZ! She must be hungry. Add a secret baby because somebody on a message board sold a secret baby to her last year at her old house.

2003: Rejected, and it wasted a whole year! That’s okay, because it’s better now that every change suggested by 48 different contest judges has been made. And inspirationals are hot! Put the secret baby back in the closet and rewrite all the sex scenes to going-to-church scenes and submit.

2004: Rejected, but it only took 7 months and it finalled in two contests, so it’s on the right track. A new publishing house? Hot damn! They’ll need authors. Remove all trace of inspirational, add a dead body and a bunch of really bad words. Submit.

2005: Oooh, the guidelines have changed over here and a lot of their authors are moving to single title. Resurrect the dead body, delete the bad words and put the secret baby back in. Submit. After all, it’s done okay in 129 contests.

2006: OMG, look at those two lucky ducks. They must have cheated because look how hard I’ve worked, and I don’t have a contract. It can’t be because they submitted fresh, original, timely ideas to the right people at the right time. I’m going to be bitchy about them because I’ve worked so hard.

There’s a difference between working hard and working smart. J and Diana did both. And they earned themselves some success.

And the above journey is totally fictional. But if you think I wrote it about you, it’s time to bury that manucript. Bury it deep, then bury the shovel.

12 comments to “The long, but not-so-winding road”

  1. Charlene
      · January 25th, 2006 at 1:28 pm · Link

    Jordan S. touched on this recently. Mentioned how many people say they’re working really hard but when you ask what they’re doing, you see why it’s not getting them anywhere. You can be very busy doing all the wrong things.

    I read Diana and Jaci’s stories and found them very inspiring. And NOBODY can look at Jaci’s backlist or track record and think her NY contracts are an accident! She got where she is by working her ass off and not giving up. Oh, and being incredibly talented and professional didn’t hurt her, either.

    I don’t have a NY contract yet, but why is that? I haven’t submitted anything to NY recently. And the last time I did, I was submitting in the wrong direction. I have a much clearer understanding of my strengths and where I might be a good fit now. I’m sure I haven’t seen my last rejection, but I have a much better idea of how to succeed in the NY market and I will keep at it until I do.

  2. Charlene
      · January 25th, 2006 at 1:29 pm · Link

    Oh, bother, to quote Pooh. I used a Bad Word and now I’m awaiting moderation. :eyebrow:

  3. Jaci Burton
      · January 25th, 2006 at 2:26 pm · Link


    Thank you Shan. The sad thing is, as I read that fictionalized account of the road to nowheresville, I realized I know writers like that. And it makes me want to bury the mss for them, tell them to write something new, write from their hearts and not to fit some current trend, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll have a chance.

    Believe me, I don’t know any secret formula. I’m still thinking the editors in NY got the wrong person when they chose me. :shrug:

    And thank you for the comments about me. I love you. :love:

    Oh and Charli? I love you too :love:

  4. nataliedamschroder
      · January 25th, 2006 at 2:49 pm · Link

    Remember there’s a middle ground, too.

    I am thrilled for both Jaci and Diana, and they both totally deserve their success. I don’t begrudge them anything. But it’s possible to feel that way and feel some despair because I’m not at a similar successful point in my own career.

    And I’m nothing like the hypothetical description, either. Even if you compress my 13 years of trying by removing the months I couldn’t write while pregnant, and the three years on my first book because I was taking classes and learning my craft, we’re still talking about 8 years of constant work. And I have way more than 4 books completed and submitted (try 17, counting partials). I study the market and network and write what I love, not what is trendy, but not violating too many “unmarketable” list items.

    No one should get snarky about another person’s success. But we don’t have to feel guilty for feeling bad about our not having our own, either. (Or defensive–I can feel everyone who reads this thinking, “well, you must just suck as a writer” but all my RT 4-star ratings belie that–and there I am, being defensive LOL).

    What it all comes down to, in the end, is looking at a situation like Diana’s and Jaci’s, taking a moment to wallow (’cause burying the negative feelings never works), then separating from the whole issue and refocusing on your own efforts, working harder than ever to get where you want to be.

  5. Shannon
      · January 25th, 2006 at 3:39 pm · Link

    (I should confess right now that this blog entry is a kneejerk reaction to somebody shoving my friend on the playground. They’re always the ones that get me in trouble :baby:)

    But we don’t have to feel guilty for feeling bad about our not having our own, either.

    Of course not. Nobody’s cheering more loudly for Jaci than I am, but yes—when I sit down to face a crappy synopsis on which I’ve foolishly placed all the pressure of proving to myself whether or not I truly suck, do I think of her deals with Bantam Dell and Berkely and want that too? Of course I do. Being happy for her and wanting it for myself aren’t mutually exclusive, of course.

    On the flipside of that, should somebody try to make her feel crappy because she did find success? And that’s not a reference to you, Natalie, but to others who have, and a couple of whom DO fall under the fictional journey.

    (Tangent: I have to say, Natalie, after all the years I’ve known you online I’m in awe of the way you can join any debate with a logical, well-thought-out, calm point of view in like no time flat. I envy that. I always sound like I’m on crack. I swear. I shouldn’t have been smoking in the bathrooms during debate class.)

    The fictional journey was in no way meant to represent what everybody must be doing who doesn’t have a deal with B/D or Berkely. Hell, I’m not doing that, and I don’t have a NY deal either. But I was cranky, and those people are out there. Hell, you know some of them, too.

  6. Jaci Burton
      · January 25th, 2006 at 6:20 pm · Link

    Natalie – no one begrudges those who haven’t yet had their moment.. Hell, I was one of those people who resoundly cheered for my peers’ successes and suffered the moments of ‘but why not me?’ I’ve been there, done that, and not all that long ago, when several of my very close friends in the epublishing world started getting NY contracts, something I coveted dearly, and yet wasn’t getting. I was so so happy for them, and yet I took my moment to wallow. Because I felt that gnawing pain inside of wanting something that wasn’t happening for me.

    I think it’s perfectly normal. And I didn’t feel guilty about feeling that way, either. And then I focused my efforts and figured out how to get there. And when it did happen for me, it was a lot of luck and a lot of circumstance that landed me in the right place at the right time with the right people, and I feel truly blessed for it.

  7. Caro
      · January 25th, 2006 at 8:22 pm · Link

    God, so much of that list is achingly familiar. I ended up burning out because of some of that and took about three years off when I wrote nothing but fan fic because it was fun — and that joy in the writing was what I needed to rediscover.

    During that time, someone I know whom I think writes like :censor: got herself published — not once, but several times. When I’ve felt low, the husband has heard more than one rant about how her editor must have been blind or desperate or hung over or a combination of all of the above.

    Jealousy is a perfectly natural human emotion. But the truth of the matter is that she submitted work. I didn’t — and all the pissing and moaning in the world isn’t going to change that. I could be the next Nora Roberts and if I’m spending my time doing even half of the things you list instead of putting my butt in the chair, focusing on getting my work done and getting it out there, it doesn’t matter because no one wil ever have a chance to see it.

    I’m still jealous of her, but I’m trying to use it to my advantage, to motivate me to get that butt in the chair and get the work done.

  8. Shannon
      · January 26th, 2006 at 1:44 am · Link

    I burned up a couple of years doing some of that journey, too. I think it’s hard not to for aspiring category writers. :doh: With the shuffles of lines, editors, authors and guidelines, it’s crazy trying to keep up.

    And it’s damn hard to finish a manuscript, so putting it in a drawer sucks. There’s no commitment to an aspiring writer on the part of a publisher, and writing a whole ‘nother book when one didn’t succeed is hard. It seems easier to keep tinkering with the finished one. But a writer can only tinker so much without tinkering the life out of a book.

    Rediscovering joy is what brought me to EC. I think I even blogged about it at the time—I wanted my joy back. Running on the slow-motion-treadmill-to-nowhere at H/S was getting old. When it takes months or even years to get a response, and they close a line right after you get a request or an editor who was excited about you decides the grass is greener at XYZ Publishing, it’s hard to keep going. And with some of the shit happening to other writers, I reached the point of screw this.

    Now I’ve got joy. I’m still working toward that dream of the big NY contract, but instead of running in vain on that freakin treadmill, I’m writing books I want to write for publishing companies I respect and who actually treat me with respect, and who I hope to continue writing for even if when NY comes a’calling.

    And jealousy is definitely a good motivator for hitting that keyboard. :nod:

  9. Anna Lucia
      · January 26th, 2006 at 6:12 am · Link

    Being happy for her and wanting it for myself aren’t mutually exclusive, of course.

    Hooray! Finally someone vocalises how I often feel!

    But I’m not stupid enough to somehow think it’s someone else’s fault for being too ‘lucky’. I KNOW it’s up to me. :roll:

    I do need a moment to wallow, but it would help if Husband would stop saying thihngs like, “if it’s well-written and gripping, why is nobody buying it?”


    I’m glad you’ve found a place that give syou joy, Shan! :cheesy: Mind you, EC has now taken the Longest Wait trophy from H/S for me, so I’m not seeing much difference from the outside…


    The truth is, however your individual journey shapes up, it’s a damn hard walk. But seeing someone’s success makes it a lot more bearable.

  10. nataliedamschroder
      · January 26th, 2006 at 10:12 am · Link

    Shannon, it is so nice of you for complimenting me instead of posting a well-deserved, “Gaw-wd, Natalie always completely misses the POINT!”

    Your reaction to the rotten people shoving your friend on the playground is a solid one and very articulate and pointedly accurate. And you never sound like you’re on crack. :)

  11. Sunny Lyn
      · January 26th, 2006 at 12:34 pm · Link

    Thanks, Shannon – I imagine there will be several writers reading that who’ll never even see themselves in there, but if you just snag one who has an “ah-oh” moment, you’ll have done some good for every writer who has the right mind set.

    :whip: Keep crackin’ that whip.

  12. Cece
      · January 28th, 2006 at 12:56 pm · Link

    We’ve all known writers like that Shannon! :crazy:
    I’ve worked hard, I KNOW I’ve worked hard and have a slew of rejections on a handful of projects to show for it–and three sales :) . I think I’m somewhere in that middle ground with Natalie. But I’ve reached that point where it’s not fun anymore (it’s just a fact–I’m not whining). I know everyone’s journey is different, but after reading your post and Caro’s reponse, maybe this is just part of the process. Which makes not writing a lot easier to deal with–so thanks :wink:

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