Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Guest blogger: Susan Gable

I met today's guest blogger a lotta years ago when I was just beginning to read romance and was reviewing romance for a website. One day I inadvertently sent a piece of my writing to the wrong email loop and Susan read it. I'm not sure if she remembers, but she was one of my first encouragers, and for that I'm eternally grateful. So please scoot over and make room on the Playground bench for Susan Gable.

Fight for What You Love

"Never Give up, Never Surrender!"

That's a quote from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest. (I'm a Star Trek fan from way back, so I find Galaxy Quest to be hysterical.)

But it's sound advice for any writer. This is a crazy business we're in. The road is not just long and winding, but it goes up and down like a roller coaster.
Everybody pays their dues at some point. And just because you're selling today doesn't mean you'll be selling tomorrow.

I sold pretty quickly. The second manuscript I wrote, the first submission I made to Superromance, sold. People hate you for stuff like that. I was also one of those rare few who enter the Golden Heart in the fall, sell their first book, and then discover that their Golden Heart manuscript finaled in the Golden Heart. (That book was bought by Superromance as my second published book, just two days before the actual Golden Heart award ceremony.) Then my first book ended up as a Rita finalist for Best First Book.

People hate you for that kind of stuff, too. (Okay, maybe hate is too strong a word. But they aren't very happy with you. Hoping to see you fall on your face, you know?)

But, we all find our speedbumps. Our walls. Our stop signs. We all do fall on our face at some point.

I had some issues selling my fourth book, but after I sold my fourth book, I hit that wall. We had some editor changes at the line. And I could not sell another book to save my life.

Talk about disheartening. Discouraging. Talk about completely losing faith in my own abilities as a writer. We writers all struggle with doubt demons, but getting into a situation like that – or like not managing to sell your first book, for that matter – will bring those demons out in force.
I reached a point where I told people that I'd had way more faith in myself before I'd sold my first book than I did then. I actually wrestle with the doubt demons to this day.

This business is so subjective. That's what I want you to understand. That's what *I* need to remember and understand. What one person (reader, agent, editor) hates, another loves. Proof of this point is my new book that's coming out this month, A Kid to the Rescue.

You see, this book was rejected back when I was in my "can't sell to save my life" ditch. This very same book. After it was rejected, we had another change of staff at my line. Friends asked me if I was going to submit something to the new senior. Well...I was in a ditch. I thought I had given up writing for good, to tell you the truth. (Waving the white flag of surrender! ) But my friends twisted my arm. I agreed that if the eds would let me resubmit something, I'd give it a shot. I couldn't stand the idea of pouring my heart and soul into yet another proposal just to have it shot down. Plus I felt strongly about this book. So I spoke to the new senior editor and asked her if she would be willing to take a look at this proposal again. I discussed what I saw as the strengths of the proposal. She agreed to take another look at it.

And in the end, she bought it. Same author, same EXACT proposal, for the same exact line, that had been previously rejected.


It seems fitting that the hero's motto in this new book is "Fight for what you love," and that's the lesson the heroine had to learn. And so did I. In this business, you have to fight for what you love. That doesn't mean being obnoxious when you get a rejection. You have to be professional at all times. But it does mean never giving up. It means going on even when you think the battle is lost. Giving up because we're afraid we're going to get hurt again is the easy way out.

Never give up. Never surrender. Fight the good fight. Or as another of my characters, the heroine from my Golden Heart ms was fond of saying, "Lace up your boots tighter and carry on." If you fall on your face, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in it.

Believe in yourself. In your talent. In your ability to tell a story.

Because the next one, the next (agent, editor, story) could be "The One."

Have you ever hit that wall? How do you keep going? Do you have any stories about the subjectivity of the business? Share them! How about questions? I used to be an elementary teacher, so I love questions. I'm going to give away a copy of my last book, The Pregnancy Test, which won the National Readers' Choice Award, to one lucky participant from today's comments!
Susan Gable has sold five books to Harlequin's Superromance line. Her books have been Rita and Golden Heart Finalists, she's been a Waldenbooks Bestseller, been twice nominated for Romantic Time's Best Superromance of the Year, and she's won numerous other awards, including the National Readers' Choice Award. Her next book, A Kid to the Rescue, got 4.5 Stars and a Top Pick from RT. It hits shelves on Feb. 10th, and is the story of a heroine who assumes custody of her nephew after the little boy witnesses his father murder his mother. The hero, a comic book artist who's also an art therapist, brings hope and laughter to their lives, along with love. And he teaches both aunt and child to fight for what they love. Visit Susan's website:


Susan Gable said...

Hi, Marilyn! Thanks for having me here at the Playground today. I'm glad to know that I was encouraging to you, and I hope the folks who stop by today will also find encouragment in my posting. So, I'm here.

Let's play. (g)

Christine said...

Thank you for the wonderful post. It helped me focus on what I can do and not on what I can't control. Writing is personal. Rejection stings. But you're right. It's so subjective. I've written 3 books, none published, and am starting my 4th. I haven't queried much in 2008 because I was in the middle of the move. But, to be honest, I think it's also because I was afraid of the dumb form rejection letters arriving in the mail. It's easier for me to write, if there isn't a note telling me "sorry, not interested in what you have to sell."

But this year, I plan to conquer that demon. Your words are inspirational -- I was feeling out in the cold because I am not published and can't hang with the "big kids." Now I realize we all have our humbling moments throughout this crazy career we're pursuing.

Smarty Pants said...

Welcome to the Playground, Susan. Great post. I know some people think that once they sell, that they'll magically be blessed with contracts from that point on and it just isn't true. This is a rough business and you always struggle with one issue or another. You just have to keep at it.

Is there anything that has gotten easier as you've written more books?

(And I *LOVE* Galaxy Quest! Great movie.)

Playground Monitor said...

Just a word of warning, Susan. Don't lick the flag pole cause it's 17 degrees here. It's probably waaaaaaaay colder where you are, but thought I'd warn you.

I've read three of your books. Oddly enough the one I haven't read is the one you're giving away today. It's here somewhere in the looming pile of books I want to read.

When I read your blog and saw that one editor bought the same book another editor has rejected, my jaw literally dropped. This really illustrates the "Never Give Up" mindset you have to keep.

I have a book to finish so I can pitch it on eHarlequin before March 4th. My plans were to write this week, but I have a rotten cold and can hardly string three words together. I suppose I'd write anyway if I were under contract. ::sigh:: I need more mental toughness.

Susan Gable said...

Alexandra, no, I don't think there's really anything that's gotten easier as time goes by. I do find that different books seem to have different "sticking points." One book it just happened to be chapter 13. I think I wrote four or five chapter 13's before I nailed it.

(Galaxy Quest rocks! "Did I hear him say the pig turned inside out?" "And it exploded!" LOL. And how cool was "Monk" in that movie? LOL.)

Christine, you CAN hang with the big kids. (g) And yes, the "big kids" have plenty of writing issues all their own. Some of them are different from those of the unpublished, but some of them are the exact same. Like doubt demons. Like getting rejections.

Marilyn, I won't lick the flagpole. lol. Thanks for the warning. I will say sickness and whatnot can also create problems for the creative process.

I started taking thyroid meds back in December. All the "issues" I'd been experiencing, like extreme fatigue, moments of forgetfullness and lack of mental clarity, being cold all the time, being depressed...well, I was blaming on this stuff on fluctating hormones and "getting older." (g) Turns out my thyroid was just a bit sluggish. The meds are making such a difference for me!

So now I advise woman who are experiencing such symptoms to get their thyroid levels checked. My levels were all normal except for ONE, and that one was only slightly low. Most doctors wouldn't have prescribed medication, but because I had so many complaints, my doc decided to do a trial. Thank GOODNESS!

I can actually get through a day and get stuff done now. That's a big help as far as writing goes, let me tell you.

But I am still suffering from the doubt demons. I'm afraid to move forward with the proposal I'm working on because I'm afraid it's got too much "heavy" stuff in it. Now, heavy with a light touch is what I do best. It's what I'm sort of known for. So why am I letting these darn demons get the best of me?

I'm calling in my slayer. (g)

Problem Child said...

Hi, Susan, and welcome!

What a great story! I know the look people give you when they hear you sold your first book. I have to explain that "well, that book got rejected a lot too." I just had to find the right editor... Subjective.

But a GH *and* a RITA final on your first book? Hmmm, I may have to hate you just a little on principle :-)

What is the allure of Galaxy Quest? Most folks can't believe I love that movie -- because it just seems to be so not me -- but I do!

Susan Gable said...

The GH final was on my second book. The Rita final was on my first book. Which sounds weird, but like I said, it's because of the way the timing worked out.

Anonymous said...

Welcome Susan,

What a great story. I am not a writer but a great reader. My dejection came in 04-06. I was laid off in July 04, and I also had surgery the same month. The next 6 months that I was unemployed I was glad of as I was able to spend a lot of time with my dad who passed away unexpectedly in January 05. Afterwards I was trying to get gainful employment & it was horrible. I did get a temporary job for 2 months, then I went 5 months with no job. I went on numerous interviews, got many rejection letters, and wondering to God what was wrong with me that I couldn't get a job??? Then another temporary job where I only worked 10 days for 4 hours a day, with a 30 minute drive from home. I was barely making enough money for gas but I got my foot in the door. So in January 06 I was called in again as a temp for this same group of people. Fortunately the position that I was temping for, I was allowed to apply for and I got the position. I am now gainfully employed as a department secretary & assistant to the external director for Brock School of Business at Samford University. I love my position and what I do. Everyone that I work with is great and having the kids here keeps me on my toes. So yes, hang in there, have a lot of patience and don't give up.
Ginger aka robertsonreads

Problem Child said...

Okay, Susan, that makes it better :-)

Against my control freak nature, I've tried to adopt the mantra "The Universe is unfolding as it should." It doesn't make the low points any easier, but it gives me hope high points are to come!

Susan Gable said...

Kimberly, I'm a control freak, too. This is a very hard business for control freaks, because so much of what we do is NOT in our control. We can write the best book we can. We can submit. We can keep plugging.

But other than that, a lot of the control is in others' hands.

From whether or not someone buys the book, to titles, to cover art, to COMMAS - lol - a lot of these things are not in our control.

I sent HQ 50 possible titles for the new book. The title on the book was NOT one of them. LOL.

The cover art - the art department did an incredible job, as always. They took a scene suggestion I made on my art fact sheet, and they made it even better. I LOVE the art department!

The comma thing... lol. Harlequin does not use the serial comma. (That's the comma that comes before the conjunction after a listed series. I bought bread, milk, and eggs. In Harlequin land, that would read: I bought bread, milk and eggs. Most of the time it's a not a huge deal. But sometimes you come across a sentence where it matters. (Like: I met Mrs. Johnson, my aunt, and the postman. Compared to: I met Mrs. Johnson, my aunt and the postman. In the second sentence it says Mrs. Johnson is your aunt AND the postman at the same time. In the first sentence, it says you met Mrs. Johnson, who is your aunt, AND you ALSO met the postman. Okay, that's not a great example, but still, you get the idea.)

There is one sentence in my book that really, REALLY needed the serial comma. Otherwise it sounds like I'm telling you that a pinball machine is hung on the wall. I don't know about you, but I don't hang my pinball machines on the wall. I did beg that they put that serial comma back in the ms -- but when I checked the printed book, it's not there.

So I don't want to get any upset reader letters telling me that I don't know grammar, and that you can't hang pinball machines on the wall. LOL. I *tried* to tell them that, but I got overruled.

Out of my control. LOL.

Susan Gable said...

Ginger, I'm so glad to hear that you finally got a job, and you're happy there. I tried to get a job a few years ago, and it's hard to be a middle-aged woman looking for a job. It seemed like nobody wants you at all.

Angel said...

Wow! This is so appropriate for me at this time! I've been struggling with the doubt demons for several months now. Well, they've always been there, but they are louder than usual lately. :)

My struggle is the lack of forward progress. I've always gotten "good" rejections, but never the request to send more. I final in contest, but never get requests. My current submission has been almost 6 months on an editor's desk with no word. All positive, but not "forward moving".

Add pressures at home and the wait seems that much longer. After several years of this, I'm starting to get overwhelmed by the doubts that there is anything beyond this for me.

"Never give up, never surrender" is a wonderful mantra to have. I need to remember that. And thanks for sharing your story. We've always been told by our wonderful Mavens that being published only swaps one set of problems for another. You are a wonderful example of perseverence. And don't let those doubts stop you from getting this proposal in!



Lynn Raye Harris said...

Hi, Susan!

I love that quote from Galaxy Quest! I'm always saying it when I feel like I'm against the wall and it would be easier to quit.

Yes, I could understand why folks might get a little perturbed with you -- GH and RITA, selling the first book, etc. :) I have a version of that myself with a fabulous year last year that included winning a publisher contest to find new writers and a GH final on a book in a different sub-genre. Everyone thinks it's easy street after that -- but it's not.

I've hit the wall and let it stop me in the past, but the reason I ended up where I did (Harlequin Presents) was because I went out of the zone I was targeting and gave it a try. I figured it couldn't hurt. If I'd shrugged it off, I'd still be trying to sell a different kind of book -- and probably getting rejected.

And now I'm going to go light candles and incense and pray my editor never leaves.... :)

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Oh dear heaven, the COMMA! My first line-edited mss about gave me fits. And I know Kimberly has stories about that too.

Playground Monitor said...

Regarding commas -- I was taught that you could do it either way but to be consistant. So I don't use the serial comma. And I didn't think your aunt was the postman in either sentence. *g*

Problem Child said...

Oh, don't stir up the grammar geeks on punctuation changes...

~grumble, grumble, my-comma-where-I-wanted-it, grumble~

Diana_Duncan said...

Hey, Susan,

GREAT article, and just on the very day when I needed to hear this message the most.

When we're struggling "prepublished" writers, we think once we sell our first book that the magic begins. *G*

Truth is, I've had almost as many rejections after publication as before. And every single one is still tough.

But those dreams just keep on pushing me forward. :)

Susan Gable said...

Well, the aunt thing - like I said, not the best example, but it's all my fried brain could come up with on short notice. LOL.

I am consistant with my comma use - I put them all in, and they take them all out. LOL! I love the serial comma. (g) I taught children to use them when I taught elementary school, so it seems to me that I ought to use them.

I can't break myself of two spaces after a period, etc. either. I know we don't have to do that anymore, but I trained on a typewriter, that's how I was taught, and it's instinct now. I can't stop myself. :-)

Diana, you need to get your butt moving on YOUR proposal!

Angel would you feel better if I told you I've had aproposal on a desk at Tor/Forge for...gosh it's been so long I've lost track...2 1/2 years now? And that's after two very positive meetings with a senior editor from there? I'm pretty sure they've decided not to go ahead with that particular line/avenue/whatever -- but I still never got a no. Sheesh. So yeah, it's a crazy business.

Lynne, congrats on selling to Presents! Very cool that you decided to take another approach, and it worked out so well for you. Because you didn't surrender. (g) You changed tactics. I'll cross my fingers that you get to keep your editor forever.

Diana_Duncan said...

Hellooo... Pot, meet Kettle. Ahem.

What is Ms. Susan Gable doing instead of working on her latest proposal?

I'll give ya three guesses. LOL!

But we do enjoy her company. ;)

Playground Monitor said...

Two spaces after a period. I learned to type over 40 years ago on a manual Remington typewriter. As you said, it's instinct and when I've tried to change, it messes up my head. I'm concentrating too much on that extra space and not the story.

I wonder if kids being taught today are taught one space or two. My boys had a class called keyboarding in middle school for a semester. I mistakenly thought it was a music class until they explained it was learning using a computer.

Smarty Pants said...

I was never taught to use 2 spaces after the period. I also never use a serial comma, so that's one less thing for them to get onto me about...

Misty Wright said...

I love that advice. The perfect post. Thank you for that, Susan!

We all need to hear this from time to time. I know I do and I have a very good feeling I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for those encouraging words.
Ginger aka robertsonreads

Gail Fuller said...

I loved your post, Susan. Thanks so much for sharing. However, I have one complaint. :) This morning I went looking for A Kid to the Rescue and couldn't find it. Then I noticed the Superromances were January releases. D'oh! :) Never mind, the moment the February Superromances arrive at my local store, I'll grab a copy.

All the best,
Gail Fuller :)

Susan Gable said...

Gail, MWAH! (That's a kiss. (g)) I'm so delighted you went looking for it. The official release date is Febuary 10th - Supers are midcycle releases, so we come out closer to the middle of the month. It *should* hit shelves next Tuesday, give or take a few days, depending on who stocks the shelves. But bless you for looking for it!

Cindy Procter-King said...

Hi Susan

What an excellent blog. I know your story well, of course, but I loved reading it here. It's a fantastic lesson for aspiring writers. The other day, on my chapter loop, someone posted that if you write a good book, it will sell. Not necessarily so. There are a number of factors at work, and what you went through is one of them. You might have had a stroke of luck that your second book sold so quickly, but you've also had your share of ups and downs. Way to go for hanging in there and not giving up when life was kicking you in the face.

The last time I suffered a serious setback in my writing was in the months following my grandfather's death. Nothing I wrote seemed to work, even though I had an agent at the time. I changed genres, and decided to try my hand at erotic romance. My very first effort sold. All those years trying to break into category, and it turned out I COULD write short - but I needed a different market for my work.

Now I write under two names, as you know. That's a challenge in itself. Your post is greatly encouraging. Thank you!

Wow, my word verification is a real word. That's the second time that's happened to me in two days.