Sunday, 1 August 2010

PERSEVERANCE SUCKS

I need to scotch a myth: that if you try for long enough you will succeed. You see, people say you just have to keep trying, keep sending your work out, and eventually you'll succeed, but it's not true.

I was reminded of this in a recent post of mine, when Dan Holloway, whom I rely on to pick me up on any woolly thinking, suggested that I seemed to be over-praising perseverance. Since I can't find that now - though I'm sure he will! - I can't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember promising to blog about why perseverance sucks, because I agree with him. So, here I am.

Perseverance in sending your MS out is a total waste of time if you don't also persevere in improving what you're sending.

Being rejected by one or eight publishers might just mean you sent it to the wrong one or eight publishers. So, yes, sending it to number nine might indeed do the trick. So, yes, of course, plain perseverance - dogged stubbornness - can work. And, indeed, you might have written something brilliant which silly publishers have so far failed to recognise. You could stick a pin in a list of publishers and send it out one at a time and eventually you might hit the right one.

Try that, if you wish.

But, there is a much more useful, important and clever form of perseverance: persevering to get it right. Persevere in trying to find out what you might be doing wrong; persevere in trying to write something better, or more marketable, or better honed, or more beautifully presented - any of those things. But don't simply persevere in sending your work out.

The mountain you are trying to climb if you want to be published is not "how to find a publisher"; it is "how to write a book with sufficient readers that it should be published." The difference between those two goals is sometimes small, but the difference in your approach to the goals will be crucially different. It will make all the difference to your writing and a great deal of difference to the length of your journey.

So, please, focus your perseverance on your book and yourself, not on the act of perseverance. There is a difference between intelligent determination and dogged stubbornness.

25 comments:

Sally Zigmond said...

Oh, Nicola. You are SO right. That's all I can say.

vh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vh said...

Great post and so true. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of constantly reviewing your work.

Phillipa said...

The thing is, you can persevere and hone your work and get it right and you may STILL not succeed, not because you haven't worked yourself to a standstill but because there is no market at this point in time for what you have written. Fiction is harder to sell than non fiction, lit fic harder than genre fiction or the very big guns in lit fic, and if the market is stagnating with a twenty per cent low across the board, then you need a hefty dose of luck along with the hard work.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Fab post Nicola.
If you persevere, you may never get there.
But if you don't, you don't stand a chance.

All we can do is keep trying our hardest and keep learning all we can - from fabulous sources like you.

catdownunder said...

I think that another problem is persevering in finding the right sort of feedback. By that I mean looking for someone prepared to make constructive critical comments rather than someone who will just say it is good but could be better or (even worse) friends who tell you something is wonderful. The latter think they are being kind and helpful but really it is not.
I think it is always possible to improve your mousecatching skills! Could you possibly enlarge on that at some point? Or does it come into the new book?

Sarah L said...

Thanks for this. It's reminded me that the goal is not just to be published but to write stuff that is good, and that people will enjoy reading.

Karen Schwabach said...

I used to say that asked that the three things a writer needs are talent, perseverance and a willingness to learn.

Seems like if I'd tell people that, they'd only remember the middle one. "Right," they'd say. "Perseverance."

It's the third that's most important. People tend to argue with the feedback they get instead of listening to it.

Dan Holloway said...

Nicola, thsi is the link to the post I wrote on the subject for Jane at hprw for her Bad Science series.

http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2009/08/guest-post-believe-in-yourself-but.html

It really can be as simple as inverted logic. Almost everyone who succeeds has worked their backsides off and perevered through failure after failure. The converse, that everyone who works their backsides off and perseveres will succeed just doesn't follow (although it does follow that if your don't work you won't get anywhere).

I should also point out the obvious typo in line one where the word "to" has crept in inadvertently

Emma Darwin said...

All so true. And brute (as opposed to intelligent) perseverance can even lead you down a bad road. I can think of a couple of aspiring writers who persevered far, far longer than most, and eventually were picked up - one by an agent, one by a tiny publisher.

Only the agent is a rubbish agent: it seems that the previous 59 agents who rejected it were better judges than the one who didn't. And, a bad agent can do more damage to your writing track record than no agent, because EPOS figures live forever. Similarly, sometimes tiny publishers are tiny because they aren't actually, very good at knowing which books are that essential combination of good-and-saleable. Again, that track-record will be with you forever.

Neither situation is irredeemable. But they certainly don't help anyone who wants to go on getting work published.

Jessica Maybury said...

you're very right! I'm getting a bit bummed out by sending the MS out, so maybe a change in my viewpoint will help! Thanks for the tip!

Leila R said...

Just read this and Dan Holloway's post - all so very, very true. I have met many (unpublished) writers who are absolutely gung-ho about persevering, about making the contacts with agents and publishers, about turning up to Bologna ready to sell themselves, about building their web profile, about sending out and sending out and sending out - they're utterly committed to everything EXCEPT the writing. And, as Dan points out, this is so understandable. We want to feel that, just as in any other profession, our success is more or less under our control. We want to feel there's a career ladder, that our effort will eventually lead somewhere. Not necessarily true, alas.
Working hard is hard, but in some ways it's the easiest part of writing. What's hard is to accept that all you can control is the quality of your writing - not whether you are eventually published or not. That good writing doesn't necessarily mean it will be published. Even worse, accepting that you can work hard to write a brilliant book, get it taken on by a publisher, and then get asked to make changes that you know will make the book substantially worse.

zornhau said...

This is also true of military history: when the first charge fails, charging harder more frequently, probably will only serve to rack up body count.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great advice! And so true. Been there, done that and finally found a publisher. :)

Nancy Coffelt said...

You've said this perfectly. In the earlier days of my career I had perseverance down cold. But now I like to think I have it down "smart" or at least smarter.
I'm still determined to be the last one standing. But at this point I hope I'm also holding a decent book in my hand at the same time.

Alleged Author said...

I completely agree with this post! Whenever I get rejected, I look at the wip again and try to fix the flaws. That's why it's so important to send out queries a very small batch at a time! :P

Rebecca said...

Amen. Thank you for your common sense post!

Simon Whaley said...

Perseverance sucks ... yes ... and no. I quite agree, persevering to send your crime novel to every romantic fiction publisher or agent is a complete waste of time. But that's not perseverance. That's sheer stupidity.

Perseverance is about believing in your work and doing whatever it takes to ensure that your work is the best it is and that you send it to the appropriate people, all of the time. That's perseverance. It's what works for me.

Ann said...

Great advice Nicola. I will endeavour to take it in stride. Thanks

Regina said...

Thanks for the insight and showing us the difference of perseverance of sending it out versus making it all it can be. Well stated.

Spider Griffin said...

Good post as ever, Nicola. Perseverance to get the book right is so right; except, when I've convinced myself that a particular book of mine is right within its genre, I've still come to the conclusion that no publisher would touch it.

Its the publishing world now, I think. Literary novels are not wanted. (Even if I do think it's "commercial" literary). So plough on amending my first, and finishing my second, I will. With perseverance...

:-)

Spider Griffin said...

Sorry, meant: finishing my third...

Jill said...

I couldn't agree more. The idiom "practice makes perfect" is also silly, because if you practice the wrong things every day, your work will never, ever be perfect--not that writers are ever attempting to reach perfection, but you get what I'm saying.

Colleen Friesen said...

Just stumbled upon your blog. You're on my Favourites now and I'll be recommending and linking you to my blog.
Bless you. There is so much here...I can't wait to dig in further. Thanks.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

This thing about perseverance with respect to improvement is interesting. Every time I show my book to a new audience, I end up editing and/or rewriting. Each time I think "this time it's so much better"... but the time after that I always feel the same again. The problem is knowing when to stop, and when to give up, and which series of iterations will be the one that turns the work from unpublishable to publishable.

My perseverance ran out in the end and I have self-published today (literally - today is the launch date). But I did of course do yet another edit / minor rewrite before I sent it to the printers. What if this one was THE one, and if I had only sent it out yet again I might finally have got somewhere? It has amazed me what positive feedback I've had from the reviewers. If the book is so good, why on earth would nobody publish it? Was this last edit the one which finally made the difference? Is it just that readers are by nature less critical than industry bods because their aim is to enjoy the read instead of worrying about whether it will sell?

I have no answers to these questions. I just know that I reached the point where my perseverance had run its course.