Holly Robinson

Holly Robinson
Massachusetts, USA
December 03
Journalist Holly Robinson is the author of the novel Sleeping Tigers and The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir. Visit her web site at www.authorhollyrobinson.com.


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FEBRUARY 20, 2012 2:13PM

How I Sold a Novel in Just 25 Years!

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 When my agent called a few weeks ago to say that an editor at Penguin wanted to buy my new novel, The Wishing Hill, I literally had to lie down. Otherwise, I might have fallen out of my chair. After all, I've been waiting for this call for 25 years.

How did it take me so long to publish a novel? And why was this novel chosen, but not one of the other half dozen my loyal agent sent out?

I don't really know. I was doing what all writers do, really: I was writing fiction around the edges of my life. I've been married (twice). I've had children (three of my own, plus two stepchildren.) I've done some traveling. I've renovated old houses and summer cottages. I've made a good living as a nonfiction writer.

Despite having so many people to love and things to do in my life, however, I never stopped trying to write a novel good enough for an editor to say, “Hey. I want to publish that.” I got so frustrated with the wait that I finally published my own novel, Sleeping Tigers, just a few weeks before I got the call about Penguin wanting to buy The Wishing Hill. I'm delighted that not just one, but two of my novels, will now be in print. To those of you longing to do the same, I hope it takes you less time than it did me. Meanwhile, here are a few tips for outlasting the rejection letters:

Watch Reality TV

Shows like American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance can be just the antidote you need to a crisis in confidence. That single mother with the lip ring, the doughy girl who thought she'd never be a dancer, and the guy with the cowboy hat all have talent. But, just like writers, they have to hit the audience and judges at the right time to win the gold ring.

If You're Writing, You're a Writer

Lots of people say, “Oh, if I had the time, what a book I could write!” It's true that everyone has great stories to tell—but only a few of us actually write them down and revise them again and again. If you're writing, you're a writer, and you will get better as you go.

Every Rejection Is Just One Person's Opinion

We've all heard the stories about various novels being rejected, like, 800 times, before editors taking them. Every rejection letter is written by just one editor. Tear up the short, nonsensical notes (I once received a rejection that said, “This does not amuse.”) Editors send those out because they have to say something. Keep sending your work out. It can only get published if it's out there.

There Really Is Such a Thing as a Good Rejection

When a friend called recently, despondent because she'd received a rejection letter, I asked her to read it to me. The editor had clearly taken the time to read her novel carefully and had made constructive comments. Even better, the editor said she'd take another look at the novel if my friend rewrote it. There really are editors out there willing to take the time to do that. My advice? Put aside your ego and do it, then send your book back out.

Be Not Afraid of Young Pups

Pick up an issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and you can't help but envy all of the babes-in-arms out there winning fiction contests and earning publishing contracts before they're old enough to need their author photos digitally enhanced. Yeah, well. Some people are talented and lucky, and some of us are talented, but don't get sprinkled with lucky stardust until later in life.

Never Equate Being Published with Being Rich or Happy

What did I do after I sold my first novel? I celebrated, of course—but only after picking my son up from school, throwing in another load of laundry, and doing the supper dishes. The thing about publishing a novel is that it won't make you rich, especially now that advances are lower and publishing companies are paying out in thirds or even fourths. Plus, don't forget to subtract your agent's commission and taxes on earnings.

As for being happy? My contented writer friends were happy before they published their novels. And my writer friends who are unhappy? Yep. They were that way before they published their books, too. Being published really won't change your life, unless you happen to become as well-known as Stephanie Meyer or J.K. Rowling—and my guess is even those two could shop at the local Market Basket for eggs without being recognized. They just drive better cars.

Surround Yourself with People Who Believe that Writing Is Worthwhile

Writing is a long and sometimes lonely business, so it's key to have a constructive writing group, writer friends, and a spouse or partner who believe that the act of creating a story is a worthwhile use of your time. Without my incredibly supportive husband and my LIW (Ladies in Writing) group, with whom I swap not only manuscripts, but stories about rejection letters and agents, children and spouses, I never could have made it through the past 25 years of crafting stories and surviving doubt. They helped me remember that the creative journey itself is worth savoring and sharing.


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Congratulations, and good advice all around. My advice to writers is don't get overwhelmed by the idea of writing a book, every book gets written one page at a time. If you write just one page a day, in a year you'll have a 365 page book.

I was lucky to find an angel who financed the publication of my second book The Disappearing Cemetery -- my first book, Scattered Thoughts, hasn't made it to print. I decided to forgo the "joys" of traditional book publishing because of my experience with a similar sinister industry, music publishing. My two favorite critiques to date are:

"This is better than the usual over-the-transom submission, but you'll find your use of cliches won't go over well in Nashville." In Nashville? Really?

and in response to my song Real Men

"Who are you to say what a real man is?" I think I must have touched a nerve with the lyrics.
I enjoyed reading this post, just added you as a favorite. I'd add a few things to your list: Forty odd years ago a friend, mentor and professional writer scanned though the first ten pages of my first attempt at a novel, skipped to the last page and asked "Would you care for some advice? 1. If you must write, write about what you know. If you don't know something then learn about it first hand. 2. Write about your passions if you must but unless somebody's paying you a lot of money, don't add to the noise. 3. You're young, you're good looking, become an actor. Actors make more money than writers. They get more women than writers. They do their jobs in front of other people and when they're good at it, they get a round of applause. 4. Writers sit at a typewriter in an empty room staring at an empty page where they resist the temptation to drink alone and smoke too much. Become an actor."

I took his advice and did make money as an actor. Though I've never been published, I still can't help but keep writing.

Old Man on the Mountain
I must have said a thousand times or more that being an overnight success is easy........ it just takes about 30 years. You've done very well to reach that first milestone in only 25!

But then I have told you for some time that you are a terrific writer. So good, in fact, that you made me enjoy a wonderful story about gerbils!

(Gerbils, fer cryin' out loud!!! But is IS a great tale!)

So when does this one come out?

great perspective & thx for the insight.
Thanks for your comments, everyone! Tom, your Nashville rejection made me howl. And Old Man in the Mountain, yes, it's true: I should have become an actress! So much easier than writing...oh, wait. Except then you have to fall on your face in public, right?
Great New! Penguin are such a cute flightless bird.

Penguins wobble. Ay, and wear a Tuxedo everywhere.

I remember a interview. The author was asked this:

"How long did it take to write this book?" Response:

"It took me sixty years."
I would really like to say congratulations. That's a huge achievement and very exciting.
Congratulations! I give you major props for being so patient. (I'm not sure I could have waited twenty-five years!) It just goes to show that with hard work and perseverance, you can get your novel published!

I couldn't agree more that getting published is not the same thing as being happier. Getting up and writing every day on its own makes me happy. (It's just a bonus when I earn money from it!)
Thanks for sharing, Holly. As many of us know probly the hardest step is the first one (after writing the book): getting an agent. May I assume you obtained yours through your success publishing nonfiction? Whenever the topic of breaking in comes up I always starting hearing Ray Charles's voice cuing up, and pretty soon I hear the lyrics to Them That Got, especially this verse:

That old sayin them that's got are them that gets
Is somethin I can't see
If ya gotta have somethin
Before you can get somethin
How do ya get your first is still a mystery to me
Apologies for the typo.
Congratulations! Thank you for posting this, as I've only been working on mine for 17 years -- so there's still hope!
This post or essay is wonderfully generous to all writers and I agree with all you've said, and most of all congratuations on two books in a short time. It's like what is said about adoption, after you adopt, then you get pregnant. It's a weird analogy but i think it's really terrific the amount of work you put into another book. May they both prosper. A wonderful accurate post, love it.
Thanks for your comments, Caroline Marie--you're right about 17 years being NOTHING in this business! And I appreciate the analogy, Wendy O. Good luck to both of you in your writing! I hope you'll keep this post pinned to your laptops for encouragement. Just keep knocking on doors and one will open.