Today, Historical author, Rita Gerlach, is going to show us how God uses those long spaces of time to … stretch us.
Sitting on my desk is a small piece of cross-stitch that I finished years ago and placed in a marble frame. It says, “Commit your works to the Lord.” Beneath the verse is a cluster of bright red tulips, a wicker basket, a pair of garden gloves, a trowel, and a green watering can with a heart on it. There isn’t a day gone by that I do not see those words before my eyes, next to my blue willow mug filled with pens and highlighters. Committing your work to the Lord takes perseverance, which has a few different facets that define it: tenacity, steadfastness, grit, and determination, but never pride. It’s all about trust. Not how tough you are.
I learned this lesson one day in late July 2008. I had been submitting my novel out to literary agents for almost two years. Some gave me excellent feedback on how I could improve the manuscript. But for the most part, I received nice rejection letters, some saying their client lists were full, or that this was not the book for them to represent. A few agents I never heard back from. One took an entire year to reply.
I had a large list of agents to submit to and I had just about exhausted it. I also had a list of publishers, but it was much smaller that the list of agents. I must preface this story by saying my experience with agents is not meant to deter you from submitting to them or to discourage you in any way. By all means, submit away! It just so happened that the agent highway was not the route I was meant to take in order to find publication. But it was meant to give me valuable lessons about the industry, protocol, and the importance of submitting a well-written, polished manuscript.
That summer morning, as I sat down at my desk to begin my day, I felt down. The creamy mug of coffee with a shot of chocolate in it wasn’t enough to cheer me up, nor the beautiful sunny day outside my window. Discouraged, I stared at the computer screen, then I opened Outlook and randomly read a few emails. No replies to my query. The last one I sent out was earlier that month to a big-time New York agent. I knew it was a long shot. Still, I hoped I’d hear from her.
It was one of those dark moments in my life where I felt like giving up, throwing in the towel, crawling under the blankets and acknowledging defeat. Then I looked over at my little piece of cross-stitch and lifted my fingers off the keyboard. I placed my head in my hands and prayed.
I asked the Lord to show me what He wanted me to do, which path I should take, whether I should stop writing or continue. Should I pack it all up and go out and get a day job? What did He want me to do with this novel? If He wanted me to stop writing, or never have this novel published, I needed an answer…clearly and distinctly.
Again, I looked over at my cross-stitched verse and read it back to myself. There was no doubt in my mind this was the only thing I could do, and that I had to lay it at His feet, and accept whatever was in God’s plan for me. I did not have the power within me to make anything happen.
About fifteen minutes later, I opened up Brandilyn Collins’ blog, Forensics and Faith. Brandilyn had posted a piece entitled New Fiction Line about her friend Barbara Scott, Abingdon’s senior acquisitions editor for fiction. Immediately I perked up. Could this be an answer to prayer? I wondered.
I began to devour every word slowly, so to absorb the news about this exciting venture. Abingdon was established in 1789 as an imprint of the United Methodist Church. They had published a lot of nonfiction, and now they were ready to launch a new course in their long history. Abingdon had a solid five-year plan for developing the fiction line, and looking for four or five novels to release in the fall of 2009.
I scanned the list of genres that Barbara was looking for. Romance. Historical. My genre, inspirational historical romance, was included! In addition to this, Barbara wasn’t interested in going after authors with big names. Instead, she was excited about building new authors who had worked on their craft but hadn’t been able to break into publishing. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was a miracle.
I had the genre she wanted. I had published three novels print on demand, but I had not broken through in the traditional sense, and I had a complete manuscript to offer. After reading how to proceed in contacting her, I pulled up my query and read it over. A writer has to present a stunning query, one that grabs an editor from the get-go, with your title, word count, genre, a one-paragraph synopsis, and a few lines about any publishing credits you may have. It cannot be any longer than one page.
With this all in order, I emailed Barbara, telling her I had read Brandilyn’s post about Abingdon’s fiction line. Shortly afterwards she replied back and requested I email her my synopsis and the first three chapters. My foot was in the door, but that was all. Yet it was enough to make me do the Snoopy dance.
Patiently I wait. I was prepared for a long duration of several months before hearing back from Barbara. A few days later, she requested the full manuscript and loved it. She then went on to champion my novel to the fiction team, and by the end of August, I had been offered a publishing contract for Surrender the Wind, with Abingdon Press, one of the most reputable Christian publishers in the industry. Not only that, but my novel had been chosen to be included in the launch come August 2009, an honor that I still in awe over.
As an aspiring writer, ask yourself if you have the patience to continue writing after receiving rejections and harsh critiques. Do you have the steadfastness to improve your writing? Are you willing to learn the craft of good storytelling? Do you have the determination to continue to send out your work? Do you have the tenacity to remain true to your goals even if it means it could take years before you publish your first book? Can you be persistent and humble at the same time?
For a writer to truly master the craft of writing, it takes work, and you can never believe you’ve so arrived that you no longer need to improve or grow. Pride can lead to a fall. A humble heart keeps you open to learning. Patience and persistence will help you along the way.
When you have those difficult days where you feel frustrated and alone, just remember every person that has ever written a book, has had the same feelings. Join a writing group in your area, or one online. Join network groups of writers so you can connect and build friendships with other authors.
The writing life is indeed a joyful one. Take my advice; be patient in your search for publication. Do not rush it. After you polish your manuscript to a high sheen and you are ready to submit, study how to write a query letter and a book proposal. Make a list of publishers or literary agents you wish to submit to. If you receive a rejection, know that this is the norm, and tell yourself ‘this was not the agent or publisher for me’. Move on. Keep the momentum going and write another novel while you are putting the other one out there.
No matter what happens, if you have a burning passion in your soul to write, never let rejections discourage you. It may take a while to produce a polished manuscript. It may take a long time to find the publisher that is right for you. I learned waiting for that to happen was worth it.
The industry may be tough. But there is one thing for certain. Whether you are published or not, no one can say you are not a writer, and no one can take away the talent that God gave you. Only you can decide what you will do with it.
Rita has also been on InfiniteCharacters.com answering my tough questions about the writer’s life ;o). Come see!
Rita Gerlach lives with her husband and two sons in a historical town nestled along the Catoctin Mountains, amid Civil War battlefields and Revolutionary War outposts in central Maryland.
In many of her stories, she writes about the struggles endured by early colonists, with a sprinkling of both American and English history. Currently she is writing a new historical series for Abingdon Press entitled 'Daughters of the Potomac'. Scarlet Dawn and Beside Two Rivers have been released. See her 'Novels In Progress' page to learn more.
She was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in a large family in the Maryland suburbs. Her family claims that storytelling is their blood, handed down from centuries of Irish storytellers. Rita believes there just may be something to that theory.