Friday, March 12, 2010

Never, ever give up

Kate Douglas is our guest today. Welcome, Kate! 

Thanks to Joyce for the invitation to blog--I love the topic. Believe me, with a twenty-year history of rejections between my first submission to my first New York contract, I needed all the advice and pithy sayings I could get to keep me going! But here I am, fresh off the release of DemonFire, my first mass market in my new paranormal romance series from Kensington Zebra, awaiting the imminent release (March 30) of the eighteenth book (that's counting novels and anthologies) in my Wolf Tales series, (Sexy Beast VIII-Chanku Spirit) and working on a proposal for a new project I'm planning to have my agent pitch to my editor.

So finally, after a long and frustrating career as an "aspiring" author, I can finally say, "Yep, I are one now. Really!" So, what'd it take to keep this old broad plugging along, writing, revising, submitting, dealing with rejections, rewriting, submitting again, ad nauseum?

It took friends who encouraged me, editors who kept asking me to send something else even as they rejected the stories I HAD sent, and an inborn stubbornness that probably drove my parents nuts but kept me focused on my goal of publication. I'm going to share some of the things that have stuck with me, words of wisdom I've heard from other writers, now published, who understood the frustration of rejection, the joy of writing, and the voices that wouldn't let go of me until I sat down and wrote the words.

Writers write. Sounds pretty simple, but it's so damned true it hurts. Writing isn't merely what we do, it's what we are. So many of us are defined by our words, by the stories we tell. When friends question why we keep at it in the face of rejections, it's impossible to make them understand the truth-writers write. They can't NOT write. They just do it.

My world, my rules. I love this one. Don't let ANYONE tell you there are rules you have to follow when you write your stories. You are the one in charge-you are the one hearing the voices, listening to the muse, writing the words. If you want to write in first person, do it. If your hero doesn't fit the "hero mold," tough shit. Write him the way you see him. One of my books has a food critic with sexual identity issues. When my agent submitted the book to Harlequin, the editor said she loved my kick-ass heroine, but wanted me to tone her down, and the hero would be much better as a cowboy. Huh? I sold Last of the O'Rourkes to an epublisher and it went on to get wonderful reviews and even win a couple of nice awards. My world, my rules, and Seamus O'Rourke was a great food critic-and Kat Malone could easily kick his ass.

Make it work. Get it done. It's all about the book. I actually have this one printed out and hanging on my wall. It's a reminder to keep my priorities in order.

Write your own story. Don't write what you think an editor wants. Don't write what you think the public wants. Do not write the book your critique partners or group thinks you need to write-write the book YOU have to write, and when you write it, own it. Believe in it, be involved in it from the inside out until you know that book, those characters, that setting as if everything about the story is real. If it's not real for you, how can you expect it to be real for your readers?

When I first wrote Wolf Tales in 2005, the series was at the request of Margaret Riley, who was opening up a new epub called Changeling Press. She wanted something hot and unusual to launch her new venture, and asked me to write a series of 12,000 or so word stories that would 'blow their socks off.' Margaret envisioned short books that readers could read on their PDAs or other small electronic devices-so I started writing, one episode at a time, and Wolf Tales was born. In the beginning, there was no real plan, other than to push boundaries and break all the "rules" I could think of. I developed my world of Chanku shapeshifters and their mythology sort of grew with each story I wrote. My agent read the first five stories and passed them on to Audrey LaFehr at Kensington Publishing, who loved the concept but had no line where they would fit.

That's how Kensington's Aphrodisia imprint came about-on the strength of five short stories that belonged to an epublisher. Margaret generously returned my rights and I signed a contract for three novels and three novellas-all those shorts made up the first book, but I had absolutely no idea what was coming next. I still write the stories the same way-no plan, no real idea, just a gut-level knowledge of my characters. This was my story from the beginning, something I wrote for a friend, but also to please myself. All those years of rejection, and yet it was the first project that was written totally without any plan of going after a NY contract that got me that contract.

Go figure. There's a huge lesson in there somewhere.

So here I am, age sixty, grandmother of five, married to the same amazingly patient spouse who had to listen to me moan and groan for YEARS over all those rejections, and I'm gearing up for the release of my eighteenth book in March, my nineteenth in July and the twentieth and twenty-first in September. (Yep, two in one month-I've been busy.) And that's not even counting the epubbed/small press books I sold before I hit New York. So yes, if it happened for me, it can happen for you, but not if you don't follow my final words of "old broad" wisdom.

I saved the most important advice I ever got, for last. Never, ever give up. Keep writing, keep learning your craft, keep at it. If you don't write it, you can't sell it. But even if you never sell a book, you will have left behind a legacy of dreams and the stories that lived in your heart and soul. That, even without the contract, is something most people never even come close to, and for that reason alone, never, ever give up.

Kate Douglas


PatRemick said...

Welcome, Kate, and thanks for a wonderful post! I'm grateful for all the hints and reminders -- especially "my world, my rules."

Joyce said...

Thanks for being our guest today, Kate. I love this post. It's so inspirational!

I'm going to have to stick "Make it work. Get it done. It's all about the book" on my laptop. I'm too easily distracted by other things that need to be done. Maybe I won't clean the house after all today!

You write some pretty sexy stuff for a grandma! How do you explain that to the grandkids?

Gina said...

"Never give up." Wasn't that the crew's motto in Galaxy Quest? And there I was, thinking of 2010 as "The Year of Losing Hope."

Jennie Bentley said...

Welcome to the Stiffs, Kate, and thanks for the very inspirational post. Great advice there! Good luck with all the releases coming up - I'm in release mode right now, and it's a lot of work!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, Kate! Congratulations! And it's just wonderful to hear your story...a terrific boost for a gloomy Friday.

Hope you sell piles of books--and don't forget to have a wonderful time! (Really--this is what you always hoped for--so enjoy.)

Jemi Fraser said...

'My world, my rules' - LOVE it! Great post :)

Kate Douglas said...

Good morning--California girl, here, and I overslept, so imagine it's the middle of the day for a lot of you! Thanks, Pat. That "My world, my rules" really hit home when I once had someone tell me that "werewolves could only change during the full moon." Says who? You're telling me that I have to adhere to a set of "mythical creature rules?" No way. And besides, Chanku are NOT werewolves, they're shapeshifters--MY shapeshifters!

Joyce, even my KIDS don't read my books, and they're 33 and 36--and properly mortified to know their friends do read my stories. I love it. I figure they embarrassed me when they were little and it's my turn. On another note, sex does not belong to the young. It's sort of like good wine and definitely DOES get better with age. Plus, on the upside, without glasses, we're too blind to see the wrinkles!

Gina, never lose hope. The day your dreams die, you might as well just pack it in. We are creatures born to dream--they keep us young and alive.

Jennie, I've never worked harder in my life, nor have I ever had as much fun--sometimes that old Chinese proverb runs through my head when I'm doing page proofs at three a.m. on a Saturday morning: Be careful what you wish for! BUT, I'm glad I've got so much keeping me busy. It's really a hoot!

Thank you, Hank! Didn't I just see you over at the Quills the other day? And trust me, I'm doing my best to sell those books. Have to so my publisher will want more so I can write more and get rid of the crazy people who keep talking in my head...oh? THEY'RE not crazy...I am?

Thank you Jemi--that one does seem to resonate, doesn't it? Wish I could claim authorship, but I honestly don't even know where I first heard it, only that it really hit home for me.

Joyce said...

Kate, I once saw a t-shirt in a catalog that read, "Embarrassing my children--just one more service I offer."

Kate Douglas said...

Joyce--I love that! Though I have to admit, it's probably tough for kids when Mom writes "over the top" erotic romances! As I reminded my daughter one time, hers was NOT a virgin birth...

Gabriella Edwards said...

Kate, thank you so much for your words of wisdom! I'm happy to say my first novella is coming out this summer. I'm delighted of course, but I can't help thinking it was authors like you who paved the way for that opportunity.

Thank you for showing the "nay sayers" and "controllers" that writers do work their stories into readers' hearts just the way they tell them.

LOVE your writing!

Kate Douglas said...

congratulations, Gabriella! (and thank you!) Proof that the "never, ever give up" thing pays off. I used to have one of those cartoons of the bird swallowing the frog whose got his little froggy hands wrapped around the bird's throat. Sort of the way you have to be with writing!

Rebecca Ringler said...

Hi Kate - I love your story about never giving up! I am also getting a good little laugh about your kids being mortified to discover that their friends read your books. It reminds me of what Jayne Ann Krentz said on Running With Quills about how she lives to embarrass her children. I know I am already embarrassing my 12-yr old dtr. I actually found a good quote about not giving up on facebook yest. & it certainly needs to apply to all of us: If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down. - Mary Pickford I snatched it & put it on my wall. Rebecca

Liz Lipperman said...

Kate, loved this blog so much I recommended it on my own blog which just happens to be about motivation today.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Liz Lipperman

Sasha White said...

Ohh. I love the "My World My rules!" I'm going to remember that.

One that I always find inspiring is from aposter. It has an image of a runner, with a very long empty road in front of them, and the quote is "Success doesn;t come to you, you go to it."

Kate Douglas said...

Rebecca--that's a wonderful quote. The thing is, if you never try, you're never going to fail, but if you don't try, you never have a chance to succeed, either. Falling and getting up again is all part of the process. (Babies do it or they'd never learn to walk!)

Thanks, Liz. I think we all need motivation at some point or another. I know I still do, even after all these years. What is your blog url? I'd love to see what you've written!

Sasha, that one is so good! I think it was either Stella Cameron or Jayne Ann Krentz--one of the Quills I blog with, anyway--who said that in this business you have to be like a shark and always keep swimming. That's an image that has really stuck in my mind, though must admit the runner isn't quite as bloodthirsty!

Liz Lipperman said...

Kate, I had to fill in for my blog partner today and I used an encore post. I had just come home from a chapter meeting where the amazing Christie Craig had inspired us. Talk about rejection letters!

It's if you want to check it out.

Like Jemi, my favorite tip was "My world-my rules." Gotta love that attitude.

Anonymous said...

You go girl!!! It's funny but I'm not a writer and I have the same motto. My world my rules and if you don't like leave. It's just who I am. Love you always and can't wait for of my favorite girls and guys.


Kate Douglas said...

Thanks, Liz. I do--don't you just love Christie? She's fantastic and has gotten to be a really special friend. Love hanging out with her. She makes me feel SO tall! :-)

LOL..Tracey, why would I just KNOW that about you? Thanks for stopping by!

Crystal Posey said...

Love. It. A nice reminder of why I started writing in the first place, and if I want to do something a certain way... I should!


Paula R said...

Hey Kate, love the pearls of old "broad wisdom" you are dropping here. I might have to steal some of these and post em so I can look at them everyday, when plagued by doubt.

I am so glad I got to know you and read your work. You are very talented and your readership would have really missed out if you didn't fight for your right to write. Thanks for all that you do!

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Kate Douglas said...

Crystal, I'm convinced that inside every writer beats the heart of a confirmed control freak. We create worlds, characters, situations and events and twist them to fit our reality...unless, of course, the muse and/or characters revolt, and then we're dealing with THEIR reality. Then, of course, it CAN get ugly...

Hey Paula! (Damn, now I'm going to have that song stuck in my head!) thank you for coming by, and so glad you like some of my pearls! LOL...that's the one thing about doing something for a LONG time. Eventually you actually figure out some of it!

Paula R said...

Yeah Kate...every now and then, I have that song stuck in my head too. Mrs. Robinson is another one.

Gave one of my coworkers Demonfire. I will let you know what she thinks.

I started it myself, and I am loving it so far. I will look for it in the pharmacies and other unusual places for you.

Um, I see that Tracey is still up to her old antics...LOL!!! That motto fits her perfectly.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Kate, anytime I see your posts, I get a huge lift. My 45th birthday is just three weeks away, and all I've been doing is beating myself up for my lack of progress. I'm in a panic thinking about how I've spent 15 years writing novels and short stories with such pitiful results: a few short stories published by teeny-tiny publications, and a NY agent who dropped me after my book didn't sell. It's downright embarrassing. I need to adopt your wonderful attitude. I spend too much time trying to follow the rules, trying to write what I think the market wants. It's wearing me out.

Kate Douglas said...

LOL...thanks, Paula. I didn't want to mention the "Mrs. Robinson" song for fear of overkill...

And yes, Tracey is in fine form. :-)

Anonymous, please don't feel badly, because I think it's a mistake we all make of writing to what we think the market wants, not what we do best. It's not easy to find your voice and know what works for you, especially when everyone who reads your work has a different opinion. Sometimes you just have to give yourself credit for knowing what's right. One thing I've learned to do is to sort of channel my characters--I become my character. I sit in front of my computer and imagine I'm Anton Cheval and I've just shifted and it's dark out, maybe early fall when the leaves are dry. I'm running. What do I, as a man who is now a wolf, feel? What do I hear? What smells are on the night wind and how does the world look to me through wolven eyes. I can get so caught up in the senses that the scene comes alive for me.

And when it comes to life for the author, it's going to live for the readers as well. Try it. Be a character--an angry man, a cocky woman who's tired of put downs. Role play and see what it gives you and where the muse takes you. It's a really fun tactic to take, and you might be surprised what you end up with.

Lindsay said...

This was a great post. Really inspired me.
I found out about this blog from Liz at Mysteries and (some mexican drink I can't spell but it's got tequila in it.)
If we writers didn't write then there wouldn't be anything for people to read and we'd probably go crazy(ier).
'My World, My Rules' is so true. I've got one editor(e-pub) who loves the way I write and another(small press) who insists I follow the rules. Problem is I can't find the rules anywhere except for my rules.
Like I said, this post really inspired me and I'm going to print it out, with your permission.

Kate Douglas said...

Lindsay, feel free to print. I'm flattered! So glad to be of service, but you nailed it--the only rules in writing should be the ones the author establishes. Stay true to your vision and your voice, and I honestly don't think you can go wrong. And good luck to you!

And whatever the drink, if it's got tequila in it, it's GOT to be good!

Patg said...

Wonderful post, Kate. I love the fact that you did the the writing by request and 'almost' as a lark. Gave you great freedom.
Make It Work. Glad to hear you like that one too. I have that one posted on my desk.


Joyce said...

Thanks again for being our guest, Kate. Feel free to come back any time!

Kate Douglas said...

PatG...the only thing about that "make it work" statement is that I find it hard to think of writing as work. When it's something you've always dreamed of doing, and then you actually get to DO it as a career, it's way beyond work!

Joyce, thank you so much for the invite, and for generously sharing your space. I'd love to come back again some time. This has really been fun. Now it's off to copy edits and then to the next book. Have a great weekend!

Norma said...

Kate, I especially love your last advice - never give up. I live it, actually. My very first full-lenghth book was published last October, a month before my 80th birthday.

(I have 8 grandchildren, but at 60, I was expecting the very first one. See what you have to look forward to?)

Kate Douglas said...

Congratulations, Norma! How cool to finally realize your dream--I love it! One of my absolute idols is author Anne McCaffrey who is still writing at 83. I figure there's still hope for me to have a LONG career!

And I've only got five grandkids, but we're still hoping for a sixth. For the time being, we have to make due with a grandpuppy. Not sure if Ipo counts or not!

Peace Ket said...

Eveytime I read your success story and your journey to publication, I tell myself I don't need to worry about rejections, all I have to do is keep writing and eventually it will catch someone's attention.

thanks so much for sharing,

Kate Douglas said...

Peace, there were three things that really helped me get my career out of the submission/rejection stage and into the publishing arena--and that was joining RWA (romance writers of America) to learn more about the process of writing and selling, selling my earlier work to small press/epublishers where I learned more about the business, and then finding an agent with the ability to get my work in front of the right editors.

You have to constantly think of your goals in this business, and as you meet one, you focus on the next, but the most important thing is getting the stories out of your head and onto the page! Good luck.