Facing Your Fears

If you are struggling with your writing career – whether you have imposter syndrome, or are getting tons of rejections, or have the feeling that you’ll never write anything as good as the last book you read – you are surely fighting fears. I know these fears so well.

In the “before times”, our local SCBWI chapter hosted Dan Gemeinhart as a speaker. At the time he had four books for young readers out and another on the way. He’s a sweet guy, a former teacher and librarian in a small school, and gave a series of short lectures on his process. But what I remember most clearly was his publishing journey.

Dan’s Journey

Dan confessed that he had been writing for years and submitting to agents (in his website he says that this journey was 10 years long), and received 99 (yes! 99!) rejections before he landed his agent and then a publishing deal. That’s a lot of rejection, a lot of fear-facing, a huge heap of persistence.

Now, Dan writes wonderful books, popular, with starred reviews and well-received, but his most recent – just out – has hit the lists in a big way. It’s number one on the New York Times Bestseller List in Children’s. When I read his Tweet I thought back to that 100th submission over 10 years.image of a tweet

What if he’d caved into his fears and stopped submitting?

Keep Calm and Carry On

How do we fight those fears and keep writing and submitting when it feels hopeless? Here are my strategies for carrying on:

  • Analyze the rejection. If an agent or publisher says “it’s not right for me”, don’t take that as good feedback on your work. That’s a personal (or really impersonal) response. But if an agent or publisher has actual feedback, listen. It might not be spot on, but it may be flagging something that isn’t working, something that you can fix.
  • Be patient. The post-Covid publishing world is in turmoil. Between supply chain issues, remote work, publishing house consolidations, and many folks leaving the industry, response times are longer than ever.
  • Target your submission. Be sure you know what the agent or house is looking for by following QueryTracker or checking in with Children’s Writers Market guides.
  • Attend conferences and book critiques at those conferences. I met both of my agents at SCBWI conferences, and landed my first one after receiving a critique with her at a conference. I have always found inspiration and made friends at conferences. A connection with another writer may springboard you to success.
  • Write from your heart. The best stories are those that mean the most to you. Always write from deep in your heart. Write from a place of love.

Face Your Fears With Joy

Me at the top!

In the past few weeks I was on a demanding journey, a hiking tour of Scotland. I walked way more than I thought I could, averaging 5 to 7 miles a day. But the biggest moment for me was ascending a high peak, and standing as close as I could to the edge because I have crippling vertigo. It was a moment of triumph – a moment of joy.

Don’t cave into your fears, but face them. Keep going. Dan says this on his website: “I don’t believe in giving up and don’t think that you should, either.”

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5 Responses to “Facing Your Fears”

  1. Linda W.

    Janet, I’m so grateful you posted this. I’ve had 91 rejections for just one book. Got about 31 for another. So Dan’s journey was very encouraging. Awhile ago I read SOME KIND OF COURAGE and have recommended it to parents for their kids. Having read and loved that book, I’m amazed that he went through 99 rejections for any piece of his writing. But it makes me appreciate his books more, knowing that it didn’t come easy.

    • Janet

      Oh, Linda, you are definitely not alone. I am trying to help clients deal with this every day. It’s a tougher time than ever to be a creative, but keep doing what you do and love!! Courage!

  2. Nanci Turner Steveson

    Thank you Janet. Very timely advice and thoughts. I am saving for myself and sharing with some of my clients who are just about to go out on submission for the first time.

    • Janet

      You’re so welcome and I hope it helps. And it was also my experience back in the day – that persistence is essential to success!