The Ten Percent

This was meant to be a fabulous motivational post for but since this week has been disappointing writing-wise, I’ve kind of lost any motivational type attitude. Not that I had much to start with.

This year has been a hell of a year. Lots of very, very hard stuff to deal with. Lots of hard work put in. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a lot and the few successes I’ve had have been wonderful. But the sad fact is that there aren’t enough successes to balance out all the crap.

It all comes down to that ten percent. If getting published is 30% talent, 30% hard work, 30% persistence, then that last 10% is luck. And you might have all the above but if you don’t strike that last 10% you may as well not bother. Now, I don’t think I’m a bad writer. I have some lovely contest successes as testament to the fact that people like what I write. And also lovely comments on the chapters I’ve written for New Voices. I know people would like to read what I write. This year I’ve also put in a lot of hard work to make my stories better. Learning craft has been difficult for me, applying it even harder. But I think I’ve made progress. And I’ve been pretty persistent. I’ve written over 10 books in the past couple of years – some twice!

But no one will get to read them if you don’t get the 10%. Luck. The right editor, the right story, the right time. Some people hit it straight away. Some people don’t. Guess which group I fit into? I don’t set out to write bad stories. Every time I write a story I’m wanting to blow someone’s socks off. But sadly, for me, the socks have stayed firmly on. I just haven’t hit that 10% yet. And the sad truth of the matter is this:  I may NEVER hit it. Because that’s the beauty of luck.  

At the moment, I feel like I’m going into a casino and playing the slots. I have had a few wins to keep me going – small returns to give the illusion you’re succeeding – but no jackpot. Sometimes I don’t get any in a row. Sometimes three. Once, I had four. Yet I keep missing out. And I’m getting to the bottom of the change in my cup. I could go get some more of course, but my bank account is on zero. I’m a gambling addict, betting what little confidence I have in my writing on a change in luck that may never happen.

Okay, so it might change. You never know. You might give up right before it happens for you! Well, I can safely say that is not the case now. It will not be happening for me in the near future. So I could actually give up now, safe in the knowledge that for the next year at least, I wouldn’t have missed out on anything.

And you know what? I just don’t know if I can do another year. My change cup is empty and so is my bank account. I’ve written books I was so confident in I was all but writing out my sale story, only to end in rejection. I’ve written books that I thought would never get anywhere that have won contests. So now I can’t tell what’s good anymore and what isn’t. My instinct has gone. The vacuum of being unpublished has sucked it all away.

I’ve always been an emotional girl. Up and down, that’s me. Writing just makes the downs more intense because I actually care too much about this thing. And as for the ups…well, there haven’t been many. I wish I could detach myself. I wish I had a hard skin and could shrug off the downs. Maybe if I’d built up to it I would have. But I started off really well so that when the downs came, my skin wasn’t thick enough to cope. Still isn’t.

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that at the end of the year, I’m going to have to sit down and reconsider whether I want to continue doing this. True, I haven’t been doing this as long as many and if you’ve been doing this for years, I salute you.You are incredible people and I wish I had your staying power. But I’m not sure I do. I’m not sure I can keep gambling on the ten percent.

I was so hoping that my journey would end happily. That I would have a sale story to tell. But life doesn’t happen that way. No matter how much we want something, no matter how much we think we deserve it, it doesn’t mean we’ll get it. Sometimes – unfortunately – there is no HEA.

29 thoughts on “The Ten Percent”

  1. As someone who took a 7 year break from writing romance before I sold because of all the rejections, I think a hiatus can be a very good thing. It’s not failure, and in many ways it can be extremely liberating. The relief of not having that pressure to write, to finish, to sell is wonderful. And then you can come back to it with fresh perspective, energy, and zeal. HOWEVER, that can’t be your goal, imo. I needed to tell myself that I might never sell, never write another romance, and be completely OK with that before I came back to it–and when I did, I wrote in a totally different voice from my original efforts–and it was a much better fit (I wrote light and comic for Tender/Romance/Cherish and now I write dark angst for Presents!) You never know. But taking a step back can be a very good thing. Hugs!

  2. Oh dear Jackie, i hope you get to the other side of your dark feelings.
    Have you considered self-publishing? Many would love to read your stories and perhaps that’s the avenue for you?!

  3. I think Kate is right. I’ve been writing on and off since 1997 and seriously since 2006. But a break CAN be a good thing. It can leave you refreshed and help you refill the well. The bottom line is also WHY did you start writing? Did you write to get published or because you enjoy it? Do you still enjoy it? I say try a wee break, but I bet you won’t last long. WRiting is in your BLOOD!! xox

  4. The hardness is just so… hard. I reckon break if you can and hopefully come back afresh. Definitely do some wallowing too cos that’s allowed. Hugs.

  5. Kate – I can see how that would be good. But I’m not sure I can be okay with it NEVER happening. At least, I’m not now. Maybe that’s a sign I do need to step back. Thanks for the hugs.

    Kerrin – I have nothing against self publishing at all. But I don’t want to feel pushed into it due to frustration. And that’s where I am at the moment. It shouldn’t be an emotional decision in other words.

    Rach – no, I can’t give up writing. I’ve been doing it since I was 12. Writing ‘seriously’ since the same time as you. My problem is that stepping back may mean I never return. But that may be a good thing.

    Bec – thanks. Sadly I’m not sure wallowing is enough. Or a break. I’m not sure if i’ll come back at all.

  6. I hear you, Jackie. Boy, do I hear you. I’ve gone through stages of not caring if I ever sold, stages of really being uber motivated when its been an obsession. It ebbs and flows, but one thing I’ve cut myself some slack on is that it is insanely (I’d say inhumanly) hard to stay motivated year after year after year after year when you’re hanging on to crumbs, and the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. A break from writing is a very sensible and sane thing to do. Sandra said in an email when she first sold something about hanging on by the tips of your fingernails and that’s what its like. On a positive note, I remind myself of this : if you could have/do/be one thing where money, talent, time etc was no object, what would it be? If you could have that thing tomorrow, what is it? That’s what I think of and at this point, its keeping me writing.

  7. Jo – hey there. It IS inhuman isn’t it? It’s like trying again and again for that promotion and not knowing why you don’t get the job. Was it a bad interview? Not enough experience? Not the right firt? Who knows? You just didn’t get it and someone else did and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.
    Sandra was a wise lady. She tried much longer than me and succeeded. Her fingernails must have been stronger. Mine are worn to stubs.
    I shall keep in mind your question though.

  8. I think Kate gave you some very good advice. Sometimes a little distance cam make all the difference. When you are so close to the writing it can be very hard to see how much pressure you’re putting on yourself to not just write a great story, but write a story that sells. And that pressure can squeeze all the fun out of what is a very arduous process in the best of circumstances. I just know that I love the process of writing, of creating each new book enough now that I am not ready to walk away.

    Big hugs and good luck with whatever path you take.

  9. Big hugs Jackie, this sounds like a really tough time for you 🙁

    I’ve been very fortunate to have an editor who has helped me save two truly dreadful first drafts, so I agree that luck is a big player in publishing, and having the right editor at the right time want to help you. Is there anyway that you can give luck a bit of a shove along? I read on the Harlequin blog that Helen Lacey worked with a freelance ex-Harlequin editor prior to her first sale. Is that something you’d consider?

  10. Julia – don’t get me wrong. I still love writing. It’s the publishing aspect of it that’s taken all the fun out of it. But then, I suppose the alternative is just write and not worry about getting published. And that’s something I haven’t gotten to grips with yet.

    Leah – thanks for the suggestion. That’s the problem with luck though, you can’t really help it along. 🙁 You either have it or you don’t. I guess an editor that is an option but the other thing you need to do that is money. And that’s something else that’s a bit thin on the ground.

  11. Worried about you now because you sound really down. I do think you’re right. I think there is definitely an element of luck involved. But I believe that luck is out there for you too.
    Maybe Kate Hewitt is right, you should take a break for a little while to refill the well. Somehow I don’t think you could last seven years and I don’t want you to!

  12. I have a friend who, after many setbacks, decided to write just for herself and not for publication. It was very liberating and she wrote what she wanted to write and the way she wanted to. On completion friends on her on-line writer’s group urged her to send it to an agent/publisher. That book was her first published novel. She went on to write several more, only two of which were published through the traditional route. The trouble with her writing style was marketing and where she fit on the shelf (she crossed genres), and sadly her publisher dropped her. Several years and books later when she had exhausted all the possibilities of publication and much urging from her fans she decided to publish her waiting novels as e-books. They have been a runaway success and hitting high sales.

    I don’t know if this story helps in any way or if I’ve just rambled on uselessly, but maybe a step back would be a good thing and to write for yourself and not for a very specific line. If writing is in your blood you’re not going to give it up easily. Re-assessment of what you are writing might be an option. Katie Fforde (a UK writer) tried for eight years to write for M&B and it just wasn’t for her. She found her niche elsewhere and is now a multi-published and successful writer.

    Good luck.

  13. Jackie
    Firstly I am sending you lots of hugs.
    Secondly you’re right on all counts. Luck is the thing you can’t control. And its soul destroying when you want something so much, have invested so much in it and it still isn’t happening and you don’t know why.
    I think though that perspective is really important. I stepped back from M&B for a while because I lost perspective – I really couldn’t see the way forward, I was stuck.
    I tried other stuff (children’s books, continued writing short stories) and every so often I would pull up a romance WIP, play around and abandon it.
    And then something just clicked – and now I’m writing romance again, I’m enjoying it and I feel like I have more perspective. I still really really (!!!!) want this but I have accepted that it might never happen. All I can do is my best.
    Maybe standing back and writing something different would help recharge your batteries.
    Anyway sending more hugs. And I believe in you!
    Nina xxx

  14. Huge hugs, Jackie, and yes, luck is something you can’t help along..

    I totally get where you’re coming from and hope you feel better soon, whatever u decide, sweetie…

    Squishy hugs from me…

  15. Scarlet – thanks, m’dear. I think I have to believe that luck is out there and right now, I don’t believe it. No, I couldn’t do seven years. I don’t think I’d come back.

    Alexandra – yes, that’s an interesting story. I have been writing other stuff. But given how difficult contemporary romance is to sell to a publisher, it quite honestly depresses the crap out of me. Because contemporary romance IS what I want to write. E-Presses are a good option but I’ve already had a no from one, not sure I can face nos from others.
    The more I look at it, the more taking a break seems to be my only option.

    Nina – thanks! I still like writing romance. That’s not the problem. Maybe it’s the perspective. The problem is, as soon as I send something out there, I lose persepctive. Think I need to stop sending stuff out and just accept the fact it’s not going to happen for me.

    Sri – thanks for the hugs. Appreciated.

  16. Jackie
    So lets say you accept it may not happen, you stop sending stuff out. What will you do instead? Will you keep writing?
    Maybe you should just take a couple of months off/ a couple of weeks off whatever feels right and then regroup?
    (please note I know this is easy to say and v v hard to do)
    And I and I think lots of others are really feeling for you right now.
    And rememeber whatever you decide now isn’t set in stone.
    Hugs
    Nina x

  17. Nina – thanks for the support and the hugs. Means a lot to me right now. I’m not quite sure what to do at the moment. Time out is the obvious one. But I have to say, time out feels like a defeat. Then again, when you have no confidence in what you’re doing, is there any point continuing? I don’t know. You are right though, nothing is permanent eh?

  18. Here drink this *hands over ginormous chocolate martini*

    I’m no doctor and I know you’re married to a helluva medico so I will just offer up an opinion here: from your post and your responses you sound depressed (in which case alcohol is not a good thing but we’ll make an exceptions just this once – keep sipping while I ramble, k?)

    You’ve copped a beating in a literary sense and it’s completely eroded your confidence in yourself and your natural instinct to believe that tomorrow will be better. I definitely agree that some time is in order but you need to fill that time with productive stuff – you can’t take away one habit without replacing it with another one (a mentally healthy and self affirming one in this case). You may feel that if you stop writing now you’ll never come back to it but I think that’s the depression talking. I think if you give yourself time to build up a little resilience and some self-confidence (by doing something else that will provide you with some quick wins/results) then in time you will feel strong enough to venture back to writing. But even if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. You are an intelligent and gifted human being. Writing isn’t the only thing you can offer the world: you are not the sum total of your success as a writer. Writing is just one part of the amazing soul you are and yes we think you rock at it but right now it’s not filling you with the joy that it should. So find something else that does.

    Jackie your star will shine no matter what you choose to do because you are a warm, empathetic, talented, strong, smart woman and even if you can’t believe in yourself right now, trust that your friends believe in you for all the right reasons.

    Much love and hugs flying your way. Mwuah!

  19. Elissa – yes, I’ve had someone else tell me that too. And intellectually I know this. But my heart wants to be a writer. That’s all it’s ever wanted to do. And to be honest, I’m not sure what else I’d do if I didn’t have it. For the first twenty years of my working life, I was a librarian and I didn’t achieve much there either. Maybe I’m destined to always be a wanna-be.
    Anyway, thanks so much for your support and hugs and big sloppy kisses. It really means a hell of a lot.

  20. Oh I LOVE what Kate said. Listen to Kate!

    But also: No. No, no, no, no, no. You’re forgetting our deal. You can’t quit without my permission and you’ll darn well have to convince me.

    So, no.

    And *hugs*

  21. There are a lot of really wise people here that have offered you sound advice. I’m afraid I don’t have anything brilliant to add, but I do want to send you a massive hug.

    HUGS, Jackie. It’s a brutal business. WHATEVER you decide, your friends will be here to support you.

  22. Jackie
    Could you look at it as a strategic retreat not a defeat. I really do know what you mean because its exactly how I feel too. I have been trying to break in to Mills and Boon for years and if I hadn’t stepped back a bit sometimes and tried other things I would be a basket case by now.
    I truly believe a little bit of time out is the answer. You’ve worked damn hard and you deserve a break. But I agree with Elissa it has to be a positive break.
    And you are not defined by what you do as a job, or whether you are published or not. You are you and I am betting that your family and friends are very glad you are.
    More hugs.
    Nina xx

  23. I’m like Aimee, having read a lot of very loving, valuable advice sent your way, without having much to add. Being an aspiring writer can feel like wading through syrup one day, and setting cement the next. It’s never easy. And we’re not made to endure such stress and strain and depression. Dear Jackie, I’m worried that you’ll have a nervous break down and not be able to get back up again. So a break sounds good. Time to reflect, to rest. Because as writers, we don’t ever take time out. Evenings are time to write. Weekends are time to write. Holidays? You know it – time to write. And it’s too much. We need to give our minds a break.

    I know you don’t think you’ll be able to come back to it, and maybe you won’t, but I suspect that after a time of respite, you’ll hear a voice in your head. A hero perhaps, or a heroine. And they’ll talk to you, introduce you to their mother, or brother, and then ask whether you’d seen that hot-damn sexy laydeh/male specimen over there. You’ll look up, spot them, and remark that they would make an adorable couple. ‘But how will he/she ever fall in love with me?’ they will ask you. ‘Do you know? Can you help us live happily ever after?’ And you’ll hesitate, not sure whether you can do it, but then you’ll smile because you know you can. It’s what you do. What you want to do. You’ll write their story because the characters mean something to you, not because M&B might read it and accept it. You’ll write with a fresh mind, a revitalised heart, and if you happen to submit it, then so you do, but you will be happier for the break and the perspective. And right now, your happiness and health are both on the line. Speaking as someone who’s had a severe heart condition since I was 16, THOSE are the keys to life. Not any of this publishing pish-posh.

    …and I said I had nothing to add! If a Sea didn’t divide us, I’d be waiting in line to hug you. xxx

  24. Jackie, you probably won’t remember me, but I used to post a while ago on the M&B subcare forum – somewhat contentiously, at times, as I became impatient with what I saw as their failure to develop writers like you, with great potential. I had the same feeling then as I did when the rest of Britain became hysterical over the death of Princess Di – ‘am I the only one to see things this way?!!!’ It was the main reason for pulling out of trying; my rationale being, if SHE doesn’t get treated well and nurtured, then what hope do I have?!
    I so admire your writing, and without knowing which publishers you have targetted, just wonder if you might consider other approaches. Wishing your talent the very best – it would be a crime not to let it shine in some way….

  25. Ok now I am going to go at this in a totally different way to most everyone else. As a bit of an up and downer myself, I am probably the last person that should give you this advice and truly I frequently need someone to repeat this back to me.

    I really believe a person makes their own luck. If you don’t write, rewrite, edit and submit then the only certainty is you’ll never be published. You are doing all the right things and you are a wonderfully talented writer. I don’t believe for a single second that you will never be published. You are too determined for that to happen to you. Like others, I wonder if maybe it would help you to target other lines–have some irons in different fires so to speak.

    Whatever you do next, you can be sure all your friends will be cheering you on willing you to succeed. I hope you’ve had plenty of chocolate martinis and here’s some more hugs because you deserve them xxx

  26. Jackie, I always love the honesty of your posts. I think I face more self-doubt now than I ever have before. It’s like the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. And I wonder if I’ll ever get it.

    Hope whatever you do makes you happy.

  27. Lacey – ah yes, the deal…Oh look, is that a bird over there? *points and distracts*. Hugs back to you. 🙂

    Aimee – thanks for the hugs. Need ’em. Support ALWAYS helps too.

    Nina – you really are such a sweetheart. Perhaps you’re right, a break is the thing. Certainly some rest and reflection are in order. I’m trying to let go a bit, but it’s really, really, REALLY hard. I used to be a closet writer for years and years. Writing just for my own enjoyment with no intention of getting published. I need to get back to doing that again maybe.

    Madeline – This is just between you and me, right? *whispers* I’ve had three or four ideas pop into my head in the last couple of days. Ever since I wrote that blog post. Stupid, stupid characters! Don’t they know I’m trying to give up here??
    As for me and my ups and downs. I have nervous breakdowns every week and that’s the truth. Even when I’m not writing! But it’s the ones that concern your dreams that hurt the worst. But perspective is needed eh? I need to go find me some. Hugs back to you.

  28. Chris – Hi! Yes, I do remember you! Thanks for your lovely words of encouragement and support.
    I have considered other approaches. Which is why this latest R was so gutting. I thought a change of publisher might make the difference. But no. I guess it is only ONE other publisher, though. There are others. I’m just being a total wuss about it. Perhaps if I give myself some time I can pull myself out of the slump and try again.

    Catherine – yeah, being so up and down SUCKS. It’s SO hard to detach. But you’re totally right. if I don’t do anything, nothing will happen. It’s weighing that up against the constant drag of the rejections. Not sure where I’ve got to with that.
    And yep, am considering other options. Like I said to Chris, this latest R was another iron in another fire. Not a fire for me as it turned out and not a great encouragement to try other places. It does make you wonder what will cut it. I guess the fact that I am ‘considering’ other options is a good sign, right?
    Oh and lots of chocolate martinis HAVE been consumed!

    Jo – it’s made my entire month. 🙂

    Anne – I wonder that myself. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe there’s nothing to ‘get’. Maybe the only thing is to write because you love to write and ignore the whole getting published thing – as many others here have suggested.
    I don’t know how to help with the self doubt because it’ll sound hollow since I don’t know how to overcome that myself. But one thing I can say is that I TOTALLY know how you feel.
    Perhaps all we need is some time and we can both pull ourselves out of it.

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