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Friday, July 11, 2008

On Quitting

A few of you have written me lately to ask a very important question, perhaps the most important one ever asked of me: When I’m sending out queries, how do I know when enough is enough? How do I know when to quit?

The question is important because the answer will define your writing career. It may determine your very success or failure as a writer. It’s also one that will stay with you as you look back on it in five, ten, even twenty years. It’s not a question to be taken lightly, and it’s one that only you can answer.

Almost every professional writer has faced rejection. Some go through hundreds of rejections (and several books) before they ever find success. Your own experience isn’t likely to be all that different. You might rack up 70 rejections, which may seem like a lot, but if you stop at 70, how will you know that 71 wouldn’t have been your lucky number?

So how many is enough? Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred? My answer: “At least one more.”

That, however, doesn’t mean you should just charge ahead blindly. If you rack up a sizeable pile of rejections without getting anywhere, change your tactics. Review your query letter to make sure you’re putting your book in the best possible (and most salable) light. Make sure your book, especially your sample chapters, are as perfect as you can possibly make them. Then go back at it, at least one more time.

I make it sound easy, but I know from experience that it is not. Going forward in the face of overwhelming adversity is difficult. But in those times when the obstacles seem insurmountable, my thoughts always turn to Winston Churchill. In 1941, went to his former school to deliver a speech. England had just survived nearly a year of the Blitz, a bombing campaign that left over 40,000 people dead and challenged the spirit of the nation. Here’s what Churchill had to say:

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

If Churchill, and the nation he led, could summon that kind of courage, given the overwhelming odds that they faced, how can I, or any of us, give our own dreams any less?

Christopher Hawkins


Dimitry said...

This was a great post, Christopher. Thank you! I've gotten good responses to my query letters since I started sending them out earlier in the summer. A couple of agents have rejected my debut novel manuscript so far. I'm waiting to hear back from another six (I think.)
I'm nervous. It's not an ideal way to spend the summer after two years of hard work. The fairy tale story you sometimes hear about an agent reading a manuscript and calling the writer within 48 hours to share his excitment, then placing the thing with a publisher within a week will probably not apply to me.
Still, I feel confident. I never thought it would take 50 submissions for me to find an agent or a publisher. If it does, so what?
Keep up the good work, Chris. This really was one of the most important posts a writer could read.



Cynde Lou said...

Good, sound advice. Reviewing the query letter and sample chapters and possibly revising them at this point sounds like the perfect thing to do.
I loved your reference to Sir Winston Churchill--I'm going to type that up and put it on my dresser mirror. I love it!
Cynde L. Hammond

Christopher Hawkins said...

Thanks to both of you! I'm glad you found the post helpful!


white rabbit said...

A little story - I wrote a novel called 'White Rabbit'. I got an agent wh loved it. She sent it to five publishers. They all saaid nice things about it in varying degrees but none made an offer. The agent loast heart. I wondered what to do next. I gave the manuscript to a friend, a published writer and playwright among other things. He read it.

'Write another' was his advice and good advice too. I did. it got published. I don't think the real question is when t quit but when to write another. If the first one was any good it can come into play as a back catalogue item...

Christopher Hawkins said...

A great point. Always keep writing!