Friday, March 23, 2007

JSB: Carried Away

In the Stephen King short story, "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away," a traveling salesman pulls into a Motel 6 to commit suicide. Life on the road, the isolation of it, has caught up with him.

The only thing keeping him from eating a bullet is his odd journal, a collection of bathroom graffiti he has kept over the years. He thinks people will consider him crazy if they find the journal. He had once wanted to write a book about it.

You'll have to read the story, found in the collection Everything's Eventual, to find out what happens (I write suspense, see?) But it's one of King's best stories, with a haunting subtext about it.

What do we do when we see that which we love carried away?

I've thought about this recently after some postings by a few of my novelist friends who are being dropped by their publishers for lack of sales. Or others who can't seem to land a new contract, despite well reviewed and even award winning novels.

When we are unpublished, we all think breaking into print is the key to the Kingdom. We have arrived in a literary Valhalla to take our place among the gods of print. Odin, looking like Jerry Jenkins, and Thor, a golden-maned John Grisham, welcome us with pints of Mead and promises of immortality.

It's all an illusion, of course. There is no Valhalla. It's more like a dusty Barnes & Noble. And whatever shelf space we have can dry up in an instant. As General Patton once put it, "All glory is fleeting."

You know, I think my most joyful writing came before I was published. Partly it was ignorance – I didn't know that much about fiction (I'd come over from screenwriting) and was just having fun putting down a story as it flowed.

So happy was I that I wrote something in my journal. I said that I would always write, even if I never got published. Even if I had to print out copies at Kinko's and force them on my family at Thanksgiving and on perfect strangers outside Safeway. I wrote because I was compelled to write.

Well, I did get published and it turned into a career, but that does not mean it's all roses, or that it might not go away sometime. No writer is fully immune from such thoughts.

What to do if it happens, if the publishers' doors slam?

I hope I would respond like one of my favorite writers, Preston Sturges. He was a blazing comet of success in the early 1940's, writing one great film comedy after another. He considered the possibility that all he had might be taken away and said, “When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb with a pencil and a ten-cent notebook, and start the whole thing all over again.”

Try to keep that attitude, no matter where your writing goes. If you get published, don't rest and think you've got it made. Keep the PHD mindset: Poor, Hungry, Driven. Half the battle in this game is sticking around.

So stick, and write. And if you must, go to Kinko's. They can carry away your contracts, but they can't carry away your determination.

More about James Scott Bell can be found at


At 4:40 AM, Blogger Reese said...

Great post. I always love your advice.


At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you know i'm sick of it. sick of multiply published authors telling us talented, yet un-published authors that getting that illusive first contract is not what it's cracked up to be, that finding a career with writing is tenuous at best. Well, then STEP ASIDE if it's all that fleeting, if it really doesn't matter, if even a glimpse into Valhalla isn't enough, then step aside, stop writing, let those of us who really, really WANT and NEED to see our work get published, to be affirmed that all those years of writing and writing and conference going, and advice taking was worth it. I am sick and tired of being told that I should be happy just to write. I think so many of you published authors are sitting so high up, you have forgotten what it's like to dream and need. Why accept all those contracts, turn out book after book, two and three a year, why do it? And maybe, just maybe if CBA decided it was time to recognize GOOD writng and not just fast writing, something would change. No good literature can be written in six months. So go ahead, tell your publisher, "I'm not taking this contract," it's not worth it. I'm going to write for GOD for the love of it. Go ahed, I dare you.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Ann Tatlock said...

Dear Anonymous,
You are right. And Jim is also right. I can remember very well how I felt before I was published. So it's not all it's cracked up to be, huh? Yeah, well, I'd like a chance to find out for myself! I did find out. And being published is enormously satisfying and affirming. I thank God for allowing me even modest success in what I love to do. But Jim's point is (in part) that you may never really feel like you've "made it." There will continue to be failures, rejections, set-backs--and yes, it may all come to a screeching halt. I worry about that all the time.

See, it's kind of like marriage. I don't know whether you're a man or a woman, but we women tend to be romantic. I can remember having a heart-to-heart with my mom when I was 20-something and wanting desperately to be married. Mom--who was herself happily married--tried to tell me, "It's not going to be the end of your problems. It's going to bring you a whole new set of problems." Yeah, sure, Mom. All I want is a chance to find out for myself.

Well, Mom was right.

One day you'll be published, Anonymous. If God has called you, there's no stopping you (you're talking to someone here who waited 13 years to be published--read my next post.) So you'll have your chance and I think then you'll understand what Jim is saying. Being published will be a thrill and a joy, but it will bring you a whole new set of worries. But none of us who are published can tell you that. You will simply learn it for yourself.

God bless your efforts as you seek to serve Him.

At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ann, thank you for responding to my comment. Please understand that I appreciate the spirit of Jim's post. It's just so disheartening (sp?) to hear so often becuase I do not believe that for one minute that Jim, or any other publishing author would go back to where I am right now for the love of the craft alone. But I would like to challenge you to. Go ahead and tell your publisher that you want to step aside this time and let a new, aspiring author have a crack at Valhalla. You won't. Or, better yet, tell your editor you want more than six months to write something really, really excellent, that you want to LOVE what you're doing, to be artful and thoughtful and that he or she should give a new writer a chance. Maybe all you folks not enjoying Valhalla can cheerlead for the rest of us. I've worked hard, signed with one of the best agents in the biz, I need it to be my time now. And believe me, I don't harbor any delusions that my life is going to be trouble-free once I do get a contract, but like you said Ann, I'd sure like to give it a go. Say, go ahead, start something, petition your publishers to give some us others a chance. We're really quite talented.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger pam halter said...

I think I have to agree with anonymous, overall. I know what it's like to write and write and write and wait and wait and wait. And I also know what it's like to get accepted and published. Truthfully, there's nothing better than opening that box of your books and gazing at them, picking them up, smelling them, turning the pages and hearing that a reader loved your story. Nothing, and I mean, nothing can compare - no matter how good your WIP is and how much you are enjoying writing it.

But I don't think authors should step aside. I think editors need to know what they're looking for. I hear a lot about edgy, good writing, stories for boys, literary, whatever ... and I also know good authors that give them what they're asking for and they reject it. Why not slow down and work with an author that shows real potential?

It comes down to paying the bills. We all have to do that and publishing houses are no different.

I guess when it's all said and done, we wait on God's timing and we have to hang in there. It's not easy, but that's the way it is.

Hold on, anonymous. Your day is coming!

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Ernie W. said...

Hi Jim, Great words of advice to have when the realization of my first novel being published comes to pass. To me, writing is something I want to do, not have to do, therefore I'll write no matter what;like my walk with Christ.


At 10:11 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

You sure you aren't a preacher? Cuz your words sure carry some convincing power. Thanks for a great post.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

After I commented, I read the rest of the comments.

I wanted to say this to anonymous: I feel your pain. Your words come across a little angry, yet underneath, they're filled with pain. I just want to encourage you this morning, anonymous. And to say, most Published Authors walked in your shoes at one time. I say "most" because some are out of the norm and land contracts with seemingly little effort. But most have been there, and if it will help your feelings any, what Jim is saying, some Published Authors are now BACK in your shoes because they've been cut by their pubs. The operative word, I think, is PAIN. That's why this biz is so tough. Wanna' be a doctor, assuming you've got the smarts? You follow a plan All Doctors follow, and viola, you're a doctor. Ditto for lots of professions. But not with writing. Each path is as varied as an elderly person's varicose veins. If you want to succeed in this biz, you've got to grow a tough skin, endure all kinds of slights and hurts, and THEN have the wisdom to keep your mouth shut. Oh, and to keep on and not quit. I think you have what it takes, anonymous, not that I know you, but I sense the passion burning in you. So be encouraged today. Hope I said something that helps. Ann T., what a gracious post you wrote. You touched my heart.

At 11:01 AM, Anonymous BJ Hoff said...

Dear Anonymous,

While I hear--and genuinely understand--the frustration behind your comments, I believe that in your best interests ... and in all fairness ... it needs to be pointed out that the solution to your publishing dilemma won't come with *published* authors walking away from careers they spent years building. A few things about publishing that you really need to understand, if you're eventually going to succeed:

The reality is that even if every published author in CBA threw in the towel and "retired," unless you can provide an editor with a manuscript of high quality that's publishable and marketable, that editor still won't--can't--buy your book.

Editors are *hungry* for good manuscripts they can publish. They explore every available avenue to *find* those manuscripts, including taking time away from an already crazy schedule to attend writers' conferences, network with agents, and continually ask authors they currently publish for recommendations that will bring new writers to their attention.

Trust me: if you have a manuscript an editor can get behind and sell to his other editorial and marketing people in-house, he'll acquire it.

Believing that a lack of space in publishing is the reason you can't sell your manuscript is a delusion that will only delay your road to publication. The way to sell your manuscript is, and always will be, to provide a *publishable* manuscript. You have a lot of competition among other aspiring writers. Every year many of those writers sell their first books. You can be one of them, but only if your manuscrpt is just as good--no, better--than what most editors see on a daily basis.

As for CBA recognizing "good writing," I think it would help you to read more of what's already in print-and with an unbiased eye. There's a *lot* of good writing out there. Some of it was produced in the six months you point to as an unreasonable time frame, some of it took much longer. I could give you several examples of CBA authors who write only one book a year, and most publishers are quite willing to work with them. They're looking for quality, not speed writing.

As for your suggestion that we tell our publisher that we're "going to write for God for the love of it--" well, that's what all of us are trying to do.

Finally, keep in mind that Jim couldn't have been more right when he said this: "Half the battle in this game is sticking around."

We're going to do just that. But for your own sake, realize that it wouldn't help you--not by any stretch of the imagination--if the rest of us were to quit en masse.

We've all found excuses for our failures at some point. But sooner or later we've all had to realize that those excuses didn't help our chances for publication. They delayed them.

I hope it helps you to know this: many of those published authors you believe to be robbing you of your own opportunities for publication are praying for you today--and they're praying with love and understanding, wanting your best.

Peace to you.

BJ Hoff

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Michelle Pendergrass said...

I think the only think I could say to anonymous is why hide? Sounds like your jealous and you need to take your issues up with God not the industry or the authors already published.

It's easy to type those words cloaked in anonymity, here's a challenge for you, step up to the plate and quit hiding. I just can't find sympathy for someone who can't come out and own what they say.

To JSB--I've read "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away" about 4 times in the last couple of months, making all kinds of marks and notes. I agree, that is one of his best short stories.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Michelle Pendergrass said...

And I hate stupid mistakes I make!! (with no edit feature!)

your = you're Sorry!

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Nicole said...

While I understand and sympathize with Anonymous as a still unpublished writer of six novels, I think the following statement is unfair and just plain wrong. "And maybe, just maybe if CBA decided it was time to recognize GOOD writng and not just fast writing, something would change. No good literature can be written in six months."
You can't determine who can write how well in what amount of time.

But on the other hand, the "promise" that if your manuscript is good enough for an editor to get behind ("Trust me: if you have a manuscript an editor can get behind and sell to his other editorial and marketing people in-house, he'll acquire it."), isn't quite fair either, since editors can champion a book and have it fall flat at "the table".

"Good" isn't the qualifier. I've had professionals in the business of publishing say that sometimes the marketing team (not always book champions or readers) will say they can't figure out a "successful" marketing plan for a book. Other pros have said they love a book, but it will conflict with another new release or that the "platform" isn't elegant enough for them to push it through. I've had a bestselling author tell me it's more about peseverance than it is about talent.

If someone asked my opinion (:)which they won't), I would say that ALL levels of the business, including us unpublished authors, should invest in more real, concentrated prayer about and for this business of "Christian" publishing because there is a very real enemy in our midst seeking to destroy all of us with contention, bickering, unfounded claims, superficial dreams, and, quite frankly, dragging the focus away from the heart of God's desires for His people who he's appointed and anointed to bring stories that bring Him glory in however He ordains.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Gina Holmes said...

Jim, I found your post to be excellent, encouraging and true. Thanks for writing it.

I'm proud of those who responded to "anonymous" so graciously. That person's comments read to me like an attack.

Perhaps publication comes not just when our fiction is ready, but when our hearts are.

At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's me, anonymous, again. First, I apologize for my snarky remarks. I've had this dull headache for a whilewhen it comes to my writing career and I've been quite discouraged about where it is all going. I get sad when selling authors say that getting published isn't the end all and be all of being a writer. Oh, I understand the heart of that comment. But, please, spare me. Tell me how thrillng it is and how wonderul you feel when that contract arrives, encourage me, don't tell me that it's not what it's cracked up to be, that I should be happy just to be writing. I think I'm a little weary is all. It seems I keep getting so close to seeing my dream come true and then, usually once the project gets to the money folks, it gets rejected. It's hard to hear over and over, "you're a good writer but . . . " And yes, I might be a little jealous and for that I need to repent. So, again I aplogize and covet your prayers that one day soon, my dream too, will come true. Sorry for being such a snit pixie.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Kelli Standish said...

I cannot imagine why anyone would attack what you've said. Your words are the solid wisdom of a veteran. One who's been through a few wars, bears the scars, and yet has that glint in the eye only found in those who have been there and kept walking.

Davis Bunn, during one of his Mount Hermon talks several years ago, talked about the "it only grows" concept. Meaning that whatever you're dealing with now as a writer will only grow as your career advances.

Discouragement? It may grow. Problems finding a house to accept your work? It may grow.
Trouble with writers block? It may grow.

The reality is, this writing life is not for the faint of heart. And those who are wise will analyze themselves, and this industry, before diving in.

The Bible talks about the man who starts building his house, only to find he doesn't have the material needed to complete it.

I believe those who dream of being published need to make sure they have what it takes to finish the race.

I did this, and it's why I'm not writing right now.

I am convinced that to make it in this rocky, sales-driven, frequently painful industry, you need to have at least a 70% passion/calling, not just to writing, but to the writing life.

When I checked my heart, and did a sober analysis, I discovered that I didn't have anything close to 70%.

I had book proposals that garnered me job offers at publishing houses.

I had story ideas that were fresh, imminently marketable, and are still being asked for by editors who got my elevator pitch years ago.

I had, and still have, the most brilliant, fabulous agent in the business.

But I didn't have the passion for writing that would sustain me through the fiery trials that most, if not all, of my beloved author friends were facing.

So I decided to wait until the wellspring of my passion returned, before pursuing my writing career any further.

Broken contracts, betrayal by friends, pressure from family, condescension from peers, expected finances that never materialize, career breakthroughs that never break through, words that will not work together, art that has no time to flourish under the heat of withering, impossible deadlines, these ARE a definite part of this life.

This is why seasoned authors have been known to tell dewy-eyed newbies, "If you can do something else, do it."

For those who cannot do anything else, for those who are compelled and in whom the fire of longing and passion for words burns, know this: you can learn a lot from the veterans.

My advice to my unpubbed peers? Close your mouth, sit down, and LISTEN. In no other industry do we have the honor of being encouraged, prayed for, and taught by our elders. Nowhere else will you not only be prayed for but trained up by your competition.

Do not treat this honor lightly.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Mary said...

Forgive me for jumping in here, as I am not a writer. I am an avid reader and have been for as long as I can remember. Having grown up in an abusive, unhappy and impoverished childhood, books were my constant companions and, seemingly, my only escape from the realities of my life. This formed a lifelong habit of reading that has never left me. Today, I can appreciate books simply for their words and stories of other lives and human situations. I just want to applaud every one of you for your God-given talents, your hard work and dedication against the struggles you face. Your comments make me, simply a reader, appreciate to a greater degree some of the struggles you personally face to produce those wonderful stories that so enrich the lives of all the rest of us. You are all in my prayers and I just want to encourage you to not give up… you never know how your words will play an important role in shaping the lives of others.

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to jump in here, but somehow here I am.

Anonymous, I can't get your "step aside" out of my head. When you say this, you are saying:

a) God's percieved call on your life is somehow more valid than God's perceived call on a successful CBA author's life and

b) God is not in control.

This bothers me, so I had to say something.

Susan Plett

At 3:32 AM, Blogger Christina Berry said...

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:33-34

These verses kept coming back to me when I would think about these posts today. It's good to have a heads up about what to prepare for after being published. But it's not good for us unpubs to worry about it. We shouldn't even be worrying about WHEN we'll get published.

We're called to do the task set before us. If that is writing, then we should strive to learn and grow and stretch no matter how far from publication we might be. God will publish our work if/when He decides to. We can give 100%, but we must surrender the timing to Him. Editors, committees, publishing boards, marketing: they're all His tools to implement His plan.

Anonymous, I don't know if you have ever met Jim, but he has a ton of compassion for the unpublished and has mentored many. Thanks, Jim.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

I appreciate Jim's reminder about the published author's way of life because it helps me to not have unrealistic expectations. Sometimes we make publishing our god, so to speak. It's the end all for everyone. And while it is my goal, I don't want it to ever become more important to me than it should be. Jim's words remind me that yes, writing is hard work. When you're unpublished there's one set of issues. When you're published there's another set.

This also reminds me to enjoy every day, every moment.

At 8:37 PM, Blogger ~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Anonymous, please hang in there. Keep writing and above all, keep praying. I have SO been where you are. It's hard, it's frustrating, and it hurts.

I know you wrote your first post at a real down moment. That's obvious from your subsequent apology. I can't judge you for pouring out your frustrations at a difficult time. Others who've answered you have said some very smart things and given some good advice. Hold on to that advice and to our encouragement. Know that we are with you and want to see you succeed.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous John Robinson said...

I'll chime in here with a defense for Jim (not that he needs it). I first met him at Glorieta back in 2000, when I was a completly green-as-a-gooseberry, unpublished newbie. I'd just finished his book Blind Justice, and was both entranced with the story, and despairing I could ever write as well. Screwing up my courage, I sought him out the first night after the plenary session, wondering if he was going to pin my ears back for daring to disturb him. Instead I found a gracious, caring, giving guy. Flash forward. In 2003 my first commercial CBA novel in my series was published. In 2004, the second. 2005, the third. And in 2006 my publisher dropped me, citing lack of sales. We could talk for the next week about where the blame for that lay (I'm without a contract, and that sucks. Big time).

All I know is, Jimbo was right there, still encouraging me, still telling me to get up again. That, ladies and gents, is not only a Christian gentleman; that's a man.

Thus endeth the lesson.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Brian Reaves said...

I agree with John. Jim is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. I had the privilege of being in his fiction mentoring class at Mount Hermon a couple of years ago, and he was such an encouragement it reignited a fire for the story.

His post is dead-on here. While I was blessed enough to have had a novel traditionally published, I started out as a self-published author and have plans to go that route again in the future with another side project. I didn't become an author when I was published though; I became an author when I finished the story. We never look twice at a band who puts out their own CD. We think, "Cool! I love this music and want to hear more of it!" So why should we look at "Kinko's" authors any differently? If the story's good, it's good no matter who puts it out.

A publishing house puts out a small fraction of the submissions they get every year. Does that mean every story they passed on was bad? No. It might mean the story just didn't fit their house, or they didn't see a way to make it work with their current schedule, or they just couldn't get it past a publishing committee. I had an editor who fell in love with a project I'd written, even going so far as to help me rewrite parts of it before he took it to the committee (that's almost unheard of), yet the committee passed it up. Such is life. I'm still pushing the book where I can (I'm on my way to Mount Hermon this week to push it to a new set of editors), and it may never find a traditional publisher, but it WILL be printed one day. Even if I have to go the Kinko's route.

Anonymous, no published author is standing in the way of you making it. If your story is strong enough, the publisher will find a place for it in their schedule. It may be two years out after you sign the contract, but they'll make room. Don't be upset at someone like Jim who's made a life out of writing. Choose instead to be encouraged because it can happen to you too.

One last thing, John Robinson's books are all great too. If you haven't checked them out already, give his Joe Box stories a try.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger John Robinson said...

Thanks, Brian. You're very kind.

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Great post, Jim.

It's is a struggle to keep one's head up, even after being published. We exchange one set of whoas for another.

Before publishing it's "Why not me?"

After publishing, it's "Why are my books not taking off?" "Will my publisher drop me?" "Will I ever have another good idea?"

"Will I ever win an award?" "Will I get starred reviews."

It's enough to drive an insane man sane. ;)

But the reality is we are not defined by our writing, nor by publishing, but by God. We are who He says we are. We carry the reward within. Christ in us, the hope of Glory. :)

Also, I have not read your Shannon series, but I really want to. They seem fascinating. My kind of heroine.


At 11:25 AM, Blogger Lynetta said...

As someone who soaks up every plot line and character of every book you've written, I can tell you've done the hard work of learning how to write well and putting good talent to use. But even more importantly, as someone who has heard you speak, read Plot and Structure until the pages fell out, and met you personally, I have to say the gift I most admire is your ability to encourage. I've only been in the biz seriously for two years now, and recognize that I have a long road and a lot of work ahead. Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom and encouragement to those of us who walk the writing path. After reading this post, I got a renewed sense of love for what I'm doing and a determination to enjoy the journey. The sights really are beautiful all along the way!

At 1:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really late to this party, but I saw this and thought it was totally appropriate to this discussion. If anyone still cares, check it out! (cut and paste) You won't be sorry.

(Just for now, I'm going anonymous too, for reasons all my own.) : )

At 1:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That link one more time: /canbookmarketing /2007/03/ handling_succes.html#more

(Take out the spaces.)

At 1:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, never mind. Just go to the CAN blog and read Susie Larson's post on March 29th entitled "Handling Success." See, even the easy things can be incredibly hard in this biz. ; )

At 6:59 PM, Blogger SolShine7 said...

Geez James, you make me want to cry, but in a good way. Thanks.

Kristy, this line is just great: "Each path is as varied as an elderly person's varicose veins." Kudos on the imagery.


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