Adventures in writing and living, from the shores of Portland, Maine.

Hustle While You Wait

I have a manuscript currently submitted to publishers. It’s been submitted for over six months.


I keep reminding myself that it took The Philosopher’s Stone nearly a year to find a home. But still. Over six months. And counting.

My agent, while always cautious with her words, tells me this isn’t a bad sign. The days of the lone editor opting to buy a manuscript from a debut author are long gone. Now it is a decision that generally requires unanimousness across the acquisitions table, including votes from multiple departments, editors, and board members. This is the world of commercial fiction.

So what’s a gal to do in the meantime?

A year ago, my answer would have been: Clean the entire house from top to bottom and then start writing another manuscript. Any other writing task felt like a diversion from my ultimate goal of publication. And even though, when I first started writing fiction, I heard all the tales of woe …it took me 10 years to get published… my agent abandoned me for no reason… *that* author beat me to the bestsellers list… I was sure these things wouldn’t happen to me.

Well, they did. Not all of them. But some of them.

Here’s what I can add to the tales of woe: Unless you’re one of the blessed few who land an agent and a book deal in one swift maneuver of writing, querying, and negotiating… you’re in for a long haul. And the best thing to do during the haul, as my old mentor Chris would say, is to write. Duh. But at some point, a gal’s gotta stack some green. And this gal recently decided: If I really want to make it as a writer, I have to find ways to pay the bills as a writer.

I will not disclose how many self-help books I read to extract this gem of wisdom. Let’s just leave it at this: Career epiphany — check.

The next logical question was: How does one go about finding work as a writer when one has nothing to show but unpublished manuscripts?

One learns to hustle.

My personal hustle looked like this…

1: Email every person you know. Until you ask, it’s impossible to discern which one of your friends has some latent connection to a person or company in need of a writer. I’ve eked out four freelance jobs by pestering my acquaintances.

2: Write something you can send as a sample. I sent an article I’d written for an industry magazine while at my graphic design day job, but I think an unpublished article would have worked just fine. I also sent an example of an email I’d created for the sales team at the same day job. That email never actually went to the sales team. But that’s not the point. The sample showed a different format and writing style, and the ability to curate from other content. Showing range was the point.

3: Talk to people. All the people, all the time. Tell them what you’re working on, minus all the woes mentioned above, and then make sure you listen to their response. Recently I met a friendly, fascinating young man from Zambia who, upon learning I write young adult fiction, told me he has a book idea. Who the heck knows where that conversation is going to lead, but it won’t stop me from having coffee with him to find out.

And 4: I won’t officially put it on the list, because not everyone is in a position to do it. But if you can… quit your day job. Or try to negotiate an extended leave. Having no steady income is incredibly motivating. So is having the time and freedom to pursue your dream, even if you can only do it for a month before you have to get a job at a coffee shop or return to a thankless cubicle.

For me, this go-get-’em approach has been equal parts scary, exhausting, and exciting. But… it’s producing results.

It also produced a second epiphany.

Remember when I said I am not a writer? Yeah, well, I changed my mind. That mentality was getting me nowhere fast, and it certainly wasn’t a lucrative attitude. I realized I have to be able to say, unapologetically and with confidence, that I am a writer. If I don’t believe it, how can I expect anyone else to? And — *shocker* — it turns out the more I say it, the easier it is to say.

Life epiphany — check.

I’ve noticed there’s a lot more clutter on my desk these days. Sticky notes and business cards and snacks. I think my agent would say, with cautious optimism, this isn’t a bad sign. I may not hear back about my manuscript for another six months — which, hey, worked out just fine for J.K. — but at least I know what I’ll be doing while I wait.

I’ll be hustling.