Learning from Failure
We've all heard them, those myriad platitudes that tell you if you just hang in there, you will make it. The ones that say the only difference between success and failure is the persistence to make one more submission.
This appeals to our inner sense of justice, to the idea that working hard will always eventually be rewarded. Unfortunately, the universe doesn't consistently play fair. So while hanging in there is commendable, a surer route to success in publishing involves what I call "hanging in smart."
In other words, you have to have the sense to recognize when something isn't working and you need a course correction. Often this involves steep learning curves, plenty of false starts, and the occasional all-out failure. But generally, if you simply continue on the same unsuccessful course, even with some refinements, you're likely to experience the same results.
So let's say you've been sweating out, submitting, and studying the craft of poems and short stories for years (this describes my early efforts pretty well), with no success. That's not to say you learned nothing from the experience, so when you move on to writing, say, short plays (something else I tried for a bit), you'll come to the table with more skill. If that's not working for you (or you suddenly clap on, as I did finally, to the fact that since you love reading novels above all else, that's what you should be writing - no matter how long and scary they seem), you're bringing along a whole wagon-full of craft lessons from your prior "failures."
Same goes within the world of novel writing. My first three full-length manuscripts were fantasy (adult) and young adult (time travel/ghost story), and I came pretty close to publishing in both genres. But while writing YA, I had an idea that could only be written for adults, so I studied, studied, studied my intended market (historical romance) and joined the Romance Writers of America (because by now I was serious enough -- and seriously sick of falling a bit short of my goal) as I wrote. With this "do-over," however, I was bringing the experience of having won a number of writing contests and worked with one agent (with whom I'd parted ways).
To make a long story short, my first historical romance manuscript netted me a new agent and sold. But even after the publication of seven historicals, I wasn't through adapting. When a shrinking demand for American-set historicals hit me hard, I once more started experimenting in other areas, particularly in mystery/suspense, which I love to read (but had previously thought I wasn't smart enough/good enough/ready enough to write). Bringing along what I knew by then from my prior "failures," I was able to shift gears into writing contemporary romantic suspense.
Am I finished evolving? I seriously doubt it. With each new release, I try to analyze what's worked for me, what hasn't, and what I might do differently to appeal to more readers and keep myself from burning out from the boredom of repetition. All while striving to give my readers a "consistent experience" as they run through my romantic suspense backlist. But whoever said this writing stuff was supposed to be easy?
So where are you in your evolution as a writer? Where did you start, and where do you have the feeling you might be going? And for those of you who made a change, what convinced you it was time to move on to the next stage?