Our second post is by Michael Potts. Now, I don’t know Michael other than through the e-mail loop for Odyssey grads and Facebook, but I’m naturally inclined to like him just because he has a cat named Pippin! Favourite hobbits aside, I have been following Michael on Facebook, and I have enjoyed seeing him achieve success, and I knew many authors can relate to what he’s been through.
by Michael Potts
A small press rejects your novel manuscript without comment. Inquiries to agents run into a dead end. You receive an impersonal e-mail from a novel contest listing the finalists, but your manuscript is not included. Other writers tell you, “Get used to rejection. Make a collage of rejection letters on your wall. Even the best writers were rejected many times.” Often that advice is not enough for you to get over the emotional downturns of more and more rejections. You begin to rationalize: “The system is rigged in favor of established writers” or “The editors are too picky,” or “Editors are evil.” You may become so discouraged that you give up on writing altogether.
My first piece of advice to a writer with these struggles is, “Keep writing. Work on improving your craft. Participate in workshops. Read books on writing. Read as much as you can in your genre.” You do these things and have no luck. Why not give up?
My submissions have been rejected many times. I have been discouraged to the point of thinking, “Why do I waste my time with creative writing. I am well-published in academic writing—I should focus on that.” Yet I persevered, and that perseverance paid off in the case of e my first novel, the Southern fiction novel, End of Summer.
Initially I was excited about writing a novel. In 2005, I completed 90% of the first draft in ten days spent at the Weymouth Center in North Carolina, a beautiful, quiet place to write. Charlotte Rains Dixon, an excellent editor, edited the manuscript. I took a fiction writing class at the university where I teach philosophy, and my colleague Michael Colonnese edited the manuscript gain. I knew the book was good—of course not to the level of two of my chief influences, James Agee and Ray Bradbury, but quality literary fiction.
When I tried to get the novel published, I did not go the agent route, but sent the book to a variety of small presses specializing in Southern fiction. All rejected the manuscript without comment. Then I turned to the contest route and focused on contests friendly to Southern fiction. The result, again, was rejection without comment. I tried tweaking the novel to make it better. The result was more rejection. Finally, I decided to set the manuscript aside for good, forget about sending it anywhere else, and work on other projects.
The manuscript rested in peace for two years on top of a bookcase at home. In January 2010, almost five years after the first draft was completed, I attended a conference sponsored by the Writers’ Loft program (now called MTSU Writers) from which I had graduated four years before. A group of small press editors spoke about their presses and the kind of books they published. After the presentations I approached Mike Parker, who owns WordCrafts Press, a small press in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I bought two books published by the press and struck up a conversation, making sure I mentioned that “I have a manuscript of a novel.” Mike was interested, and I made my pitch. He invited me to send him the manuscript. About two months later, he replied that the selection committee would accept the novel if I changed the point of view from third person limited omniscient to first person. I agreed and did so. In November 2010 WordCrafts press published End of Summer. In the process the book went through another thorough edit, and the designer at WordCrafts Press designed a beautiful cover that is perfect for the book. My dream of being a published fiction author was fulfilled.
That success opened other doors for me at WordCrafts Press. In 2014 it published my horror novel, Unpardonable Sin. It also published a nonfiction book, Aerobics for the Mind: Practical Exercises in Philosophy that Anybody Can Do. Both books were well-edited well and have beautiful covers—and good content. My perseverance in not giving up as a writer, in continuing to go to writing conferences, paid off.
I have heard writers speaking at workshops say that the difference between a successful author and a failed author is perseverance. In the context of writing, “perseverance” means continuing to write despite rejection, continuing to attend conferences and workshops, and always seeking new opportunities for publication. If you know your work is of high quality, keep sending it out—or at least look for the kind of unexpected opportunity I found. The only sure recipe for failure in writing (besides ignoring craft) is giving up. Success may come your way if you persevere.
–Michael Potts is Professor of Philosophy at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He is the author of two novels, End of Summer (WordCrafts Press, 2011) and Unpardonable Sin (WordCrafts Press, 2014). He also authored the award-winning poetry chapbook, From Field to Thicket, and a poetry collection, Hiding from the Reaper and Other Horror Poems (2013). His nonfiction book, Aerobics for the Mind: Practical Exercises in Philosophy that Anybody Can Do was recently published by WordCrafts Press. A native of Smyrna, Tennessee, he lives with his wife, Karen, and their three cats, Frodo, Pippin, and Rosie, in Linden, North Carolina. For more information on Michael, visit his website at: www.michael-potts.com; and his author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/michaelpottsauthor