Monday, November 7, 2011

Perseverance with Melanie Dickerson

Thanks to Pepper Basham for inviting me today, that amazing writer/mom of 5/pastor’s wife/full-time teacher/soon-to-be Professor Dr. Pepper. (Sorry Pepper, I couldn’t resist!) Pepper is a fun person to be around, and I believe she must be really energetic to keep up with so many different things. She has talent in abundance, but aside from boundless energy and talent, I submit to you that the most valuable characteristic she has is perseverance.

Perseverance is perhaps the most necessary thing for a writer trying to get published, simply because one never knows how long it’s going to take. You can be the most talented writer in the world, but if you’re not willing to learn a few basic rules and principles about writing fiction, how to submit to publishers, and to keep submitting when the rejections come, you will never get published.

The publishing world is hard to break into. There are so many reasons a publisher might reject your work. Some reasons may seem obscure, and other may seem reasonable and understandable, but the reasons are legion, I’m afraid. More than I even have to go into in this blog post. This is something we as writers must accept and not get too caught up in. I’ve seen authors spend their time railing against the injustices of publishers and their seemingly random reasons for rejecting manuscripts, but let’s face it. That isn’t doing them any good.

A writer’s best friend is perseverance.

If at first you don’t succeed … I wrote a few short stories and articles for children when I first started writing, and the first short story never got published, but a couple of the others did. I kept sending them out until they sold. I learned so much from that experience. I learned that there are many, many reasons that a story may get rejected. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean “Your writing stinks.”

When I started my first novel about six years ago, I was confident it would get published. But when I went to my first ACFW conference and found out that nobody wanted my missionary story, that publishers just weren’t publishing missionary stories, I realized I was probably going to have to write something else if I wanted to get published.

Did I try to find out what the publishers were looking for, the popular genres of the day? No, I wasn’t that smart. I started writing a book that had been haunting me for months. A Medieval fairy tale retelling romance for Young Adults. Well, at my next conference, I found out CBA publishers weren’t publishing a lot of YA’s, they didn’t publish romance for YA at all, they believed Medievals didn’t sell well, and there were absolutely no fairy tale retellings in all of CBA, as far as anyone knew. My book had absolutely nothing going for it.

Long story short, I didn’t give up on that book. I kept revising it, learning all I could about writing and editing. I sent query letters and proposals, per the guidelines on agents’ and publishers’ websites, and after two years, I finally found an agent brave enough to take on my Medieval YA fairy-tale-retelling romance. Meantime, I had written a second Medieval YA fairy-tale-retelling romance. My agent sent the first one out to nearly every CBA publisher in the business but one by one they all rejected it. Finally, when it seemed all hope was lost, I saw that the YA editor at Zondervan was open to historicals, so I asked my agent to send The Healer’s Apprentice to her. And the rest, as they say, is history. But it took three years and a lot of perseverance.

What causes a person to persevere against seemingly impossible odds? How can you get this thing called perseverance? I remember Dr. James Dobson talking about how he had been picked on a lot as a kid, and he believed his drive to succeed in life had a lot to do with his desire to show those other kids, the ones who’d picked on him, that he could be successful.

I did want to prove that I could be a successful writer. I may not have admitted it, even to myself, but I wanted validation. I wanted to show that all those people who had rejected me were wrong. I wanted to show my husband and family that all the sacrifices were not in vain. I felt a drive inside me to succeed.

But I have seen that kind of drive get people, me included, into trouble, cause them to fall into sin, like pride and jealousy and envy. It’s not wrong to want to succeed, but we must always let God guide us. We must humbly submit our drive to God and let Him tell us which direction to go, how to have balance in our lives, when to write and when to spend time with our family or friends. And we must always confess our pride, jealousy or envy to God and let Him take it from our hearts, because those emotions are so destructive. And yet they are almost inevitable in this business. We must constantly remind ourselves to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” And we must ask God to help us not compare ourselves to other people, which always leads to either pride or jealousy.

Were there ever times that I wanted to quit? Oh yes. I asked God to let me quit and do something else, to give me a job that would bring in actual money and would make me feel productive and give me some validation. But always, and in different ways, God told me to keep writing. And He still tells me that.

Because let me tell you, the need for perseverance doesn’t go away when you get published. There have been many times when I asked God, Why am I doing this? A few months after The Healer’s Apprentice was released, my publisher did a week-long promotion giving away my book as a free download. Already my book was getting some really negative reviews from people who didn’t realize it was a Christian book. Being a fairy tale retelling, the title and the cover, all appealed to people in the mainstream. Amazon was flooded with negative reviews, people speculating about me, insinuating things about me that weren’t true, attacking not only my story and my writing but also me as a person.

I was devastated. But eventually, perseverance kicked in. I realized so many things, not the least of which is that it’s not about me. It’s about God and what he wants to do. And I know God won’t let me quit.

So perseverance is vitally important. If you don’t have any, get some! Prayer is the key to that. The three P’s I like to stress are Perseverance, Priority, and Prayer. But that is fodder for another blog post.

May God bless your writing!

Melanie Dickerson is the author of The Healer's Apprentice, a Christy Award finalist and winner of The National Reader's Choice Award for Best First Book. She earned her bachelor's degree in special education from The University of Alabama. She has taught children with special needs in Georgia and Tennessee, and English to adults in Germany and Ukraine. Now she spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama. Visit her on the web at


Casey said...

What a GREAT post, Melanie. So very much needed and appreciated this morning. Thank you so much for being with us on the Alley!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Casey. :-) It is a difficult business, and we all need a healthy dose of perseverance! God bless you in your journey!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Melanie. Anything worth doing well requires perseverance. And something like writing (or anything else that puts us out in front of others) requires humility too. Love your perspective.

Pepper said...

SO VERY glad to have you here, Melanie.
Your post was so timely and beautifully written.
I think one thing I appreciated you writing was "I didnt give up on that book."

Allen Arnold said something at ACFW which was like chocolate for the writer's soul: "Only you can write the book that God has placed upon your heart."
And if God has placed it there, there is a purpose for it.

It's really hard during the journey of twists, turns, u-turns, and falls to believe in the castle at the end of the dark forest (sticking with that medieval/fairytale theme) - but it's there and will pop up at the perfect time.

Unknown said...

Great post, Melanie! However, as I sit here working on yet another rewrite of a book that I've been working on more years (off and on) than I would care to admit, because a new agent MAY be interested in it, I have to tell you--I'm STILL the Queen of Perseverance, LOL! (Even if the blog is gone, I'm still limping along.)

By the way, talking about your troubles when your book was given away on Amazon, I noticed a whole discussion in the Amazon forums last week about this issue. Hundreds of readers actually wanted Christian books to be labeled so they wouldn't accidentally end up with one. I could go on with what all I think is wrong with that notion for ages, but one point in particular hit me at that moment. I was reading Bram Stoker's Dracula for the first time in decades, and couldn't believe how overtly Christian all the characters are. They refer to their faith, to prayer, to their Savior constantly. I wondered if these tender readers at Amazon want the old classics labeled, too, because a lot of those are terribly Christian.

pat jeanne davis said...

Fantastic post, Melanie. Your example of not giving up on the story of your heart is inspiring. Your thoughts on the necessity of having perseverance is so true. All the best on your newest novel. I love your pic, too.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Great post! This is the kind of stuff we writers need to hear and need to believe in. We have to persevere and I'm so happy that you did, Melanie. Your story sounds great!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Inspiring post, Melanie. Your story proves that we should never give up until that last door is closed. Thanks for visiting here today! :)

Edwina said...

Hello Melanie,

What a wonderfully encouraging post! Thanks for sharing your heart!

And I love what Pepper shared from Allen - "Only you write the book that God has placed upon your heart!"

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Jeanne T! I definitely agree about the humility part. And if you want God to teach you humility, you're in the right business! LOL! Sort of kidding. But not really. :-)

Pepper, that quote is so true. No two people can write the same story. God has taken you on a unique journey and given you a unique personality and perspective, so it makes sense that only you can write the story that God wants you to write!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Robin!!! Long time no see, girlfriend! Glad to hear you are still persevering. :-)

It is funny about the God-haters wanting a "Christian fiction warning" on Christian books. But they are the very people who are fighting what God wants to show them. God is pursuing them, and I honestly can now say that I feel honored that God uses me to make them angry sometimes, because I know it is only because He is pricking their hearts, and that is uncomfortable for them, so they lash out. But I'm a big girl. I can take it. ;-)

That's interesting about the old Dracula story. Perhaps people aren't convicted by the religious aspects of the story, for some reason, and so that kind of Christianity doesn't bother them. I don't know. I wonder.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Pat! It is important for us to keep encouraging each other! That is my goal.

Thanks, Cindy! I am glad you're persevering. We have to let God keep us upbeat!

Thank you, Sarah! To be honest, the last door was the Zondervan YA door, but that's a story for another post. :-) I was just about to have to give up on it or seek other options that I, frankly, wasn't willing to resort to, like a small press or e-publishing.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thank, Edwina! God is good, and I believe he put in me a desire to encourage others, because it makes me very happy to do so. Stay positive and keep persevering!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh Melanie, I love your post. That perseverance thing is a biggie and I hear that the lack of that trait is the biggest hindrance to getting published. It is the slow and persistent trot that gets us across the finish line.

I am soooo glad you are writing medievals. It is by far my favorite time period and I want to see more of then in CBA!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Excellent post, Melanie. I admire your perseverance and your faith--in your calling and in who you are as a writer. And I also admire how you ultimately submitted your desire to be published to God's will and guidance ... a true display of humility.

Diane said...

Thanks for the AWESOME pep talk. I really enjoyed both of your books. My review is coming up this week of your newest. Praying much success for you in the vision God has given you. :O)

Mary Vee Writer said...

You have been an inspiration to us, Melanie.
I don't even want to imagine how your heart wept to read the Amazon discussion--yet you persevered.

My quote to add to this discussion comes from the movie Galaxy Quest: "Never give up. Never surrender!"

Thank you Melanie.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Sherrinda, my friend! Medievals may be the next big thing! ;-)

Thanks, Beth! I will never forget the Sunday about a month or so before I found out that the YA editor at Zondervan was taking my book to committee. I stood at the front of the church and told God I was surrendering the whole thing to him, the whole writing thing, and he could do whatever he wanted to, because I was giving it to him. But believe me, it was a process, getting to that point. It didn't happen overnight! I held onto it for a very long time before I surrendered!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks so much, Diane! I so appreciate good reviews! :-) God bless you!

Mary, I honestly went through a very dark time. But I have come a long way! I'm learning to surrender the reviews to him. The good, the bad, and the UGLY. He helps me put them in perspective.

And you girls on this blog are the ones who exemplify perseverance! I am very proud of you all and proud of all my writer friends. :-)

Patricia Bradley said...

Great post, Melanie! While there may have been negative reviews on The Healer's Apprentice by non-believers, I believe there were many more out there who read your book and were not offended. I believe it changed the lives of some of those readers.

I'm glad God wouldn't let you quit!

Angie Dicken said...

Hey Melanie! Ugh, it took me a while to get to the Alley, but I am so glad you wrote this!! You are such an inspiration, and perseverance is one of my biggest struggles! Thanks for sharing!

Kathy Bosman said...

Thank you for your encouraging post Melanie. I needed to hear that because I have had many moments when I've wanted to give up but God has encouraged me to carry on writing. I've been sending my work to publishers for about seven years now. There have been many, many rejection letters but I have grown so much through it. I've learnt so much about writing and writing is hard. It's not always fun. There's so much to think of but I will keep on going. Even if I never get published and I give out my books for free, may someone be blessed by them. God bless you with all your writing.