Six Years Down

There are two things upon which I build my writer training: Malcolm Gladwell’s expertise hours (5428 down, 4572 left to go!) and the fact that it took me fifteen years (college prep and job shifting) to land my ideal job at Kirkwood. Gladwell’s theory should help me become a better artist. The fifteen years is about the patience that it takes to get to the place you want to get.

So, in 2007, I put away my sewing machine and dug out my computer, and started writing. What have I done with my six years in my writing career?

More under here to save the frankly bored with Catherine talking about herself crowd.

Published 6 short stories (4 of which are still available) in semi-pro and token markets.

Wrote an additional short story, which has been accepted twice, but still has not found a publishing home.

Wrote 4 novels, two of which are hot messes requiring rewrites, one of which is the strongest thing I’ve written so far, and one of which has been published by a small press.

Wrote a novella which some people think should be a short story and others think a novel. (BTW, when I get to it, I’ll use all the good suggestions, and it’ll be what it is). Some people think this is my best writing to date. The angsty bastards.

Working on a 5th novel.

Attended Viable Paradise XIII, a Donald Maass Seminar, and Taos Toolbox 2012. Attended countless panels at conventions on a variety of writing topics, from the very beginning to more advanced.

Critiqued stories for at least 7 workshops.

Collected I know not how many rejection letters for every project, some in paper, some electronically. Let’s just estimate something like 250 for novels and fifty for short stories.

Presented myself professionally, if sometimes awkwardly, on most occasions when I’ve met editors and agents.

Read my work at something like 30 conventions.

Begun a writers workshop for Icon (we’ll be having number 2 this year!)

Actually gotten to know writers at all levels; true beginners, neo-pros like me, hot current writers, and established, respected make me faint authors (I’m looking at you, Caroline Stevermer!)

Needless to say, I have not been idle with my six years. When I look at a breakdown like that, I can see that I’ve been putting in the work. Not that it’s all been work, especially the knowing people part, but I am doing what someone who is interested in becoming a published author in the industry should do.


Something I’ve been grappling with lately is whether or not what I write is something that is marketable. Now, this thought is going to change nothing. I am one of those writers who write what they write, for good or ill. It’s not like I’m writing Monster High fan fiction, so should there be a market for what I do, my stuff is mine. But this can also keep you from going someplace. Money is important to the industry. They want to make money on a venture, and honestly, there’s a lot of reasons that a book will or won’t make money. Craft and quality of writing is only one factor. There’s also a swept away feeling with your book that people talk about, and a guess that a lot of people would find the story appealing for a variety of reasons.

I’m trying. All writers are. But the it factor? Only a few of us are judged to have the it factor, and more than a few of us are writing good books.

That does not mean I’m gonna riff poetic on how publishing sux and they can’t recognize my genius. I hire and fire people. I get the fit in the culture issue, and how you might really like something, but it’s not what your company does, or even how it’s just not the right time for your project. It does mean that if I don’t publish traditionally by the time I retire, I’ll have a lot of back stock for the time I do retire and have the time to invest in more than my writing, you know, things like editing, coding, and getting art. But let’s try it this way first.

So. I still hope that my current book would be the break through book. It’s the best offering I’ve sent to the gods so far. And as Uncle Jim said at Viable Paradise, “Keep submitting it until hell won’t take it.” As the rejections come in, or worse, the quietness of an agent’s expiration passes by, it gets harder and harder to keep one’s chin up. We don’t have an alternative if we want to keep going.

There is a Japanese tradition called a zannenkai, literally a “too bad” party. It’s thrown usually when you’ve worked hard toward an objective, but you don’t get it, like you don’t get into the college you wanted when you studied hard, or you don’t get the job after trying your best. The philosophy seems to be that the effort of trying is almost in some ways more important than the success.

Smart people, the Japanese.

So…I’ll keep sending Abby out. She’s hit roughly one half of her candidate agents at this point. And I’ll work on that rough draft of Sweet 3 Poison through the first draft, put it aside, and edit Were Humans for the last time. If I am able when I am in Vietnam, I will write several short stories in a notebook, and we’ll polish them up sometime as well.

Because I have to fill at least another 9 years. You see, I can’t control the industry, and they are under no obligation to give me any kind of break. But the person who can’t let me down is…me.

We’ll throw an Abby Rath victory party, or a zannenkai in a few more months.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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