Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Writing Winner

This is the second in a series of guest posts by novelist Kelly Irvin. Kelly's first novel will hit the stands next month.

A Deadly Wilderness garnered a review by Publishers Weekly who called it a "solid romantic suspense debut" with an antagonist who is "all too chillingly real."

Today she shares a little of the process.

Writing—What I Learned Along the Way

The closer I get to having a published copy of A Deadly Wilderness in my hands, the more I seem to reflect on how it happened. One minute, like the refrain goes, I’m wishing and hoping and dreaming, the next I’m looking at an advance review copy that has my name on it and my words in it. An overnight success? Hardly. So I’m looking back at the circuitous road that brought me here and sharing with those of you who are still jogging out there some thoughts on how to get across the finish line.

It started with six years of butt-in-chair in front of a laptop, tears, rejections, rewrites of rewrites, and more than one attempt to quit. I discovered I couldn’t quit. No matter how low I got, I still kept writing. And that’s where I start my advice to other writers still looking to be published. Don’t quit. Unless you can. If you can, stop torturing yourself. If you keep writing, allow yourself the joy of writing for itself. Yes, most of us want to get published, but we shouldn’t let that rob us of the sheer joy of getting the story on paper.

The next stumbling block in the road for many of us is time—the time to write. Not many of us can quit our day jobs. I’m a public relations professional which means I work 40-plus hours a week. I also do contract proofreading for two district court reporters. And I have a husband, two teenage children, two cats and a tank full of gold fish. When do I write? At six in the morning before work, for an hour at lunch (as I’m doing now), and whenever I can on nights and weekends. I’ve learned to sit down at the laptop, put fingers on the keys and simply go. Take advantage of whatever time you have. Do this every day until you have a finished manuscript.

I thought once I finished my first manuscript, I was ready to hit the big time. After a few rejections, reality set in. Just because I could put words on paper, didn’t mean they were good. I had to learn to embrace the rewriting process and seek ways to improve my work. A critique group is an absolute necessity. Without Peg and Susan and Angela, I would still be waiting for a contract. Writing conferences are helpful. Contests can be helpful. Anything you can do to improve your writing, do it. Finish the book and then polish it. Lovingly and thoughtfully and carefully.

The next step is to seek an agent. Today few publishers are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I found my agent through on-line research. I queried her, she asked for fifty pages and a synopsis (have one ready to go), then she asked for a full manuscript. A few months later I had a contract. An agent gets your work in front of publishers. That’s the bottom line. The only time you can do that is at conferences when you get a fifteen minute pitching slot. Agents can do it year around.

Now I have a publisher. All done? Nope. It’s a one-book deal. Yes, I’m thrilled that A Deadly Wilderness has been reviewed favorably by Publisher’s Weekly. That bodes well for sales and has even resulted in film rights being sought in some cases. It’s all very exciting, but in the meantime, I’m still sitting down at my laptop everyday and writing. Because that’s where the real joy is. So enjoy the journey. See you at the finish line!

* * *

In September, Kelly and I attended a conference together. While we were there, Kelly learned that another of her manuscripts had been turned down by a publisher.

We stood in a bathroom in the Marriott and the tears rolled. The tears expressed her passion for the story she'd written, and the vulnerability we all have in this business.

When the tears dried, they'd left her skin a little thicker and her determination a little deeper.

When I asked Kelly if it was okay to share this with you, she replied:

Feel free. I’ve spilled a lot of tears over the last six years over rejections and I know it won’t be the last time. Lot of other writers probably experienced the same heartbreak at the conference. We’re all in it together.

Kelly Irvin

www (dot) kellyirvin (dot) com

A Deadly Wilderness, January 2010

from Five Star / Gale / Cengage

CR: Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

It's all better with friends.


  1. Kelly, your writing journey is a kick in the pants—I mean, inspiration. :-) You've always managed to hang in there and write, no matter what. I'm so glad you did, and your readers will be too.

  2. Kelly, I loved reading about your book on Peg's blog a few months ago, and am really looking forward to it! And thanks for these wise words. As a writer with a book on sub--not the first book or the first sub--I can second everything you said. Rejection is a constant. Stop if you can. Take joy from the story. The only thing I might quibble over--is the contract and release the finish line? Or the starting ;)

  3. True, Jenny. There is so much to do after you receive a contract, with edits, and cover copy, and promotions. It's a marathon, not a sprint. That's why I treadmill everyday.

  4. Susan, you always know the right thing to say.

    And Jenny, not that I'm pushing or anything, but if you are pretty sure you're going to buy Kelly's book anyway, I've heard there can be some pretty serious magic behind pre-orders. I'm must sayin'.

  5. Did it! Thanks for the reminder--I always forget that the way we buy can affect the author!

    Best of luck with the launch, Kelly. Wish I could be there to raise a glass!

  6. Kelly's been there more than once to tell ME to keep on keepin' on. I often tell her I quit. She tells me I can't. What a pal!!
    Thanks Peg!

  7. Kelly has one of the most effective whips I know. And from what she's told me Eileen, the only way you can be unsuccessful is if you quit. She's quite a believer in your stories.