Thursday, March 15, 2012

Developing Your Belief System by Kenneth W. Harmon

Kenneth W. Harmon writes horror, fantasy, offbeat literary novels, short stories, and probably a lot of stuff I don't even know about. One of Ken's newest unpublished manuscripts just placed second in the Pikes Peak Writers Contest.

In February, 2011, Ken told us about his experiences in "Cutting My Teeth on Short Stories." Now he is celebrating his new book release, Ghost Under Foot: The Spirit of Mary Bell. This book, from Llewellyn Publications, is the true story of the ghost who lives with the Harmon family.


Developing Your Belief System by Kenneth W. Harmon

A writer must master many skills before they are ready for publication. Some of these can be learned through studying the craft, attending critique groups, writer’s conferences etc. However, the most important skill necessary for a writer to succeed must be developed internally, and that is a strong sense of belief in your work.

We all know that publishing is a subjective business. Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, was rejected by over sixty agents before finding representation, and the novel has gone on to sell millions of copies. All writers feel the sting of rejection. Whenever I receive a rejection from an agent or publisher, it feels as if I’ve been punched in the gut, and I consider myself thick-skinned when it comes to rejections. How a writer handles rejection will ultimately determine whether or not they succeed.

Several years ago, my sister proposed that we write a romance novel together. She suggested we attend a one-day seminar being held by a local author who wrote in the genre and I agreed. The author told us the story of how she broke into publishing. She said that she had struggled for several years to get her manuscripts accepted. On a whim, she entered one of manuscripts in a contest sponsored by a romance writer’s conference in Seattle. On the day of the conference, an agent stood before the packed room and read from this author’s manuscript. The agent then proceeded to rip it apart and told everyone that the manuscript represented how not to write a romance novel.Later, the author approached the agent, identified herself, and asked for advice on how to improve the manuscript. The agent patted the author on the hand and told her to throw it away.

The author returned home hurt, and frustrated, but her belief system remained strong. Determined to prove the agent wrong, she dashed off a letter to a romance publisher asking if they were accepting submissions. Two weeks passed without a word. The author decided to go ahead and mail them her manuscript. When she returned home from the post office, a letter was waiting from the publisher, which said they were not accepting submissions at that time. The author hustled back to the post office to retrieve her book, but it was too late. Three weeks later, she received a phone call from the publisher. They wanted to publish her book and asked if she had anything else available. She remembered that she had two completed manuscripts in her dresser. Not only did the publisher accept the manuscript that the agent said to throw away, but the other two books were also published. The author’s name is Debbie Macomber and to date, over 100 million copies of her books are in print. If Debbie did not have a strong belief in herself and her writing, she may have responded to the agent’s harsh words by giving up.

As writers we must never lose confidence in our ability to tell stories. John Kennedy Toole became so depressed when he was unable to find a publisher for his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, he committed suicide. His mother, whose faith in her son’s work never wavered, fought for years to find a publisher for the novel. In 1980, the LSU Press published A Confederacy of Dunces, and in 1981, the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Never let anyone, agents, publishers, contest judges, or fellow writers tell you that your work will never be published. If a writer stops believing in themselves, how can they expect others to believe in their work? At the start of 2010, I had no publishing credits, and experienced doubt in my ability to ever get anything published. But I fought through the doubts and reminded myself that it was up to me to make success happen. I kept writing and submitting, and within a year I had 14 short stories, and a nonfiction book accepted for publication, and if I can do it, anyone can do it. When you receive a rejection, do whatever it takes to get over the pain. Go for a walk, break some dishes, curse some agents, but never let them keep you down.


Ken, thanks so much for being my guest today. It's always a pleasure working with you.

For those who want to know more about Ken's work and his resident ghost, visit his website Ghost Under Foot. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter, and on Goodreads.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Bet the agent who told Debbie to throw away her manuscript feels dumb now. Or he's still stubbornly clinging to his initial evaluation. Either way, I'm sure she doesn't care!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

If you don't believe in your own writing, no one else will.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Alex -- does the pain of rejection ever really go away?

Hi Diane -- and agents and editors have pretty good radar, don't they?

Kenneth W Harmon said...

A writer has to constantly remind themselves that the publishing business is subjective, and a rejection doesn't necessarily mean a manuscript isn't publishable, or that it can't find a wide audience. Rejections hurt, but we have to develop an "I'm going to prove you wrong," attitude every time we get one.

Wordy said...

As an editor, I try to remind clients that *everything* is subjective. If they disagree with a change that I suggest, I am not going to be offended if they disagree. You've got to believe in your work.

Dean K Miller said...

So much of life is about believing in yourself (or something connected to you) that few others even consider. Writing is a magnified exponent of that.

Glad you we all shall!

Kenneth W Harmon said...

Thanks Dean! I'm confident that if we all keep working hard and never give up, we all will see our work published.

Baja Rock Pat said...

Great post, Ken! This is something we all need to remember. And it doesn't stop after publication either. Although my book has been published, and now I'm in the process of promoting it, two of the illustrious radio DJ's that promised to interview me on the radio both backed out on me. I could choose to be crushed or take it personally, but instead I decided that perhaps those interviews just were not meant to happen. I choose to keep my chin up and keep looking for new outlets, just as you describe here. As the proverb goes: "If you fall down seven times, get up eight!" But it also helps to have fellow writers to remind us of this from time to time, so thanks for your post, Ken. And thanks, Pat for featuring this!

Arlee Bird said...

This is such an encouraging post. Writers not only like to hear stories like this, they need to hear them.

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Clarissa Draper said...

What a story! Proof that you have to believe in your writing. Imagine if the writer of both those books had thrown out their manuscripts!