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Guest Blogger Karen Collum: Lady in Waiting


Last month I had the honor of picture book author Karen Collum's first interview!  This month I have the joy of sharing a guest post by her that will resonate with more than a few of you.  Enjoy!

Lady in Waiting

It has taken me many years to build up the courage to say the words, “I am a writer”. Three picture books into my career (all of which are currently being published) and I’m thinking of changing my spiel. ‘Writer’ conjures up delightful images: words and warmth, solitude and similes, paper and peacefulness. The reality of my life is so very different. Hence, my new response to the question, “So, what do you do?” is simple and honest.

I am a waiter.
Not the kind of waiter that brings your Caesar salad (minus the olives) or refills your raspberry lemonade. No, I am the check-my-email-three-hundred-and-seventy-two-times-a-day, quick!-run-to-the-letterbox-the-postman’s-here kind of waiter. I may be a writer, but I seem to spend most of my life waiting.
At first, it was waiting to hear back from publishers. Carefully written cover letters would be signed in my neatest and most writerly handwriting, before snuggling in tight next to the double-spaced, spell-checked, sparkling manuscript. And of course, I’d triple check that I did indeed have a stamp on the stamped self-addressed envelope tucked inside.  Then the waiting began.
I soon discovered that the publishing process moves slightly slower than a geriatric snail. Days, weeks, months went by. A quick response came in two months, the average was around six. Often it was longer. Inevitably, the now lonesome SSAE would appear in my letterbox and the wait would be over. Surely it would be different once I got a ‘yes’ from a publisher.
That beautiful day came when an acceptance email arrived, settling gently into my inbox without a sound. I squealed, jumped, twirled and skipped around the house until I finally calmed down enough to ring the publisher, as requested. What joy! What bliss! What excitement! The wait was over, wasn’t it?
Eight months since that email and I am still waiting for the final contract.  The illustrator has been commissioned, the release date has been set but it has taken all this time for the bits and pieces to come together, my contract included.
Waiting, waiting, always waiting.
For acceptances, for contracts, for that first glimpse of illustrations.
For release dates, for launch parties, to hold my book in my hands for the very first time.
Right now I have four manuscripts in various publishing slush piles and seven manuscripts with agents. I’m still waiting.
I could rail against the industry, long and loud, and complain about the inefficiencies of the system, but it won’t achieve anything, other than feeding that ever-hungry negativity beast that dwells within all of us.  And an industry-bashing writer is never a good look, in my opinion, especially as it’s the very industry I hope will embrace me, support me and encourage me in the years ahead.
So how do I handle waiting? Here are my top ten lady (and man) in waiting survival tips:
1.    Connect with other writers both online and in real life. They will commiserate, support and encourage like no others. Plus, they let you vent.
2.    Attend workshops and conferences and writer’s events in your area. Upskilling yourself is never a waste of time.
3.    Submit to publishers who accept multiple submissions. This varies from publisher to publisher and country to country, so make sure you do your homework.
4.    Look for writing opportunities that are outside your comfort zone. Contribute to a blog, enter a short story competition or write that vampire story you’ve been dreaming of. (OK, I was just kidding about the vampire thing...)
5.    Don’t contact the agent or publisher before the specified waiting time is over. If it says the average response time is six months, then be gracious and allow seven or eight months at least. In my experience, being pushy doesn’t help.
6.    Don’t lash out on your blog or Twitter or Facebook. Agents and publishers will often check you out online before they decide to take you on. Share your experiences, by all means, but don’t name names or say anything you might later regret.
7.    Organise your writing area and develop a system for keeping track of submissions. That way, when publishers come knocking on your door, you’ll be able to lay your hands on your finished manuscripts in a heartbeat. (Did I mention optimism is also a good strategy?)
8.    Plan who you’re going to send your submission to next. Have the cover letter already written and ready to go.
9.    Accept that waiting is part and parcel of being a writer. You don’t like it. I don’t like it. Now, let’s move on.
10.    Keep on writing. Write, write and write. And just when you think your insides are going to implode from the stress of waiting, yep, you guessed it – write some more.
For every wonderful day of celebration in my writing journey, there have been a hundred-fold days or more of waiting. As a lady in waiting, I have no control over how long it takes publishers and agents to get to my precious manuscript, but I do get to choose how I spend those waiting days, weeks and months. Every job has its down-side. Waiting is ours.
No-one said being a writer was easy, and waiting is nothing but hard. So here’s my final piece of advice (mainly to myself, but you’re welcome to take it too):  Suck it up, Princess.
Oh, and happy waiting.


Christina Farley said...

What a great interview! I like the tips you give us Karen. Waiting is tough! But I like your ideas of being proactive.

Laura Pauling said...

Yes, we need to embrace waiting and use it to grow as writers, but it is still one of the hardest things to do. And my kids thought waiting for dessert was hard.

Casey - I love the new picture!

Janet Johnson said...

Great post! Good reminder not to let the negativity bug get us.

Anonymous said...

Great list, Karen! You've given us lots of productive ways to use our waiting time. Thanks!!

Alison Eckel said...

So does that mean that writers will be good waiters in the real world too? Or does it mean we will be so sick of waiting that when we get in line and have to wait at the grocery store we will lose it? :)

I too love the new picture Casey.

Tina Laurel Lee said...

Thank you for the post. It's nice to know we are in i together.

Casey- The new picture is fabulous.

Karen Collum said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments and thank you, Casey, for allowing me to guest post.

Alison, I hope that the patience I'm developing in writing will extend to the grocery line too :P

Laura - you mentioned dessert. Got my attention instantly!

Happy waiting, everyone!!

PS Casey, your new picture is divine :)

Sandy Fussell said...

Excellent article Karen. Those ten tips are so practical, so useful and so very positive - something every writer can take heart from.

Lisa Nowak said...

Great advice. Thanks for sharing!

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Excellent article, Karen. Your list of what to do in the waiting-times is comprehensive with the right sort of advice.

Angela Sunde. said...

What a useful list of advice. Thanks Karen, I enjoyed your post.

Dee White said...

Thanks Casey and thanks, Karen for sharing your insights and honesty. Your tips are great, and you are right, waiting is all part of the writing game, and sometimes we are served up success - it's what keeps us going.