Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Since this is Marie’s release week, and there are all of these awesome “writer’s journey” vibes in the air, I thought I would share a little bit of my own journey with everyone today. Nope, I’m not actually going to talk about how Call of the Highland Moon came to be. I’ve been thinking more about the failure that led to my success, making it less of a failure and more of a stepping stone.

Yes, I’m speaking of my first manuscript. The one buried along with all of its rejection letters in a big box at the back of my closet.

This story is going to sound familiar to a lot of you, probably. When I finally decided to take the plunge and try to get published, I wanted very badly to have a completed, utterly fabulous manuscript in hand to get started on my inevitable conquering of the literary world. I mean, obviously since I had come to this momentous decision, the rest of the world would get right on board the Kendra train and anoint me the next Sherrilyn Kenyon, right? Yeah, yeah, insert hysterical laughter here. I know. Hubris isn’t really one of my great failings, but I do remember thinking pretty highly of my (purple) pen. In my defense, I was less confident than just stupidly naïve about The Way Things Are.

Anyway, tucked away in the remote reaches of the Nevada high desert, I wrote my little heart out. I was on fire. I was channeling Nora Roberts. I was clinging tenuously to sanity, having been traumatized by both the volume and apparent evil sentience of the tumbleweed that chased me as I dropped off the kids at school every day. And after a few months, I had 450 pages of literary perfection, a fantasy romance I called Heart of Fire.

I know. Totally killed any chance of perfection right off with the name. Got it.

So I printed my fantasy romance opus out. Then I just sat and gazed at the enormous stack of computer paper in wonder. I couldn’t believe that all of that had actually come out of my head! Looking back, that was, actually, one of the best moments I’ve yet experienced in my career as a writer so far: seeing my story, the sheer, undeniable mass of it, and realizing that I could do this. I could write a book. I’d always wondered, and now look, I had! Never mind that the tale had a sketchily-drawn, cardboard bad guy, or that one of my characters bore a marked resemblance to Hagrid. I’d written my romance novel. I had climbed the mountain. I pretty much rocked.

If only the numerous agents I queried had agreed. But they didn’t, even though the few (it’s only ever a few) personal, non-form letter rejections I got (not to mention the three requests for a partial!) were very complimentary on my style and took more issue with the story itself than the quality of my writing, which was encouraging when I could see the forest for the trees again. But those first rejections hurt. I cried a lot and felt like a failure. Still, even though the letters kept trickling in, I eventually realized that I hated not writing more than I hated the rejections. I also began to realize that even though this story, much as I loved it, was not perfect, and was not going to make it…I was going to try again.

There came a day, after a very late “Dear Author” letter blew in from parts unknown, that I knew it was time. I took my beautiful stack o’ Heart of Fire, put it in a box that fit it just right, tucked in all of the rejections and requests it had garnered, and then closed it up and put it away. I knew it might be a long time before I could read it dispassionately (still haven’t tried!), but I also knew that I shouldn’t forget what this book had given me. This was my learning book. It taught me how to make a villain, how to balance story and character interaction. It taught me how to write a love scene! And even now, knowing how not-great it was, I do know that Heart of Fire had its good moments, too. There was certainly room for them…wow, was that manuscript long.

I didn’t play Taps for it when I put it away. I simply did what has by now become second nature, both routine and need rather than impulse: I sat down and began again, determined to do it better this time, to do it right. I’m not saying I’ve gotten it right yet, but I’m definitely further along than I was back then!

So that’s my story of the failure that turned out to be not so much of a failure, but just a beginning that helped me get published. My first book may be kinda bad…but I still owe it a lot.

What about all of you? Ever find that a failure was a blessing in disguise to lead you to bigger and better things?



  1. Kendra,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. I can so relate to the opus. Treading Water was 155,000 words when I first wrote The End. LOL! I had no idea that was considered long. I tossed in every single idea I had, ending up with an overwritten tome that took more than a year to tame. I've since all but rewritten it until it is now something I still think will sell someday. But like you I learned a lot in that process. Since I am a linear pantser, I now force myself to ask the question before every scene: does this thing I am dying to write propel character X or character Y's story forward? If not, it doesn't make the cut. That helps me to end up with a leaner, meaner first draft. I'm glad that you stuck with it and have your second book coming out this fall! Great post!

  2. Kendra,
    No problem relating to this one! Warrior is the SEVENTEENTH novel I've written! Lots of rejection between then and now, and I'm the kind that feels VERY hurt when my family doesn't like what I've fixed for dinner!

  3. Morning, Marie! Hmm, "linear pantser"...I like it! I think that's what I am. I hope to God nobody ever wants an in-depth explanation of my process. It scares even me. I love hearing about everyone else's giant manuscripts! I keep thinking I'll rewrite that first book someday. I think the premise was pretty cool. The execution however...*shudder*

    Cheryl, that is AWESOME that you stuck with it and finally made it! I know a few people who've been at it for years and are amazing writers, but the planets haven't aligned just so yet. No clue why. LOL at the "dinner" comment. I am also notoriously sensitive. Lots of writers seem to be. I guess we're masochistic?:-)

  4. I can relate to the opus part too. When I decided to publish and sat down to do the research, I soon realized that my story was enough for 2 1/2 books! I ended up splitting it all apart and have a series. But, like Marie, I just wrote and had no clue how my chapters were translating to a normal book format. I threw all my rejection letters away. I may regret that some day, don't know, but I could not bear to look at them. My original novel is the one being published, but the various hiccups along the way have taught me so much. I am in the midst of some of them, so can't say I am totally looking at it as a wonderful learning experience! Ha! But, I know it is whether I want to see it as so or not. Thanks for the reminder, Kendra!

  5. If I can just add here to Kendra and all of you, how much I enjoy this blog. It is so wonderful to read others thoughts and experiences. Lets me know I am not alone, which is what I thought a little over a month ago. Just wanted to say thanks!

  6. I too have the proverbial monster manuscript under the bed. More than one in fact! But you can't learn to write unless you write lots, IMO, and you have to start somewhere.

    I am always stunned when I read of writers who wrote a book, sent it in and it was a best seller.

    I'm more a baby step person. lol

  7. Hi Kendra

    Oh boy can I relate.

    The first manuscript I wrote ended up over 160 000 words. I wanted to cry when I did a word count (which until that point, I hadn’t been taking into consideration). But through a long learning process, the support of a good critique partner, a lot of perseverance, not to mention grasping the importance of GMC, I finally managed to edit it down to 120 000 words. I set it aside and worked on my second manuscript, which basically ended up being the sequel to what has now become a series. When I finished the second story, I went back and to work on the first again. I’ve been fortunate with my writing. The first time I entered a contest, I was one of the top 5 finalists. The second time, I won first place. When I query, I often receive requests for material (even if I’ve yet to receive a yes LOL). Now, I’m working in my third story and trying not to climb the walls as I wait to hear back from Sourcebooks.

    Writing is a craft. And like with any craft, we have constantly hone our skills and constantly be willing to learn. In the end, I think that makes the difference between those who do get their foot in the door and those who keep piling the rejection letters.

  8. Kendra,
    To be perfectly honest, I only submitted three of the others! Slave was probably number ten or twelve, and I sent it to Deb on a whim!

  9. Sharon, that's awesome that it's your original novel being published! And I'm pretty sure I'm going to be having the occasional "hiccup" for the entirety of my career, so don't worry about it:-) I'm so glad you feel like you're among friends definitely are!

    Michele, I know...I think some of those overnight success stories gave me some unrealistic ideas, but it's cool...I learned a LOT from the process that first time.

    Nancy, oh, boy do I remember that feeling of wanting to crawl the walls! I think I had it during the entire agent querying process, and then again when my agent was working on selling me...I'm pretty sure that at one point the mailman thought I was nuts:-) Good luck to you!

    Cheryl, I'm really glad you acted on that whim!

  10. Hey, Kendra. I know the hardest part of my personal adventures in publishing has been learning to be objective, to see a story from another viewpoint besides my own passionate one, and to let go when it just wasn't working. The rejections do hurt, but maybe they make the triumphs sweeter. I think we all have a closet-manuscript, even if it's only in our heads. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Definitely. A failure makes me work much harder and figure out where I went wrong or if I need to do something totally different.


  12. Hey Kendra--

    I'm glad that you finally made it with us here at Sourcebooks! I started Dark Highland Fire last night, and it's fabulous (as I expected). Thanks for sharing your story--failure has a funny way of making us do better doesn't it?


  13. Aww, thanks, Danielle! And thanks for commenting, everyone! Glad I'm not the only one with a "closet manuscript"!