Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Persistence Trumps Talent: Meet Susan Craft

Until my recent retirement, I wrote professionally for over 45 years. Some of it was, I told myself at the time, not what I really wanted to be writing—articles for agency publications, informational materials, speeches for the agency director. It was “my day job” that I couldn’t quit because I couldn’t get anyone interested in my novels.

Over the years, I  realized that any writing hones your craft—the thought processes required to come up with an idea; the utilization of resources to research thoroughly; the time to learn correct grammar and spelling; the willingness to learn from the masters; the discipline to sit in the chair and work; the development of thick skin in order to learn from, and not resent, criticism; the humility that comes with rejection; and the absolute joy that comes when someone really likes what you’ve written and says those magic words, “I couldn’t put it down.”

A speaker at a writers’ workshop I attended made the statement, “Persistence trumps talent.”

I could be the poster child for persistence (some might call it hard-headedness). I’ve been writing for 35 years, honing my craft at more writing conferences and reading more books about writing than I can remember. I simply refused to give up until I found someone interested in representing and publishing my novels. All those years I worked fulltime, took care of my family, and made time for writing—sometimes into the early morning hours. And praying … I should have said that first.

Marketing news in the past two years has been grim. A publisher may LOVE your novel, but doesn’t think your platform is expansive enough.  In other words, you don’t provide promise of sales.

Many famous authors persisted in the face of rejection. F. Scott Fitzgerald once received a rejection letter for The Great Gatsby that read: "You'd have a decent book if you'd get rid of that Gatsby character."  Jack London’s estate “House of Happy Walls” has a collection of nearly 600 rejection letters from his early years.
Zane Grey had difficulties getting his first novel, Betty Zane (1903) published. When it was rejected by Harper & Brothers, he lapsed into despair. He finally self-published it.

Beatrix Potter sent her tale to six publishers, but was rejected by all of them. In September 1901, she decided to self-publish and distributed 250 copies of a renamed The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Little Women would never have seen the light of day if Louisa May Alcott let rejection hold her back. The editor of Boston’s The Atlantic magazine, James T. Fields, told Alcott’s father, “Tell Louisa to stick to her teaching; she can never succeed as a writer.”

Advice boiled down into the format I like best – a list:
     Write every day, preferably in the same place and at the same time. (I don’t follow my own advice about the same place, same time, but I write every day.)
     After editing on the screen or in print, read your work aloud. You’ll be amazed at how many awkward sentences you can fix this way.
     Join a critique group, preferably with people who write in your genre. (Or find a critique partner.)
     Attend as many writers’ conference and workshops as you can. These things can get expensive, so check them out for those that sound helpful to you and your level of writing. The networking is invaluable.
     Read – a lot, especially the great writers. You’ll soon come to recognize what excellent writing is.
     Enter writing contests; sometimes you get tremendous feedback from judges and you get name recognition, awards, and rewards if you win.
     Volunteer to work at your local Book Festivals. They are the ones who will invite you to speak once you’ve been published. You’ll meet some fine people and network with published authors who usually have good advice.
     If you write historical fiction, PLEASE, make every effort to assure that your facts are correct and your history is good.
     Self-publishing is separate from writing. Not every writer has the time, the talent, or the interest. Both writing and publishing take work. Self-publishing demands the work of both. Even if you land a contract with a traditional publisher, you must still work at self-promotion.
     Get an agent. Some writers complain that it is unnecessary and ask why they should give another person a piece of the royalties. My agent, Linda S. Glaz, with Hartline Literary Agency, is my best ally. She knows where my book should be, and she knows the people to send it to, and they respect her opinions. While she’s promoting my novel, I’m free to write. Finding an agent is as difficult as finding a publisher.
     For Christian writers. Pray about and for what you are writing. Ask yourself, will this glorify his name? Will it lift up your readers? Will they be a better person for having read what you’ve written? Have you done your absolute best to honor the absolute sacrifice that was made for you? Will you handle rejection with grace and accolades with humility?

About Laurel
Desperate to rescue their kidnapped daughter, Lilyan and Nicholas Xanthakos trek two hundred miles through South Carolina mountains and backcountry wilderness, fighting outlaws, hunger, sleeplessness, and despair. When the trail grows cold, the couple battles guilt and personal shame; Lilyan for letting Laurel out of her sight, and Nicholas for failing to keep his family safe.

They track Laurel to the port of Charleston as post-Revolutionary War passions reach fever pitch.  There, Lilyan, a former patriot spy, is charged for the murder of a British officer. She is thrown into the Exchange Building dungeon and chained alongside prostitutes, thieves, and murderers. Separated from her husband, she digs deep inside to re-ignite the courage and faith that helped her survive the war.  Determined to free his wife at any cost, Nicholas finds himself forced back into a life of violence he thought he’d left behind.

Following a rumor that Laurel may be aboard a freighter bound for Baltimore, Lilyan and Nicholas secure passage on a departing schooner, but two days into the voyage, a storm blows their ship aground on Diamond Shoals. As the ship founders, both are swept overboard.

Will their love for each other and their faith sustain them as they await word of their missing child? Or is Laurel lost to them forever?

About Susan
Susan recently retired after a 41-year career as a communications director, editor, and proofreader.  To assist authors to “get it right about horses in their works,” Susan worked with the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation to compile A Writer's Guide to Horses (also known as An Equestrian Writer’s Guide) that can be found at Forty-five years ago, she married her high school sweetheart, and they have two adult children, one granddaughter, and a granddog. An admitted history nerd, she enjoys researching for her novels, painting, singing, listening to music, and sitting on her porch watching the rabbits and geese eat her daylilies.

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas will release the sequel to Laurel, entitled Cassia, in September 2015.  The Chamomile, the prequel to Laurel, won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Okra Pick. 

Want to win a copy of Laurel? Leave a comment below. The winner will be announced next week on this site. I will need contact info from the winner at that time. Good luck!


  1. Awesome article. Thanks for the advice and encouragement, Susan.

    1. Thanks so much, Tamera. I hope people find it helpful.

  2. Very true, Susan. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome, Amy. :-) Being an author can get discouraging, but knowing that others persevered through the same obstacles helps a lot.

  3. Susan, great entry. As an education consultant, I am constantly selling this same theme: how can we get kids to understand and practice this persistence? When it comes to video games they persist--life after life, but when it comes to writing, they just want to "get it done." Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Allison. My "hard-headedness" came from my dad. I can hear him now, "Finish what you start." "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well."

  4. Thanks for the post, Susan. I like the practical tips for putting some structure into something I so often excuse as creative free-flow. The hardest part for me is often getting the first words down on the page, but then I enjoy tinkering from there. Thanks for the framework to keep moving forward!

    1. You're welcome, Kendall. I love researching so much more than writing, so I sometimes will use that as an excuse not to start writing. It's amazing, though, how getting those first few words down can burst open a dam of creativity.


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