Don’t Eat the Butt #3–Persistence Can Look a lot Like Stupid

Thank you Parks Australia for the image.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new series that I called Don’t Eat the Butt. Why? Because typing “butt” makes me giggle. No, I think there are some important lessons here, so let me explain. I have always found the puffer fish fascinating. For those who choose to eat the puffer fish, there is only ONE TINY PART of the puffer fish that is not deadly. Oh, and if you don’t know how to cut a puffer fish correctly, you can unwittingly unleash deadly poison into the non-poisonous part.

Take a bite! I dare ya!

Herb: Hey, this puffer fish kind of tastes like chick–…*grabs throat and falls over*

Fred: Note to self. Don’t eat the butt.

This idea of the puffer fish made me start thinking about our careers as artists. There are a lot of common misperceptions that can leak poison into our dreams if we aren’t careful. Thus, this series is designed to help you guys spot the toxic beliefs that can KILL a writing career. You might have heard the saying, Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Well, I am saying, Don’t Eat the Butt. 

Some of us have been there, done that and got the butt-tasting T-shirt. I am here to hand down what I have learned from being stupid enough to eat the Literary Puffer Butt and survive. Watch, listen and LEARN. The smart writer learns from her mistakes, but the wise writer learns from the mistakes of others.

Without further ado…

Don’t Eat the Butt Lesson #3–Persistence can look a lot like stupid.

The successful writer is the one who never gives up. Yeah, uh…no. This lesson is a bit tricky since, of course, the ability to stick to something is a major factor in success. But, as I like to say, “Persistence can look a lot like stupid.”

For those of you who follow this blog, I hope you took time to read Wednesday’s post The Future of Publishing–Bracing for Impact. Why do I mention this post? Because traditional publishing is certainly not giving up…on an old, wasteful, utterly uncompetitive paradigm. They are being persistent, all right. They are being persistent to the point of making dumb moves like “agency pricing” and clinging to the printed book in a digital world. The Big Six are doing what has worked for decades, oblivious to the changes all around that are about to spell their doom. What do you call the publisher who never gives up (on a flawed business model)?


Big Publishing is currently eating the butt. They saw the music industry eat the Music Puffer Butt and DIE, then the film industry dined on some Kodak Puffer Butt and DIED, and, in the midst of all these dead bodies industries, The Big Six are pulling up a chair and ordering the Literary Puffer Butt thinking they are the special exception. So let us at least be smart enough to learn from all this carnage.

Literary Puffer Butt KILLS.

Okay, moving on…

I believe in persistence, but we need to always make sure it is a smart persistence, an informed persistence, an honest persistence. I love Konrath’s quote, “What do you call the writer who never gives up? Published.” I totally agree, but this really great quote needs a little bit of clarification. Persistence alone (as we are seeing with Big Publishing) can be a disaster. It can make us get tunnel-vision and fail to see that we are on a dead-end road to destruction.

I teach at a lot of conferences, and every year I see the same people with the same books that have been rejected 624 times. They bring the same book to critique and redo the makeup on a corpse that they drag around even though it has started to stink up the place. Granted, some don’t keep querying the corpse, they self-publish it, and, even though it has only sold ten copies (all to their mother), they keep retooling the marketing plan, placing all their future hopes in one book. They remain loyal to a dead novel instead of taking it as the learning experience that it is and moving on to write more books and better books.

We all need to learn to be persistent. Persistence is a mark of maturity and character. Amateurs and infants drift from shiny thing to new shiny thing; professionals stay the course. But while persistence is noble, it must always be taken with a solid dose of reality. We need to stop, take an honest look at the situation, whatever that situation might be, and then be unafraid to ask the hard questions. We must invite real criticism even when we know it likely could sting like hell. And, after we’ve gotten a candid assessment of our novel or business plan or our dream to create the world’s largest Twister board? Then it is time to genuinely seek guidance from others to make a new plan, a better plan.

In the end? Friends don’t let friends eat Literary Puffer Butt.

So I have mentioned clinging to the same novel and reworking again and again as an instance of Literary Puffer Butt. What do you think? What other Literary Puffer Butt is lurking out there on the buffet that we might need to look out for? Have you eaten Literary Puffer Butt and lived to tell the tale? Share your story of survival. Have you saved a friend or family member from Literary Puffer Butt? And, yes, I am having way too much fun typing Literary Puffer Butt :D.

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.


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  1. Great post, Kristen, and certainly a lot of food for thought. It’s a fine line, isn’t it, being rightfully persistent and knowing when to call it a day. I suspect there are valid indicators though, aren’t there–pointers, if you will, for whether one should persist or not. For example, is the novel getting good reviews, or bad reviews, or are people not reviewing it at all? Is it selling, however slowly? Has there ever been any interest from an agent, or publisher, even if it didn’t come to fruition in the end? Has there been positive, constructive feedback from beta readers? I guess if the answer to all these question is negative… perhaps then it’s time to call it a day and move on. That would be my take on it. X Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. brilliant post, Kristen, as always. One of the common “butts” I noticed is that newbies tend to cut corners to succeed. I think shortcuts will get you nowhere. One needs a thorough learning of the craft and networking methods, one needs a thorough planning of a project like writing a novel – outlining, research, writing progression, etc. Shortcuts are like assumptions – Mother of all screw ups. imho

  3. This reminded me of a writer from a few years. The guy wrote a book that agents reported were similar to Da Vinci Code and kept turning it down. So he’d come back to other writers with yet another revision to the query or the opening chapter. We could always tell when he’d run out of agents again, because he’d return to fuss over those two pieces. The writers kept telling him to go work on another project, but he wouldn’t do it. He spent years with this back and forth with the agents and the bits of revision.

    Then one day, one of the writers got fed and they looked him up online. And was surprised to discovered the book was Amazon. Turned out the guy had used Lulu to print a copy of the manuscript for himself, and they’d assigned it an ISBN. With that, no agent would touch it because it had already been published. So now the book was dead, and he had to start a new one.

    Persistence with the agents, in this case, kept him from writing a new book.

  4. Reblogged this on Jessica Ralston's Blog.

    • Tony McFadden on February 17, 2012 at 6:18 am
    • Reply

    Persistence is rewarded if the persistence is coupled with improvement.

    I’m nothing if not persistent. And fortunately I’ve had two completely independent readers (different continents) tell me they noticed huge improvements book over book.

    If the quality of book 5 was only marginally better than book 1, I’d think I was chomping butt.

    By the way, to build a spur off your puffer fish example, I, and others who followed stock with me back when IBM was floundering in the home computer market, renamed them International Butt Munch.

  5. Again Kristen, you blog the very thing I need to read / hear, the very day I need to read it. I like that according to you, I’ve been on the right path for the most part. Your blogs have simultaneously shown me that I know what I’m doing and that I need to learn how to do more. If that made any sense.

    Anyway, thank you for your insight. :-D.

    • Sherry on February 17, 2012 at 7:29 am
    • Reply

    Excellent post. I have been fortunate enough to know quite a few successful writers. Each one of them has told me the same thing, “I have two or three (or twelve) unpublished manuscripts under the bed or in the closet which will probably never see the light of day.” Once in awhile you’ll meet someone who went back and took out a book they believed in, and, after they had published other things they published the old one. But, many writers will tell you that they are so much better than their early books that they never want anyone to see them.

    Our early books are part of the learning process. Part of learning to swim. They don’t need to be dead weight we carry forever.

  6. Good point. There is a time to move on. I am a big believer in persistance in terms of one’s career, but not in terms of holding on to that same manuscript year after year. Sometimes you have to take out the trusty .45 and put that thing down.

    I do love what Terry Gilliam had to say (can’t beat a Monty Python for a saying) and which I use in our upcoming release: The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author:
    “Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.”

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. I was tempted to use your analogy of “people rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” but didn’t want to mix too many metaphors. But it is a great analogy. Sometimes, we just need to let go. Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result isn’t noble; it’s madness.

      1. It is madness to do the same thing over and over. It’s also called “Scientific Research.” ;D (At least, that’s what my husband, the Organic Chemistry Professor, tells me.)

        Terrific post, Kristen. You used “butt” 19 times in the heading and body of the post alone! It took the rest of us all these replies to do it that many times.

        Butt… (just cause).

      2. Oh, and I blogged your blog on my blog AND mentioned your books. Which, at the awesome price of just under five dollars each, I am going to buy. Today. I’ve been waiting for a sale like this. Oo, there’s a song in that. “I’ve been waaaaaaaiting… for a sale like you, to come into my liiife. Yeah, waiting for books so true to ease my pain an’ strife…”

        I dunno, think I got a shot?

  7. I find I cannot respond to this without sounding snarky, or laughing, because I just must use the word butt. Persistent butt-eaters promote their book, nobody buys it or wants to talk about it (because it’s bad), and they wonder why everyone else is wrong about it. We must take a critical look at our work, write the best story possible, have honestly-critical people look at it, fix it, make it better. Persistence should include learn more about writing, really work at it, get honest critical feedback from good writers (no, not your mom). Good post, Kristen.

  8. I agree with you that persistence should include moving on to new projects, because that increases your chances of success and of becoming a better writer. Of course there are some books that I’m glad were not abandoned….such as The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, which took fifteen years to make it to publication, but eventually made it all the way to Oprah.

  9. Thanks for another great post Kristen, I pray for the good sense not to eat ‘Literary Puffer Butt’ and my friends to be brave enough to warn me if I do! 😀
    Thanks again

  10. I find so much inspiration and wisdom in every post you do, Kristen. Thank you for being a mentor to beginner writers such as myself who are trying to represent the writing community as knowledgeable professionals on our way to publication!

    I have awarded you the One Lovely Blog Award and have given you a shout-out on my blog
    ( ) because I find truth and loveliness each time I visit!

    1. Thank you! Happy to serve :D.

  11. There are also the people who have self published and want everyone to love and buy their should have been put down five years ago children’s book illustrated by their next door neighbor’s friend’s 16 year old kid. That’s a pretty big slice of Literary Butt.

    I hope I have the good sense to abandon what cannot be saved, lovingly rework what has potential and have a talented enough critique group to tell me the difference.

    Thanks for sharing your hard earned wisdom, Kristen!

  12. I have a feeling Sherry is right; we all have stories in our past that are better left to molder in a drawer. I certainly have some, even (finally) tossed a couple out completely. Slightly painful, but justified. When I go back and read an old book and still enjoy it, I know it’s worth putting out there. I finally self-published 3 books that I had for years just because I thought they were worthwhile, and they’ve been received pretty well. I guess it’s a mixture of maturity, learning, understanding the craft and the industry that all goes into judging whether to keep on rehasing a book or letting it go. But (butt?), too, we all know our work can have a teensy bit of an emotional hold on us that can be difficult to break. Maybe there needs to be an intervention method for writers??

  13. Such a fantastic, and hilarious :), post. There is definitely a fine line between persistent and obnoxious. Well, more like a thick line, but passion can make it invisible.

    A puffer fish I’ve noticed is clinging on to other authors, in hopes that their success, contacts, etc., will rub off on us. I met a woman at a conference—a sweet gal who’d just finished a sci-fi book. We connected via Facebook afterwards. All fine and good until she began hounding me, asking which conferences I was going to attend and if she could be my wingman. Yipes. The worst part—she continually asked me to introduce her to my agent. I set some boundaries, which seemed effective. But it sure was uncomfortable. (I’m from Minnesota. We think confrontation is like a confirmation service with confetti.)

  14. Another great addition to the puffer butt series Kristin! And you’re right, it is fun to type… :D. I think there are a lot of LPB’s out there, especially for newbies like me. Thanks for the reminder to keep my head up and eyes open! 🙂

  15. I munched on this particular brand of butt for more years than I’d like to admit when I started writing. The eye opener for me was when I first heard an agent explain that most authors write 3-4 novels before they finally create one that’s solid. That’s part of the learning process of being a writer that you can’t get in any other way.

    That first novel is still on my computer. I like to look at it once in awhile as a reminder of how far I’ve come and also as a reminder that writing requires life-long learning.

    1. Marcy it’s those 3-4 books that I’m working on at the moment. I have no intention of letting them out of my sight, I view them as I kind of apprenticeship. It was good to learn this wisdom right at the beginning of my career so that I can hopefully avoid the pitfalls Kristen describes. I need persistence of a different kind to get through this apprenticeship and then hopefully good friends who will tell me I’m not there yet. I like your approach to looking back at your first novel and seeing it as part of the wider context of life long development.

  16. Food for thought… I can’t imagine sticking to one book and continually pushing that. I wonder if this has anything to do with writers block and a reluctance to sit down and work on something new? It would work as a convenient excuse.

    What is also a danger is writers who can move onto their next book but who don’t learn any lessons from the last one and don’t improve at all. They continue to make the same mistakes and don’t grow as a writer. That worries me more as it is a much tougher line to draw.

    1. The One Book thing has some roots in academia–when I took creative writing classes in college they were usually taught by a teacher who had…one book (published by the university press). Books, according to these teachers, were something to be slaved over, gotten drunk over, sweated out and bled on, and lovingly crafted over sweaty, extended time periods where one agonized over each sentence as if it were precious, precious diamonds…and then only shared with the “right people” as a social exercise, which would eventually possibly earn some patronage from some entity of genteel privilege who’d foster your launch into the literati.

      I was not popular when I brought up subjects like Nora Roberts or Anne McCaffrey.

      Literary Puffer Butt can look a lot like pretentious, too. If you come from a tradition that says, “writers do it this way,” you might be eating Literary Puffer Butt because your mentors told you it was steak.

  17. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This absolutely holds true with WIPs. There’s nothing wrong with having faith in your WIP but you need to move on to work on other stuff because careers are not made on ONE BOOK. Maybe you’ll learn enough to adapt that first one to something other than charcoal fodder. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll just write a better second, third, fourth, etc. book that will snag some one important’s attention.

    I think there’s all kind of literary puffer butt out there. I see loads of it in the self publishing world. Note to writers: If everybody and their grandmother has rejected your WIP, it may not be because the entire publishing world is in a conspiracy against you–your work just might not be ready. Ergo, a boatload of rejection letters is NOT A VALID REASON TO SELF PUBLISH. The entire point of self publishing is to gain an audience. If you’re putting out crappy work, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

    Also all the people who are following the latest “indie darlings” like Konrath, Hocking, Mayer, etc, trying to emulate them and do what they do, expecting the same success. Dude, wake up and smell the burnt rubber! They are all OUTLIERS. And with the exception of Hocking, they flat are not self published authors. They made their reputations via traditional publishing in the first place and they have access to programs and promotions that no true self published author ever will because of those original connections. Doesn’t mean they aren’t smart people. Self publishing their backlist is just flat good business sense. But it does not make them self published in the sense of “I can do that” as an example for the average Jane who is considering that route.

    • Sabrina Alexander on February 17, 2012 at 10:00 am
    • Reply

    I’ll point to this post to explain why I finish a novel to the best of my ability and then Move On, taking all I’ve learned from my previous efforts. Its not giving up or slacking off, its moving forward. I may rework the old stuff at some point, but its hard to learn if you can’t look ahead.

    Okay, my turn. Puffer butt, puffer butt, puffer butt.

  18. I think this is where trusted critique partners come in, too. Of course we’ve got to be willing to take their advice and actually listen, but it’s so important to have someone you can trust to tell you the book or part of it’s just not working. I do agree that sometimes, to use a tired cliché, writers beat a dead horse. If it’s being turned down right and left, common sense dictates stepping back and reassessing.

    Great post:)

  19. The tough part is knowing where “good persistent” becomes “stupid stubborn.” I’ve been trying to figure that out on my novel.

  20. Yes, you are having way too much fun typing “Literary Puffer Butt,” and I’m having way too much fun reading it. 😉

  21. I’ve been told by experienced authors that if you write a book and it doesn’t do well, write another, then another, and each time you will write a better book. I wrote my first book book a couple of years ago, which helped me write a much better second book that is doing well. I’m about to launch my third self-published book in a couple of weeks and I believe it is the best one yet and I’m expecting really good things from it.

    After hearing many horror stories about years of querying and hundreds of rejection letters from successful authors I know, I decided to go indie from the get-go. I have found that a great editor, good beta readers and excruciatingly-honest critique partners are invaluable.

    Also, keeping up to date on phenomenally-informative blogs, like this one, will keep me from eating the Literary Puffer Butt. (You’re right, it is fun to type it!)

    1. I’m curious how you found that great editor, Debra. I’m gathering that indie is different from self-publishing, but would like to hear more.

  22. More awesomeness – so much that I can hardly stand it! Re-blogged here: and not only that, but I bought your books and mentioned both of them AND just because you said “butt” so many times, I tossed in tweeting this post and put it up on facebook as well. Feel the Love!

  23. This a great series of blogs, and not just because I laugh every time I read “Don’t Eat the Butt.” When I started querying agents–when it was make or break time–this idea that you can’t hinge your hopes all on one book was something I considered and rejected. “This story is important to me,” I told myself. “It must succeed.” I soon came to realize exactly what you’re saying here, Kristen, that if I want to be a writer then it can’t all hinge on book. It has to hinge on me being who I want to be–a writer. That means writing lots of things, not just one thing. So, even while I was querying for my current book, I started a couple of other ones to get things rolling.

    I’m happy to say that I did get an agent on the strength of that first book, but it’s nice to know I’m not all out of tricks and that my perseverance can go in multiple directions.

    Great post, Kristen! And excellent advice.

  24. Kristen – I absolutely agree with you. But (not Butt) I labored for 13 years, 3 novels, and upwards of 400 queries.

    The looks on people’s faces told me they started to smell butt. My husband was sniffing the air around me. Hell, even I was starting to smell butt.

    Then I sold. 3 book deal.

    I’m not writing this to toot my own butt. I’m just saying it’s hard to know almost there from stupid.

  25. “Friends don’t let friends eat the Literary Puffer Butt.”

    …. That is totally going on my wall.

  26. Lots of food for thought in the comments here, as well as the post. Congrats to Laura Drake on hanging on in spite of everything and getting that 3 book deal. I’m glad Kait brought up the quote about the definition of insanity. So how do we tell if we’re being delusional or dedicated? The one thing I know is that writing and rewriting the same book over and over to try to please all of the people all of the time is a recipe for some pretty toxic puffer fish.

  27. I used to give the “never give up” advice all the time, but lately, I notice I do not quite say it in that way any longer.

    I know from being Publishing Editor of R&T, sometimes writers will send us the same story over and over, just with different characters/settings, but it is still the same story, and after we’ve rejected them a couple of times, we begin to feel bad – we try to give little hints (when there’s time) like, “your ending is flat/cliched, but we loved your use of metaphor;” or whatever. I really believe if you can “Get it” -have that lightbulb moment(s), then you’ll be fine, but if you continue not To Get It and keep making the same mistakes over and over, keep, as you said, all your hopes on that One Thing, then you may continue slogging along in Disappointment (rejection) Land. This is not to say there aren’t execptions. I read a novel by an author who had been rejected 400 times – at least that’s what she said. 400~ Fek me. Lawd.

    Sometimes, pulling yourself away from that One Thing and trying out Another Thing will help you to see the original in a new way.

  28. “Professionals stay the course.” I’ll have to remember that one. Thanks! Great post.

  29. Any day is a good day for a “butt post from Kristen” but today was certainly the day for me. Just promised my concept critique group a concept draft of my seventeen-year-old novel. Over the years, I’ve returned to the novel but didn’t realize its “real” story until a couple months ago. Rather than writing another 73,000+ words in any and every direction again, I am elated by the prospect of plot points and scenes, yet I must not “eat the butt,” and I’m okay with that, now.

  30. I self-published because there was no other choice for me. Getting ‘out there’ was impossible any other way. So, my Puffer-butt is out, and since it’s the only thing out, that’s what I’m pushing. Its future, however, is a recall and a retool, just as soon as other works that are actually in the works are out there. The ultimate future of this Puffer-butt is a retooling and a republishing with a different title (the original) and with it’s companion books (a collection of 3 I will call the Quest Collection for now for lack of a better name).

  31. Kristen, as usual, you are spot on. I have a project that started as a screenplay then kept getting worse after each draft. I took it apart to find the kernels that I really loved and then wrote the novel version. It was still crappy, so I put it away. Since then, I’ve been studying craft books and have written and re-written two more novels that aren’t that bad. I realize the problem with the first book is that I didn’t have the craft chops to pull it off. So, I guess it comes down to a willingness to be honest with yourself, to know what you can do and what you still need to learn how to do. And learning how to be persistent with the mantra, “how can I make this better.”

  32. Much, indeed, in what you say here. Persistence needs to happen only after one has affirmatively answered the questions, do I really love what I’ve written, and am I qualified to say that it is good?

    I, of course, am becomingly modest. Let me simply say that you need to hope my number doesn’t come out of your hat. With my latest novel, you won’t be able to stop at 5, or even 15, without enormous willpower. After page 300 or so, even willpower won’t help. 🙂

  33. Excellent post. When you’re dragging the pony around the ring, it’s time to bury the sucker. Persistence mimics stupid when you’re 5K wds. into a WIP when you think Martians would be a good idea to move the story of a frontier marshall along. Thanks.

  34. Yes, persistence has to be part of a larger plan. Dedication to a story is good, dedication to our career is great, but blind dedication to a story that is stuck is…idiocy? The WIP I started working on the beginning of this year isn’t a bad story, but I just couldn’t get it moving from where it was. Finally, I decided to distance myself from it and work on revising another story. Maybe I need some distance to help me figure out what direction the story needs to go in–or if it needs to go to the bottom of the pile for a while.

  35. Great points! Continuing to do the same thing over and over and getting bad results warrants a Dr. Phil sanity check, “How’s that working for you?” I think the writers I don’t understand are those who still think social media is a fly-by-night fad. It’s a new tool for communication, it’s here to stay in one form or another, and we’d be silly not to find a way to use it.

  36. another great post!

  37. Love the butt post, Kristen! I agree with Laura- sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re almost there or stupid and crunching on literary puffer butt (had to type it). Enjoyed your take on it, as usual! Will try to avoid this butt pitfall.

    1. Typing “butt” IS fun. I know. Yeah, it is tough for all of us. This is where a good critique group can really make a difference.

      1. Critique groups, critique groups, critique groups…this is a whole new subject. Sorry, but I could use some advice. Where should the search start? To go local would be heaven, but it’s not always possible. What do you recommend, Kristen? …for someone with an MS.

        1. I you believe ur MS is finished, invest in an editor. Critique groups would take too long and would likely be very confusing.

  38. Great Post. One of the puffer fish I am noticing is some trade published authors. In the past few years we’ve lost how many chain brick and mortar bookstores? Yet, they don’t believe that print sales are dismal. They think that the publishing industry is doing just fine. They hold their noses up to self-published books because in their eyes that are worthy of being published. To me, it just seems ridiculous. This kind of attitude and view was the same one they had for e-books and e-readers a few years ago and look how they screwed because of it.

    As for persistence with the dead manuscript, I completely agree. At some point you have to realize it is time to bury it and move on. My first two books I took as a learning experience. Someday I may revisit them and take the base story, but I think I have something going with my current WIP.

  39. Just starting on the writing career, hoping to avoid the puffer butt! I’m sure there’s plenty of pitfalls out there to fall into, but doing my best to dance around them. Great post, thanks Kristen!

  40. Ah, another great post, Kristen. “Amateurs and infants drift from shiny thing to new shiny thing; professionals stay the course” is going on my wall.

    Literary puffer butt. Literary puffer butt. Literary puffer butt.

    You’re right, it is fun.

  41. Persistence in the belief that it’s probably going to be a long, slow, challenging road to publication, terrific reviews and decent sales is THE right kind of persistence.

    I wrote 4..6?…(can’t remember) unsold NF book proposals (and they are a ton of work) and showed them to smart agents I trusted before realizing that just because someone is: 1) an agent; 2) experienced; 3) I like them; 4) they like me…doesn’t mean that my bloody proposal is going to sell! And I’ve been writing for a living, as a journalist, since college, hardly some wide-eyed newbie.

    With two NF books now commercially published by NY houses, and now about to start working with my 7th (!?) agent, I now certainly have a different vision of what it means to be persistent.

    And my second editor (thankfully) demanded a ton of revisions…so even IF you have an agent/editor/deal, you STILL have to persist. Imagine.

    Sailors know that the wind can, and often does, shift wildly while you’re trying to reach your destination. Set and re-set your sails, and tack as often as necessary…

    1. Lovely comment and YES. Dig the sailor analogy. Very true.

  42. Loved this post. I believe in the notion of persistence, and moving forward. Which means continuing to write, but I haven’t forgotten that first book that never was published. There’s a great story there, and someday I’ll go back and revise, wielding all my crafty wiles I’ve learned along the way.
    I’ll have a link back to your post on clutter later this week on my blog. Just fyi. 🙂

    1. Oh sorry, that was the NyQuil talking. Ignore that last part! Ack.

  43. Great post Kristen. I love the analogy. And the puffer keeps huffing and puffing, pushing against the tide. But(t) they should butt the butt right out of the way and get on with something new instead of butting their heads against the wall trying to make the unworkable work. Man, I’ve been up far too many hours. I’m not making sense any more. 🙂 Thanks for the good advice.

  44. Alas, I’ve eaten the Butt in my time; spent way too long on my first MS, only to eventually reluctantly acknowledge it’s bottom drawer material. (I’ve long found it challenging to work out the right time to give up on anything…) But moving on to a new project was totally liberating, and I now recognise that learning how to move on is an essential step in the path of any writer. So this post really spoke to me, despite the fact it’s a lesson I learnt a while ago. 🙂

  45. What a fun blog post. I enjoyed reading this. You know…they say it takes years to find one’s voice. I was hoping to short cut it and that’s my puffer butt story. You really do have to put in the work (read, read, read and write, write, write).

  46. This is SO timely, Kristen. I was talking with my agent last week about this very issue – writers who hang onto the first manuscript like Linus with his blanky and won’t let go, even when the poor thing stinks worse than raw puffer butt after three weeks under a heat lamp. Work your heart out on the first manuscript…but if it doesn’t get the acclaim you think it deserves, and you’ve done all you can to improve it, it’s time to (wait for it…) WRITE ANOTHER BOOK.

    Egads! Book 2! (Which, incidentally, doesn’t have to be/should not always be a sequel to Book 1.)

    This was so inspiring that I’m going to post my own thoughts on (and experiences with) the topic tomorrow. You’re 100% right though – friends don’t let friends eat the butt.

  47. Nice reminder to be realistic. Enjoying your down to earth advice, Kris, but I’m still waiting for the weekly critique of 5 pages I sent in in November–with a recent reminder to asst. Gigi. Would love some comments, as the book is coming out this spring.

  48. It took me eight years to learn what part of the puffer to eat. I must have done three full rewrites over the course of eight years on a single novel, and never noticed how much it was lacking in plot and cohesion until I actually dared to sit down and write the agent query. In my stubbornness, I sent it out anyway with an embarrassingly weak summary, and low and behold got nothing but rejections. At that point, I forced myself to put my Literary Puffer Butt aside, saying it would only be temporary.

    That was about a year ago. Once I freed myself from it, a much better story popped in and I haven’t looked back at the other one since. 🙂

    • Ria on February 20, 2012 at 3:28 am
    • Reply

    I read the previous post on your blog, The Future of Big Publishing… and loved it. I like the way you think because it is futuristic. The kind that allows the world’s top soccer player to know where to place himself on the field to score a goal rather than chasing after the dumb ball. And then I read this one.
    Thanks for warning about the Literary Puffer Butt. I hope this advice saves many authors a lot of time they could have spent otherwise writing books that might actually make a difference.
    I just have one question- Do you think print books will become extinct within the next 30 years or so? Because the pace at which humans are developing sure as hell indicates that way.

  49. I’ve had differing (almost contradicting) reviews on my first published novel (actually the 4th I’ve written). I don’t really know what to take away from that. The story seems to connect better with people my age than a younger gen. I persevere because most of the feedback has been positive and I believe it to be a good story/novel. I hope that what I’ve learned about my writing (in the writing process and from an editor) shows my growth in the next one. I currently have three novels in the works. Don’t feel stuck, just intimidated! There are so many people out there and I can’t please all of them, but I want to!

  50. Thanks for the insight. Your advice that “persistence can look a lot like stupid” reminds me of the quip that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So too when the exact same proposal is peddled year after year.

  51. Fantastic post 😉 Laughed a lot 😀

  52. Commented, mentioned you, and even linked your blog and your book.
    Toss my name in the hat. Three times. ; )

    1. Will do, Melissa! And it really does help. A lot of the winners have offered trackbacks. It isn’t foolproof but it does seem to improve the odds.

  53. Totally agree…though if you’re critiquing the literary puffer butt, it can be difficult. I personally don’t want to be the one to shoot down someone’s writing dreams, even if they have no grasp of grammar or spelling whatsoever…could be, there’s a smashing plot lurking in that dismal MS.

    As writers, we spend so much time wondering if we have what it takes, second-guessing our abilities, we can give up too early, even skipping the “moving on to the next shiny thing” step. YES, those MSs need to die if they stink (often that first completed novel). Moving on to that next story is what keeps us functioning.

    I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’ve gotten enough OUTSIDE confirmation (and not just my mom! HA) that I need to keep putting my time and efforts into writing. I think once you’re sure this is the course you must chart, you can continue worming your way into this (dying?) publishing industry.

  54. “Literary Puffer Butt Kills.” True dat!

  1. […] I have been feeling like this for a few weeks.  (For those that aren’t familiar, WANA is Kristen Lamb’s blogging class–highly recommended for any writers out there!) We all seem to be in […]

  2. […] Don’t Eat the Butt Share this:ShareFacebookStumbleUponDiggEmailRedditTwitter This entry was posted in Writing by Sue Ghosh. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  3. […] you read that right: Friends don’t let friends eat literary puffer butt.  I’ve been reading Kristen Lamb’s lovely blog the last couple of days and have found […]

  4. […] Don’t Eat The Butt #3: Persistence Can Look A Lot Like Stupid by Kristen Lamb. […]

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