Guest Blogger · Miscellaneous

#MondayBlogs: When Writing is Not All You Do


Back in February of 2013, I wrote a little blog post called Writing Tips: How to Handle Rejection. A huge part of this post was dedicated to John Tompkins. At the time, he wrote a blog called Rejection Love Letters (Or How to Lose Agents and Alienate Publishers). That blog no longer exists, but it was one of my favorites. Why? Because John Tompkins had a fearlessness many crave. He shared his rejection letters from publishers with humor and honesty, and while I think every writer has been rejected, he was open about it, and that is rare. Since then, he has since self-published, and today, he is writing an article for us about another topic many authors can relate to—working and writing, as two separate full-time jobs.

When Writing is Not All You Do

Writing is easy. Getting published is hard. This is especially true for those who work and have families. It’s pretty difficult to advance your writing career when you’re alternating your time between a job, washing dishes after dinner, bathing your child and helping with laundry.

A writer recently posted an item on Salon claiming that authors who do nothing but write, thanks to financial security, shouldn’t be judged because they have the luxury to live all writing all the time.

cover 2One encouraging thing the writer did say, however, is that those who are privileged should disclose that and not pretend that they had to fight through the clutter on Amazon or through the slush pile with a publisher to get noticed. Many of them have connections in the publishing industry and quite simply don’t know what it’s like to struggle. The Salon writer offered two examples of successful writers. One is due to inherit a sizable fortune and has time to do nothing but write. The other is a young woman who was the only child of a couple heavily involved in the New York literary scene. Her being published was foregone the moment she was born.

I’m a married father of one with another one due in June. I also work full time, mostly writing at night while my wife’s asleep or during King of Queens reruns. Have to fit it in somewhere.

I’ve written now, three books (ok two books and one novella) all of which have been rejected (I’ve got more than 100 reject letters). Most of the letters I made fun of by posting to a now defunct blog. Reading the rejections, I noticed that they all pretty much sounded the same. “Sorry, you’re good, but you’re not spectacular.” I gave up with agents and publishers and decided, after having two PhD’s edit my book, to just put it out there.

I posted it to Amazon about a month ago. Hopefully it will make it through all of the clutter but I guess we’ll see. I’m doing my best to market it and I’m also struggling to find reviewers.

I think my problem with the publishing industry is mostly the second example. Too many people who are talented with something valuable to say are ignored by publishers because they didn’t grow up in the Northeast or have connections from graduate school. So they’re ignored. It’s a disservice to readers and the art in general. I said as much in a comment to the Salon story.

It shouldn’t anger me so much to hear authors who start off wealthy and have nothing to do but write. But it does and it is easy to get discouraged.

There are the handful of success stories, notably E.L. James and a series of books you may have heard of, Fifty Shades of Grey. She self-published her novels originally as e-books. You know the rest of the story. One of the tidbits I enjoy about her success is when the director was making the ending to the recently released movie, James ordered him to make the ending she wanted. That’s control that most authors never get because so few have subsidiary rights. (Further ironic because the whole story is about personal control and giving it up.) This all being said, James was a television executive when she was writing Fifty Shades. But unlike other privileged writers, she released her works as any other independent author. Her books actually started out as fan fiction of the Twilight series.

This is about the only thing I think that keeps me going. When I’m sitting in my bed at 12 a.m. trying to hit my daily 1,500-word quota on number four, I can only dream about the day when I can type at a desk during the day. I will probably still have King of Queens on in the background though.


John Tompkins is a writer living in Texas. He is a former newspaper reporter specializing in court coverage, education and government. He is now working as a communications coordinator at local college.

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17 thoughts on “#MondayBlogs: When Writing is Not All You Do

  1. Funny how my friends never believe me when I say the easiest way to be a published author is to already be wealthy or be born into the world. I remember those same rejection letters, but the one that stands out said ‘We like your story and you have talent, but you’re not Stephen King. Good luck in your future endeavors.’ That one had me scratching my head for a while.

    I don’t technically have a day job. I do the writing ‘full-time’, but I’m the stay-at-home parent due to situations. So I get to spend my days marketing, writing, and editing while doing the cooking, cleaning, and errands. It’s still not easy because of that clutter. Especially getting reviews, which is what I’ve been pondering this morning. You mention it briefly, but that seems to be one of the biggest challenges. They’re like diamonds to authors and we’re always trying to find ways to get them.

  2. My thoughts exactly…well, not ‘exactly’ – when it comes to the E.L. James story my hackles go up because the work wasn’t all that well written so it baffles me to this day how it got to be so popular. But beyond that, Mr. Tompkins, you and I are in similar places when it comes to this indie author deal :-). Great post.

  3. Writers must write, whether or not they can make a living at it. I wrote for years for my own entertainment and to help keep my brain working. Then a person told me I should try to get my stories published.

    I received thirty-six rejections, before one literary agent took the time to write back and explain why mainstream suspense, my first novel, was such a hard sell.

    I kept writing stories and saving them on my hard disk drive. One day I read about self-publishing eBooks. I may never make a living at this, but it sure is a heck of a lot of fun to make my stories available to readers all over the world. If one of my stories helps make one person’s day a little brighter, then I have enriched my life. A message from a woman who lives in Africa, priceless. A review from an 11 year-old kid, priceless.

    The other day, I found a CD loaded with stories I had backed up, years earlier, from an old computer, before I discarded it. I had forgotten about those stories, so it was like finding a lost treasure. I think a couple of them have potential. I hope to polish them up a bit after my current projects.

    It only takes one great story to break out. The odds of success may be low for a self-published writer like me, but it is more fun to chase dreams than sit on the sidelines. Besides, writing helps keep my brain working, the main reason I got into this.

  4. I do think that it is as with every industry: if you have the connections, you make it. I hear your pain: I also work and write whenever I can, and it sucks -_- Should start self-publishing this year actually, but we’ll see. Maybe one day, we’ll be the next E.L. Jameses lol

  5. Thank you so much for this. I commute to a 40+ hour per week job and try and find 20 hours in that time to write, do social media, query, etc. And I don’t even have kids yet. The life of a writer isn’t what I was expecting, not by a long shot, and it can be really disheartening to read all these success stories when you’ve only received rejections. I keep thinking, if I just had more time, I could get better. I don’t think I’ll ever have more time the way some lucky people do, but I won’t be giving up anytime soon!

  6. I wish I could reduce my day time job a little to have more time for writing. But then: how am I going to feed the kitties. 🙂
    I think at the moment it’s good the way it is – for a start.

  7. I could really relate to your experiences John. That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when opening a literary agent rejection. Working crazy hours to fit in a job, marketing, blogging, raising a family, researching and writing the next book. As some have already said, you write because that’s what you are compelled to do, but it’s not a career to pursue in the hope of great wealth, unless you become a household name. Having said that, John Lock did okay self-publishing! I wish you every writing success. Don’t give up on that literary deal, you just never know!

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