Sensitive Feelings and Thick Skins by Karen McCullough

Posted on Jun 9, 2016 by   12 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

Overhead view of a computer-trade show giving a good view of the elaborate company booths

Overhead view of a computer-trade show giving a good view of the elaborate company booths

Early in my writing career – more years ago than I even want to think about— a wise older author warned me that if I wanted to have a career as a published author I’d need to grow a thick skin.

That seemed a bit odd to me since I knew most authors were actually pretty sensitive. You need to be if you’re going to write stories about people with enough depth and understanding that readers will relate to the characters. Like many authors I experience things deeply and my empathy quotient is high.

And yet, thirty years in the business have forced me to grow that thick protective skin the old hand warned I would need.  Because I would not have survived the ups and downs of the publishing world for this long with sanity intact (at least I think it is!) without it.

After several years and probably a hundred or more rejections, I finally sold the sixth complete novel I’d written to Avalon Books in 1989.  I went on to contract three more books with them over the next three years. I thought I had it made.

Then the editor I worked with at the time left and the new editor didn’t like my work as much as the first editor had.  She rejected my next two books. It stung, but I kind of shrugged it off, thinking that with my published credentials I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a new publisher. I wanted to take my writing in a different direction anyway.

Five years and many, many more rejections later, I had a contract offer from a major New York publisher. Again I thought I had it made. A week later, before I’d even signed the paper, the publisher shut down the line I’d sold to and canceled the contract offer.

Two more years, many more rejections, and I got another contract offer from a smaller upstart publisher.  This time the paper was signed, but the company went out of business before my book saw the light of day.

A few more years and I was published by several different epublishers, only one of which is still in business today.  But in 2009 I sold a mystery novel to Five Star/Cengage, which publishes beautiful hardback books aimed at the library market.  The book, the first in a projected series came out in 2011.  Unfortunately life intervened in the form of my mother’s illness and death, and it took several years to write the next book.  But I completed it, sent it in early in 2015, got an editorial acceptance a few months later, and waited for the contract. And waited. And waited.  After several months, I started to suspect the worst, and I was right. In January of this year, Five Star announced they would be shutting down their mystery line.  They returned rights to all authors who hadn’t yet signed the contract.

So I’m back in the same old boat. This time I’ve decided to take things into my own hands and I’m self-publishing the next book in the series.  We’ll see how that works out.

In the meantime, I’m grateful that I’ve managed to grow that thick skin. Although I’ve had what might look like reasonable success in this business with more than a dozen books published by companies both big and small, I will never think I’ve got it made. You never have it made in a business that changes as fast as the publishing industry.

Rejections still come and they still sting, but I get through it pretty quickly.  Bad reviews happen. Publishers come and go and sometimes take hopes and dreams with them when they die.

Now I’m the one who’s been in the business for a while and I’m passing on the best piece of advice I received when starting out.

“If you plan to pursue a career as a published author, grow a thick skin.”

There are so many things that can go wrong, can bruise you, cost you all your enthusiasm for writing, if you let them. For all the success I’ve had, I probably have fifty rejections for every book published. I’ve gotten my share of bad reviews. Publishers have folded; lines have ended; editors have moved on and left me with someone less appreciative of my work. You have to learn to deal with it. Or find a less stressful profession.

Wired for Murder:  Most of the time, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Show Center. Because she’s a good listener and even better at solving problems, her boss assigns her to handle a lot of the day to day issues that arise during the shows, exhibits, and conferences being held there.

The Business Technology Exposition at the Market Center is set to open with a major new product announcement from one of the biggest companies in the computer electronics business. Before that event, though, the president of industry-leader MegaComp has a very public argument with a man who accuses the company of stealing the concept for a technical process from him. The announcement goes off without a hitch. But when the accuser returns a phone call from Heather, she becomes an unwilling audience to his murder and later finds his body in a private section of an exhibitor’s booth.

Heather is more than happy to leave the investigation to the police, but she’s the person everyKaren McCulloughone talks to and she soon learns more than she wanted to know about the victim and all the people who really didn’t like him very much.

Karen McCullough is the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Daphne, Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, six grandchildren (plus one on the way) and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.


12 Responses to "Sensitive Feelings and Thick Skins by Karen McCullough"

  1. Comment by Amanda Uhl
    June 9, 2016 4:01 pm

    Interesting perspective after years in the business. I appreciate the realities of this post and enjoyed reading. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Comment by Nancy Coiner
    June 9, 2016 5:24 pm

    Congrats for writing all those books, and congrats for having the toughness to keep on getting your work out there! It’s good to know one has company in the gray world of rejection letters — but also that you did eventually make it.

  3. Comment by Karen McCullough
    June 10, 2016 10:09 am

    Thanks, everyone! And happy writing to all!

  4. Comment by Nancy Lee Badger
    June 10, 2016 4:58 pm

    Both of my small publishers closed their doors are releasing 5 of my books. I have since self-pubbed 4 of them, while I continue to submit & self-pub. Thanks for showing that some authors have reasons for our thick skins.

  5. Comment by Marta C. Weeks
    June 10, 2016 7:56 pm

    Dear Karen thank you. You are an inspiration and I say that because I just got feedback from a couple of friends who read my Virgins manuscript.Their advice was not fun to read but I love that they took the time and did edits. And then I read this post by you! Now I feel inspired to make the edits suggested and go on.

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