Patience Is the Operative Word

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

A while ago I blogged about extending grace and kindness to other writers when you’re at a writers conference here. Today I want to extend the conversation to the many opportunities to exercise patience and grace at each stage of the publishing process.

Patience with yourself. Remember when you began to write your first book? And the excitement of finishing what you thought was a polished manuscript, only to receive discouraging feedback pointing to serious craft flaws? Be grateful for every honest critique. They are your steppingstones to publication. You can’t expect to learn all there is to know about craft Patienceovernight or in a year or ten. Any mega-published author will confirm that craft is a life-long learning process, and the percentage of writers whose first book is published by a traditional publisher is very low. Nonfiction writers need patience for as long as it takes to grow a competitive platform. When I talk to new writers, I try to encourage them to enjoy the journey and resist the urge to set a self-imposed deadline. That fosters patience, and it’s the most direct path of endurance to reach your publishing goal.

Patience with rejections. If an editor doesn’t provide feedback with a rejection, I always ask for it. That way the rejection can be filtered as constructive criticism my clients can use to improve their work. Rejections are particularly frustrating when the editor comments that they contracted a similar book and therefore must pass on yours. There is nothing wrong with your book; it’s only a matter of timing. Patience relieves frustration and discouragement in these situations. I received a rejection on a client’s proposal because the acquisitions editor determined the book was too niche. True, it did have a primary niche audience, but the niche involved thousands of people across the country, a secondary audience, and my client had a national speaking platform. We need to muster patience to ward off discouragement when publisher perceptions are wrong. 

Patience with genre trends. Amish fiction had a long turn at top billing for genre popularity. But as with anything else, trends reach their peak and begin to decline as readers look for something new and different. Publishers bought up contracts for historical romance series until their slots are filled through next year. Editors I’ve talked to recently are avidly looking for suspense now. Others are looking for unique, life-changing memoir and narrative nonfiction. It’s a cyclical demand. Don’t attempt to write for the current popular genre if it isn’t the right fit for you and the audience you’ve been accumulating. By the time you get your book written, the trend will have changed again, and you will have confused your followers. Patiently wait for your genre to open up again. In the meantime you have time to perfect your book and increase your following.

Patience with industry change. If you keep up with industry news, you’ve heard about more publisher purchases lately. These changes send a rip tide throughout the industry. Publishing was stable for years, which makes the state of flux during the last six years unsettling for writers and professionals, including agents. We aren’t immune to frustration. Reassessing our strategy for our clients’ projects and careers is a frequent topic of discussion in our Books & Such staff meetings.

I speak to myself first when I urge that patience is needed as we accept the fact that change is here stay for the foreseeable future. Writers, agents, editors, publishing executives, and marketing, PR, and sales professionals in CBA—we all do what we do to honor God. Reminding myself that he wants his message to reach readers and that he is in control encourages patience until the industry settles into a new stability. There is much to look forward to as new opportunities surface. It just takes a little grace-filled patience.

What situations did I miss that require patience in the writing life? Have you encountered some of those I mentioned? How do you see patience would improve resilience in your writing journey?


Patience is the operative word for everyone in publishing. Click to Tweet.

Patience is the channel that weathers the ups and downs in the publishing industry. Click to Tweet.

56 Responses

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  1. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

    We work on God’s timeline, and in God’s economy, and these are very different than those by which we are enslaved here.

    We may wait a few months, or half a lifetime, or we may still be waiting when we’re called Home, but we may then find that our work and our waiting have brought joy to the streets of Heaven.

    And how to get through the process here?

    “…having done all, to stand.”

    We only have control over what we do. We can’t affect trends or acquisition schedules. If our work is performed as a prayer, we have to do it to the best of our ability, shop it with fortitude, and realize that those efforts have a limit – that success will come from that ‘torch’ being passed to someone else, up the ladder in the publishing field.

    And it may be for the best, this waiting.

    Don Burgett, in “Currahee!”, the first book of his memoir of service with the 101st Airborne during WW2, broke his leg in his first training jump, and had to be held back for the next jump class while it healed. He was a young man eager to get into the war,and was wild with impatience.

    When he caught up with his old group, he asked about the friends he had made, with whom he shared a last name at the front of the alphabet, and with whom he’d made that first fateful jump.

    They were all dead. On a subsequent jump the C-47 crashed, and no one got out. Being in the A-B last name group, had he not broken his leg, he would have been there, and killed as well.

  2. The writing process reminds me of my walk with God. The growth in my relationship with God didn’t occur overnight. It’s been a life-long journey. I am so flawed and have much to learn, but there is opportunity to grow daily. When discouragement rises, we can compare ourselves to when we first began and be encouraged that we are not the same … we have grown.

  3. On Sunday, our pastor was preaching to our graduating seniors about patience and how hard it is to learn in our current culture. He spoke about the little seeds our children plant in plastic cups at school and how excited they are to water them and watch them grow in the classroom, but as soon as those little plants come home and are put on the kitchen windowsill, how quickly our children forget to water them. After the initial excitement, they seem to lose patience to wait for the fruit to come and soon the plants shrivel up and die. As he spoke, I couldn’t get the imagine of my writing journey out of my mind. I feel like I’m in that stage where I’ve experiences the excitement of seeing the little plant break the surface, and now I must be diligent to water it and patiently wait for it to bear fruit. It is an amazing way to learn patience. Not only patience with yourself, but with others, with the process, and with God’s plan.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Gabrielle, I love your application from your pastor’s message. The work of growing, refining, and adjusting our strategies–as writers, editors, agents, or publishers–takes diligence and grace-filled patience, and your seed application illustrates the promise of fruit-bearing. A helpful visual image to remember.

  4. Thanks for this wise advice, Mary. A writer without patience is certain to be a very frustrated person!

  5. Thank you for the calming reassurances you shared today, Mary–that “craft is a life-long learning process” and that we can rest within God’s grace-full embrace throughout.

    It seems that writing and getting published has something to teach us, and that is patience.

    Now that I think about it, maybe that is the most important thing I’ve learned (or am learning) so far on this writing journey.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Angela, you remind me of a statement Henry Blackaby repeated over and over in his book, Experiencing God: “God is at work at all times, all around you.” Refining us as we are refining our work.

      • Love that Henry Blackaby! Experiencing God changed my life in many ways. You can’t imagine the joy I had when I learned I was teaching his granddaughter in Sunday school! What a blessing! And what a doll!

      • I purchased an hour or so ago Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God.” Oh my…I hardly have words. Someone who knows!

  6. Jim Lupis says:

    Patience is vital for writers on many levels. The entire process requires patience from the moment we first begin to create, to being published. I must confess, Mary, I always pray for patience but I think I hinder my own prayer. I usually make a request for the Lord to answer as quickly as He can – I hate waiting. 🙂

  7. My Navajo mentors explained to me the concept of Navajo time. Traditional Navajos view time in a circle, Anglos view time in a line. The difference between linear and cyclical time is astounding and affects just about every aspect of life.
    For Anglo time, imagine a train track in a desert. You only see rails with nothing but ties to look at. Each tie is a goal and you aim to conquer each one before you get the next one. With enough speed, you get’ more ties. Once you’ve achieved something, everything else is behind you.

    Navajo time? Imagine a huge circle, miles and miles of it, but because it’s an enormous circle, you can see every part of it, and you never lose sight of what you’ve learned, or who taught you. And if an opportunity is missed, well, it will come around again, no need to panic.

    I am about as patient as a 3 year old waiting for the toast to pop. And I want that contract yesterday so I can see my name up in font.
    But, if I had to turn in what I wrote saaaayyyyy, a year ago? Get me an airsick bag NOW!

    Waiting IS hard, but so is tying myself up in knots. And waiting on God’s time is hard, but I do know that HE knows the plans He has made for me.

  8. Patience. I want it now! 😉

    In all seriousness, this character trait is one I’m definitely learning on this writing journey. I do well when I set deadlines for myself. But what I’ve learned is to write them in sand, rather than in concrete. A paralyzing premise, or a real-life emergency almost always comes up to scrape against that deadline. I work well to them, but I’ve also learned to erase and re-set when life demands it.

    And one of the biggest lessons I’m learning as I walk this road? God’s timing is perfect. When I relinquish my plans and lean into His, it’s much easier to be patient when I trust that He’s in charge. That His plans are the absolute best for me. No, I’m not where I thought I would be by now. But, I am where I’m supposed to be right now. I can rest in that.

  9. What a great post, Mary! For me, I’m constantly reminded to have patience with my stage of life. I’ve had sick kids at home with me for two weeks straight, so productivity naturally has fallen by the wayside. Whenever I wish for more focused writing time, I remind myself this stage of life with my kids won’t last forever (and hopefully the sickness won’t either!). 🙂

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Sarah, I remember those days with very young children. You’re good to remind yourself that this stage with them is precious and your priority. I know it takes patience, but who could feel good about achieving a book contract more quickly while sacrificing these formative years with the children God entrusted to you.

    • I’m so sorry, Sarah. That little stage is fleeting. My girls are 14 and 16 now. Everyone says it will fly by … hard to comprehend … until it happens.

    • Angela Mills says:

      Yes. And your kids will remember the time you spent not working and nursing them, trust me 🙂 My kids are 10 and 17 and they both still want me to read to them, watch I Love Lucy with them, and put cloths on their foreheads when they’re sick!

    • 3 Summers ago I had to take my son to the ER because of a spontaneous, crippling migraine. I helped him walk in, he rested his head on my shoulder and cried, I stayed in the room with him, I couldn’t leave him for a second and I couldn’t leave his side, because he was so upset.

      At the time, he was a 6’2′ defenseman for his high school hockey team.

      Moms never stop being needed, the babies just get bigger.

      Hang in there, Sarah.

  10. Angela Mills says:

    I so appreciated your post about extending grace and kindness to others at conferences. No less than 3 people introduced themselves to me at Mount Hermon because they recognized me from the comments on this blog. Jenni Brummett, Sarah Sundin, and Judy Gann each made a point to reach out and talk to me! So sweet, and made a stressful time for an introvert much easier!

    At the same conference, Janet Grant took time to talk to me after a lunch where I seriously flubbed the 30 seconds I had to pitch my book. She asked me some questions and gave me the chance to start over and now she’s my agent! If it wasn’t for her grace and patience, I’d have gone home smacking my forehead 🙂

    I like how you say to not worry about trends and write your book. I think it’s the ideas that God gives someone that become the new trends. I’m sure Beverly Lewis had no idea she was starting a major trend when she sat down to write her first Amish story.

  11. Michelle LIm says:

    Mary, this is so true! A great reminder for me in my journey right now.

    Sometimes it seems as if we are so excited that moment we hit send and really on the other side of send is a pile of work editors and agents(for those unagented) have to do in order to reach our project. Patience is so important.

    I also sometimes struggle to be patient with myself as I learn new craft techniques, but over time I’m getting better at this as well.

    Above all, have a few close critique friends who will encourage you and remind you that timing is everything to God and the publishing industry is no different.

    Agents who are patient with their clients are a blessing! Thank you, Mary!

    • I can’t wait to read one of your books, Michelle!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Michelle, thanks for understanding the piles of work agents and editors work under each day. I can speak for all of us Books & Such agents that we grieve over delayed responses, as unavoidable as they are. That’s another circumstance requiring patience by all that I should have included in the list.

      Enjoy the journey! You are a blessing.

  12. Katie Robles says:

    I like what you said about writing what you love and waiting for that genre to open up. I hadn’t thought of patience as a writing virtue, but it really, truly is.

  13. “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall all get there some day.”

    A.A. Milne – Winnie-the-Pooh

  14. Meleah Heavner says:

    Hi Mary,

    I am as yet unpublished and, therefore, can only speak about ‘the writing life’ based on my current circumstance, which is having begun my first manuscript two years ago. My understanding is that,in the grand scheme of things, two years isn’t very long, so I’m hoping that this feeling I often have of being ‘behind’ does not represent reality. Truth be told, I have not written every day during this time, in the first place. So my impatience is mainly with myself, in trying to develop the discipline to write more often. Nonetheless, I find myself impatient at times, period. One thing I do know is, the twists and turns of my plot are different than what I had originally planned. My story’s basic concept has remained unchanged, but it’s been interesting to see how the details differ, based on the changes in my life during this time, and the path of my spiritual journey. My main concern is, regardless, if I am blessed to have my story published, that the basic truths of it, whatever they may be, are biblical. Therein lies the rub; I am not where I want to be, neither craft-wise, nor spiritually. Even after my story is published (Lord willing), I am going to continue to make mistakes, which I fear may be reflected in my ‘morals of the story’, after the fact. The one thing that continues to help me, in my restlessness, is the thought that it will be better to have walked out my faith longer, than to end up publishing a book that is not pleasing to the Lord. Despite the mistakes I continue to make along the way, my best conclusion, thus far, is to trust that I am growing, as long as I am abiding- and consequently, that my story will be more meaningful, in the end, the more fully it reflects that growth. I am trying to write something humorous, actually, but then I don’t want to end up producing a lot of ‘fluff’. Of course, I’m praying that the people who critique my book, and anyone who chooses to publish it, will do so prayerfully. I would rather be turned down, for the sake of being held accountable, than otherwise. It’s just not worth it to me. If only I could grow faster, though. Just trying to trust…

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Congratulations, Meleah. You are on the classic writing journey. Your willing patience to take the time needed to grow spiritually and in your craft is valuable time spent. Your story undoubtedly will be more meaningful and God-honoring as a result. Enjoy your journey.

  15. Susan Mathis says:

    Good word, friend!

  16. Knowing God by name made a big difference in my life, especially with patience.
    He is Creator God – Creator of Time. It is subject to Him not the other way around.
    I have an agent now and we’re waiting for a publisher. Like I did in the Army I am…hurrying up and waiting.

  17. The road to publication is long, but I’m enjoying the journey. I realize my work will never be perfect. However, thanks to the constructive feedback you, and others have graciously provided,I know my story is stronger. My task is to do my best, continue to study and practice the craft and let God take care of the rest. His timing is perfect.

  18. Andrew says:

    I may be wrong, but don’t passion and patience come from the same root, pati?

    We must be willing to suffer for what we’re passionate about. Sometimes that suffering comes in the form of waiting, by which we learn patience.