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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Publishing Purgatory

Author, journalist, and Jersey girl Robin Friedman has written five published novels for teens and tweens, and more than 100 newspaper and magazine articles on flirting, being nice, road rage, multitasking, and the prom. Her latest teen novel, NOTHING, is the first about a boy with an eating disorder. Visit her at or

It took me four years to get published for the first time.
I've heard that's a short amount of time, but it felt like four centuries to me.
It took me ANOTHER four years, however, to get published for the second time. And three years AFTER THAT to get published for the third time. (It was the fourth time, mercifully, that happened not-so-incredibly-slowly.)
On the day I got published for the first time, I mistakenly thought I was "in." It was finally, finally over-- that struggling-to-get-out-of-the-slush-pile thing.


My editor left my publishing house, my new editor rejected my next novels, I had no agent and couldn't seem to get one, and, in the end, my publishing house squashed its book program all together.

I was back in that struggling-to-get-out-of-the-slush-pile thing.

But this time it was much worse than it was before.

I couldn't apply for "unpublished writer" contests or "unpublished writer" grants or "unpublished writer" conferences, because, technically, I did have one book published. At the same time, though, I had ZERO books in the pipeline.
I was trapped in a kind of Publishing Purgatory-- and I felt alone, ashamed, and lost.
There are no organizations for "under-published writers."
I was too embarrassed to discuss it anyway. I stammered when people asked me about my second book.

They stopped asking.

And yet, I kept trying. I wrote, rewrote, submitted, went to conferences.
I came heart-breakingly close.

Like the time an editor called me at home, breathless with excitement, to tell me he was going to show my novel to his boss that afternoon. Four weeks later, his boss said no.

Or the time an editor again called me at home, this time to go over my novel, page by page, with suggestions for revision. A month later, she turned it down with a three-line e-mail.

There were the enthusiastic revision letters, the enthusiastic revision e-mails, the enthusiastic promises of taking my novels to acquisitions.
But none of it ever worked out.

And I don't know why I kept going.

Or all of the above?

I had quit my "day job" as a newspaper reporter to live the dream of being a "full-time author."

But my dream had turned into a nightmare. I was out of work-- on two fronts.
So I returned to full-time journalism. And, ironically, it was then that my luck changed.

I know other writers who have been-- or still are-- in this position. "Droughts," they call it. And yet, in the age of the Never-Ending Listserv, Message Board, Oprah couch, and MySpace Profile, I never hear anything about this topic, and I suspect it's due to those same feelings I had... embarrassment, shame, loneliness.

That's unfortunate. Because only other writers could possibly understand the peculiar pain of this frustration.

And writing is already a lonely profession.

Six months after returning to the full-time workforce, I sold two teen novels within three months of each other. Was it karma that caused this change of luck? The universe's idea of a great practical joke? Or a totally random act of kindness? I'll never know. But I do know working full time took away much of my loneliness, desperation, and feeling of being undervalued-- those same feelings I often see in fellow writers.
Getting a regular paycheck for my writing skills gave me back a sense of purpose, usefulness, and professionalism. I'll never know if it was plain old coincidence or a subtle change in attitude that turned things around for me, but I do know no matter how busy I'll get — working full time and being an author on the side — I'll never give up my day job again.

For high school senior Parker Rabinowitz, anything less than success is a failure. A dropped extracurricular, a C on a calc quiz, a non-Jewish shiksa girlfriend—one misstep, and his meticulously constructed life splinters and collapses. The countdown to HYP (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) has begun, and he will stay focused.That's why he has to keep it a secret.
The pocketful of breath mints. The weird smell in the bathroom.He can't tell his achievement-obsessed father. He can't tell his hired college consultant. And he certainly can't tell Julianne, the "vision of hotness" he so desperately wants to love. Only Parker's little sister, Danielle, seems to notice that he's withering away.


  1. Wow, Robin, that's really inspiring to hear. Keep going! :-) Thanks for posting!


  2. Nice story. I'm with Nisha...very inspiring.

    Write on, my friend.

    Thanks for this post.

  3. Robin,
    Great, honest post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you for sharing this insight, too often we (I) believe that if we can just get the first book published everything will be an easy's valuable to know that not only is that not always true, but that you persisted even through the difficult years after.

  5. Very unusual--both the slant of the under-published and the topic of her book! Great reading. :-)

  6. The book sounds great. And your journey through, rather than just to getting published is interesting, though scary. Glad you stayed the course.

  7. Loved this interview. Great idea for a novel. Thanks for sharing your publishing story--one that only writers really get.


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