The Power of Coming Back Stronger | Natali Juste Simmonds

Ask any writer the number one thing you need to become a published author and they won’t answer with ‘a writing degree’, ‘a fancy computer’, or ‘lots of social media followers and friends in high places.’ They will invariably respond with one simple word -resilience.

The Oxford dictionary describes resilience as the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc. But with writing, it’s so much more than simply recovering. It’s developing a thick skin while learning how to bounce back after every rejection; through bad book sales, unkind reviews and public criticism. It makes no difference what stage of your writing journey you’re at, or how many books you’ve written- the power to climb back on to that horse and keep riding is your biggest chance of success. After all, the only way to fail as a writer is to stop.

I began writing my first book in 2012. I didn’t know it would be my debut-, all I knew was that I had a cast of characters in my head who wouldn’t leave me alone. I had to tell their story, and it was going to be a bloody long story (it ended up being a trilogy).

Giving up is always an option and my goodness did I have plenty of opportunities between writing my first book and now. My children were only one and three when I started writing, so I was functioning on four hours of broken sleep most days. I kept going though, until three years later I had a book I was proud of.  

Then came the knocks.  

I found an agent who sent it to publishers, but they all said no, then she packed up her agency. Eventually I was signed on a three-book deal by a decent publisher, but then the imprint went bust. I then found a US publisher to take on the trilogy and re-release it, but sales weren’t great. I came close to three foreign rights deals that didn’t materialise. I wrote a 12-part comic series for a UK manga publisher, but the French deal folded, and the company closed with only three parts published. I co-wrote middle-grade but my co-writer’s agent wasn’t successful with submissions. I wrote two solo books that nearly got me an agent but didn’t. My co-written indie series did well and was sold to Russia’s biggest publisher, but we had to put it on hold for a year while my poorly co-writer got better.

During those ten years of writing highs (Waterstones signings, talking at international ComicCons, radio and TV appearances) and plenty of lows, I still hadn’t got close to where I wanted to be in my career.  

‘Maybe it’s not for you,’ well-meaning friends said.
‘Why do you put yourself through this?’ confused family said.
‘You’ve already achieved so much, why push yourself so hard?’ my concerned husband said.

Bbut I couldn’t stop, because the thing about resilience is not that you don’t hurt when you get rejected or things don’t go as planned. Of course you hurt. But you don’t give up, you channel that emotion into learning and adapting and trying again.

In September 2021 I hit upon a book idea that I knew was special. I told myself I would plan it to perfection and, write it over NaNoWriMo- just get it done. Not over think it, just write it. And that’s what I did. In 6 weeks, I wrote an 85,000- words thriller (my 12th book) and by January it was edited and ready to submit to agents.

But then the most peculiar thing happened. In the space of five days, I discovered the third book of my trilogy, a book released last year but which I started planning ten years ago, was a finalist in the RNA Fantasy Awards. And then something huge happened…my dream literary agent came to me about my new book. She came to me! She’d read my tweets about my new book, and she was curious. Within three days she’d made me an offer and I was an award-nominated agented author!

Now, some people would call that luck, but actually it was all down to resilience. I wrote a book fast, but only because my mistakes had taught me what not to do. And my agent had heard of me, because I’d been ten years in the writing game. And my new book now stands a chance, because I never once gave up or lost faith in my abilities.

The most important thing about resilience is remembering that every failure is a chance to learn and try something new. That every new day could be the day that maybe, just maybe, your luck will change.  

The only way to find out is to believe in yourself and keep writing!

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Comments (4)
    • Natalie, how absolutely true, and it applies to self-pub also.

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      • It certainly does! I've been self-publishing since 2020 (alongside trad) and it's a never-ending cycle of learning new things and not giving up.

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      • So true, thank you for saying that Natalie. Whatever knocks we take along the way - whether trad or self-pub (or both) - it is so important to see these as learning experiences and will only ever make us better writers (for ourselves and our passion for what we do as much as for career success) and to become those better writers we just have to keep at it!

        I have learned so much from my first experience of writing a novel and self-publishing it. It's been such a learning curve that has given me a great deal of satisfaction and that alone makes it worthwhile, even if there are some lows along the way. In fact, the very resilience it is teaching me is such a valuable quality to have if I'm to continue to write and to seek publication, or publish independently. Resilience itself is something that only develops and strengthens if you keep going.

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        • Absolutely. Even when we think we are failing, we are in fact learning...and it will, one day, help take us to the next step!

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