The Unacknowledged Power of Persistence

“Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful [people] of great talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.”

Can you guess which prominent self-help author wrote these words?

Answer: none of them. They were written by the 30th president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, who painstakingly worked his way up from city councilman of Northampton, Massachusetts to governor of that state, then to president. Persistence has proven equally essential to the success of our current president, Barack Obama.

The two biggest publishing phenomena of modern times, Harry Potter and Chicken Soup for the Soul, were repeatedly rejected (Potter a dozen times, Chicken Soup more than twice as many) before being picked up and published by small presses. Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of the bestselling books of the 20th century, was rejected well over 100 times. My own most recent book, The Complete Writer’s Kit, was turned down by 35 publishers. The press that eventually published it, Running Press, initially responded to my proposal by throwing it away. (When I didn’t get a response after ten weeks, I called to follow up. I was told that the editor I’d sent the project to had left the company, so I spoke to her successor. He said, “She left me an office full of unread manuscripts. There was no way I could deal with them, so I threw them away.” “Okay,” I said, “so let me pitch the project to you now.” I did; he asked to see it; and he published it. So far it’s sold a very-respectable 15,000 copies.)

In publishing (and in life), most of what happens is out of our control. A publisher changes its mission, focus, or personnel. Public attention shifts. Someone else beats you—or you beat them—to the subject. You get a publisher seriously interested in your work, and the person with the final say drops dead just before reading it. (This happened to me recently.)

You can’t do anything about luck, karma, or acts of God. Yet by being persistent, you dramatically improve your chances for success—not by changing the underlying odds, but by placing far more bets.

Publishing is a game of percentages. No one cares about your batting average—i.e., your ratio of rejections to deals. For each piece you write, a single hit is all you need. And the more times you swing, the more likely you are to connect. So swing away, and keep swinging.


One Response to “The Unacknowledged Power of Persistence”
  1. Stacey Z says:

    Wow- this article is inspiring! It pays to never give up. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Never, never, never, never give up.’ 🙂 Keep on writing! You are doing a great job!