When Perseverance is a Weakness

Barry Eisler submitted his completed manuscript to 50 agents.* 50. And he received as many rejections. Throughout the process he continued revising, continued submitting, and continued receiving those rejection notices.

He persevered, but it wasn’t getting him anywhere.

* * * * *

There’s nothing wrong with perseverance when the key to success lies solely within me. If the goal requires nothing more than internal guts or strength of will or the ability to take one…more…step, then persevere until you throw up or pass out or the soles of your shoes fall off. In these cases, perseverance might look like trying the same thing over and over again.

But sometimes that thing I’m striving for involves exterior factors, things outside of my control: the approval of an agent, the validation of a publisher, or some kind of unobtainable relational reconciliation. Maybe my goal involves customers, or clients, or love. Maybe my goal involves investors or team mates. In these cases perseverance might look like trying something for a time, then quitting and trying again, then backing off and considering a different approach.

Blind perseverance, when factors are involved beyond our control, can quickly turn into stupidity. It can look like charging at a brick wall that’s going no where.

* * * * *

Barry Eisler met an agent who encouraged him to try a different approach: take a look at Japanese publishers. His book was set in Tokyo, his protagonist was half-Japanese, and Barry himself spoke Japanese. Suddenly he had a two-book deal with a Japanese publishing house and U.S. houses started knocking. He sold the book to Putnam as well as a yet-to-be written sequel.

He could have kept mailing agents in the US for years, and his US agent could have continued trying to garner the interest of US publishing houses. And maybe something would have come of it. Eventually.

But perseverance doesn’t always mean trying the same thing over and over again.

What are you currently persevering at? Is it time to change your approach?

*story taken from How I Got Published, edited by Ray White

9 Replies to “When Perseverance is a Weakness”

  1. Great reminder!
    Sometimes perseverance can mean readjusting your direction and process… while still moving forward toward the goal.

    But of course, there are exceptions to every rule … Kathryn Stockett, author of “The Help” queried and received rejections from 60 agents and finally the 61st accepted it … and as they say, the rest is history.

  2. ha! i have persevered by barking up various trees over numbers of years. before writing, my background was as an improvisational street theater actor…if it didn’t work on the street you HAD to try another way or the audience simply walked away! listen to the responses, look at what is happening, be available to change. works in life too.

  3. Love this post Shawn – great insight and perspective. It reminds me of the saying, “Make sure your ladder is leaning against the correct wall before climbing.”

    1. Thanks, Tor, and I like that saying. I used to have a painting business – there’s no money in painting the wrong house really well.

  4. Blind perseverance is just that: shooting for a goal with no idea where to aim. Sure, sometimes the things we want are not things we’re going to get (I’m still waiting for my private jet). But focused perseverance means being willing shift approaches.

    Good thoughts here. Don’t get hit by a car. You’re running that Tough Mudder, because you know it’s going to be a great story to tell (tell it to me! I want to hear it).

    1. Thanks, Jen. I don’t think there’s any way out of it at this point. All that I have left is the hope that it will make a good blog post.

  5. “But perseverance doesn’t always mean trying the same thing over and over again.”

    Well if you’re expecting a different result, then that’s the definition of insanity. There’s a fine line sometimes, but there is a difference. :-)

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