Monday, November 16, 2009

The Journey

I love stories about publishing journeys. When I find a new author I like, more often than not, I'll search out interviews or blogs and read all about their path to publication. It's more than just instructive -- it's inspiring, and it's endlessly variable. I've probably read hundreds of "path to publication" stories, and each was different.

Before I actually wrote my first "real" novel, I secretly thought my own path to publication would be pretty painless and quick. Write book. Phone rings. I'm in. Funny, right? I suspect that kind of dream is at the beginning for a lot of people -- because if we really knew what was in store for us, we'd be fools to actually start this journey.

So.

I've had a novel under consideration at a major publishing house since this spring. Actually, it was more than just "under consideration." One of the editors there liked it a great deal and supplied me with a detailed revision letter. So I rewrote the book and resubmitted. I just heard back, last week, that she's going to pass. She gave me fairly detailed reasons, and they're not unfamiliar to me.

This makes twice now.

Twice that I've submitted a book to a major house, gotten significant interest and oodles of wonderful praise, and a detailed rewrite letter. Only to be rejected in the end. Along the way, I've had access to some wonderful editorial minds—the two editors I've worked most closely with have had books perched in the top ten of the NYT best-seller's list for most of the past three years. One of these books is probably destined to be a classic.

I wasn't truly and really and deeply crushed this time around, when they passed. Truth is, I expected it. The first time -- now that was a killer -- but not so much this time. It stung for a day or so, and then I got into motion.

You know what they say about insanity, how you do the same thing over and over and expect different results? Here's the truth as I see it: I'm very, very close, but something I'm doing isn't working exactly.

My tendency in these situations is to encapsulate all the responsibility and swallow it like a bitter little pill. Here, though, I think it's not 100% about me or my writing. The book industry sucks right now. It's near impossible for a new author to break in. I'm writing middle-grade "boy funny" books (to quote one insider), and the books in my genre that are going at auction are all teen romances (vampires, werewolves, paranormal anything). This is a tough nut to crack.

I'll admit that I've wavered a few times along the way. How do you know when it's time to quit? In a conversation with my (now former) agent after we heard back, he said, "A lot of times, I'll have to tell people, 'Listen, the universe is trying to tell you something. You should listen. Maybe this isn't for you.' But that's not you. I'm not telling you that, I'm just saying that a lot of people never get that message."

I'm not quitting. I'm retooling. But I want to know: what would the universe have to say to convince you to quit?

16 comments:

Melanie Avila said...

Wow, heady stuff for a Monday morning. I'm really sorry to hear about the pass. You seem to be handling it well -- I can only hope I'll handle it the same way. (yes, I'm accepting that this road will be hard.)

I think if many agents and/or editors told me I should stick to my day job that would convince me to stop pursuing publication, but not to stop writing.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I don't think I'd stop trying...unless life got in the way and I just didn't have the time. And then I'd consider it a hiatus. The wind might be knocked out of me and I might slow down a bit after many rejections - but I'm just getting started with the fiction thing, so I have a lot way to go until I'd call it quits.

Natasha Fondren said...

My piano professor in college taught us that to make money in an art, you have to go out and make your own job. What she forgot to warn about is that if you twist it beyond recognition in order to make money, then you'll start to dislike what you loved. So, I'm alert and careful about that, but the day I wake up and hate writing is the day I'll find something else to do.

LurkerMonkey said...

Melanie,

That would do a number on me, too. Fortunately, I think it's pretty rare to get that kind of feedback ...

LurkerMonkey said...

Amy,

That's the only time I really stop writing, too. When I'm busy. But I've mostly been writing fiction since grade school, so I can't imagine actually quitting. I can, however, imagine stopping the pursuit of publication.

LurkerMonkey said...

Natasha,

That's a smart prof ... and I agree. When you hate it, it's time to move on.

Merry Monteleone said...

What would the universe have to do to get me to quit? See, it's funny, but if there was some way to know for certain that I'd never ever make it with fiction, I'd stop. I'd keep writing articles and do other sorts of writing, but pounding my head off the wall with endless revisions, nope. I'd stop. I love most of fiction writing, but I'm not masochist enough to keep going through the endless research for submissions, revision after revision after revision, just to put it in a box when all is said and done. I'd probably keep noodling stories, maybe even writing whole drafts, but I wouldn't do all of the polishing and work it takes to get it out there.

The thing is, the universe will never tell me that, even if it's true. So I take anything and everything as a test. It's not the universe saying 'no', it's a wall I have to climb to get better.

I wished my first novel was picked up by an agent and then by a house. I wished I was published ten years ago. That novel sucked. It was terrible. If I had gotten that lucky, it would likely have killed any chance of a future career with how suck-worthy it was.

I wished even more deeply that my second novel was picked up by an agent. So far, no luck. And I've gotten feedback that makes me believe I don't suck. I can still improve, I still need to go deeper, but I think a larger reason this one didn't make it (so far) was the market. It's tight. There's only so much room for funny boy books (my preferred genre too :-) Especially ones that sport fairies.

So I'm on to the next. YA, no vampires. Way grittier than my mg. And the mg waits in a box, maybe dead forever, maybe I'll get to resurrect it later (I hope, because I really really love that story even after all the rejection).

Don't let any of it make you quit. I need more funny middle grade boy books to read. And you'll get there - this is just another wall. When you get to the otherside, I bet you'll find it was worth it.

LurkerMonkey said...

Thanks, Merry.

My first manuscript--the one that also went through massive revisions with an editor--is in a drawer right now. I was really mad at it after that first rejection. I couldn't even look at it for ages. A week ago, I went back and read it, and I thought, "You know, this is pretty good."

If the universe could tell me for certain ... I'm not sure I'd want the answer. Does that make me a wimp?

Merry Monteleone said...

If the universe could tell me for certain ... I'm not sure I'd want the answer. Does that make me a wimp?

Actually, I think it's the opposite. Wanting the universe to hand us the answer without putting all the work in to find it ourselves sounds way more cowardly to me... or maybe lazy. Either way, I think it takes a great deal of courage to keep going on faith, especially faith in yourself (a lot harder to maintain, in my opinion :-)

Mark Terry said...

I wonder, and if you've been reading my blog semi-regularly, you know I wonder this a lot. I think if I'd made it to the point I have and not gotten any books published, I'd be crazy not to find something else to do. My problem is I'm getting books published. It's terrific getting them published, but I can't tell you how debilitating it can be to get a book published and then see it struggle in the market--and the fact is, it's an incredibly tough market getting tougher all the time.

It's interesting that you wrote this today, because today was one of those days when I was thinking a lot about this very topic, when should you (me) look at your priorities and say, "Hmmm, I'm not getting out of this what I hoped or expected to get out of this." And that hope/expected isn't necessarily money, but something I can't quite put my finger on. I think the struggle is so difficult for most of us that we've created a certain mystique around being a "NOVELIST" and once we are--and maybe the letdown is worse for those of us who are regularly getting other things published--that it can be a bit shocking to get "there" and discover it's not what we expected.

But I'm reminded (there's always a story, isn't there?) of author John Dunning who'd gotten a couple books published but they really didn't go anywhere and he said he was just about to throw in the towel and, furthermore, tell his agent he was done and just get on with his life. And then he wrote one more and it became a bestseller and most of his other issues disappeared (I suppose).

I guess the moral of this length response is that we tend to trade one set of issues for another as we move up in the field. At least if we're as neurotic as I am.

Jude Hardin said...

Sorry to hear it, Jon.

Erica said...

You have such a great attitude considering this situation. I think I would keep hope alive... sounds like you have something good there. Sorry to hear about them passing on it.

Hmmm the universe... well I hope the universe wants me to be happy. So I will continue writing as long as I'm happy doing it ;o)

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark,

I've always figured I'd deal with the next set of issues when I got there :)

LurkerMonkey said...

Thanks, Jude.

LurkerMonkey said...

Erica,

Hey, you're from my hometown! (I followed the link.)

And I totally agree: the day I cease liking this is the day I'm done for good.

Erica said...

No way! Small world :o)

That's cool.