Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The roller coaster ride of being a writer

Roller Coaster at Sixflags New England. Crappy camera phone photo. Awesome coaster :)

If you've been playing along at home, you know that when I started this blog in 2005, I'd already been working on my first novel and getting ready to learn everything I could about the business of publishing in order to get signed by an agent and get my book(s) into the world.

Well, things didn't work out the way I had planned:
  • In 2009 I was able to sign with an agent, but not for that first book. Not for the second, either. The third novel was the charm for that particular hurdle.
  • After nearly a year of further revisions and polishing, (while writing novel number 4) that novel (The House of Many Doors) went out on submission, garnered praise, but no sales.
  • I moved on to novel number 5, since novel number 4 was not a YA book and my agent was looking to brand me as a YA writer.
  • In late 2010, novel number 5 (The Between) went on submission. By 2011, it was clear that book was also dead in the water. Same song as before - praise, polite rejections.
  • In the meanwhile, I had written novel number 6 (Future Tense). My agent didn't feel it was right for the market and wanted me to change it radically, even for it to have a chance. I didn't agree with her vision for the book and moved on to novels number 7 and 8.
  • Novel number 7 was written during the year of our displacement from our house fire in 2011. It was somewhat grim and I never went back to it after its first draft.
  • Sometime in late 2011, I decided that I could travel a hybrid path and started planning to independently publish The Between.  I published it in January of 2012, to lovely reviews, and minimal sales.
  • Novel number 8 (Derelict) was a fun distraction I started in the summer of 2012. The agent agreed that the story sounded fun, but felt there was no market for YA SF and urged me to write something else. I was casting about for another story, but wanted to finish this one first.
  • Then I was at Boskone 2013, chatting with a friend of a friend about the story. He turned out to be an editor at TOR and wanted to see the manuscript. When I approached my agent, she was more interested in the story and did a round of submissions to 4 or 5 editors between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. The SF editors felt it was too coming of age. The YA SF editors wanted something that didn't happen in outer space.
    First digression.  :head desk:  Do they even know Science Fiction??
  • In order to keep moving forward (keep swimming!) I had decided to independently publish Future Tense, as the agent declined to represent it. It entered the world February of 2014 and like The Between, garnered lovely reviews, but meager sales.
  • At this point, 5 years into our agenting relationship, we parted ways. It was clear to me that she couldn't sell the book I was writing, and I couldn't write the kind of books she could sell. 
  • While licking my wounds, I worked on publishing Derelict.  And then something amazing happened. It started selling. And it kept selling. More than 3 months later, it is still selling and I have earned more from publishing this book independently that I likely would have as a debut SF writer at any of the traditional publishing houses. (Median advances for SF novels are under $10,000, and most books published never earn out their advances, so that's all the income most writers can expect from their work.)
And now we're at the part of the story where I had dreamed/hoped to be and am not sure how to take it all in. I'm terrified that this is a one off and I won't be able to replicate Derelict's success. I'm afraid by the time I get the next book in its universe written, no one will want to read it. That it will suck. That all my writing sucks and this is a never-to-be repeated fluke.

So, in other words, normal writer insecurity.

While I was wallowing in all of the fear and loathing, I did manage to finish novel number 9, Time and Tithe, the sequel to The Between.  So I'm not letting the crazy roller coaster of emotions fully control me. But it is true that the self-doubt never goes away.

So if you have any magic recipe to banish it, please let me know. Or if you're riding your own roller coaster, my sympathies.


  1. "my agent was looking to brand me as a YA writer."

    That (in my completely irrelevant opinion, due to not even having finished a first draft of anything) was the first warning sign for me.

    It's like typecasting for actors. Nobody (okay, almost nobody) likes that. So why should it be good for authors? Or why should a musician always and only do exactly one type of music? Because her fans won't like a (maybe even) radical change? Are we artists first of panderers to the masses?

    Oh, and insecurities of that kind I'm all too familiar with. Guess why that current WIP is not actually IP at the moment? :P

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, jae. I think I should have realized the ill-fit between me and the agent long before the point I finally did. But I did learn a lot about the publishing process along the way.

  2. The only thing worse than failure is success, you know. :)

    My magic recipe: trust yourself as a storyteller + protect the work + give your best to the readers + have fun. Add in a liberal helping of being the writer you want to be, not the one they tell you that you have to be. You will regret many things over the course of a writing career; producing great stories will never be one of them.