The only way I manage not to bungle my life is to do as much as I can in advance, so I was already well into my blog post for this week before reading Caitlin Rother’s entry about the dismal experience she is having with Dorchester and the rerelease of her novel NAKED ADDICTION. It would be nice to have something sunny and upbeat to contrast with that, but that’s not what I was writing. Rather than force my thoughts to go somewhere else, I decided to call this “Misadventures in Book Publishing, Part 2.”
Back in the days when i was writing my first novel, I knew it would take a huge amount of luck to find an agent interested in representing me, and that s/he would have an uphill battle finding someone willing to put money behind an unknown like me. But, I reasoned, if I could survive all that, I would be in great shape. I’d be a known quantity, and one contract would follow another as long as my work remained good.
How utterly naive I was! The only thing that worked out according to my mental model was the good fortune I had in landing an agent. The first one I queried about THE FOUR SEASONS took me on as a client, and got an offer beyond my expectations quickly thereafter. Then she asked a question I have learned is common: “So, do you have anything else on the shelf?”
“Well,” I told her, “I have this nonfiction work, UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH, which has made the rounds just about everywhere with no luck.” “Send it along,” she said. Amazingly, within a few months she had sold that as well.
Wow! I was on the way to fame and glory, and was already assessing my wardrobe’s readiness for life on the road as a touring author.
Shall I say that what followed was a tad less than anticipated? THE FOUR SEASONS and UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH were critical successes and won several significant awards, but most of my “tour” was to local book clubs and workshops at writing conferences, interspersed with larger events such as speeches at fundraisers. I’m not complaining though. The more local events I did, the more realistic I got about how difficult and exhausting it would be to add travel to the load. Would I do it if I had a best seller? Sure? Am I glad I am not in a hotel room right now waiting for yet another crowd of strange faces? Decidedly yes.
I am very comfortable now with where my writing has taken me. It has introduced me to people and causes I would never have been involved with; has been the source of almost all my new, dear friendships; and has stroked my ego in some very pleasant ways. So don’t take what follows as moaning and groaning--I have been extraordinarily lucky (and grateful) to be the author of four published books--but simply as statements of fact about a few of the expectations that didn’t bear out. I offer these to those who are now hoping for publication, not to be discouraging but as advice to keep expectations in line with a very difficult reality.
- I would develop a strong working relationship with my agent and stick with her throughout my career.
2. I would have an easy time selling subsequent books
3. I would have a single editor who was guiding my career
4. I would get a larger advance with each subsequent book
5. I would develop a sizable and steady income stream from royalties
Since this is a blog post, I’m running out of space to tell you the rest. “Leave ‘em hanging” is the advice many authors get about the pace and structure of their books, and it will have to apply here as well. I will tell you now that none of those things have happened. The story of each I will leave for another day.