Burn, baby, burn

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. I signed a contract with a very small press. My book passed through an editing process with a contracted editor. My book got cover art. I had the loosely scheduled release date of “Fall 2011.” I scraped up my first blurb. And then my publisher closed down.

I don’t know what to say about the experience. I’m not that bummed about it, really; I hate to be unfair, but now that I’ve been writing longer and I’ve gotten more confident about my writing, I was already beginning to regret sending my very first book to a micropress. Today, if I wrote a book, and it didn’t seem like something I could pitch to a major market, I would set it aside to revise later, and I would just keep working on it until it was ready. And that’s what I’ll do with this one. If it can be saved, then I’ll fix it and send it back out in the world. And if it can’t, well, I’ve got plenty more words in my word box.

I wish I had some kind of great advice or wisdom that I’ve taken from this process. But all I can tell you is: Don’t give in to despair. Don’t give up on your work. Push and push and push. Rename your failures “practice.” Practice more. Recycle what you can and steal from yourself as much as you’d like.

I wish I had a bigger emotional response to the event, but mostly, I just feel tired. Since I’d already mentally pushed that book into a tiny disappointed pigeon hole in my mind, I’d never really felt like a debut novelist; I’d never gotten as thrilled as I’d expected my first book should excite me. My first thought when I read the closure announcement was “Damn. Now I have to sell this all over again, and it’s going to take a ton of work.” Since I’m still working hard to sell Novel #2, the prospect is exhausting.

I’m not going to kid you: the submissions process for novels isn’t easy. Creating a submissions packet–or rather, creating lots of submissions packets, because each submission is going to be a bit different from the others–is a lot of work. Creating a list of agents is exhausting. Waiting and waiting and waiting for them to respond is agonizing. Hearing them say no is painful. Submitting to a small press starts to sound pretty good after a couple of those no’s.

But you know what? This past year, I’ve wracked up so many short story rejections, my callouses are starting to get thick. It’s not just the no’s that you have to learn to live with–the realization that some projects might never sell or might need to be trunked for years before they are marketable is probably the cruelest sensation to live with. Selling books isn’t much different.

I think building a certain amount of measured distance between your self and your creations is the key to living successfully in this business. It’s just work. And it’s spinning the words that really matters. When you watch one project go down in flames, you have to remind yourself that writing it was the fun part–not putting a copy on the shelf.

So pass me the marshmallows, guys, so I can make some S’mores over this book bonfire. I’m going to need a snack while I work on the next one.

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  • Erika Holt

    Sorry this happened, Wendy, but I have every confidence you will one day sell a novel. 🙂

  • Galendara

    you amazing me, with your words and with your attitude. I am so excited for what is in store for you. <3

  • Cate Gardner

    It’s a shame about the demise of the publisher, but it seems you are heading in the other direction. Up and up and up.

  • This is a great post Wendy. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Very sage advice. Just the thought of trunking this novel I’ve been working on, trying so desperately to get ready for a summer conference, is scary. But a little voice in my head keeps saying, “Y’know, this one might not be the one. Be prepared!”

  • I too appreciated you sharing your experiences here! One of the areas where I need the most work as a writer is building up my bravery and my thick skin when it comes time to market my works.

    • Wendy Wagner, Inkpunk

      We’ll be cheering you on! It’s definitely easier to send pieces out when I know I’ve got friends to pat me on the back when bad stuff happens.

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