When projects die

Sometimes projects die. You can pour your heart into a story or a book and for some reason, it might never reach an audience. Even if it’s a good story–sometimes bad things happen to good projects.

I don’t just mean that you sent your work out in the world and it failed to find a home, either. I mean that a piece which you thought you’d homed has crawled back to you like a once-adopted puppy returned to the animal shelter. It’s happened to me twice now. My novel Dark Depths has once again returned to me.

D.D. was originally picked up by a publisher I met through a writing workshop. They were a small press, but really excited about the project. They were in an expansionary period, flush with a number of e-book successes, and just branching out into print. The book’s first bit of bad luck was a freelance editor who came down with a serious ailment and forgot to let the publisher know they’d be unavailable until after a long convalescence. My second editor was a really wonderful woman with lots of helpful feedback. She loved the book and was really excited to work with me. But shortly after the book’s cover was commissioned, I stopped hearing from anyone in the company. After months of radio silence, the company collapsed. And my book was returned to me.

I was heartbroken. Even though the publisher was so small, it still felt incredibly exciting to be able to say “my first novel is due out Spring 2011!” What amazing words: My. First. Novel. Is. Due. Out. Dark Depths was the first book I’d ever written, and it had gone through a lot revisions, a lot of changes. I’d been working on it, on and off, for almost five years. So I blogged about how bummed I was.

And lo and behold! Another small publisher asked me for a submissions package! By the end of October, 2011, I signed a second contract for D.D., and this time a much better deal financially. I would even get a cover and illustrations from the incredibly amazing Galen Dara! I was elated. Even though it would be another indie experience, it would still mean my beloved characters would get out in the world. It would be a dream come true, due out Summer, 2012.

Only it didn’t. This time nothing terrible happened to the publisher. But running a small press isn’t an easy task, and my publisher (the wonderful, amazing Dagan Books–run out and buy one of their great collections!) wound up almost too successful for their small staff to handle. The books they’d lined up ahead of mine were all short story collections and really good ones. My publisher realized that they’d gotten a reputation for great short fiction, and as those collections’ production inevitably took longer than expected (this is publishing, after all), my book’s contract expired. It suddenly didn’t make sense for a press with a reputation for short fiction to put out an illustrated novel.

And it didn’t make sense for me to put out Dark Depths. In the time since I first drafted D.D., I’d drafted four novels and signed a contract for a gaming tie-in novel. I’d spent a year and a half as an editorial assistant for both anthologies and Fantasy Magazine. I’d written and sold close to twenty short stories. I wasn’t the woman who sat down to write D.D. The book no longer reflected my work.

Am I bummed that nine years after I started this business I’m still typing “first novel forthcoming”? Of course. I certainly wish that my career was moving faster. But I’m not upset about the experience.

The truth about writing is that there will always be setbacks. Publishers will collapse. Editors will move to different companies. Contracts won’t get renewed. Those setbacks suck. But at the end of it all, we’re damn lucky, because when we do make money, we’re making money doing what we love.

And if I had to go back and do it all over again, I would still write Dark Depths–just maybe not all nine revisions.

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  • Carrie Cuinn

    The experience of developing your novel with you has proven to me, without a doubt, that you are both talented and a delight to work with. I will happily (greedily, ecstatically, please!) publish you in the next short fiction project I put together. I definitely need to have you on my list of “Dagan Books Authors”.

  • Juliette Wade

    Wow, Wendy. Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you are finding your way in spite of all this, and when your “first novel” comes out, it will be a hum-dinger!

  • Tembrooke

    What an interesting story! It takes a lot of wisdom and courage to put a work aside — particularly when you’ve invested so much time and effort in it. Kudos to you for not only knowing when to put your novel aside, but for sharing that experience so the rest of us can learn from it.

  • Sandra Wickham

    Wendy, this is a fabulous post and YOU are fabulous. Thank you for being a constant source of inspiration to me.