On Perseverance

So, yeah, the whole weekly blog thing kind of turned into a bi-weekly-ish blog thing. Especially now that I am in the throes of Book Seven and I can’t really think of anything to say about anything except these characters who are on fire in my head. They are demanding!

Anyway, back when Vivian Arend suggested I stockpile blogs, I thought, “Hey, great idea!” But the truth is, I write whatever is happening Right Now and if I stockpiled stuff it just wouldn’t make any sense because I’d be all on about Andrew Shaffer’s satire of Fifty Shades of Grey and the righteous demise of DRM and then six months from now none of that would mean anything to anyone. (Andrew, I mean that in the nicest possible way.) I guess that means this blog is about what to write and when.

I started my first manuscript almost eight years ago after I read this article.

It took me a couple of years to write. I wrote now and then. Fits and starts. That sort of thing. I wanted it to be a Romance, but Literary. I wanted it to have a happily ever after, but I killed the hero. In 2006, it was finished and I sent it to a couple of agents who were friends of friends. I thought, “Hey, I wrote a book. I can check that off the bucket list.” One of the agents shopped it around for me. Very loose arrangement, no contract, all very vague. Nothing much came of it. Oh well.

A few more years passed (an infant has that effect on me…time passes).

Meanwhile, I had always been about a one-book-every-couple-of-weeks reader. I was in book clubs. In my book club in 2008-2010, we kept reading all these books that ended in misery (waves to Robin, Margaret, Joette, Margaret, Brewer, Rachel, Helene), which culminated with We Need to Talk about Kevin. The polarizing discussion you can imagine such a book would engender really set me off.

I think that was the match-to-the-fuse moment for everything that came after. I adored every word of that book. I have a mad literary crush on Lionel Shriver. I picked up Post-Birthday World immediately and loved every word of that book too. Then I happened to read Paolo Giordano’s The Solitude of Prime Numbers and loved that as well. But why?! (cue Scarlett O’Hara clutching fist of dirt raised to the heavens) WHY!? Why did they all have to end so horribly?!

I started reading romance novels. Voraciously. As an antidote. A new path. An alternative. An act of rebellion. I don’t know what it was, but it stuck. I had the whole Romance Novel Epiphany (see one of my first blog posts here) and the spigot went on full spray. I wanted to read them. I wanted to write them. I wanted to proselytize and tell everyone I knew that they needed to read them. I started what I consider my first “real” book on June 1, 2010. It came fast.

But I still had that old manuscript languishing on my hard drive and I was following the news about this strange new path that authors were taking—eliminating agents, production, distribution—self-publishing their books. I read the Kindle Direct Publishing manual and put my old book, Genevieve Arrives, up for sale. I sent a blast email to my friends. I posted a link on Facebook. I sent an email to Sarah Wendell (in which I later realized I misspelled Jennifer Crusie’s surname) and asked Smart Bitches to review it. A week later this article came out in the Wall Street Journal. I thought, “Sheesh, this whole publishing thing is a breeze. I am totally on it.”

I sold about forty copies in the few weeks it was available on Amazon, before I attended my first RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference in Orlando in July, 2010. (Oh, you lucky forty people who will forever have that on your Kindle…maybe it will be a priceless collectors’ item one day!) Anyway, while I was in Orlando I was on a fact-finding mission, asking as many Very Important Publishing People as I could what they thought about the self-publishing versus traditional publishing worlds.

Look, what can I say? A LOT has happened in two years. Suffice to say there were no self-published New York Times bestsellers in Orlando in 2010. And there were several in Chicago at the Romantic Times convention 20 months later. Anyway, back in 2010, it was a unanimous decision from Very Important Publishing People that, yes, self-publishing was definitely on the rise, and that if I was willing to devote about 50% of my “work time” to marketing and publicity and all that, it might be the way to go. BUT it was probably not the best way for me to embark upon a career that I hoped would span decades and make me the next Amanda Quick. (I didn’t even know she was Jayne Ann Krentz at that point. More on the hilarity of my ignorance in another post.)

Anyway, I pulled Genevieve Arrives from Kindle and trembled at the prospect that I might have shot all of my writing aspirations straight to hell with my rash three-in-the-morning decision to self-publish it. To this day, everything about Genevieve feels difficult, but worth it. She is my problem child. My mother swears it’s my best book and her opinion is not to be taken lightly. She buys books, people. She reads. A lot. But the problems with Genevieve from a genre perspective? Massive. Anyway, I still think of her fondly and figure she’ll demand her due one of these days, many years from now. (Genevieve, not my mother.)

The rest is pretty much common knowledge. I’ve been writing like a fiend for the past two years. I finished the duke (now A Royal Pain) in about three months and began querying agents in the fall of 2010. For all of you aspiring writers out there, it might feel like misery being rejected like that, because it is. I live in sunny Florida and I still look back on those querying months and it is always dark in my memory. Dark dark dark. And in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t even that long. People now say, “Wow! You got an agent and a book deal so quickly! You are so lucky.” I didn’t feel lucky for that year I was querying agents and on submission to publishers. I felt like a delusional loser.

At one point in that dark time, when I was talking to my husband about the agents I was querying (this is how I thought of them: AQ/SEP/JQ’s agent, Eloisa James’s agent, Kat Martin’s agent, Miranda Neville’s agent, Courtney Milan’s Agent) he said, “Not that I don’t encourage you to aim high, but isn’t that sort of like shooting baskets in the driveway and thinking you can make it in the NBA?”

Now. Let’s pause and reflect on that for a moment. I’ve told that one-liner often. Maybe even in one of the previous blogs here, but it is such a powerful one for me. In fact, the very night my husband said it, I finally got the courage to e-mail the query letter to the AQ/SEP/JQ agent and my opening line was, “My husband says querying you is like playing baskets in the driveway and thinking I can make it in the NBA.” That agent requested the full.

I guess the point is that my husband knows me well enough to know that I don’t like when people tell me I can’t do something. It infuriates me into action. I want to bump my chest up against someone and quote Dory from Finding Nemo.

(Not always. Sometimes I’m just disheartened and give up. But luckily this wasn’t one of those times.)

Now that the dust has settled from the Romantic Times convention from a few weeks ago, I realize the most piquant factoid was this: most agents who are taking pitch appointments tell every single aspiring author to submit a partial. Of those, only 3% actually follow through and send the manuscript. THREE PERCENT.

That’s why I love every writer who ever sent in that partial. We are the three percent. We are all there saying, “Yes, I may be a delusional loser, but come be a delusional loser with me!” And guess what? Suddenly we are not delusional and we are not losers. We are writers.