You’ll hear this advice a lot in the publishing world: Don’t Burn Bridges. In case the metaphor escapes you, it means to avoid ending professional relationships in a way leaves a chasm between you that can never be breached. For my advice on cutting the cords on professional relationships, come on over to the SFF Seven.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, whether your mom was good or terrible, still with you or not, and whether anyone’s ever acknowledged your own mothering. Special love and gratitude to both my own mother – the blonde in our family photo there – and to my second mother, my aunt sitting next to her. I’m blessed to have you in my life!
I’m over at Word Whores – changing to the SFF Seven! – where we’ll be discussing all week the various publishing paths and what’s best for you.
My lovely agent, the vivacious and Bookalicious Pam, keeps a Tumblr where she generously answers publishing questions. I amuse myself by reading through it. Not long ago, an aspiring writer asked her a question about whether Pam wanted to see a book from a particular genre. The writer said:
Should I send it your way (you are my top pick from Foreward), or to one of the other Foreward agents? Thanks.
*minor note that the agency name is Foreword
This triggered a memory from college. One evening our apartment phone rang and I answered. Now, this was in Ye Olden Days and we had a landline phone with a verrry long cord. Six of us shared an apartment suite with six bedrooms off a super long hallway. We’d drag the phone into our rooms to talk. But we all shared this one phone. I just happened to answer this particular time.
A guy on the other end invited me to a fraternity dance. I only vaguely knew who he was, but I was flattered to be asked. Sadly, I had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t go. When I told him as much, he said “Oh, well how about one of your sorority sisters?”
I mean, not only was I more or less interchangeable with my sorority sisters to him, but he didn’t even specify which of them he might be interested in spending the evening with. Because, well, it ultimately didn’t matter to him, right? He needed a date for the dance and any girl would do.
I think my analogy here is obvious.
You know – I get this. I really do. I felt this way back when I was first seeking an agent. They all seemed pretty much the same to me. One big sorority of faceless people who could bestow the boon of their efforts upon me or not. I wanted to go to the Publishing Ball and I really didn’t care who escorted me.
I just wanted to BE THERE.
One of the things you learn over time, however, is that it really does matter how you get to the Publishing Ball. You can buy your own ticket and go. Maybe you’ll be invited as a special guest. But I can tell you this – if you go with the wrong escort, that can suck way worse than staying home alone. At best you might be miserable. At worst you might get date-raped in the parking lot.
Seriously. I don’t think I’m taking this analogy too far.
So, that’s one piece of it. Pick your agent carefully. It may seem that any one will do, but that’s just not so. And I’m saying this as someone who does not believe in the “Dream Agent” concept. Nor do I believe in True Love. Just as I believe any of us could find any of a number of people to make delightful life partners, I think any number of agents would work out great for a given author.
But don’t treat them that way, okay? I mean, that guy who called me up so long ago clearly didn’t care a whit for actually dating me. He never asked me out again or made any effort to get to know me. So far as I know, he planned to ask out whoever answered the phone in our six-sorority girl apartment. Now, WE all know that he missed out BIG TIME, but he wasn’t looking for a life partner. If he was, he went about it in absolutely the wrong way.
What if I might have been the girl for him? Maybe True Love did await us and we would have hit it off, found a delicious mutual accord and gone on to marry right out of college and have brilliant careers, a scintillating social life and a passel of over-educated kids.
(Hey – I write fiction, run with me here.)
The way he treated asking me out, that one incidental time, ruined that possibility forever. I couldn’t go that night – just as an agent might pass on your book because it’s simply bad timing – and by treating me like I was unimportant as a person and interchangeable with any of my random sorority sisters, he not only blew it with me, he blew it with everyone in my sorority. Because OF COURSE I told them about it. It became a running joke that this guy said this to me.
Agents gossip, too. Especially when someone treats them carelessly, as less than an important individual in their own right.
Something to contemplate.
Have a great weekend everyone!
For those who don’t know, that’s the Lyman Whitaker sculpture I bought with my first advance money last summer. Looks so awesome, particularly at sunrise.
And every time I see it, I feel a dual thrill of pleasure – in the beauty of the piece and in my own accomplishment.
At the time, I wrestled with whether to spend some of that money on a fun thing. Then, when I decided I should, it came down to one of these Wind Sculptures or a hot tub. I’m glad I chose the sculpture for this very reason, one that I didn’t consider. Seeing it every day reminds me of the work I put in to reach my goals and is a tangible, beautiful icon of that success.
So important, for all of us.
Because the publishing industry is a difficult one. There’s no doubt of this.
Yesterday I saw this article and tweeted a link to it, joking that the title should be “Authors Not Satisfied by Anything, Ever.” It’s one of those not-so-funny jokes, because the results show that, even after reaching some publishing goals, things aren’t all wine and roses for authors.
Lately I’ve been in the position of giving advice to aspiring authors. Just my karma? Perhaps. I participated in a panel (which I set up for my local chapter, but didn’t intend to be as advice-giving as it turned out), a couple of writers have emailed me for advice and I had dinner with a couple of my pre-pubbed local chapter gals.
One of the gals who emailed me asked about following up with an editor. She finished her email with: Gah! I hate waiting. Please tell me it gets easier?
I wish I could have. Of course, not to pull a Bill Clinton, it depends on what “it” refers to.
Does the waiting get easier? Yes, in many ways it does. Because, as I told this gal, experience helps your expectations align with reality. So when my New York editor says “I’ll send that next week,” I know full well it might not arrive for three weeks. That’s just par for the course. Also, I count on waiting times in ways I didn’t before, because I have so much more going on. For example, I sent book 2 of a trilogy to my New York editor by the 11/1 deadline and he recently confessed he hasn’t read it yet. Do I care?
Because I can’t possibly do developmental edits right now! In fact, I’m kind of banking on him not getting an edit letter back to me before mid-March. (Hear that, Peter? :D)
But, if I were, like the gal who emailed me, really waiting on those edits so I could get that going, I wouldn’t feel the same way. So, yes, Rhenna, in that way it does get easier.
Other things get easier, too. Once of the gals I had dinner with complained about how established and big ticket authors send in manuscripts that are riddled with errors (LKH – we’re looking at you), or that need extensive editing, while aspiring authors have to have every damn thing absolutely perfect, just to get in the door. She called it unfair.
I explained that it’s a test.
Is this a real phenomenon? Sure it is. But the reason is not to conspire against newbie authors. It’s because those established authors have a reputation and a loyal readership. The publisher knows what the author is capable of. Nobody asks me to do a revise and resubmit any more, because my editors have worked with me on several books and *know* how I’ll treat edits. They trust me. In fact, I can sell on ideas now, because they are familiar with my style and how I’ll go from idea to finished book.
Is this easier for me? Yes yes yes! It’s a great luxury for me and, believe me, I relish it. SO MUCH EASIER.
But it’s because I did the work to get there. With a brand new author, nobody knows how he or she will accept edits. Nobody knows if she can write that sequel by a deadline or if he can handle copy edits without pitching a creative tantrum. So, of course, they want it As Perfect As Possible. Just in case that’s as good as it gets.
That makes it much more difficult for aspiring authors, yes. The good news is, that’s part of doing the work. That’s learning important skills that will make it much easier down the road.
So, with a nod to Dan Savage and not to downplay the very important message of the It Gets Better campaign, yes.
It gets easier.
Last weekend we went up to Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid), which is an old gold-mining town on the back road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It reminded me more of a place I’d see in Colorado, instead of New Mexico. Lots of fun art, too.
I had an interesting Twitter discussion this morning with E and Has from TheBookpushers.com, along with author Jody Wallace. E and Has like to read a lot of the same things I do. (They also did a very fun joint review of Rogue’s Pawn, which I figure means I did something right!) We all grew up reading much of the science fiction and fantasy canon, ferreting out those books with sex and romance. We didn’t have to have those elements, but finding them was the cherry topping on the sundae of our readerly joy.
When I was a girl, none of my friends read what I did. A lot of them didn’t read much at all. The ones who did read, mostly liked other books. Of course, genre books like that weren’t considered appropriate for book reports. The upshot it, I rarely had anyone to discuss these stories with. There are few things more frustrating than LOVING a book and having no one else to share it with. As I grew older, I found more kindred spirits. In fact, a big part of my first relationship was getting my guy, Kev, to read so many of the books I loved.
(This is what you get when you fall in love with a nerd girl.)
Now, however, we have the internet and it’s as if we’ve managed to take our reader girl selves and connect them across the country and the ocean. (Has lives in the UK.) We were talking about how we’d browse the library or bookstore shelves and pick out the Very Thickest books, to maximize the reading experience. Longer books were always better. E says it stretched her poor-girl dollar farther. Has said she was less likely to run out of books between library visits. We all wanted the same thing – to be immersed in that world as long as possible.
It’s notable to me because that changed for me over time. Once I hit college, then grad school, then working life and doing All The Things, I hesitated to pick up the big books. They began to look like daunting obstacles, representing weeks of my life and effort that I couldn’t afford.
I’m not really sure why this changed for me, but I know the whole industry went this way. Many publishers don’t want a first time novel longer than 80-110K words. Depending on the print book style, this is in the neighborhood of 350-400 pages. This is as compared to, say, a George R.R. Martin book, which likely clocks in around 225K. Novellas, like my Facets of Passion books, are 26-40K. People like me were preferring shorter books and were more likely to buy them.
(Even Martin’s books, prior to the HBO phenom, were read by a pretty finite crowd for a very long time.)
I think the pendulum is swinging back the other way now and it could be due to books like Martin’s – but it’s also due to eBooks.
See, on an eReader, it’s hard to know how “thick” a book is. Because the fonts are adjustable (FABULOUS feature!), there are no page numbers, just a percentage complete. In some ways it’s frustrating, because you don’t always know what you’re getting into, in other ways it liberates a reader like me, because I don’t have the opportunity to be intimidated by the length. It is what it is.
The other thing that’s happening is that I think eBook buyers are beginning to associate value with length. That’s how the conversation on Twitter started – they recommended a book to me, I grumbled about Macmillan’s high eBook prices and they both assured me that the book is worth it because it’s a “long, solid and satisfying read.”
See? We’re still picking out those books that promise the most by the width of their spines on the library shelf, extending our dollars to maximize our readerly pleasure.
Carina recently asked me to consider writing longer erotic stories – novel length instead of novellas. Readers want longer books, they tell me.
Lately, so do I.
When I was in my early twenties, I used to argue that everyone needed to have their heart broken at least once. Not only was this a great way to soothe a friend who’d just had his or her heart broken – hey! this will make you a stronger person! – but I also believe it to be very true.
Falling in love is a fabulous, giddy and wonderful thing. Loving relationships are what sustain us through life. Most of us want to find that special someone (or someones) and find our own happily ever after. But that quest can be a trial. With each busted relationship, we lose not only that person, but also the dream of what could have been.
I’ve been there – the sense of failure, the certainty that I would never love again and would be alone for the rest of my life.
But, over time, your heart begins to heal and you discover that you learned some things. Thinking about a new relationship changes – it’s no longer a laundry list of “wants.” After a shattering break-up, you get a a really good idea of what you do NOT want. The new Dealbreakers List is usually short, but it’s backed by experience. It provides you with a much better compass for knowing what is likely to work for you.
Heartbreak also teaches the very valuable lesson that nothing is easy. Even if the falling in love part was, the maintaining of it can be damn hard work. If you take the relationship for granted, fail to nourish it, it can fall apart in the blink of an eye.
Finally, that rejection, the sense of failure – from those things grows resolve to do better. To be better. Hope grounded on this kind of foundation is a powerful force.
Then, when you love again – you’re better at it. Wiser. More careful with what you’ve been handed.
I think career-heartbreak can be just like this.
A friend of mine recently had her option book rejected. In most contracts with publishers, they say they’ll publish two or three books in a series and then have right of first refusal to see the next book in the series. This means you have to show it to them first, before you try to sell it to someone else. The rub, however, is that very few publishers want to buy the third or fourth book in a series. To them the series has been done already. So, when her option book was refused, she knows that’s the end of those characters and that world.
(And yes – she can self-publish more books in the series, and she might, but that’s a different kind of effort.)
This kind of thing happens All The Time. Of my three crit partners, all three have had their option books refused after the first two in a series. They grieved, wailed and gnashed their teeth – and moved on.
While I see my friend going through the stages of grief over this, I also see her wrestling with the heartbreak and healing from it. She now knows what she does not want in a new publisher, a new book contract. She was lucky to begin with – a Cinderella story of many offers and a very nice deal. The courtship was great but working under contract was crushing. She knows now what she needs to maintain a creative and productive writing pattern.
Best of all, when we discuss her options – like self-publishing – she shows an increased resolve. She’s working on a new story and she’s going to focus on that. She’s stronger and wiser now.
It’s funny to me, that in my 20s the conversations were about busted relationships and now, in my 40s, they’re about busted careers.
We know now what we learned then – there’s always another one, just around the corner.
Everyone likes a happy ending. Even the people who think the traditional Happily Ever After (or HEA as the romance-world calls it) is trite, still love it when the hero or heroine triumphs, when good defeats evil, when they finally blow up the Death Star.
It’s just human nature.
It’s also tempting for writers to view signing with an agent or getting that Book Deal as the HEA. After all, we labor for years, querying to silence, receiving rejections, going back to the drawing board and trying again. When someone signs with an agent, there is much cause for celebration. When Carina offered to buy my novel, I confess I cried tears of relief and joy. The moment was a culmination of so much effort. But is it really a happily ever after?
Those of us familiar with romance tropes know that, for a very long time, every romance novel culminated either with an engagement or a wedding. The exception to this was the Marriage of Convenience story, where the wedding takes place early on, emotional obstacles must be overcome and the story resolves with declarations of true love. However, that’s still usually very early on in the marriage. This kind of thinking was largely a product of the times. Happiness was found in commitment, which meant marriage. Now there’s more flexibility. Finding love is enough. Many romance books end in very satisfying HFNs – Happy for Now. As society has discovered: marriage isn’t necessarily the answer.
The other problem with this trope of ending with the wedding is, though we all loved the idea that they’d ride off into the sunset and lead deliriously perfect lives, we all also know that the wedding is really just the beginning of the story.
It’s the first step on a long, often difficult, road that you’ll walk the rest of your life, if you’re lucky.
You see where I’m going with this.
Signing with that agent or getting that Book Deal is just the beginning. Basically you’ve gotten the job you applied for. Someone is willing to invest in you being a Writer. Hooray! Now the real work begins. And not the glamorous honeymoon stuff, either. It’s the dividing the chores and staying up all night to soothe the colicky baby. It’s the fighting over money and in-laws and the temperature of the bedroom. It’s worrying that maybe you’re not as attractive as you used to be and wondering about that sexy new assistant. It’s about dealing with health issues, tax audits and job layoffs.
It’s not that marriage is always about the difficulties. But it’s not skipping down the beach hand-in-hand, either. (Except maybe on vacation.)
Having a writing career is like having any career. There’s the day to day work, the highs and lows. The struggles and the moments of sweet triumph.
So celebrate that book deal. Enjoy the validation of an agent representing you.
Just remember that, after the honeymoon, that’s when the story really begins.