Monday, September 22, 2014


A friend once said he envied me. "You're immortal now. Your books will be on the shelf forever."

Exactly whose shelf are we speaking about here? I wondered.

It's not the shelf at my local bookstore, which has to constantly turn over its stock to make room for all the new books published every month.

It's not the shelves of our local libraries--they, too, have limited space. Every few years they look to see which books haven't been circulated in a very long time and give them the heave-ho.

It's not the infinite virtual shelves of Amazon or Barnes and Most books eventually go out of print and become unavailable. Sometimes it takes a few years, sometimes it happens sooner. When I worked at the literary agency in New York, a bestselling YA author released her first adult novel and it went out of print in six months. It can happen quick--even to well-known authors.

It's definitely not my own bookshelves, which I've stocked with all the books I'm dying to read but never have enough hours in the day to get through. Like anyone else, only the books that really make a lasting impact on me have a place in my permanent collection. All the others are donated to charity.
Copies of my own books are in a box somewhere in the basement.

I guess my friend must have been talking about my mother's bookshelf. I can guarantee my books are sitting there right now, in a prominent place, loving dusted from time to time.

Basically, being a published author is a pretty lousy way to achieve immortality--unless, of course, your last name is Dickens, or Twain, or Shakespeare.

Book publishing has exploded over the last decade, despite grim sales. The market is flooded with traditional and self-published books alike. More titles = higher turnover = shorter shelf life. Even when a book makes it to a shelf for a short period, it's hard to grab the attention of the book-buying public. This is especially true of E-books. Even though they technically hang around for a long time, they are part of a very crowded marketplace. There are so many forms of entertainment competing for our attention. It's like being at a stadium concert and trying to get the lead singer of the band to notice you.

Ooooh! Over here! Read me! Read me!

If immortality is your thing, there's actually a pretty simple way to achieve it these days: Post something on the Internet.

I've been told that every little comment, Facebook post, Tweet, Instagram photo, etc. lasts forever in the digital abyss. The opinions, mistakes, and experiences we share end up being written in virtual stone, ready to be called up at any time to be used against us. It makes me terrified every time I hit the 'publish' button on my blog. 

At least if I make a mistake in a book it will eventually be forgotten.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Summer of Crazy

It's been an interesting summer.

In early May I turned in the "first draft" of my second adult novel. "First draft" is in quotes because I've rewritten it more times than I can count but this is the first time my agent is seeing it, so for all intents and purposes it's considered a first draft. There will be many, many more drafts to follow.

My expectations were high when I turned it in. This draft took me nine years to write, mainly because I was raising twins and writing wasn't my biggest priority. Still, I worked on it consistently. I adored my main character. I was certain my writing skills had reached a whole new level. Except for showing a scene or two to a few friends, I kept it all to myself. Finally being able to hand in the finished draft to my agent left me euphoric. It was like keeping a secret for nine years and finally being able to share it with someone.

As many of you already know, submitting an unsolicited manuscript and waiting to hear back is tough. You throw your work out into the void and wait...and wait...and wait. Believe me--the wait doesn't get any easier even after you sign on with an agent. Conventional wisdom says that you need to dive immediately into another writing project to take your mind off of the wait. I knew this, but purposely ignored it. It was party time. I caught up with friends. I went out for lunch. I read. I cooked. I spent time with my family. I enjoyed my freedom. I didn't write a thing.

A month went by, then two. Then the crazy started to settle in. I constantly checked my phone, my email. Why wasn't he calling? It could have been any number of reasons: Book Expo America....a heavy work load...summer vacation (after all, the publishing industry switches to a four-day week from Memorial Day to Labor Day).  I used to work at an agency as an assistant and I know how hard agents work and how long it can take to hear back...and yet I felt like I was a teenager all over again, waiting for a boy to call.

Did I do something wrong? OMG do you think he hates me? 

When my agent finally got back to me, the news wasn't what I wanted to hear. He loved my writing, but he didn't love the book--at least not the way I did. Even though I've worked to toughen my hide, I took it hard. Really hard. I was baffled. I thought this was the best work I'd ever done--how could he not agree? I tried to write something new but my well had run completely dry.

After I had a little time to digest the news, my agent and I had a long conversation about the manuscript. I was afraid we wouldn't agree on some major elements, but I kept an open mind. It turns out, everything he said was right on the money.  I was blown away by his skill as a reader. The changes he proposed had the potential to crack the story wide open and make it so much better and weren't nearly as daunting as I thought they were going to be. Instead of nursing my hurt ego, I turned my energy toward creating the best story I could.

There was so much I took away from this experience: 

1) Communicate. If your agent is taking a wee bit too long to respond, don't be afraid to reach out with an email (this only applies to those who are already signed with an agent--if you've submitted a manuscript on spec it's better to sit tight and wait to be contacted). It turns out that my agent was inundated with manuscripts from many of his clients at the same time. Had I known this, I would have done a better job of keeping the crazy at bay. I communicated this to him and he apologized for not telling me why there was a delay. Don't be afraid to politely let your agent know what you need!

2) Don't freak out until you have all the facts. This applies to all things in life. Often the scenario in our heads is worse than reality.

3) Publishing might be even harder than I thought. Even if your agent loves your first book, there's no guarantee that he'll love everything you ever do. Even if you've been accepted by a major publisher there's no guarantee that you'll ever be published again. Even if you've kind of made it (heck, I had a great review in The New York Times! My book was on CBS's Sunday Morning!) there's never a point when you can sit back and relax--the battle is continuous and uphill all the way. Which is actually kind of a good thing, I suppose. It keeps us from getting lazy.

And finally...

4) Appreciate every little bit of success that comes your way.  I've always appreciated my success, but maybe I didn't appreciate that luck played a part, too. Will luck come my way again? I hope so. All I know is that I'm going to work hard to be prepared should it decide to make another appearance.