On January 22, 2009, I received the first publishing contract of my career. I will never, ever forget that moment, sitting on the couch in my apartment in Okinawa, reading the e-mail containing the words "...would very much like to publish Playing With Fire..." It had only been a couple of months since I'd switched from epic fantasy to erotic romance, and suddenly, this. I stared slack-jawed at my computer. I blogged hysterically (I'm very eloquent when I'm excited, as you can see). I was more than a little tempted to run screaming around the neighborhood, and it was pretty damn cool that it happened to be a morning when Eddie didn't have to go to work early, so he got to be there for it too.
I wasn't just a wannabe writer anymore...I was about to. Be. Published. It didn't matter that it was a small press, that it was an ebook. All my life, I'd dreamed about having a book published, and this was validation on so many levels, I couldn't even articulate it. No matter how many rejections came my way now, I had one nugget of golden truth in my pocket that no one could take away: I could do this.
Now, those who've been following my blog for some time probably remember how things turned out. Those who weren't around in 2009 may have noticed there is no book called Playing With Fire on my backlist.
In June of 2009, the contract for Playing With Fire was terminated. Simply put, the publisher merged with another, and the new publisher decided they weren't interested in the book. Was I bummed out? Sure! Who wouldn't be?
But these things happen. I knew some contracts wouldn't make it through the merger, and I'd been quietly steeling myself in case mine was one of them. Sure I was disappointed, but I refused to let it get me down. By this point, I'd sold my second book --Between Brothers -- so even though it was a bit of an emotional kick in the nads, I knew two things: 1) this is business, not personal, and b) I could still do this.
Yesterday marked three years since that first contract landed in my inbox. Since then, I've accumulated over 300 rejections and sold over 30 novels and novellas. I've had good reviews, bad reviews. I've had good experiences, bad experiences. And let me just say, it's been an education. So, to mark this 3 years and 1 day anniversary of that first squee-inducing e-mail, here are some things I've learned:
- Editing is a team effort, not a battlefield. There's a fine line between Golden Word Syndrome (tm) and a legitimate argument for rejecting an editor's change. I've worked with some amazing editors, and I've learned from every single one of them. I've learned how to watch for and fix problems in my writing, and I've also learned when and how to say "I see where you're coming from, but I disagree, and here's why." There's nothing to be gained by being right just for the sake of being right -- the book is what matters.
- The shadows make the highlights brighter. You know how they always say if it weren't for the bad times, no one would appreciate the good times? I don't think I've ever understood that more than I have since I've been in the publishing business. A run of rejections makes that bright, shiny new contract infinitely sweeter. Some "meh" sales makes that bestseller spot an awesome little personal triumph. The funks, slumps, burnouts, and dry spells make those periods of major productivity feel like an actual accomplishment. The clouds and thorns make you appreciate the sunshine and roses.
- Do your homework. There are ways to get burned. There are ways to avoid getting burned. Research the latter, avoid the former.
- A rejection simply means "No thanks, it's not for me." It's easy to take rejections personally, or to hear things like "this book is horrible, you're an awful writer, what is wrong with you?" between the lines of "regretfully, your book is not for us." It's tempting to hold that rejection in your hands (or stare at it on the screen) and think, "My God, did I really waste all that time and effort, and ultimately create something horrible?" But the thing is, a rejection isn't the kiss of death. It isn't a proclamation from on high that this book should never see the light of day. I have had books rejected that sold elsewhere and became some of my top sellers. I've had books accepted immediately that sold "meh". Editors and agents are human, just like us, and their opinions and tastes vary as wildly as anyone else's. What one editor loathes, another may love.
- You're never too experienced for beta readers. Yeah, you may know what you're doing, but you just never know what that second set of eyes might pick up.
- Book #40 requires just as much work as Book #1. Okay, with time, you do hone techniques, write smoother prose, plot better from the start, etc. But the fact is, you still have to sit down at your computer, stare down that blinking cursor below the words "chapter 1", and type all 85,000 words of the book. Fortunately, I enjoy that -- I couldn't imagine any job I could possibly love more than I love writing -- but I'll admit, I still have moments where I wish a scene would just write its own damn self. I just finished my 40th book yesterday, and that troublesome chapter 22 still made me write it. Every last word.
- Book releases don't get any less nerve-racking or exciting. I totally do not have an Excel spreadsheet that tells me how many days are left before each title releases. I absolutely do not look at those numbers and try to will them to count down faster. No matter what anyone tells you, I do not lose sleep or get queasy the night before, and I never squeal like a kid on Christmas when the book goes live. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
- It pays to try new things. Whether it's a different subgenre or a different writing technique, a change of scenery or a different playlist on your iPod, it's good to experiment. You just never know when you might find something that works.
- Discipline becomes a habit, but as with all good habits, it's easy to backslide. The more you get in the habit of writing X amount of words or hours a day, the more it becomes second nature. I get downright twitchy if I don't write for a day or two, because it's my routine. But if I start cutting myself too much slack, or being lazy, it's easy to get into that downward spiral of "oh, I can stop early today, just like I did yesterday...and the day before...and the day before that..." Make it a habit, but keep after yourself.
- This is the most awesome job in the world.
But what about Playing With Fire? You would think I could have sold it again after almost three years, right? Maybe. But after a substantial rewrite, Playing With Fire has been indefinitely trunked. Will it ever see the light of day again? Probably not. Reason being, I agree with the publisher's decision to terminate the contract. The book was good, but not good enough, and now I can honestly look back and say I'm glad they did it. I have gone on to work with that publisher on other books, and have an excellent relationship with them. To be honest, I wouldn't trade the entire experience for anything, because it was both a much-needed validation and a desperately-needed reality check, both of which have been powerful influences on me ever since.
So, three years later, I have to say...
Thank you, Linden Bay Romance for giving me that shining moment of "yes, you can do this," which I still treasure to this day no matter how things ultimately turned out.
And thank you, Samhain Publishing, for telling me I could do better.