Publishing and the definition of insanity
Trying to have a career as an author means doing the same thing over...and over...and over...
An author friend and I have been walking a similar path since about 2010. We finished our first novels around the same time. Queried and got agents around the same time. Got our first book deals around the same time. Went through all the general midlist ups and downs over a decade together.
Then, for different reasons, we found ourselves once again looking for new agents—again, around the same time.
She went first, though. Back on the query-go-round. This was mid-pandemic, and things were exceptionally slow.
When you’re dealing with rejections and, frankly, the ghosting which is now apparently status quo in publishing (both with agents and editors), it doesn’t take long before your spirit starts to fade.
Before you start to think, as you prepare to send yet another query, maybe this is just the universe telling me to quit.
Send a query. Get rejected. Send another. Get a request!—then get ghosted. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Isn’t this the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result?
I guess. But another word for it is resiliency.
There’s a lot of hubris out there in aspiring-author world. A lot of people who are utterly convinced that their huge success is inevitable. In my co-authored novel The Pros of Cons, we called this author Guy Stanwyck. You know, that guy (or gal) who corners agents in bathrooms at conferences and gives them a long-winded pitch.
Any agent can show you the queries they’ve received promising this book is the next Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code or Eat Pray Love—and the unhinged you’ll be sorry rant they received in response to their rejection.
To be clear, I don’t recommend this approach. But the one positive thing I’ll say about these particular writers is that they’re resilient. They’re persistent. They believe in themselves to a delusional degree and they keep going for it.
The reality of traditional publishing is that sometimes it’s hard and it sucks. There’s rejections, of course, from agents, and then from editors. But even after that, there’s so many other things that can go wrong. I had a two book contract with Egmont US, and when it abruptly closed in 2015, tons of book contracts, including mine, were cancelled. I’ve had editors leave for another job while we were working on a series together. Every single one of my non-IP books have had their pub dates bumped despite the fact that I’ve never missed a deadline. I’ve had marketing plans that included book tours and other exciting promotion opportunities that never came to fruition. And then when those books with no marketing plans didn’t sell well (go figure), I’ve been told that despite getting starred reviews and making a few awards short lists, sales and acquisitions teams were not interested in even looking at future submissions from me.
So there’s all the negativity out of the way. Now’s comes the positive part.
I’m still a full-time author. I still have books under contract. I have a middle grade novel coming out this October, and I just accepted an offer of representation from a literary agent. Why? Because I am resilient.
And maybe just a little insane.
I was on a panel once that was all about the worst case scenarios in publishing, and someone in the audience asked what do you do when your agent dumps you or a contract gets cancelled. The other authors on the panel made jokes about wine, chocolate, tissues.
I said, “I get angry.”
Not how could this happen to me angry. Sure, there’s a little resentfulness, but if you stew in that for too long, you’re likely to give up.
I’m talking about a very focused, very stubborn anger. Okay, fine, another road block, how am I gonna obliterate this one?
Years ago, I told my first agent I wanted to audition for any IP projects she heard about that were in my area of interest. (IP stands for intellectual property, and I’m referring to books that are developed at a publishing house or book packager, where they audition and hire authors to write their ideas.) The audition typically includes writing a few sample chapters, although in a few cases I’ve written synopses as well. I’ve only ever been paid for one such audition; typically you don’t get paid unless you get the job. In the last five years, I’ve auditioned for twelve of these, and I’ve gotten six. This is my way of staying in the game while I continue working on my own novels.
The publishing industry has a ton of problems and it’s hard to believe things are ever going to change for the better. It’s easy to quit. It’s hard to persevere.
And this is where you have to be like Guy Stanwyck. If you want to go this route, if getting your story on the shelves is your dream, you’ve got to resolve to be resilient. Please. I’m begging you. Because the industry can’t change for the better if they aren’t even getting submissions of the stories we need more of in the world. And then you know what we’re gonna be left with? A bunch of Guy Stanwyck books. I don’t want to read those books. Please keep writing. Be resilient.
Embrace the insanity.