When the Rain Comes Down

A friend whose first book is forthcoming has been unnerved, as I was once unnerved, to learn of other authors whose contracts have been canceled before their debuts ever hit the bookstores. Along with that terrifying possibility are myriad examples of authors being orphaned (this is what it's called when one's editor leaves the publishing house) and then dropped or ignored-into-giving-up by the new administration. Other authors lose their slots because of poor sales numbers or quite inexplicably (to them, because publishers often won't come out and explain why) they can't sell new proposals or even full manuscripts. Everywhere you look, you see bodies by the wayside, and for the new writer, who has focused all of her energies on breaking in with that first sale, this post-apocalyptic reality is freaking scary.

And it should be because it's an incredibly hurtful experience, a scarring experience (and I've been there, so I know) to have your hard-won new world come crashing down. But if you hang with this business long enough, you'll see example after example of disaster-struck authors rising from the ashes and coming back better and stronger and more successful than before. Some of the survivors change their names (as I did) to become born-again publishing virgins. Most change publishers and shift what they're writing by pulling a spark of strength out of their "failures" and blowing it into flame in an area more conducive to success. (I did all of this as well and ended up finding a subgenre I love writing more than ever.)

I know authors, terrific authors, whose careers have seemed dead and who have amassed an avalanche of post-debacle rejections come roaring back to great reviews, awards, and/or huge advances and/or bestseller lists. I have definitely learned to take the long view and not count anybody out as long as they're still writing, still submitting, and still (this is the biggie) trying to adapt. It's especially sweet to see these authors prosper because you know they've really earned success.

I've heard a veteran of the publishing game say if you're in this business long enough, everything will happen to you. Good reviews and bad, accolades and harangues, lines closing, publishers going under, great covers and terrible, sales success and failure. If you want and need stability, go work a nine-to-five gig with benefits, vacation time, sick days, and retirement. Because you aren't going find it here.

But if you simply have to box the octopus, nothing else will do.

Have any of you been through (or know an author who's been through) a dry spell, line closing, loss of agent/editor, or other publishing disaster? What are you doing to overcome it, or how did you manage?


TJ Bennett said…
I've known too many who have been through one or more of these nerve-wracking spells. Most of them seem to be able to start over. I always wonder how people do that--the process, I mean. How do you get another editor to trust you with her numbers, another marketing department to say, "Yes?" That is the question I wish someone would write an RWR article about, because I'd read it.

Anonymous said…
I'm hitting one now. I have to rewrite a rejected book and my self-confidence has evaporated. It's very challenging and it's taking a lot of energy. I'm trying to get through it as best as I can, but I feel like a rider in a race whose thoroughbred suddenly stopped and decided to crop grass instead of head for the finish line.

I look at others and they're still in the race, and doing well, and I wonder if I should just shoot the horse and put it out of its misery.

Or retire the horse and maybe settle for a nice donkey that isn't as sleek and admirable, but will eventually get there.

I'm glad you blogged about this because it's a little discussed reality in publishing, except in private. On one hand, I hate seeing debut authors lose their excitement and enthusiasm for what is a very special time for them. On the other, they should be aware of the realities of publishing and lines closing and cancelled contracts, etc.

It's all a balance. But if you, as the writer, focus on the story you want to tell, then you can have some degree of control. You as the author control the writing, which is one of the few things you can control these days.

I do know authors who have successfully reinvented their careers and I cheer on their persistance and their perserverance. I guess it's human nature that I am more happy to see their success than someone else who's never suffered a career setback and appears to take their success for granted.
Having been where you are, I can really relate. There's no way around the general suck-itude of the situation, but if you can somehow peel away the layers of hurt and fear to get yourself back to the place you were when you wrote strictly for the love of it, it's possible to find the joy again. It sounds as if you're already discovering that the creative part, the writing, is the only thing the author can control. Letting go of the wish to micromanage all the rest is the toughest lesson career writers have to learn.

I'm rooting hard for you to be one of the many success stories. Please hang in there and know this kind of miracle happens all the time.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Colleen. I know you worked hard to get through your career makeover and you're an inspiration. Another I can think of is Tina St. John, who wrote terrific historicals, hit a slump and reinvented her career. She's now writing paranormals as Lara Adrian, and doing great.

If I can wade through the insecurities to redo this book, and work up the courage to send it in, it will be a big step for me. I'll just have to let it go and hope for the best after that. There's so many judgement calls in publishing, and varying opinions. Just hope the editor's opinion is that she likes it and doesn't reject it yet again.
Thanks for the kind words, and I sincerely hope you'll find the courage to take the next steps - wherever they lead you.

I hope you'll let us know what happens. Once you're finished your revisions, it might be a good idea to explore some other avenue, even if it's only to remember what it's like to write for fun.

I'm pulling for you!

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