I still can’t believe I got a book deal. (Check out this post for more information.) I don’t mean that metaphorically. I honestly sometimes sit here and don’t actually believe that it happened. That it is happening.
One thing I want to say to all the writers out there trying to get published, trying to get an agent, trying to finish a novel:
Don’t. Give. Up.
I mean it. And believe me—I know what it feels like to hear that from an author who’s getting published. “Yeah, well, that’s all well and good and easy for you to say. You have a book deal.”
But there’s a reason I sometimes still don’t believe it’s true:
Truth #1: I almost gave up.
Truth #2: SECOND CHANCE RANCH is, actually, my second book deal. (Though SHY GIRL AND SHY GUY will still be my first published book.)
My first book deal was signed in March 2012, with a small Portland publisher I won’t name here (partially because they don’t exist anymore, and partially because I’ve tried to divorce myself from their brand and their legacy of disenchanted, mistreated authors).
I was thrilled when I signed that contract. I was also un-agented, and hopelessly naïve, and hopelessly hopeful. Which a lot of first-time authors tend to be—because why not? Our dreams are coming true!
Let me tell you: I poured everything into that book. I did as much as I could to make it the best possible book it could be. I wanted my debut to sing.
Truth #3: My book deal fell through one month before publication, which was set to be on my birthday.
Here’s roughly what happened:
-The publisher “informed” me they were switching from a traditional publishing-and-distribution model (the one we had agreed on) to a “print-on-demand” model.
-Considering that had not been part of our negotiation or final agreement, I was appalled. It would mean essentially online sales only, and no trade distribution. I told them, “Absolutely not.” And I let them know I was disappointed they’d even suggest it, after all the work all of us had put into the book.
-They responded by saying: Well, we’re doing it. Deal with it.
Truth #4: The support of the writing community saved me—in more ways than one.
I was really lost in the weeds when I received that coarse reply from the publisher. I had no idea what my options were, and every way I looked, I felt like I was either losing two years of hard work, or my credibility as an author. Should I go along with the print-on-demand model and let my “dream come true” of having my first book published, and inevitably be unhappy with the results—or try to get out of the contract now? If I did want to end my relationship with this publisher, how would I go about it? We had a contract.
Thanks to the community I’d become part of, I was able to reach out to my network for help.
A friend of mine, who was working professionally in the publishing industry, generously offered to take a quick look at what I’d gotten myself into. She is forever in my heart for donating so much of her valuable time to helping one naïve young writer wade through a mess of unprofessional email history, bad contracts, and broken promises.
Eventually, I did find a way out of my contract (a clause that I had requested to have added, out of some uncharacteristic and fortuitous foresight). And after reviewing my long, sordid history with this publisher—who had refused at every turn to do their job as marketer, editor, and printer—I decided it was better to get out now and throw my chips elsewhere, before my name got associated forever with this book that could be a total failure.
As my friend said, “Your debut should be perfect.” And I knew, deep down, it would be a mess for a long, long time still if I stayed.
Her advice to wait to publish until I had the right deal was invaluable, and, frankly, the greatest gift she gave me was comforting me at a time when I had learned to mistrust everyone in the publishing industry. She assured me that not all publishers were like this (they’re not!); that I’d have another book out someday; and that this whole mess was really for the best.
And, rightfully, I believed her.
Truth #5: I had to get a lawyer.
Sometimes that’s just what it comes down to, no matter how hard you try to mediate—and as writers, as creators, I believe it is critically important for us to protect our creations from bullies. Luckily, I had a strong case, and the publisher was on its last legs. A scary letter from a lawyer (who was actually a friend of a friend and gave me a great deal) was all it took to get them off my back.
But pulling that trigger was one of the hardest things I have ever done—deciding to get out of that bad contract only on the shadow of a promise that something better would come along later.
Truth #6: I stopped writing for almost half a year.
A week before my birthday (and a week before the book’s previously-announced pub date), the news arrived that the publisher had officially gone out of business, and I had the rights to my book back.
Which meant that, once and for all, it wasn’t going to be published.
I didn’t—couldn’t—work on anything else for a really long time.
I was heartbroken, to be honest. Not just from the events of the summer (I’d just lost a relationship of seven years, and then my close friend died), but also from watching my dream of being a published author crash and burn like the Hindenburg.
I’d poured so much into this book—editing, marketing, book blogging—that when it all deflated, I felt like I’d wasted years of my life.
Truth #7: I never gave up completely.
Frankly, it wasn’t even me that refused to give up—it was my writer friends who didn’t let me. They curled around me like a shield. They urged me to finish a second draft of a middle-grade fantasy novel I had. They invited me on writing dates and asked me to work on projects with them.
They knew I was hurt and heartbroken, but they knew I had it in me to get over it and move on to something better.
So I plugged away at it—slowly, painfully, inefficiently. And just when I was really starting to question my whole profession, to wonder whether I was even cut out to be a writer… the horse book project appeared.
Truth #8: Sometimes it seems like magic, when really it’s just learning to seize opportunities with enthusiasm.
I was still gun shy when I started working on the horse book project; I couldn’t fathom that anything could actually work out. Though the potential of the horse book project was just a faint dream, I poured myself into it anyway. A thin thread of hope was all I needed. At least it was something.
I wrote sample chapters and asked my most trusted critique partners to eviscerate them. I spent afternoons reading comp titles. I bent over coffee tables drawing maps and spent evenings brainstorming stories.
Truth #9: I still sometimes don’t believe it’s real.
Even when Darby Creek told us they were drawing up an offer, I withheld my excitement. I’d already had the rug pulled out from under me once—fool me once, fool me twice, and all that stuff.
In fact, I didn’t really get genuinely excited until the announcement appeared in Publisher’s Marketplace last week. That was when I knew this would actually happen; that a book would get printed with my name on it, and people would actually get to read it.
Truth #10: All that work wasn’t for nothing. Not by a long shot.
I’ve already edited a book once—and learned a ton from it that I can already directly apply to my next book. I built an online community. I found an audience, even if that audience may change before 2016. I’ve Tweeted and blogged and figured out things most authors don’t get to figure out until months before their book hits shelves.
Now I’m actually farther ahead of the game than I would have been without that failed book deal.
So please, please, never give up. If you have a dream, don’t let the failures ruin you. Let them be learning experiences. Let them be the foundation for pursuing new, better opportunities. My experience of failure indirectly leading to success may be an edge case, but I’m not convinced it is. If you can pick yourself up and keep plugging at it, good things will happen.
Because, in the end, it’s only a matter of odds. You just have to stick with it long enough to beat them.