Happy Halloween everyone!!! As a huge sugar-bug, Halloween is one of my very favorite holidays!! I am so looking forward to trick-or-treating with my three munchkins tonight in our new neighborhood and in fabulous weather. (The 60's!)
Okay, I have been thinking a lot about firsts lately. And by first I mean, your first agent, your first book deal, your first publisher, etc. In case you are not familiar with my history, I spent almost two years looking for an agent and then spent a year with that agent (and two different books) before I got a contract. By the time I got an agent, I was basically desperate enough that I probably would have taken any legit agent I could get. By the time I got published, I would have taken just about any legit publisher I could get. I know a lot of aspiring authors have felt and do feel the same way.
But maybe it's not that simple.
I owe my agent connection to luck. I will state that right out front. But because I did end up with my incredible, fabulous agent, she matched me with a wonderful editor and a house I could not be more happy with. But, also luck, I managed to get the idea for a genre I am more than happy to spend my whole career writing in. All of my firsts, set me on the path I want to be in. On the path that my fit my goals. But, what was not luck, is that when it became obvious that my book was not going to sell, I looked for another way to meet my goals. I wrote another book. It eventually lead me to the career I have now.
The reason I have been thinking about this is that I have been communicating with a lot of aspiring authors lately. And some of them have quite literally stumbled into great positions, some have settled for less than ideal positions, some are quite happy in positions I would not be happy with, and some are reaching that awful, gut-wrenching point of desperation that I am very familiar with.
I think that sometimes we don't realize how important those firsts are. Most authors tend to spend their careers in the genre they first break out in, and at the level at which they break out at. Bestsellers tend to continue being bestsellers (whether or not it's justified), mid-listers often talk about how hard it is to break out of the mid-list range, and it is surprisingly difficult to move from a small publisher to a big one. (I do want to point out some lovely exceptions: Maggie Steifvater, James Dashner, and Ally Carter--for genre--to name a few.) So it does happen, but it's generally the exception rather than the rule.
So what that first book is, can be so crucial. I think that sometimes you have to sit back and really examine your goals. And be honest. Not dreams, not fears, goals.
Here are some examples of goals I have heard in the last little while:
I just want to see my book on the shelf of a brick and mortar store.
I want to have copies of my book available for my family.
I want to win awards.
I want to make my living writing. Not a millionaire, but writing full-time.
I want to be a bestseller. Not necessarily THE bestseller, but A bestseller.
I want to publish a book a year. I don't really care about the money.
I have this one story inside me. I don't know that I will ever write another book.
What are YOUR goals? And what are you doing to make sure that your firsts are going to satisfy those goals?
I have a friend who wrote and published several books without an agent, and eventually, when she felt it was prudent, signed with an agent. Now, after several years, her agent is not meeting her requirements, and she is leaving her. Honestly, I think it's a good move, but I can't help but wonder (No offense! I know you know who you are!!) if her whole career could have been a bit different if, way back then, she had really put a lot of research into her agent choice and not signed with the first agent she contacted, just because she was nice. I suspect that because of all the books under her belt, she will not have trouble finding a new agent, but it can be really hard to break out of the track you have already established yourself to be on.
I had dinner with another friend the other night and about halfway through the conversation, I realized that her goals are not the same as mine were when I was in her position. She falls into the, I would like to see this book in stores, category. And the next realization struck me rather hard. It was that that's okay.
To be very honest, I have always had very high goals for myself. I wanted to be a very commercial author and write for a very broad audience. That was important to me, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. But that doesn't mean that is the path for every author.
You want to release a book a year to a loyal audience and maybe be nominated (and perhaps win!) awards? Maybe a small publisher is perfect for you. Do you seriously want to be a bestseller and anything less would be disheartening? Then you probably shouldn't sign with a small publisher. It *probably* will not help you reach that particular goal. I could go on endlessly with more examples. (But I won't.;))
It's really hard for us as writers to be honest and objective about our work. I remember the first time this summer that my agent meh-ed a story idea I thought was really great. I was wounded! It took me several days to realize she was right. Is it still a decent idea? Probably. Is it too literary and obscure for my current goals? Yes. And since my agent's job is to help me reach my goals, she was right to suggest I put it to the side. And I have.
But it's even harder when you don't have an agent to tell you hard truths. It means you have to tell yourself.
So if you are reaching that point of desperation, and you are starting to think you are willing to take anything, even if it is not going to help you reach your goals, can I suggest something?
Take a step back, realize this is a long-term journey. And write another book.
I'll say it again.
Write another book.
I have never, ever heard an author express regrets that they wrote another book. (Generally that is synonymous with, "I wrote a BETTER book.") But I am starting to hear a lot of regrets that authors did NOT write another book. That they rode their MS into the ground, that they signed with an agent they didn't actually want instead of writing a book that could get a better one, that they signed with a tiny publisher just to get their book out there, even though they hoped to do better.
I empathize! I do!! I wrote three and a half books before I wrote Wings. Shelving the book that got me an agent, but not a publisher, was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
And it was worth it.
Not everyone is going to be a bestseller/lead title/ next big things/etc. That's not the point. But whatever your personal goals are, don't settle for less just because the other option is shelving your book and trying again. Those firsts are so important. Make them the right firsts.