Saturday, October 31, 2009

Firsts

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.

Don't settle.

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.

Ciao!

67 comments:

Kolbycheese88 said...

Oh wow! I loved this post, and totally agree. My dream is to be a writer, and it is true, you have to write many books before you get your name out there. Thank you for saying that. It's nice knowing an author who is willing to say that. I do have a question for you; how do you go about getting an agent?

~Dalene

"Alex" said...

Thank you for this post!

It is very helpful-- amazingly so! I understand 100%!!!!!!!!!!!

One question though: how do you go about the process of shelving that one poor novel? Even worse, how do you go about aborting an undeveloped novel when it is going nowhere?

Thank you for shinning light on this subject! It is very painstaking, and I applaud you for being able to acomplish that task.
Alex

moonrat said...

good girl. strong words; may many listen carefully.

molly said...

I really enjoyed this post! Thank you for sharing this =D

Emma Lea said...

So true!
I had the same thoughts as "Alex" when I was reading it, though. Do you think maybe you could do a blog post on knowing exactly when to stop? Knowing when your book is going nowhere? That would help a LOT right now ;)
Thank you for an insightful post!

T. Anne said...

This is brilliant. Truly every writer needs to heed these words. Long ago I had a nightmare of an agent. Thankfully thats behind me, but now I feel like I'm grasping at straws these days looking for a new one. *sigh* I suppose it's time to write another book. NaNo starts tomorrow ;)

Karen said...

As Aprilynne speaks the very words on my mind. sigh

Love you girl for giving us the courage to do the hard things. :)

Valerie Ipson said...

Great insights for aspiring authors. Thanks, Aprilynne!

David said...

Nice post. I think my primary goal would be the getting the chance to write full-time. I did the best writing of my life with my most recent manuscript with a full-time job, one kid, a second who joined us toward the end of the first draft. Would love to see what I could do with a teensy bit more time on my hands.

Matías Zitterkopf said...

A really nice post that makes you think a lot.
In Argentina we usually don't work with agents, which is quite knew here, cause I know there are some of them.
I guess I have to tell myself when to stop with a story!
I'd love to write full-time and make a living from this!

Love your posts!

The Novelist said...

Thank you for teaching us what you know! You have so many wonderful posts about the ins and outs of going from writing to publishing. On top of it all you give realistic encouragement! Thank you!

Debbie (Nerd Goddess) said...

Awesome post! I'm not there yet with my book (I still have a long ways to go) but it's advice I've heard from multiple sources at this point, that sometimes you just have to write another book.

Lullaby2006 said...

the light was dim... now it's bright!
thanks for the post! I've read and heard so many differant things from differant authors, but this is the one thing that stays constant. and it really does help authors not knowing where to go next, or how to get started. thanks from a young author

Sonia Ayoub said...

Thanks Aprilynne,

It feels SO good to hear from an author that has met her dreams but didn't have everything fall easily into place like a puzzle.

Kinda puts everything into prospective and makes me believe that the impossible is possible... if I just keep writing.

- Sonia

Kari Pike said...

brava!

Mim said...

Thanks for this post. I'm currently very frustrated with my revision process and I have a very awesome story in mind for my next novel. So I'm putting aside my rewrite and I'm going to write the next novel this month for NaNo.

My husband and I had a very long conversation about this today as well. I also want to be commercial with appeal to a wide audience. Most people in my writer's group have a different mind set and it can be frustrating. I really needed to hear this today.

Georgia said...

Thanks for writing this :)

I have been frustrated lately with my writing, and this was helpful.

~Georgia

Heather said...

Well said wise one. I was completely shocked to be parting ways with my first agent and setting aside the first trilogy I'd written. But to be honest, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

Angela Corbett said...

Thanks for the great advice Aprilynne! I think the thing I took from our conversation was that maybe this isn't the right time for my book. I stopped working on other projects to write Eternal Starling because I felt so strongly about the story. I was excited to continue writing the trilogy, but now I've started to revisit my other ideas and come up with new ones while I wait to hear from agents. I want a fabulous agent who believes in me and will help me be one of the best. If Eternal Starling can't get me that agent, I need to write the book that will help me achieve that goal.

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks for that, Aprilynne. Good points.

Nichole

Laura said...

Although I have no aspirations to become a writer, I think this post applies to so many things in life. Thanks for making me take a step back to reevaluate some things in my own life.

Natalie Whipple said...

Thank you. Waiting for the firsts is soul-crushing at times. I needed a good reminder that it will be worth it.

Patti said...

Great post. What it really comes down to, and I've heard you say this before, is patience. Sometimes we don't have the patience to write another book. It' hard to make those decisions, because it delays our goals.

Shelli said...

thanks i really needed this today :)

lora96 said...

I've wanted to be a "real writer" since I was 6. That was, um, 25 years ago. I'm still writing. I now have a little collection of rejections to queries. I'm not quitting. My dream is to be published. A bunch. Not one book, dozens!

I started writer's workshop with my students today and I told them exactly what I believe: "As long as you want to write about something, it isn't a bad idea, so keep going."

Katiebug22 said...

When does the next book in your Wings series come out?

Emily Cross said...

Great advice, i'll have to bookmark this page for future reference :)

Thank you!

Lisa Dez said...

This is a very timely post for me. My agent has my first MS on submission and we're waiting. I will endeavor to keep my goals in mind as we work through this process and not settle for something that isn't going to help me reach them.

Honestly, I'm not sure many authors realize how in control of the process they are. Just because you get an offer doesn't mean you have to say yes.

JEM said...

Hopped onto this post from moonrat, so glad I did! This is definitely a new perspective on the career planning idea of writing, I will definitely take this to heart. Thanks for sharing!

Susan Adrian said...

Thanks, Aprilynne.

I *needed* this post right now. (thanks to Moonrat for sending us over!)

Valerie said...

This is a really great post! Thank you for saying what so many of us need to hear!

Crimey said...

Excellent post! I think you are absolutely right. Setting goals for our writing career is very important to understanding and evaluating what we want for ourselves.

Sherri said...

The book which landed my agent did not sell. I'd already started another book, but once I realized the first one was dying, my self-confidence was crushed. Had I gotten this agent on a fluke? I must be a terrible writer after all. Those thoughts were always with me. I spent months trying to work through it, and then gave up. Decided to quit writing altogether. After two months of NOT being a writer, I realized I AM a writer, no matter what. Whether or not my books are published, I'll continue to write. Without that pressure, I was able to pick up my neglected WIP, and am now finishing it...for me. Oh, I'll send it to my agent when it's finished, but that's not the important part. The important thing is that the story was told.

Great post.

A. Grey said...

Wow that is an AWESOME post! I'm totally adding you to my bloglist. I would fall into the 'I want to write for a living' catagory. That being said, I have three full manuscripts (all the same series, epic fantasy with a YA flavor) and a fourth one for that in the works. I haven't gotten anywhere with them. THAT being said, I've just finished writing a YA that is the strongest option for getting published yet and I'm working to get it submission-ready.

Folks tell me all the time that I need to stop writing and work with what I've got. I buck them. They say that I need to stop writing until I have an agent. I buck them. I can't stop writing. I CAN'T. It's like telling me to stop breathing.

And you know what? Each time I write, what hits the paper is better, tighter, more promising.

Posts like this one are the ones that remind me why I love writing. That it's okay to love writing. I'm building a life here, not living a dream, if that makes sense. :)

Corinne Bowen said...

Thank god for writers like you who are sharing their experience and wisdom! I can't wait to read more of your blog. I'm so glad that I found it today through Moonrat!

Dana King said...

Well put. I parted ways with an agent last spring. She's a good agent, and definitely helped my writing, but after a while it became clear her goals and mine were not the same. I should have investigated this before I signed. It wouldn't have got the book published, but it would have saved the contention down the road.

Chris Eldin said...

I'm over from Moonie's...
I simply love this post, and it couldn't have come at a better time for me.
I have a book I feel really good about. Scratch that. I feel absolutely over the moon with it, but it's been revised four times and I'm almost out of agents to query. Will see what happens, but I know there will be no fifth revision without a contract. It's hard to say that, but there's got to be a stopping point.
And I love what you said about writers not regretting having written another book. I have never heard that expressed before, and I've been blogging for a few years.
Thanks for sharing!!!!
:-)

Kristan said...

Amazing post. Thank you.

I graduated 2 years ago and thought I would/could work full time and write on the side. After 1 year, I realized it wasn't working; I wasn't achieving my writing goals, which were my #1 priority. So I quit and got a part-time job as a receptionist. I thought I would instantly see a huge surge in my productivity and success.

WRONG.

It's been 1.5 yrs, and in that time I have done a couple of the things that you mention, and they were CRUCIAL. I shelved a book. I reevaluated my goals, and more importantly what I was doing (or not doing) to achieve them. I switched genres. I started and shelved another book.

Now I am finally writing a book that I think could be THE book.

And I can't wait for my string of firsts.

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

Yeah. I made a lot of these mistakes. Presently, I'm debating whether to end my agent agreement.

wonderer said...

Another commenter here via Moonrat.

Thank you for this wise and valuable post! I'm at the point where I've been writing "seriously" for a while and people have started asking me why I'm not submitting yet. Part of the answer is that I don't have anything polished to my satisfaction, but the real reason is that I'm still figuring out where I fit.

I'm trying out novels all over the SF/F spectrum, adult and YA. I haven't yet written one that makes me go "YES! This is my niche!" (Well, one, maybe, but it hasn't been edited yet. Last time I tried, it defeated me.) Also, it's only in the last year or so that I've really started to get the hang of editing; I don't know what my "natural" novel production speed is yet. Until I have a clearer idea of these things, I'm not in a hurry to jump in.

Thanks for making me feel that I'm doing the right thing!

Pat Fogarty said...

Great post, thanks for taking the time to write it.

Samantha Clark said...

Great post! Thanks. And so so true.

I'm revising my second book, and even though two agents are currently looking over my first book, I know my second is better.

My goal is to make a living telling stories, and I would like to be a commercial author writing to a wide audience. But most of all, I want to write. I know now that I always will no matter what.

Thanks again for this post. Very informative. And congratulations on your success.

Mira (Mira's List) said...

Great post! I just sold my first book, an illustrated memoir. Your advice came at a good time. Thanks!
Mira

Gemma Noon said...

Also from Moonie's blog.

Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it and I promise I'll keep the advice in mind!

Jemi Fraser said...

Awesome post!! It should make all of us aspiring authors sit back and breathe - never a bad strategy. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts :)

Anonymous said...

Lemme pause a moment to figure this out:

My goal: to be able to support myself with my fiction writing.

Bestselling status could help with that, sure, but frankly for other reasons that would probably be bad for me, even healthwise. I would like to earn at a Mythopoeic Award, though.

I'd also like to be able to write a novel or more a year. Maybe then I'd finally stop coming up with ideas faster than I can write them.

Cat Woods said...

Thanks so much for the thought provoking post. I now need to have a frank discussion with myself.

: )

Samantha Clark said...

Hey Aprilynne, I just linked to this post, and when I was doing links to your web site, I read the description on your Wings book and thought, Wow! That's so cool!

Also, congratulations on the Disney deal. Wonderful news. Good luck with your tour.

Carrie Harris said...

Gosh yes. The one book only thing blows my mind. It's so hard to establish a career on just one book. Heck, it's hard to establish a career in this business, period!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thank you. It took my fourth mid-grade manuscript to finally find an agent. That and eleven years of writing.

RKLewis said...

That was an awesome post! I was there, too. My last book went nowhere, so I wrote another book, in another genre, one I truly love. It's like finding yourself. And through that book, I finally got an agent, one who I am totally sympatico with.

Again, great post.

Liana Brooks said...

Excellent post, and good advice. I don't think I've ever sat down and decided what I want form my writing career. At this point, I know I like to write.

Money isn't an issue for me (I love money, but I'm not starving). I don't think I write the right genre to hit bestseller lists. And awards are... not a big deal for me I guess. I don't pay attention to them.

What I want is to write for fans who adore my writing. I want to be a known author with at least a book a year. I don't care if only the geeks and comicon people know me. I don't care if I won't get literary distinction or change the world with my writing. I just want to be one of the "cool kids" - one of those authors that you say the name and everyone knows what they write and what their style is.

Tara said...

I agree with Moonrat. Great post. I'm becoming a fan of goals. :]

Anonymous said...

My goal is to write a software program that itself can auto-generate bestselling genre fiction.

So far, the first novel turned out by my prototype has been universally panned by agents.

You have helped my keep my goals in focus. Thanks!

Eleanor said...

hi aprilynne! i finished reading your book this moning...actually i read it for 4 hours straight! i just couldnt put it down! i love all the characters and cannot wait until the next books comes out. and ur post was true and helpful. i love to write stories about different mythical things, too. but i also wanted to know if you would be in area to sign books. thanks!

Christine Fletcher said...

Having just set aside a book that isn't working to start a new one, I thoroughly appreciated this post. You nailed it. Putting the WIP aside was the hardest decision I've yet made in my career. But my gut tells me it's the right move, and I'm already deep into the next book. I don't think I'll regret it.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with the write another book. The book that hooked me an agent is not the one that sold. The one that sold is the one I wrote WHILE I was looking for an agent. And that I revised while I was looking for a NEW agent because I did exactly what you said and signed immediately, even though our goals were not the same, with the first agent.

Anita Saxena said...

Thank you for this post and pointing out the importance of being honest with yourself about your goals.
BTW... I gave a teenage friend a copy of Wings for her birthday and yesterday she said, "After reading Wings. I really want a tatoo of wings on my back."

Rebecca said...

Wow. I knew you were amazing, but this just blows my mind.

Thank-you. So much.

Julia said...

Brilliant post!

L. W. said...

This is just what I needed today.
"Write another book". I don't know yet if my current book needs to go in the drawer, but I know I need space from it, so thanks.

R.J. Edwards said...

Great advice. Thanks for posting.

C. K. Bryant said...

Thanks for your wonderful advice. I just recently signed my first contract with Valor Publishing Group and will have my book released in May 2010. I went through a lot of soul searching and praying before deciding to go with this publisher, mostly becaue it is a new company, but ultimately decided it was the right thing to do. My book "The Keeper of the Crystor" is the first in a series of four and are fantasy. I set out writing romance, so this was a little different for me, but like you said in your post, sometimes stepping outside out normal genre is when we find our true gift.

Also, I'm looking forward to meeting you at the LDStorymaker's Conference in March. So glad to see you're presenting there.

Nikki said...

I guess I really did need to hear this. You could tell I was desparate, huh? But I can't tell the difference between desparation (ie: settling for a small publishing company) and getting experience under my belt to land that dream agent for another book.

Mike Fook said...

THAT is some great advice. I'm curious about Wings - will go have a look at Amazon.

My first novel was a vigilante fiction. Main character was a psychologist that hunted down pedophiles.

Who'd have guessed no self-respecting agent or publisher will touch a book about the p word, whether it's anti-P or pro-P?

So, I wrote it for me - and it was an amazing experience because I showed myself I can conquer my ADD/ADHD. I'm ready for the next book, and the next if this one isn't the right one.

I'll read more of your blog later.
:) MF

Joelle said...

I know this is an old post, but I just saw it after Moonrat linked to it. It is a bit eerie how many parallels there are in our publishing stories. Well, except for the part where my book is on the NYT Bestseller's list, but it doesn't come out until May, so one can still hope! Seriously...many, many similarities. Anyway, congrats and this is a fantastic post.

petemorin said...

Wisely and well stated.