I’m thrilled that BAD LAND… will be my debut novel, even though I didn’t think it would be my “first” first book. During the months I was working away on it, my other “first” book, A SHARPER DARK (ASD ; although it went out under a different title, and which you can read about here ), was out on submission.
If there is a particular purgatory for authors, that place is being “on submission”. I found that time more stressful than querying for an agent or about anything else I’ve experienced in my short writing career. I think most of us feel a sense of relief when we’ve finally scored an agent, when someone has decided to take us on and share us with the world. Right or wrong, we feel we’ve arrived, and we’re well on our way to fame and fortune, or at least publication.
In a sense, if someone liked a book enough to represent it (and us), it’s a no-brainer that someone else will like it enough to buy it.
I try to be pretty agnostic about a book after I’ve written it. Like some basketball players, I want to have zero conscience – believing 100% that if a shot doesn’t go down, the next one will. With my books, I’m so thrilled just to complete each one – to have finally gotten out the story that moved me enough to tell it – that I try not to worry too much about whether any given book might sell or find an audience. That being said, the months ASD was wandering the wilderness, searching for a home, were tense and exciting and frustrating. It was going to be my first book! It had to sell (and I’d been living with some version of that story for at least 15 years) But as the weeks wore on, and I got some very nice declinations (which my agent shared), but declinations all the same, I had to accept the idea that it might not quite get there. Sure, we were inching closer, but the reactions were so at odds – different editors responding (or not responding) to different things – and the advice so contradictory and often irreconcilable, that it was impossible to decide what to revise, if anything. In many ways, the submissions process was no different than querying , and some of the returns were no better than receiving that standard query email or its variants: it’s just not for me.
You already know how this story ends. ASD didn’t sell, but in the interim I wrote the book that became BAD LAND. Maybe someday ASD will see the light of day, but even if it doesn’t, I still love the book. Even though it got its share of “it’s just not for me” responses, I was ultimately fine with that because both before and after being out on submission, it was still the same story I wanted and needed to tell – the same story I loved when I first sat down to put it to paper. And it gave me the work and repetitions needed to tackle BAD LAND’s bigger canvas. Every book you write might not work “for” someone else, but at a minimum, each one has to work for you.
Every one has to be for you. As long you can find personal success in each and every book, that makes accepting their “professional” fates a lot easier.