By Dame Devon
Let’s start this post with an invitation for reader questions. You can ask general writerly-type questions, or can ask a question for a specific Dame. We’ll do our best to answer the questions in comments, or in a separate blog post.
I was on Twitter this morning and asked for a question for today’s post. The wonderful Sandy Williams (she’s @brimfire on Twitter) asked me if I had any books that didn’t sell that I’d like to dust off and try to get published now that I’ve made it.
Oh, the juiciness! There are actually two terrific things I’d like to address in that question.
1. My books that haven’t sold.
2. The idea that I’ve “made it.”
Here we go:
I have seven unpublished books. Five of them will never see the light of day. They were practice books–and I’m not saying I wrote them thinking they were practice books–I thought each and every one of them was good enough to sell. I rewrote many of them multiple times. I changed the tense and point of view and genre of one book three separate times. I submitted all my books to agents and editors with every intention of seeing them get published.
I got my first bite from an agent with one of those trunk novels. At the time, I would have given my front teeth for one of those novels to sell.
But I am here to tell you I am SO GRATEFUL those five books were rejected. They weren’t ready. They would have tanked if they hit the shelves, and I probably would have given up on this whole crazy novel dream thing and gone back to short stories for a decade or two.
I do have two unpublished books that are good. Good enough they got me Dame Agent. Good enough there will be a third in that series, not soon, but not never. Dame Agent and I have a feeling they’re going to get their chance at publication one of these days.
I love these books. They’re not exactly urban fantasy, but they are quirky and fun, and yet somehow still serious and emotionally true. People who’ve read them, in bits or in whole, love them.
I know what you’re thinking–if they’re so good, how come they didn’t sell?
Timing of the market. We happened to go on submission just when a big name author’s novel came out with a similar concept. Big Name author had a different market (mainstream, instead of genre) and perhaps because of that, the concept didn’t fair as well as hoped. The general consensus among publishers was that if Big Name’s treatment of the concept hadn’t gone over with fireworks and rockets, then how would an untested debut author’s work do any better?
This happens, ladies, and gents. There are many things in publishing that are outside of a writer’s control. The one thing that is always in the writer’s control is to write another book. Which is exactly what I did.
At this point, I’m waiting for the market to shift a little before putting those books back out there. But they will go back out there. And when they sell (crosses fingers), you will hear me screaming from the rooftops.
Which brings up the second part of Sandy’s question. Am I going to dust them off and try to publish them now that I’ve made it?
When I first started writing, I thought if I could just sell one story, I’d be a real writer. I would have made it. Over the next fifteen years or so, writers, editors, agents, public speakers, friends, family, and complete strangers took me to the side and would tell me in one way or another, “You’re not a real writer. You haven’t made it.”
It went like this:
Me: I finished my first short story. I made it!
Them: What? You haven’t sold it, you haven’t made it.
Me: Look, I sold my first short story!
Them: To that inferior market? How cute. You haven’t made it.
Me: I sold three short stories to respected print markets with industry-standard pay rates!
Them: Not the top print markets though, is it? You haven’t made it.
Me: Here–I sold to one of the top genre print markets, half a dozen times. Happy?
Them: But that’s not an invitation anthology. Real writers get invitations to anthologies. You haven’t made it.
Me: Now that I’ve sold to invitation anthologies, half a dozen times, PLUS had a story reprinted in a Year’s Best Fantasy anthology, have I made it?
Them: Let’s see. Won any awards lately? Do you even have a MFA? Oh, and genre doesn’t count anyway. If you’re not writing mainstream or “literature” you haven’t made it. Plus, you’re not writing novels. You haven’t made it until you write novels.
Me: Oh for the love of– Fine! I finished seven novels.
Them: Chump change. You don’t have an agent. Still haven’t made it.
Me: Guess what? Found an agent. We’re on submission with the novel.
Them: Too bad it didn’t sell–what was the problem? “market timing?” Right. You haven’t made it.
Me: I wrote another novel and sold it in a six book deal.
Them: So? You aren’t on the New York Times Best Seller list, you aren’t getting movie deals, TV deals, or advances like Rowling, King, and Brown. You don’t have Oprah on speed dial do you? No, I didn’t think so. Sorry, you haven’t made it.
I could go on. My point is that there will always, always be someone out there telling you in direct or indirect ways, that you are not a “real” writer and haven’t “made it.”
I hereby give you official Dame Devon permission to tell them to shut the hell up and f*ck the hell off.
If you’re writing, you’ve made it. If you’re dreaming of writing, rolling it around in your soul and wondering if that’s the path for you, you’ve made it. Whether you approach your dreams on soft feet or in a breathless run, just so long as you acknowledge that your dreams are valuable and worthy of pursuing, then you’ve made it.
And now, for anyone who made it to the end of this rather long post, I am giving away THREE copies of MAGIC IN THE SHADOWS. Just leave a comment or question, and I’ll use a random number generator to choose a winner. Winners will be announced Sunday, November 1st.