Today we're happy to have Jenny Milchman as our Book Club Friday guest author. Jenny is a suspense writer from New Jersey whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, will be published by Ballantine in January. Visit her at her website and blog. -- AP
Sisyphus? He’s Got Nothing on Writers
Right now, as I sit typing this piece for Lois’ terrific blog, my debut novel will be coming out in just shy of six months. OK, it will be out in five months, three weeks, and two days, but who’s counting?
Another timeframe I could share is 11 years. That’s how long it took my novel to sell.
And why I do call it a debut novel instead of a first? Because the book that’s coming out isn’t my first. Or even my second, or third. It’s my eighth.
That’s right. I have six other novels, which are probably destined to remain in a cyber-drawer. A seventh, which nearly sold before the eighth. And then the one that finally resulted in a magic combination of…something that led to a deal.
What was that something? Well, I can say for sure it isn’t only the book itself. My seventh novel had enough oomph to make it all the way to the publisher at the helm of [insert name of publishing house here]. The book that’s coming out I guess also had that oomph factor, plus happened to land in the hands of someone who could navigate the morass of editorial board and marketing and publicity departments and top brass and take it all the way across the finish line.
There were some pretty bleak moments before the fateful day came when my agent—my third agent, whom I call my forever agent—called to say, “I have some good news.”
One day I remember in particular happened when I was driving through a blizzard to see [insert name of big superstar author here]. I’d been attending readings and signings by authors I loved for years in the hopes of learning how they had done it, or just drawing inspiration from the fact that they had.
But on this particular occasion, I was lost. And late. And I had left my two children at home in the care of my husband, and my older one was sick.
What kind of mother was I, leaving her sick child to pursue this clearly futile dream? What I was doing that particular night wasn’t even tied in any tangible way to achieving the dream. But what else could I do? I was desperate. I had all the pieces in place. An agent who believed in me. A book editors wanted to buy. And still no offer. What was it going to take?
That’s what I said—no, cried—on the phone to my husband, who, in addition to the myriad other roles he played in this quest of mine, was also willing to serve as GPS to his tech-challenged wife. At least I’d asked how our daughter was first.
“She’s better,” my husband said softly, directing me through the snowy streets, tethered by an invisible series of satellite signals that lit my way.
It’d be fitting—like something out of a novel when the arc is finally nailed—if that night had turned out to be the key piece that fell into place, allowing my book to sell. But it wasn’t. In fact, if I’m recalling correctly—and I am; these events are seared into my soul, as much a part of me as a brand—there was still well over a year left before the magic happened.
I look back on my years of rejection, and frustration, and oftentimes despair, in two ways.
- First, I believe my work really wasn’t ready for most of that time. I would’ve said it was, of course. But one of the things I worry about in the compressed time scale of indie publishing is a loss of the writer’s apprenticeship. If I hadn’t been forced to write all those books and drafts, I wouldn’t have. Too hard. Waaay too hard. I wanted readers! I wanted to be an author. But if I’d been published much sooner, my work would’ve been the worse for it—and so would I as a writer.
This article elaborates on the above. (And it even quotes John Mayer, so how can you go wrong?)
As for the second point, I believe in a sort of fated meant-to-be so this might get a little wiggy.
- The editor who bought my debut novel has a brilliant, visionary view of fiction. And a mindset that uniquely fits what I hope to do as a writer. Not that there aren’t many incisive editors out there—I’ve met several others at my publishing house alone. The talent accumulated in the haloed and hallowed halls of publishing is not to be believed. But if I had wound up with any of the editors who came heartbreakingly close to buying my work, then I would not be with the editor I’m meant to be with. Someone who knows what I want to accomplish without words even being exchanged—funny, for two book people—and who can tell when I’ve gotten there.
I have met many indie writers who approach their path with the dedication and seriousness our craft deserves. Multiple rounds of readers. Critique groups. Workshops and conferences. Freelance editors. These are necessary resources before you’re likely to have a book that will truly draw in readers. And, to get a little wiggy again, before you arrive at the point on your writer’s journey when you are finally ready to be published.
I want to hold out a flag and wave it for indie writers who put together the team a good book deserves, and the others who are banging their skulls against the brick walls of traditional publishing, and tell them not to worry if it takes a little while.
Eight novels and eleven years.
You’re probably doing all right.
Jenny, you're an inspiration to every struggling writer. Best of luck with your debut novel. -- AP