So we're announcing the sale of Time of My Life this week. Yay! And I thought this would be a good time to tell you the story of the sale because, well, as the title of this post indicates, it's never easy. This career is never easy. Making it as a writer is never easy. Selling a novel is never easy. (Get the theme here?) And as I've said countless times before, if you're easily discouraged or have a thin skin, this ain't the career for you.
So here's what happened:
As I've mentioned in the past, I wrote a manuscript years ago that never sold, though it did land me an agent. In retrospect, it was a blessing. I mean, it just wasn't that good of a book, there was too much exposition, my conflict wasn't quite realistic, my characters were too unlikable...you get the point. Though the book wasn't great, I was still drawn to the themes behind it: friendship, betrayal, etc. So in January or so, I started to rework it, taking it apart nearly entirely, creating a different protagonist with different conflicts, and weaving in a few of the scenes from the old story because some of them still worked (and they weren't all bad) and as I said, I liked exploring these themes. This wasn't easy work: in fact, there were times when I thought it might easier to start from scratch rather than trying to rebuild something that was broken, not unlike a house remodel vs. demolishing and starting over.
But I kept at it. And at 150 pages, my agent read it, and we both agreed that we really liked it. Maybe we didn't love it, but we liked it well enough, and both felt that my writing had been elevated since The Department. We were anxious to nail down the sale of my second book, so the ms went out to editors. And the response was...fine. Fine, completely fine. Editors enjoyed it, and it looked like we would get three or four offers, but these weren't the big, frothy offers that we hoped for, offers that would slam-dunk my second book as a sure-thing. In fact, a few editors (who explicitly said that they weren't offering but who believed in me as a writer) set up phones calls and/or coffee with me, and all of them said the same thing, "You're capable of a bigger book. A better book. This one is too quiet. This one doesn't have a hook. Try something else, and come back to me."
Sigh. So my agent and I faced a decision: sell this one for less than we'd like (and risk that indeed, it would be a quiet book, which is industry-speak for "small print run and probably not a lot of readers"), but still register a sale (and hey, a sale is still a sale), or gamble and walk away from these potential offers, and try to come up with something new.
I went out for a run after having one of these decision-making conversations with my agent, and as I circled the running loop in Central Park, I was also replaying the words of these editors, editors who really wanted to work with me but who knew that I could deliver something better. And part of me knew that I could deliver something better too. And as I replayed their words, I was struck with an idea for a new book. It came out of nowhere, and bam - I already had some of the scenes and the characters and the conflict before I got home. I ran (literally) back to my computer, banged out 15 pages, and sent them to my agent.
She read them within the hour, and we both immediately knew that this was the book that we should be selling. It was what editors call a "big book," with a big hook, and with relatable, challenged characters...and their scenes and stories flowed easily every day that I sat down to write. It just felt so instinctively right, so much more so than my other effort which was agonizing and frustrating and not particularly enjoyable, and within two weeks, I'd written 100 pages. We sold it soon thereafter, and I wrapped my first draft last week.
That other manuscript still sits in the bowels of my computer - another lesson learned, another practice run for a better book. There's no shame in this for me. Instead, it's just proof that there is no ceiling on the learning curve for fiction writing: you can be as good a writer as your knowledge and effort and yes, some natural skill, allow. And it's also proof that even when you've established yourself in this industry, you have to keep proving yourself again and again. There's no coasting, there are no half-efforts, there are no assurances that because you sold one book to a publishers, you'll sell another.
It's like the old cliched adage says: try, try again. In our industry, that's the only way to succeed.