How Success Happens

I was just sitting here sipping my coffee when it occurred to me that I finished my first novel more than ten years ago. Ten. And let's not even count how many years ago I started that sucker. 

I had no idea how long it would take me to build a career in publishing. No idea at all.

So there I was with a fat stack of printed pages, THE END finally appearing on the last page. I queried agents, which took months. The book was a thriller, by the way. When I finally landed an agent, I celebrated. But he failed to sell my book. So I wrote a new one (commercial women's fiction this time) and my agent read it. Then he fired me. By email. That was a really bad week.

But I got back on the horse. I queried again. Got a new agent. She sold book number two! It took her a year, but she sold it. I thought, "YES. All my troubles are over!" The book got terrific reviews in Publisher's Weekly & the Library Journal. Even Kirkus liked it. 

Actual photo of me after rejection #4927.

Actual photo of me after rejection #4927.

Then? The book died a fiery death at the bookstore. 

Hello, square one. My publisher turned down my next book because I was used goods. My agent loved this new work, though. So we changed my name and she shopped it like crazy. But no dice, friends. No sale. This was in, say, 2012. I almost gave up. I was so, so bitter.

One snowy day I was noodling with chapters for another women's fiction. But the book would have a sex scene in it and I didn't know how to write one. So I downloaded a contemporary romance and read it straight through. And I thought, I could do this. I could rock this.

A couple weeks later, the entire conflict and plot for Coming In From the Cold delivered itself right into my brain. So I wrote it. But I was sort of embarrassed about the genre change. My agent didn't rep romance. So I didn't tell anyone. I just submitted it to two publishers' slush piles.

Boom. Two offers. I had to call my agent and confess. "Um, I hope you find this funny. I did a thing..." Etc.

Luckily she had a great sense of humor. Meanwhile, I wrote The Year We Fell Down. Publishers were already saying "New Adult was a fad. No more, please." So I self-published it in 2014, expecting nothing.

And it changed my life.

There are a few different morals to this story. The first one is that it's really tricky for an author to figure out which book is going to be The One. It's the author's job to love every story as hard as she can. Only the reader can decide which story is your breakout book.

The other moral is a little harder to hear. To this day I can't read the acknowledgments page of a novel in any genre without seeing the names of editors and agents who rejected me. Not kidding, here. I’ve been rejected by the very best. And that's awesome, honestly. It took me a long time to hit my stride and get it right. 

So if you're out there in the trenches feeling bad because your book didn't sell very well, I've been there, too. Tenacity is an author's best weapon. Sometimes it's her only weapon.

Self publishing changed the landscape. Now it’s quite common for an author to publish her book without getting rejected by an agent or editor first. (Although reader rejection is a real thing, too!) The trick is to listen to good feedback no matter who’s giving it to you.

And just keep plugging. The winners in publishing are the people who never give up. My first romance was published five years ago next month. In these five years I’ve written…a lot. More than 30 books. They’ve been translated into a dozen languages on four continents. I hit the USA Today bestsellers’ list five times last year. Five.

That’s what you get for not listening when your publisher says “you’re dead to me.” Go forth and be stubborn, authors. It’s the only way.