I sold God’s War and its sequel, Infidel, twice.
This may sound like it was the coolest thing that could ever happen.
In fact, it sucked.
It sucked big time.
God’s War has had one of those long, weary trudges toward publication that you find buried in some off-hand hazy past alluded to by a now-famous author who’s signing a six or seven figure deal (because if it’s less than that, you’re not going to be reading about it in some major news outlet, let’s be honest). “Ho-ho, oh yes,” they’ll say, “things are not as easy as they appear. Let me tell you about my last thirty years of failures.” At which point the reporter interrupts them and asks what they’ll spend all the money on. So you never hear the story. And you figure it’s all rainbows and puppies and land yachts.
I like the failure stories far more than the success ones. We gloss over failure, poor luck, and celebrate only massive, sky-high success. Trouble is, those sorts of stories do very little to prepare you for failure. For getting back up again when things just don’t work out. Or when you screw things up. Or when bad things just… happen.
An early version of God’s War was requested by an editor at a big house before I had my agent. A mutual friend recommended I query them under her recommendation, and the query resulted in a request for the first three chapters, then the manuscript. We went through a couple of rounds of revisions, but to no avail (the strangest comment I received was, “Can you make it relate more to things going on right now?” This still boggles me. What, you wanted me to name the characters after current American presidents and wax on didactically about the horrors of holy war?). While the book sat over there, I picked up my agent, Jennifer Jackson (who, it’s worth noting, had rejected another book of mine four years or so before. This one was much stronger than that one, far less generic, and had already garnered a little interest from an editor. So hey! Always remember a “no” is not necessarily a “no” to you, just a “no” to the book you’re currently shopping).
Turns out that house passed on the book (in part for my inability to “relate the events in the book to things happening now” and of course, the inevitable, “I just don’t know how we’ll market this”), and so began the also inevitable round of agent-sends-book-agent-collects-rejections. Which garnered many, many more of the “I just don’t know how we’ll market this” comments.
Among the rejections was one from an editor at Bantam. However, a few weeks later, another editor at Bantam asked to see the same book. Within 24 hours of receiving the book, the editor sent my agent a book contract for all three books in the proposed series.
Boggles the mind, really. I was pretty stunned.
Well, real life often steps on pretty things, and that happened here, too. The editor who bought my book was laid off during the great New York Publishing House Shakedown of 2008 (I believe over 1500 publishing employees lost their jobs that November) and I was handed off to another editor. We completed edits on the book, and I got so far as to send in my dedication and acknowledgements (and for the book to get through copyediting) before the house decided they weren’t just going to layoff staff, they were going to layoff books.
So my contract was terminated.
Bonus to having a great agent?
They did, in fact, pay out my contract for all three books (this is why signing contracts can save your ass. Read them carefully and get a good agent).
So though I was marginally richer, I was left holding a book that had no publisher.
This is also less cool than you might imagine.
People tell you to do all sorts of things when this happens. Mainly, they tell you to just write more books. So I managed to finish book two, but as I was working on revisions, the urge to write slowly bled out of me… and eventually died.
I started opening and closing word documents listlessly, like a former junkie who wasn’t quite sure where they used to get their fix.
I didn’t write a word of original fiction for six months, and didn’t finish anything for over a year.
The Big Bad Book Depression had set in.
I don’t know that there’s an actual cure for Book Depression. I’ve spent a long time writing books. I believed that if I just wrote good books, they’d eventually sell, and I could be a real writer.
What I learned is that at a certain point in your writing career, you can write more or less well. Your books are more or less “good.” What it comes down to after that is blind luck. Market trends. Word of mouth. What’s “hot.” And whether or not your book has the same kinks as the editor who buys it and the team at the publisher who works on it.
A lot of things have to go right.
And sometimes you have to push.
I wrote about my failed book contract and book depression in a guest post over at Jeff VanderMeer’s blog in November of 2009. It was a tough post to write. Nobody wants to admit failure, so on the long road to success, we don’t talk about failure much. But it happens. And it was time to talk about it.
Though God’s War was already making the publishing circuit via my agent, the post caught the attention of a couple of publishers, including Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade, who asked to see the book.
After some negotiations and back and forth, Night Shade bought God’s War and the sequel, Infidel, three months later. And, as I gleefully surmised back then, the cover did not suck (because Night Shade covers never suck. It’s one of the big bonuses to signing with them).
I got my copies of God’s War Christmas week, did my first book giveaway early this month, and folks who pre-ordered from Amazon.com are starting to get shipments. The official release is February, but as it happens in publishing, nothing is really as simple as it seems, and plenty of folks are getting copies before that.
To be honest, I still don’t quite believe it. The book had such a rocky road to publication that I didn’t believe it was being published until I held the actual finished book in my hands.
There are so many people involved in getting a book from manuscript to bookshelf, it’s obscene. There are so many things that can go wrong. So many back-and-forths and miscommunications, and so much love and diligence and hard work. People go on and on like writing a book is difficult. And sure, whatever, it is. But getting a book to print and distribution is much, much harder. And continuing to sell books?
Well, as Martha said, that’s a whole other journey in itself, and one I’m trying hard not to obsess about right now. Because I’m working on a third book in my God’s War series, and only have a contract for two. What will decide on the publication or not of book three is very simple: how well book one sells.
And, as a writer, that’s one thing you have very little control over once you’ve done your book marketing push (which is the subject for another post).
So for today I’m going to be happy that there’s a book of mine trickling onto shelves this month, and I’m going to try and stop obsessing over Amazon rankings and book scan info.
Because I’ve got more books to write.