Monday, June 24, 2013

A Heart to Break

I'm in such a weird place right now: winding up the last book in a series that is so damned close to my heart that every time I go through a pdf (just finished the third pass, caught a few more mistakes, and so have stealed myself for the fourth pass), I end up crying all over again--and I KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!

And on the flip side, I'm doing copy-edits and revisions for WHITE SPACE, the first book of my new DARK PASSAGES series, and which, with every read-through, also reduces me to a puddle of goo--

AND I'm starting to outline the sequel, THE DICKENS MIRROR, and I'll tell you right now: writing is hard; writing these stories is gut-wrenchingly personal.

And this sequel--this series--is like nothing I've tried before.

So I've been a little worried, and scared.  More to the point, I've wondered what the hell I'm doing: not just that I may not succeed, but will I kill my career trying?

Now, of course, this is crazy--the career-killing part, that is.  There will be other books; I'll keep writing; this is why God invented pseudonyms.  As for not succeeding . . . well, hell, that's in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?  What doesn't work for one reader works for another.  Just think of all the books you've read that have gotten rave reviews but which you look at and think, Wuh?  As a good writer-friend of mine pointed out, no one book will make or break anyone.  Unless you outright plagiarize someone, no one book is the end-all and be-all of a career.  Hell, ask that guy who fibbed on Oprah, the hundred-zillion-gamillion pieces guy, and see if he isn't laughing all the way to the bank because, baby, scandal sells, too.

Except . . . 

These past two weeks have seen two fantastic, thought-provoking blog entries by Kristine Kathryn Rusch that you really need to read in their entirety: one on the stages writers, both indie and traditional, go through at certain points in their career and, a second, very personal story about the moment and series that made Kris nearly give up writing for good.  

Kris's second post has a lot of resonance, provokes a lot of emotion because I was kinda there when it happened.  In my comment to her, I mentioned that I remembered this whole episode--and I also agree with many other folks who've pointed out that while having a supportive S.O. means the world, the drive to write--to shake off disappointment and heartbreak and try again--must come from the writer.  

So read these blog entries and pay particular attention to Murder Most Foul because you need to ask yourself just how far you'd be willing to go.  I think that Kris shows remarkable honesty when she wonders if she should've taken her agent's advice.  She will never know, of course, and things sometimes have a way of working out as self-fulfilling prophesies, but is yanking a series from one publisher and going to another truly a death knell?  I admit: I don't know; I'm nowhere near as experienced to even attempt to answer this question; I wouldn't even know who to ask.  You could say that the agent might not have suggested this if the agent thought that move would fail because we are, after all, talking business, and the agent's got to eat, too.  But who knows?  Ask yourself how far you'd be willing to go to make a series fly--and whether, after having your heart broken, you'd have the will to drag yourself back up and try again.  Ask yourself if you really can divorce yourself and your book from "business;" if a book is truly a widget.  It's not to me; a book's got my blood on and in it.  Sending books out for people to shred takes a certain species of madness or courage . . . I haven't decided which, and I haven't yet met a writer who can truly separate herself from the widget, the finished product.  I know writers whose works have been savaged--in reviews, by bloggers, by snarky Twitterati--because this is both the blessing and the curse of social media: fans can find you, and you can go looking for trouble; you can sidle up to eavesdrop on a conversation that, really, you oughtn't and can do you nothing but harm.

But I can relate to what Kris says.  I think of all the times I've come close to giving up.  I think of the time when, after a couple years of no sales of any kind, I said to myself, one more story, and then that's it.  That's true, by the way; that really happened to me; that's what I'd decided: one more story, and then finis.  Happily, that story sold, and in a very big way, and that put enough wind beneath my wings to keep me going.  If it hadn't . . . I don't know.  Would I have quit?  I kind of think so . . . but then again, who will ever really know?

What Kris has done is, I think, very brave because she is the consummate pro and a strong woman, and stronger still by reminding us that we each have a breaking point, a place and time where and when we will shatter--because each of us has a heart to break.  


Jordan Dane said...

Great post, Ilsa. Love the links you chose from Kris's blog. Wow. Incredibly candid, both you and Kris. Thank you.

I've dabbled in indie publishing with my shory story anthology and my non-fic writing book, but I turned down a deal from a large publisher for a thriller I will now self-pub - BLOOD SCORE. These days, you have to evaluate the offer to see if it is worth tying up your rights. Ala carte sub-rights have more value these days and shouldn't be "thrown in" the way they had been in the past. So I am building my virtual shelf, understanding that I'll need to have several more novels to grow my indie ebook readership. I love the independence of this. Yes, there is way more business stuff to deal with in becoming a publisher, but the decisions on price & cover design & promo ops are all yours--plus the cashflow should eventually be better. I love being a "hybrid" author who straddles the line in both indie & traditional publishing.

I've also changed how I submit proposals to my agent. Proposals take effort and time to write before another few months go by as the project makes the rounds for nibbles. Instead of waiting around for a sale, I will finish certain books while I wait. That way I have more options whether I sell to a trad house or not. Right now, I'm writing two books at a time (plus have BLOOD SCORE is edit/cover design stage, an d just finished galleys on my next HarlequinTeen book CRYSTAL FIRE that us coming out in Nov). The two books I'm writing--one will be around 60,000 words (a strange sexy little book like nothing I've ever written before) and the other will be a full 90,000+ word psychological thriller with the potential as a series (my first serial killer book). My agent will be peddling the serial killer book in a week or so - THE LAST VICTIM. By the time she gets it out there, I hope to be done writing it. Options, I like having them.

I have no idea why I had to write my sexy little book - LILLIAN & NOAH - A Different Coming of Age Novel, but the writing is really flowing and I like it.

As crazy unsure as it is to be an author these days--with the potential for crushing emotional setbacks--it is amazing to have indie options. Very liberating.

Thanks, Ilsa.

Ilsa said...

You're welcome, JD, but Kris is really the one to thank for all this. We've talked about this before--indie versus traditional--and right now, I'm doing fine and perfectly happy in traditional publishing. Unlike you or Kris or Dean, I don't believe I have enough previous product or readership to really make a go of indie publishing just yet--and nor am I sold that this is the best option for me. I might get there, eventually, but I'm not there at this moment and may never reach that point. Right now, I have no energy or time to fret much about that, but--as my writer-friend also reminded me--not being in the position is no reason not to learn about this, or to stop learning, for that matter, and he's right.

Jordan Dane said...

Could be that you can start small like I did, with shorter works, between contracts. One experimental project gains you a full experience that can be improved upon. Whatever you decide, I know you're damned busy. Always a good thing.