In April I attended three writers/fans conferences, one for people who write or illustrate books for children, and two for mystery readers and writers. I also spoke at one library, visited one school in person, and visited another school via Skype. Since then I’ve
made another half dozen appearances.
And, over and over, people (often “pre-published” writers) told me how lucky I was. After all: I’ve had thirteen books published since my first was published in 2001, and I have contracts for more.
And, yes. I am lucky. I also do what most published writers do. I work hard. I do a lot of research. I write and re-write and re-write again. And, when a book is published, I visit bookstores and libraries and schools (and conferences). I blog. (Here I am!) I don’t do as much social media as some of my fellow authors, but I’m on Goodreads and Facebook. (Friend me, both places!) And if I’m not working on a book, and sometimes even when I am, I’m planning another one. Or two. I love my life … but I work seven days a week at my writing job, all year.
Still: I am lucky. Although my first mystery was rejected by more than forty agents, eventually it (Shadows at the Fair) was picked up by Scribner/Pocket Books and was an Agatha finalist. I met my first editor at a critique session at a conference for children’s writers in the spring of 1999, and he bought my first book to be published (Stopping to Home.)
Then why have I titled this blog “When Days Are Dark”?
Because my first four historical novels for children and my first four mysteries sold. To a large publisher, Simon and Schuster. Got great reviews. Were nominated for an Agatha. Sold respectably.
And then … my mystery editor retired, and my Shadows series was discontinued. Six months after that, my children’s editor was laid off and replaced by someone who wasn’t interested in historicals.
Within six months I went from having two editors to having none.
What did I do? After I cried and ranted and felt depressed and sorry for myself. I got back to writing. I wrote an adult historical mystery. It took a lot of research and time. And it didn’t sell. “It’s not a cozy” and “it’s not violent enough,” were the two comments I got from editors. I wrote historicals for children: one set during the American Revolution, a time period teachers and librarians had repeatedly told me they were looking for, and one set in Scotland, during the Highland Clearances. Although there were children’s books about the Irish potato famine, none were about the Clearances.
Neither of those books sold either.
I wrote about half of a nonfiction book about American history that was aimed at teachers. Although teachers told me they wanted a book like the one I was working on, my agent couldn’t find a publisher for it. I wrote another historical for children, and then a children’s mystery. Guess what? They didn’t sell either.
Then, in desperation and frustration, I contacted a small West Coast publisher, and they agreed to bring my Shadows series back. The advance wouldn’t cover the postage for postcards to fans on my mailing list, but my name would be back in the mystery world. Shadows at the Spring Show had been published in 2005. Shadows of a Down East Summer was published in 2011. It was followed by two other Shadows books. Shadows on a Morning in Maine is scheduled for 2016.
After I totally revised one of my books for children so it connected to the Civil War, a small Maine publisher picked up Uncertain Glory. Last year I had two books published, and in January of this year the first in a new traditional series for Kensington, Twisted Threads, was published. The second in that series, Threads of Evidence, will be out in August. And Uncertain Glory was a finalist for an Agatha, and will be out in paperback this summer.
Yes — I’ve had thirteen books published, and more to come. But I’ve written four complete books and researched and written parts of another four or five, none of which have sold. I went six years without any contracts, when everything I wrote was rejected. And the publishing industry has changed. Even though I’m now publishing again, I’m working harder, writing more books in shorter time periods … and earning a great deal less money than I did in my first years as a published author.
Writers, like most people, don’t like to talk about the hard realities of finances. But I’m a long way from “earning a living from my writing” as one librarian said to me recently. And as a writer married to a painter … I joke that we “starve in two fields.” But it isn’t totally a joke.
What did I learn during those dark days when nothing I wrote would sell?
And I read, and read, and studied books that were selling.
I think my writing improved. Certainly my social media and marketing skills did.
But those years were very hard.
Yes, I was lucky. I sold the first eight books I wrote. But I paid for that success. Now, I’m lucky again to be publishing.
But I don’t take sales for granted. My successes mean more because of my failures.
What else did I learn? Nobody is lucky all the time. And .. not to give up. Yes, success takes luck. But luck comes to those who work for it. I don’t know any published authors who don’t work very hard.
It’s the way the writing life is.