Thursday, April 5, 2012

The four winters - and four springs - of my writing career

by April Henry


Spring is the time of fresh starts. A reminder that things that looked dead only a few months earlier are now putting out new green shoots.
As a writer, I have endured four hard winters where everything seemed frozen and black. But I hung on - stubbornly, maybe even stupidly - and spring eventually came. 
Would I ever get published?
The first time I wondered if spring would ever come was when I had never been published - and was beginning to think I never would be. What I didn’t realize was that many writers don’t publish their first book. Or even their second. For me, it was my fourth.
My first book got rejected by dozens of agents. I wrote another that landed even more rejections - but was eventually taken on by an agent who was sure she could sell it. But it didn’t work out that way. Instead we got more than a dozen turn-downs from editors. What made it even more painful was that the rejections letters were filled with praise until the final, fatal paragraph, which invariably started with “And yet” or “However” or “Despite this....” 
But then my fourth book sold in three days to Harper Collins in a two-book deal. Spring had sprung! I was now a real writer! 
From success to failure
What I didn’t realize was that just because you’ve been published once (or twice or even more) it doesn’t mean you can keep on being published. My first book sold well. My second book sold even more than the first - but not as many as the publisher had expected. (An expectation they didn’t share with me until it was too late. Although I’m not sure I could have done anything about it.) So just as my third book was coming out with Harper Collins - I was actually on a publisher-paid tour - I learned that they were dropping the series. 
That was my second winter. I felt like a failure. There I was, on tour, and at every stop someone in the audience would ask me, “What’s next?” I had a half-written book, but who would buy it?
The phoenix rises - and then crumbles into ash
Eventually, though, St. Martins did. I published that book and another with one of their most famous editors. She was also in her 80s, and perhaps it was starting to show. Although I think everyone loved the idea of an active woman in her 80s so much that everyone tended to gloss over little lapses. Or even not-so-little ones. But eventually, we came to a mutual parting of the ways.
So I was deep in my third winter. I had published five books, but I had no contract. 
A new branch to my career: YA writer
Then I started reading about a chain of overseas bootcamps that seemed to be abusing their charges. And a new story started to grow. What if a girl was sent to one of these bootcamps but she was actually a good kid? Even though the main character was 16, I saw it as an adult book. I had never thought about writing for teens. 
But it sold as teen book to Putnam. I published Shock Point and Torched with Putnam, but when I gave the manuscript of Girl, Stolen to my editor, he turned it down. 
That was my fourth winter. I believed in Girl, Stolen. I knew it was good. 
And eventually my agent found Christy Ottoviano, an editor with her own imprint at Henry Holt. And she loved Girl, Stolen, too.
So then it was spring again, and luckily for me, it’s still spring. Girl, Stolen was a Quick Pick and chosen for the Best Fiction list by YALSA. It’s on five state lists, and has been selected for several other honors. And my new book, The Night She Disappeared, comes out March 13. 
But you know what? I know that winter might come again. I know there could be another time in my career where it feels like I will never, ever be published again. But I will continue to write, continue to try new things, continue to put books out there, knowing that the only one who can take myself out of the game is me. That spring is just out there, waiting. 

6 comments:

  1. This is such a wonderful, inspirational post, April! I'm sorry you've had to deal with so many "winters", but your determination and perseverance are so inspiring! I'm in my first winter now, and so, so ready for spring. I just keep writing, hoping it'll happen!

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  2. Great post and one most of us can relate to. I sometimes feel like I go through several seasons a day.

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  4. Man, this is a great post. I know exactly what you mean, April--"winter" is inevitable. But when we're in the midst of a hard, cold bout, we have to remember that if we keep pressing forward, "spring" is inevitable, too.

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  5. Thank you for this post, April! I do so love spring. Sometimes I think we need the winter, though, to feed the renewal that follows. Wishing you a long and luxurious springtime!

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  6. Writers live through so many ups and downs. Glad you've weathered yours!

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