Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Luck in numbers

My publishing career has been very unlucky.

Sure, you could say that I'm lucky to be published at all. But if I told you that I sold my 10th manuscript in my 15th year of trying, do I sound so lucky now?

And things went downhill from there. After I sold my first book, my editor didn't want the second book I sent her. She didn't want lots of the proposals I wrote her for substitutes, either. We did finally agree on what my second book would be. After I wrote it and before it came out, she left for another publishing house. This is called being "orphaned." The reason it is so awful is that an editor buys your work because she makes a personal connection with it. Once she leaves, maybe another editor at the house makes a personal connection with your work too. And maybe she doesn't.

In the seven years I've been published, I've been orphaned six times.

But here's where I'm lucky: not one bit of this came as a surprise to me, and when these problems came up, I knew how to deal with them. I am a member of Romance Writers of America and my local chapter in Birmingham, Southern Magic. I was a member before I was published. I have rarely missed a meeting. And in all those years and countless talks by other, more experienced authors, I have heard that sometimes you write a whole book for an editor and she turns it down. You have to try again. You might write a proposal she turns down. You have to try again. You might get orphaned--you know what? probably not before your second book comes out, and probably not six times in seven years, but you might--and you have to try to work with an editor who wasn't the one who loved your book in the first place.

Because I wasn't entirely surprised at these turns of events and I knew I could deal with them as my writer friends have dealt with them, I worked through them to what I think is a pretty good place today. Without Romance Writers of America, maybe I wouldn't be published today. Maybe I would be, but I know I would have melted into a puddle of tears when my editor left if I hadn't known what a common occurrence this is. And that's why I'm lucky.

Occasionally I hear of a YA author who doesn't seem to be a member of any national writing group. They just figure things out on their own. But most folks seem to be members of both Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, though they're only really active in one or the other. I don't go to a lot of SCBWI meetings, but I heard Jay Asher speak at the national convention one year and wax poetic about what SCBWI had meant to him through his rocky road to publication. It sounded about like what RWA has meant to me.

Are you a member of one or the other or both or something else entirely? And do you agree with me that joining a writers' group and forcing yourself to go to meetings is the best way for an introvert to get lucky?


  1. I plan on joining RWA whenever I get to writing frequently. Romance novelists are so friendly, and I feel like the community is so strong in terms of helping writers learn the ropes and become the best they can be. A wellspring of needed information and support for publishing's nasty moments sounds pretty great, too.

  2. I'm a SCBWI fan girl and you are so right--being a part of these groups is making your own good luck!

  3. Wow! I'm quite the amateur, being on only my third editor with three books. But if you add in two publicists leaving and one agent who left... and an option book or two that aren't quite a good fit...Point being - you're right. It happens. More than people think. And without the writer community of SCBWI, would have sunk into a corner by now. I've just now joined RWA as well...

  4. Thanks for your post. Creating a writing community is why I volunteer as an SCBWI Regional Advisor. I'm going to check out RWA now!

  5. Not only am I a member of SCBWI, but I found that the debut author groups I joined in preparation for my first book launching were INVALUDABLE. The debut experience is an unbelievable roller coaster of highs and lows, and it definitely helps to have a community of people who are dealing with the same thing at the same time.

  6. I'm a member of both RWA and SCBWI, and agree that both professional organizations and the blogosphere help enormously. (I'm also SO glad you stuck it out through the rough patches, Jennifer...)

  7. Jenn, as you know your crazy journey has been a huge inspiration to me and I consider you a big mentor, so um, just wanted to say thanks again for that. Also, yes I am a member of both RWA and SCBWI. I wish I had joined before I sold my first book, but after I did, my agent encouraged me to join and boy was I glad I did. They have been enormously helpful!