I’ve spent most of my career as a newspaper editor, and over the years I’ve developed an attitude that I’ve tried to convey to my colleagues — particularly my younger ones, who have yet to develop a sense of perspective:
Don’t get attached to the outcome.
This is easy to tell someone else, but much more difficult to accept when you’re the one who has a stake in that outcome. I’ve been thinking about this lately because my writing career seems stalled. I’m not blocked; I continue to write, and I’ve just started working on a book I’ve been thinking about for a while that promises to be challenging.
But the most recent books I’ve worked on, and that I’m trying to sell… Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Big goose eggs.
Some of this is my own fault. My last novel, “Bright Morning Star,” was printed in 2015 by an independent publisher. My first three novels came out with traditional houses and, despite the problems writers have had with publishers over the years, they do provide an infrastructure that helps you promote your book. When you go with an independent, you are on your own. You have to do your own publicity, which is a full-time job in its own right. I already have a full-time job, and as I tried to flog “Bright Morning Star” I had the feeling the parents of newborns often confront — there are not enough hours in the day.
So, with my latest efforts, I decided I wanted a traditional publisher who would provide (at least a little marketing help. To do that, of course, I need an agent. I’ve had several agents over the years, but I’ve never been able to stick with one. Still, I know how the process plays out so in 2017 I began pitching a novel titled PUBLIC MORALS, a murder mystery and crime novel set (as I put in my query letter) two very different cities: the New York of the 1970s, and the New York of today.
While I was waiting and hoping to get a positive response, I began working on a sequel, which is titled SPECIAL VICTIM. I’d never written a sequel before, and it proved to be an interesting exercise. I already knew many of the characters, but I felt there was still much to explore in them, and their journeys continued in ways that sometimes surprised me. I found myself enjoying the ride.
As I wrote the sequel, I received, somewhat unexpectedly, an expression of interest in PUBLIC MORALS from an agent at a reputable organization. After he read it he had a suggestion that forced me to say, “Bleep, why didn’t I think of that myself?”
The suggestion led to a rewrite of the second half of the book. (I thought I was going to repaint the walls; I wound up doing a gut renovation.) It took a while but I was pleased with the revisions. Of course, by the time I was done …. you guessed it …. the agent I’d been working with had left the business. To be fair, he looked over the rewrite, praised it, and told me to keep looking.
Which I’ve done. In the meantime, I kept working on the sequel, and completed a second draft of it, which I’d be happy to show anybody who’s willing to take on the first book. (I’ve also got an idea for a third book in the series. But I’m not gonna write a word of that unless somebody pays me.)
And so sometimes, well, I get discouraged. You can probably see why. But at the end of the day (actually, at the beginning, when I do most of my writing), I find that I enjoy the process. I like to think of myself as a creative person, and I like the feeling of seeing something that I have created take shape. So I wind up telling myself: Don’t get attached to the outcome. The process of creating is way more important than getting a top 100 ranking on Amazon.
Although we could use the money. My daughter attends an elite private university that has been much in the news lately, but my wife and I can’t afford to bribe anybody.
And, wouldn’t you know it, just a few days ago an agent said he wanted to look at PUBLIC MORALS.
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