But the thing about this business, is the more things that you accomplish, the bigger your checklist grows.
I queried Delicate for about a year, while I wrote the companion book, GROUNDING QUINN. I then queried Quinn for about a year as well. Ultimately, I self published Delicate & Grounding Quinn, because I wanted to feel like I could move on from them. That they'd be out there in the world and if people wanted to read them, they could. I wanted to feel free to focus my energy on something else. I didn't go into it thinking I'd sell any copies, and at first, I didn't. It seems like such a short time ago, but there wasn't a huge market for indie books in 2011. I sold ten here and there...then one-hundred, then suddenly, I'd sold 50,000 copies of books that I didn't think anyone would buy.
But even then, I didn't feel like a 'legitimate' author.
I needed an agent!
I needed a traditional deal!
I needed audio rights!
Then I would feel like I could call myself an author.
And slowly, happily, I achieved those things. I signed with a great NYC agency with a phenomenal roster of clients, and with their help, I got a UK deal with a big-six publisher and sold audio rights to three of my books.
I met those goals I'd set for myself. But suddenly, they weren't enough anymore.
I still wanted more.
Last summer, Liz Reinhardt and I released LENGTHS. It was, what we thought, the perfect beach read. It was new adult (before new adult had really caught on in a big way) and was sexy, but with lovable, well-developed characters.
But it also released at a time when the market was in this weird place--there was a group of indie readers, but not this vast pool of them like there is now, just a short year later. So we sold 40,000 copies of Lengths, and then released the companion book, DEPTHS, which we were equally proud of. But even though it was only 6 months later when Depths came out, the market had already changed. It'd become saturated with new indie authors writing contemporary romance, and a lot of them had upped the ante in ways that we just weren't. Our books were sexy, but we spent a lot of time on our characters and trying to make them memorable. Even with an established group of readers and a solid body of work behind us, we were still lost in a sea of new indie writers who were out sexing us-- and ultimately, out selling us.
It seems like a silly thing to even waste time worrying about, because in the grand scheme, we were still doing amazing. We were still outselling thousands of traditionally published books on our own. And I don't think anyone, bestseller or not, should be defined by their Amazon rank. I don't think a book sitting at #1,987,788 on the charts is any less important, or valid or beautiful than a book that is #500. But sometimes, I look at the Best Seller's lists or what's doing super well on Amazon and then look up my favorites, both older and recent-- and see them separated by ten's of thousands of places on the Amazon charts. And I scratch my head at some of those best seller's and wonder who has it wrong? I readily admit that it's left me confused and bitter more times than not. And I'm not too big of a person to admit that it has even made me jealous. That some of these writers had come out of seemingly no where, they didn't even know what a query was, or felt the sting of rejection, and they'd left me (sales wise) in the dust. And that--that jealousy and bitterness is not the type of person, or writer--or even reader that I want to be.
I don't want to be hyper-critical of anyone's success, or compare it to my own. I just want to write good books. Books that I'm proud of. That's what I've done up to this point, and though I guess I *could* write to the market and cross my fingers that it'd fly off the virtual shelves like so many are doing, that's not being true to myself, or what I love. There have been days in the last few months--like the day that I (amicably) parted ways with my agent because I didn't feel like we were a good fit-- where I've considered giving up, and that's not like me. I'm not a quitter, but there are times when it feels too overwhelming. Like it's been too many steps backward for having worked so hard. Just. Too. Much.
In Teddy Roosevelt's famous The Man in the Arena speech, he said something that has always struck a chord with me, but these words feel like they relate to that acrimonious feeling that's been living inside me lately:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Liz and I have both sort of accepted that we'll always take the hard road. That things will never be super easy for us, and we'll have to work hard for each triumph. And that's okay. That's who we are as writers, and as people. And ultimately, it makes each success and each victory so much sweater for us. And slowly, I'm learning to have the courage to be second. I'm learning to accept that things don't always happen the way that I want them to, or the way I think I deserve.
John Green recently gave a commencement address HERE and this line especially spoke to me:
"This is the hero's journey, right? The hero starts out with no money and ends up with a lot of it, or starts out an ugly duckling and becomes a beautiful swan, or starts out an awkward girl and becomes a vampire mother, or grows up an orphan living under the staircase and then becomes the wizard who saves the world. We are taught that the hero's journey is the journey from weakness to strength But I am here today to tell you that those stories are wrong. The real hero's journey is the journey from strength to weakness."
And maybe it's egotistical to relate to that. But, I feel like I worked really hard for many years, and sort of fell from this place of massive sales and feeling validated with a traditional deal and an agent, to...not. But that's the point--this moment right now, where I go from here, is my real story. It's easy(ish) to go up. It's so much harder to fall from a place of strength and then to have the motivation and drive to climb your way back up again.
So here I am. I'm just as determined and hopeful as the day I started querying Delicate. Maybe even more.
So how do you put yourself out there in the arena?
You pull yourself up, dust yourself off and start from scratch.
With characters and a story you believe in.
You write from your heart.
You leap outside of your comfort zone, and write what scares you a little.
You start over.
So, for the first time in years, Liz and I are getting ready to query again. We're back where we started, but this time, it's so different...the book...the writing...the expectations. It's all different. But we self published when everyone said it was stupid and we'd never sell a thing. We wrote contemporary, when paranormal was selling like hot-cakes. We're flipping it all on it's head. We're evolving. We're throwing ourselves in the arena, and we're hopeful that LEFT TO LIE will land us an agent that believes in us. One that loves our characters, and our writing and that maybe someday, you'll see it on a bookshelf.... Stay tuned.. :)