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Where I've Been
Publishing had levied its greatest punishment yet; wedged its knife into my spine and pried apart my vertebrae—and it was all my fault
You may have noticed that around September 2022 I went from a weekly or biweekly newsletter to silence. I am writing this with the perhaps unfounded confidence that you care, that you missed me, that you noticed—aw, dear reader, did you really? That's so sweet. I love you, too.
Perhaps my wild spin off the newsletter rails was inevitable—I'd set a punishing pace aiming for weekly, and I didn't even have a book to sell. No events to announce. No short story pubbed. It was just me, my thoughts, and you all. I'd mapped out topics for the rest of 2022 and all of 2023 and then it came time to write my next piece and I…missed my cue. I skipped it. Then I skipped it again. Then I deleted the reminder off my calendar and stopped pretending.
This was one of the only times I've ever just given up on something because I didn't feel like it anymore, and I didn't feel like it because publishing had levied its greatest punishment yet; wedged its knife into my spine and pried apart my vertebrae—and it was all my fault.
In September 2022 I made the agonizing decision to leave my top tier agents at their top tier agency (yes, I had two). This was my own choice—they didn't drop me, we didn't fight, no outside forces conspired. I was staring down the barrel of editing the third book that would go on sub, and it just didn't feel right. I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that my agents and I weren't aligned in our editorial visions, that our working styles weren't meshing well, that after two books and nearly two years, I needed something and someone else.
So I very carefully—after weeks of tossing around the idea idly, days spent consumed by it, some tears, some advice, and my loyal partner—blew up everything. I pulled my adult fantasy off sub (it was out to around ten editors in a third round, mostly repeats). I chose not to undertake revisions on book three. I packed up shop, and it was over with almost no fanfare.
I should have taken a break from writing, from publishing, from my high-running emotions. I did not. The newsletter was my compromise—I'd drop it, but query just a little. I was desperate to prove that I hadn’t made a mistake, that I could sign with another agent. That I had something publishing wanted. Within a week I'd revised my next adult fantasy and was pitching in #PitBlk and sending out my queries. Within two weeks I was out to 36 agents on one book and another 10 on another book (that I'd revised in that two week span). In just under four weeks I had my first offer, then my second not soon after, eventually a third, and by the seven week mark I'd signed with my new agent.
This was the time for a break. Surely, now I'd pause. We were well into October and everyone knows you stop going on sub around the middle of November. There was no way I could make it by then (four weeks for a fairly big revision? Bffr) so I should just chill out. Take a second to catch my breath—I was winded from my sprint and from the whirlwind. I needed to reset. Unwind. Somehow taking those offer calls made me hate this book, made me pick over all that was wrong with it and contemplate how much work it would be to fix it. Exhausting!
I even told my new agent I needed a little break—she'd signed on another writer simultaneously and I urged her to focus on the other writer first. Leave me gently simmering on a back burner. I was gasping for air, I was regretting everything. She did, bless her, but she's also a frighteningly fast reader, which means even focusing on the other writer first, she still had my edit letter to me within about a week from signing.
And once again, I did not take a break. In that week I half revised an older book of mine, took about three days off, got the edit letter, and jumped in. I added about 21,000 words in two weeks before I kicked it back at my agent mere days from the beginning of December. I expected another medium-sized round of edits, not because I thought the book needed it (though of course by the time I turned it in I was convinced I'd made it worse), but because I had always done at least three exhausting edit rounds and that was just the way things were. I was wrong.
Great! My agent said, turning it around in two days, you did great, thorough work! We can go on sub right now after these last final touches, just barely before December begins.
I turned those final touches around in a few hours. Two days later after going back and forth over the pitch letter and editor list, I was on sub with my third book.
Now I'm actually on a break. I wrote about 136,000 words in 2022, and didn't draft a single new book. All of that was revision. It was a year for ripping apart my writing and putting it back together. Breaking things over and over and over. I lost confidence. All I did was tear myself down. I didn't think that would wear me down as much as it did—I mean, I took months off at a time between projects.
But by the time I went on sub, I was completely done. I was on the brink of regretting even being agented. I was contemplating fleeing the industry, deactivating my Twitter, giving up for a while, maybe I'd consider self-pub and see if I found that route fulfilling? I don't know. The dreams that had been dreams for so long—fantastical, soft, glorious—weren't fun anymore. Weren't magical. Weren't wondrous. Dreaming of them hurt. They were bitter twisted things that I honestly didn't believe were attainable anymore—the book deal, selling at auction, a beautiful cover, blurbs from authors I admired, a wildly successful debut, etc. I used to think; of course I'll sell, how could I not? If I just try hard enough?
By early December 2022 I honestly no longer believed my books would ever sell in trad pub. I was going through the motions, I was just doing it anyway because why not? I had a chest full of books and some extra time. I'd been doing this for so long, trying to shove myself into the publishing machine to be eaten, that I couldn't consciously break out.
There's no big revelation here. I'm still on sub and I will remain on sub and maybe I will even throw a fourth book (MAYBE a fifth?) at publishing because they're already written. I have not rediscovered the magic. Sub is not bothering me very much which is how I know I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel, because you can't get anxious about things you just don't believe in.
And yet, I am not miserable.
Where have I been? I have not been stewing in misery.
How strange! What a change! I was certainly stewing in my misery for much of 2021 and 2022. What was the secret to my mental balance? Giving up.
Just giving up.
Because I can write and edit books without all of the dreams of trad pub. And after I write and edit those books yes, my agent and I can offer them up to the publishing machine. Or, she can. I'm letting her carry the enthusiasm, I'm letting her carry the hustle.
Me? I'm just a writer. I write books when I have books to write and when I don't I find something else to do.
I'm not a publicist, not a brand, not a public entity, a publisher, a content creator—something consumable, you can't fit me past your teeth, stuff me in your mouth and swallow. I'm just a writer. That's where I've gone, and that's where I'll stay.
So happy new year! Don't mourn for me—this newsletter is a celebration. I'm on vacation, I'm on hiatus. If I don't write another newsletter all year long I'll chalk that up to a well earned rest. I've been in the publishing rat race since 2016 and I forgot somewhere along the way that I'm just a writer.
I write books when I have books to write. Maybe you're the same. If so I hope you're well. I wish you the best, wherever you are, and all the places we've gone—I hope they love us better than publishing ever did.
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