I announced my new sale at the end of last week and said I’d talk about it a little today. Mostly, I want to talk about the reality of how up and down this writing career can be. A few people knew about the deal before I announced. One person said something about how my career has always zipped along without trouble. For the record, that is not true. It’s not even close to being accurate.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for me. I’ve had lots of doubts. I’ve had some books not sell that well. There was a point last year when I said “nothing is working” and really wondered if I should try doing something else.
My husband is super supportive and always believed and told me not to give up. He did this chart for me showing how many copies I had to sell in self-publishing to earn the same amount I had been earning so that if I truly thought the traditional publishing route wasn’t working or never got another book offer I had a choice. I could take control. I’m not a big sharer, so only some of my friends knew I was drowning. Honestly, there were a few months where my friend Jill Shalvis had to believe in me enough for the both of us because I was done. I had nothing left.
It didn’t start out this way. I had an editor who loved my work and fought for me. She bought a lot of my books pretty quickly and when she died I was devastated on a personal level. A few months later I realized her not being there to be my champion also meant bad things for my single title career. It wasn’t the publisher’s fault. It’s just a reality that when the person who really pushes your career is gone, you could be in trouble and I was. At the time contemporary romance was on a huge downward spiral and romantic suspense was glutted. Since those are the two things I write, my career spiraled.
Rather than give in, I regrouped and kept trying. I started writing for Harlequin. I know a lot of authors badmouth Harlequin. I am not one of them. I started writing for Intrigue and loved it. Those books were a lifeline for me. So was Angela James – an editor for whom I have great respect and has forever changed how I write heroines – who asked me to be in a Carina Press holiday anthology. The combination was what I needed to get my emotional equilibrium.
Still, my writing self-confidence was at an all-time low and stayed there. I loved what I was writing but was convinced no one else ever would. Around the same time I realized it was time to leave the agent I had had from the beginning of my career. He’s a good agent but he was no longer the right agent for me. We weren’t connecting. I stayed on even after I knew the relationship wasn’t working. That’s on me. It’s my fault…and that’s a topic for a separate blog post…but it added to my inability to rebound.
Fast forward to the fall of 2012. My husband and friends were in full-on support mode. And, after much chatting and setting of ground rules, I switched agents to someone who is actually a friend, Laura Bradford. Then everything changed. In January/February of this year I sold 3 books to Harlequin Intrigue, 1 to Samhain, 2 to Berkley Heat and 1 to the new Cosmo Red-Hot Reads by Harlequin. Last month I sold 2 more books to Berkley Intermix.
All of that gave me the confidence to write 2 chapters and an 8 page synopsis for a romantic suspense series I’ve always wanted to write. One that captures my love for the TV shows MI5 and Strike Back as well as my love of thrillers, alpha heroes, strong women and lots of action. No serial killers or small towns, which I enjoy reading but thought were well represented in the romantic suspense genre. No, these were about guys with guns on the run, stopping international threats, and have sexy times with amazing women.
This series was the wrong genre (no one was buying romantic suspense) and the wrong time of year (conventional wisdom is editors don’t buy in summer) and not enough pages (I’d written 20 pages of this first book and didn’t even include series synopsis). This time instead of worrying I went in with the “I’ve got nothing to lose” attitude and it worked. This turned out to be the right series at the right time and ended up with 5 offers – which NEVER happens to me. I got lucky.
The reality is readers might not like the books I have coming out in 2013-2015. I get that reality now. My books from Berkley Heat are hotter than I usually write and I’m not sure how readers will react. A lot of readers don’t like romantic suspense, so I don’t know how the Avon series will go, though I am really hopeful. But the one thing – maybe the only thing – I’ve learned is to stop operating in panic mode. I calmed down and sold 12 books in 8 months. In fact, even with the deadlines I already have there is a sexy contemporary romance series I’d love to write and one I’ve been thinking about ever since talking with one of my an editors at RWA who specifically asked me to think about writing a sexy contemporary series. I’m not sure how or when to fill it in, but the point is I have options. We all do.
So, if you’re out there not selling, or your genre is tanking, or you lose your editor, or you’re losing faith in your abilities, or your publisher is letting you go, or you’re not working well with your agent, or you feel like you’re working your ass off and not getting anywhere – you are not alone. I’ve been there. Don’t give up. If you need a pep talk, email me. Bottom line: keep believing and keep writing and know that it can all fall apart over and over and somehow you’ll be okay.