Have you ever played a game without really knowing how to win? I play a wide range of board games, and one of the first things I look for is what the win conditions are, because that’s the best way to keep track of how you’re doing. There are some games where the actions that seem important turn out to only be the means to the end. I realize now that back when I began writing in earnest, I had no idea what the win condition was. I knew I wanted to “be published” and “be read,” but it seemed to me like that was something that was only going to happen once it happened. The only way I could get closer to that goal was to keep writing.
I wrote a lot. Books and books. And I revised a fair bit. Multiple drafts of multiple books. One thing I didn’t do very well was submit those books. I’d send one off to what felt (to me) like “a lot of places” (translation: about five to ten), and then when I got rejections, I’d give up on it and move on to the next book.
Writing seemed like the best win condition.
And it is. I mean, you’re never going to publish anything if you don’t write anything. But now that I’ve been doing this a bit longer, I’m realizing that writing is far from the only win condition–or at least far from the only important one. First off, anyone can write. In order to get published, you have to write well. That’s subjective, but it’s a significant point. And beyond that, you have to be able to revise well–unless you’re one of that rare breed who write excellent final first drafts. (I am not.)
Of course, it’s easier for me to tell how well I’m doing at that whole “writing and revising” thing these days. I have a crack team of agents whom I send my drafts to. They read them, and they tell me exactly what they think about them. Sometimes, it’s pretty bleak (see GET CUPID). Sometimes, it’s words of encouragement. But by bouncing it back and forth between them, I get a fair idea about how my books are going.
In the two years since VODNIK was published, I’ve only been able to get one manuscript to “submission” status: TARNHELM. That’s a statistic that’s troubled me the most by far. More than sales numbers, that’s for sure. I have absolutely no control over how my books do once they’re in the wild. Yes, I can blog and I can do school visits–so I suppose I have some control–but on a national level, my blogs and school visits aren’t going to amount to a whole lot. The books will do how they do.
But writing books? I’m the only person in control of that. And getting books to finished status? I’ve been failing.
That’s perhaps unduly harsh on myself. My goal is to get a book done and out on submission each year. VODNIK was finished in 2011. TARNHELM was done in 2012. GET CUPID was my book for 2013, and it just kind of meandered around and did nothing particularly well–that’s the one book that can be counted as a failure of mine for the moment. Thankfully, I feel like I’m back on track as of Friday, when THE MEMORY THIEF went out on submission, meaning I now have an official entry for 2014. Huzzah!
The “me five years ago” would probably be quite surprised that I feel like celebrating so much over simply having a book go out to editors–not even hearing anything back one way or another. But again, once it’s in the hands of editors, it means it’s out of my realm of control again. TARNHELM got some solid responses. Editors who really liked the book. Where it didn’t do well (or hasn’t yet, at least) was in convincing editors that enough other people would like the book to warrant them publishing it. (I feel like any book that can make a New York editor call it “one of the most engaging, fun reads I’ve had in ages” is a book that’s doing pretty well for itself–especially when it’s a strange duck to begin with.)
MEMORY THIEF is admittedly more mainstream. It’s a contemporary Middle Grade fantasy. No splintering of genres and audiences. It’s more accessible. Will that translate into an actual published book? Time will tell.
For now, I continue work on the GET CUPID prequel, where I’ve past the 25,000 mark now–which means I’m anywhere from a third to a quarter done. Hopefully it’ll work out well as my entry for 2015. One book a year is about all I have in me, what with all of the other projects and endeavors I’m involved in.
In any case, today I celebrate another milestone. And after that, I’m going to do my best to forget MEMORY THIEF exists and just focus on what I can do: write another great book.