This was a good year for books. On the books? For the books?
I was lucky enough to see several of my authors' books hit bookshelves everywhere, many of which you should purchase for your friends and family this holiday season, such as:
Oh, and Rebecca Phillips' These Things I've Donewent into paperback!
Some starred reviews, a movie deal, a New York Times bestseller... it was a good year. And in my author life, The Girl & the Grove came out over the summer, and Reclaim the Sun sold to Inkyard Press (aka Harlequin Teen). It'll be out in 2020, which means we'll probably see a cover soon and ARCs sometime in 2019. I'm already sweating.
A busy year, with a lot of lessons. Let's chat.
THE BOOK FOR YOU VS. THE BOOK FOR THEM
I think with every book I write, at some point, I've muttered something along the lines of "this is THE book" to a friend, and almost always, to my wife. Honestly, I think she's heard me ramble that far too many times. I've got a new book into the hands of my agent, and off I go, prattling on about how this will be the one. Or I'll point at a house while we're wandering downtown, and say something ridiculous like "the next book" while nodding at it.
When I say THE book, it's usually not about a book just being published. It's THE book that launches you into that mysterious, magical successful place. Where yes, I will buy this adorable house with this advance and royalties and foreign sales and-
I can already see all my author and agent and industry friends shaking their head at me. What? Let me dream.
Earlier this year I got some sales numbers on some of my books that were... well, less than I was hoping. And it hurt a lot. And I was pretty crushed about it. And I kept wondering what I'm doing wrong. Where is THE book I keep promising myself and the people I care about?
And then at a book festival this year, a little girl came up to me with two of my books, and said in a small voice, that she was adopted too. And how much these stories I wrote, and stories I collected, meant to her. And it broke me apart. I got similar stories over the past few months since The Girl & the Grove came out, from adoptees and teens, discussing what the book meant to them.
It turns out, the joy isn't always found in writing a book that is THE book for you.
That really, it's less about a book being THE book for you, and more about it being THE book for someone else.
Yes, yes. It's a business and we all need to make money and get paid. But sometimes, it doesn't quite happen in the way we daydream it will. And there are other ways to look at it. Maybe the next book, maybe Reclaim the Sun, will be that book for me, that breakout one. Maybe.
But what I really hope, is that it's THE book for a young reader who needs it.
MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY EVENT, PLAN AHEAD
I've started rethinking the ways I treat festivals and conferences. I went to a number of them this year, and I almost always end up texting my wife and friends (both bookish and pals at home) from signing lines, about how maybe I've signed a single book, and I'm left sitting there for an hour.
Now, I know this happens to authors of all types. I'm used to it, it's fine. And I always wrote off that experience because festivals are great networking opportunities. You spend time with booksellers and with fellow authors. Other publishing people.
But... there's also no guarantee that's going to happen? People are busy. Everyone has their own itinerary and schedule.
When it comes to festivals and conferences... I'm still learning that it's important to plan ahead. Schedule meetings. Reach out and make sure you've got a plan to hangout and chat. Whether it's for professional reasons, like meeting up with editors, agents, authors you want to collaborate with... or just for social reasons, to chill with writers you love on social media. Make plans.
Because if you've flown across the country for a book festival, signed one book, and then you're in your hotel watching Netflix right after dinner... you might have wasted a trip. And if I'm going to leave my one-year-old and my wife behind for three days, you best believe I want to get everything I can out of a trip.
At a festival this year, I made solid plans to hang out with one specific author, and while we were out and about, we plotted out an idea. Fast forward a few months, and we've got a proposal ready, and are hoping to pitch around a new book next year. One we're working on together.
If I hadn't thought ahead, I'm not sure we would have been able to sit down and hash this out, the way we did at this festival. Take the time.
THE ONLY ONE WHO SEES YOU WORKING YOURSELF TO TEARS, IS YOU
With the big move back to the East Coast quickly approaching, I found myself hurling myself into work at the end of the summer through the rest of the year. This wasn't just client based, but had a lot to do with my teaching. I took on a full course load at a community college here in Ann Arbor, closed to queries, and while I adored all of my students (if you're seeing this, hi!), that combined with my agent life, my writing life, my MFA mentoring...
There were definitely some stress-induced shower cries.
But, I kept going, saved up, and hooray, we're going to be just fine when it comes to the move. But I didn't have to do a lot of it. I was stubborn and pushing too hard. And now I've got these strange pains in one of my hands, and I'm off to the doctor to figure out what's going on, likely from late nights typing away until I absolutely should have been in bed.
No one else is going to know about those late work nights. About the sleep you lost. About the pushes to relax that you ignored. There's no trophy for it. Your medal isn't in the mail. So take a breath, take care of yourself. No one else is going to, especially if you're not willing to let them try.
Self care is just as valuable as working hard.
It's okay when they don't choose you, and vice versa
NOT EVERY BOOK IS FOR YOU, AND THAT'S OKAY
This bit is a little more agent-specific. This year I've passed on some books that went on to sell in a big way. And I've had some near misses with projects I absolutely adored, that are going to be coming out in the next year or two. I see them, on the ol' social media and publishing newsletters, and sometimes it stings a bit. I won't lie.
It's an interesting alchemy, publishing. While a lot of it is certainly based on talent and creativity, and a lot of it based on knowing the market and the people behind-the-scenes, there's just... so much luck to it. Pitching the right book to the right person at the right time...
I think about the books that I tried to get, or the books that I passed on, and when the "what if" comes up... if I had taken a chance on them, or they had taken a chance on me... what would have happened? There's that odd something you can't quite define in the business.
Would I have pitched this book to the right person? Would I have made edits to the project that changed it, and made it into the wrong kind of book? Would I have found it a home someplace that maybe didn't make it a big book?
There are just so many what if's, so many things up in the air. It's wild, and it's okay.
Just because you didn't get the book, doesn't mean you weren't good enough.
And just because you passed on something big, doesn't mean you were wrong.
YOU CONTINUE TO MATTER MORE THAN EVERY BOOK
And I'll keep making sure you know it.