Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Five Years Ago

Five years . . . wow. Five years ago, my youngest daughter was a toddler. Now she’s a first-grader, missing her two front teeth. My oldest daughter was a freshman in high school. Now she’s finishing up her second year at BYU. The kids have grown, but in an odd twist of reality, I didn’t get any older. Weird, huh? No, those aren’t gray hairs. They’re . . . highlights.

In 2006 when the Frog Blog began, I was just finishing up writing the sequel to my first book, The Believer. In a blog post, I made this comment about manuscript submission:

Up until the point that you submit the manuscript, you’re free to imagine whatever scenarios you want. The publisher will love it! They’ll snatch it up in record time! The first print run will sell out in a day! You’ll have so many fan letters that your e-mail server will crash! Your publisher will call you up, begging you to please, please write another book as quickly as you can because the world needs your unique and unparalleled genius. People will send you chocolates!

But once you submit the book, you’ve applied for a reality check. And so the panic begins.

Turns out that in this case, the panic was warranted. In June 2006, on the day we were leaving to drive to a family reunion in Utah, I found out that the sequel had been rejected--not because my publisher didn’t like it, but because they feared it wouldn’t sell well enough at that time to be a good move for either them or me. Turns out that sequels don’t tend to sell as well as first books in a series, so unless you have really strong sales numbers for the first book, a publisher will be skittish about a sequel. I didn’t know that, nor did I know what constituted strong sales numbers, so the rejection came as a shock (I’m happy to report that now in a letter every author receives, my publisher talks about the particular challenges associated with sequels and advises authors on how to proceed).

This rejection was by far the most painful thing I’d experienced in my writer’s journey. I felt like I’d walked full-speed into a brick wall. The Believer had gotten great reviews. People were waiting for the sequel. And now, I had nothing to offer them. I felt like a failure. All around me, authors were churning out books right and left. All the other Frog Bloggers had new or upcoming releases. And I’d published one book and then fallen flat on my face.

But I didn’t blog about the rejection (sort of a Twilight Zone thing, I guess. I blogged about finishing this manuscript and then submitting this manuscript and then it sort of . . . disappeared). Experienced author friends had cautioned me not to cry about it in public; people who didn’t understand the industry would get the wrong idea and think if my publisher rejected the book, it must not have been good enough. Recognizing this as wise counsel, I was careful about what I said publicly. So why am I not afraid to blog openly about it now? Well, I figure I’ve accumulated enough of a track record that people won’t automatically assume the book was lousy. But five years ago when I blogged about that disappointing day, I referred to the rejection only as an unnamed source of stress as I discussed our vacation:

Our anticipated drive time to this year’s family reunion was about twelve hours, but we decided to do it the easy way—half and half. We stopped at one in the morning to spend the night, or what was left of it, in Winnemucca, Nevada. (Winnemucca is a truly snappy name for a city). I’m grateful we didn’t decide to attempt the whole trip at once—halfway was more than enough for that night. I’d had a rotten day anyway, the sort of day where you get smacked with stress that turns your brain to mashed parsnips. Thank heavens I’d made the packing list prior to departure day and had already packed a good portion of the clothes, or who knows what we would have ended up with. My kids would have gone to get dressed and found I’d given them only three socks, pajama bottoms and an onion.

It sounds almost cliché to say it, but I gained a lot from that painful experience and what followed. Here are some things I learned:

*My publisher really supported me. While I was vacationing in Utah, I was able to meet with my editor and members of the acquisitions committee. These busy people took over an hour of their time to sit and answer any questions I wanted to ask. It was very plain to me that even though they didn’t feel it was the right time for this book, they valued me as one of their authors and wanted me to succeed.

*When you get knocked on your rear end, you (vent in your journal and moan to family and trusted friends, cry, get frustrated, feel discouraged, and then) jump up, dust yourself off, and get writing. Perseverance is vital to success.

*It’s important to be flexible. I enjoyed writing futuristic fiction, but if I wanted to keep writing sci fi at that time, I needed to find another publisher. On the other hand, if I wanted to keep writing for the same publisher, I needed to write something different for a while. There was no one “right” choice—the question was which track I wanted to follow, and a different author in that situation might have made a different decision. For me, I wasn’t married to futuristic novels—I also really enjoyed contemporary mystery/suspense. I decided to put the sequel on the back burner and focus on something in a more solid genre for the LDS market. I pulled up a suspense novel I’d started a few years ago and got to work on it. That book became my second novel, Fool Me Twice.

*Sometimes an answer you don’t like can turn out to be a great thing, setting you on a new path that leads to new opportunities. It hurt when I found out the sequel had been rejected, but once I got moving again, I’ve really enjoyed my writing journey over the past five years, and have released three contemporary novels with another on the way. I enjoy writing in this genre, and winning a couple of Whitney Awards for mystery/suspense was a huge highlight in my writing career. Sure, someday I'd like to write sci fi again, and I will--there's time. (And by the way, the door is still open with my publisher for the possibility of the sequel to The Believer—not right away, but who knows what will happen in the future?).

I don't know what my writing journey will bring--chances are, at some point, there will be another brick wall that I'll smack right into--but I hope I can remember that once the shock wears off, it's time to dust myself off and keep moving. Here’s to the next five years!


At 3/30/2011 4:12 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I would be interested in seeing what you do with Believer 2 : Heretic Boogaloo. You know, with the recent Stieg Larsson mess (unwritten manuscripts), makes me wonder what happens to all of those works-in-progress that authors don't publish. Based on what I've learned from reading this blog, most of that stuff probably shouldn't see the light of day. =) However, maybe a good editor could salvage some treasure from the wreckage.

Personally, I'm glad you made the switch to mysteries. I've enjoyed them so much!

At 3/30/2011 4:46 PM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

Great blog, Stephanie. Good thing you didn't give up. The world would never have known your diabolical side.

At 3/30/2011 9:14 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Stephanie, I liked your Believer, but I've enjoyed your suspense novels much more. You're a talented writer and I think you've reached the point, the name recognition, etc., where anything you write will sell.

At 3/30/2011 10:25 PM, Blogger Maggie said...

My published writing journey has just started in 2010. I hope in five years I am where you are at now!

At 3/31/2011 12:44 AM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

I'm so glad you didn't give up. I love your suspense novels. Anybody who can write a story so good that it keeps me up to 2 am, with sweat-soaked arm pits, shaking from excitement-- has a very rare talent, indeed.

At 3/31/2011 12:14 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Thanks, everyone!

Debra, I consider sweat-soaked armpits a great compliment :) Thanks!

Maggie, that's awesome. Enjoy the journey!

At 4/01/2011 8:35 AM, Blogger Sandra said...

I agree with everyone else, Stephanie, I'm glad you changed to suspense. Unless the house is dark and I have my back to a window...


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