Once, not very long ago, I was an unpublished author. I wrote a couple of bad novels, which I chalk up to “learning by doing”. The first one was science fiction. No one wanted to publish it. The second was dark urban fantasy. No one wanted that one either. The third book I wrote was contemporary realism. I sent it off to my agent to submit to publishers, but I didn’t stew over it. I learned by this time that it was best not to spend a lot of energy wondering what would happen to the contemporary realistic story. So I just began a new novel. About demons. Because that’s what interested me at that time.
And then, happy day, after many months of waiting, a wonderful (and wise) publisher named Abrams did want the contemporary realistic story! Once it was accepted, the manuscript went back and forth between me and my shiny new editor a few times to polish it up, eventually we named it Struts & Frets, and it was published in November of 2009. During this time, I was still working on the demon book. Because, well, what else was I going to do after the kids went to bed? And by the time Struts & Frets was out, the demon book was pretty much done and ready to submit.
But I was told not to submit the demon book. Why? Because it was too different from Struts & Frets. You have to consider author branding, blah blah blah & etc. Also, because the market wasn’t right. And because it was too big and too strange. I think there were other reasons, too, but I forget exactly what they were. I was told, instead, to write another novel like Struts & Frets. And since I was a good little debut author, terrified that this amazing dream-come-true of becoming an author would be snatched from me at any moment, I agreed. Because the person telling me these things was a PROFESSIONAL IN THE INDUSTRY who KNEW BETTER THAN ME. And if I was going to be a professional myself, then by god I had better dispense with all this namby-pamby desire to feel passion about every book I wrote. Grow up, shut up, and write the damn thing. Of course, this was all said a lot more politely than that, but the message was crystal.
So I tried. I really did. But I failed. After three half-hearted chapters and several months of agony, I realized I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. Why was I starting this novel that I wasn’t really all that excited about anyway, when I had a novel I was nearly finished with, that I had been working on for years, that I loved, and that I was desperate for people to read? Screw the market, screw the expectations, screw business savvy, practicality, and all of its ilk. I was going to submit the demon book. And I did. And guess what? My editor loved it. My publisher loved it. And I think I can say with some modesty, lots of readers love it. Did I get some flack for jumping sub-genres? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Career-wise, time will tell. But for my creative soul, it was not only helpful, it was essential.
There are many times when it’s important to listen to other people. There have been so many times when some piece of advice or wisdom has made a huge impact on me and on my work. You should always listen, always be open to new ideas and suggestions, always ready to ask, “How can this make me a better writer, a better creator, a better person?”
But then there are times when you have to follow your gut. When you know best. Because you are the person who cares more than anyone else in the world about your work.
I realize this cautionary tale is a bit vague in spots. That was on purpose. My intension in writing this piece was not to call out the person or people who told me not to submit Misfit. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m confident their advice was well meant. My intension was instead to reach out to those others out there, like me, who take everything to heart and who perhaps doubt themselves a little too often. At the end of the day, no one really knows the rules of publishing, or any business, or life in general. Nothing is certain. Not success, not failure, not money, not love. None of it. It can all be taken from you in a blink. The one thing you can count on is the choices you make, moment by moment. In other words, your integrity. As a writer. As a creator. As a person. Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you choose the path before you.