I have been writing since 2010 and have penned six book-length manuscripts and several short stories. Among all those, one always stood out to me as the breakout book. I'm not saying the others aren't good — I certainly like them — but one particular novel has a high concept, a timely topic, and has been written, rewritten, and edited so much it's pretty much print-ready.
Since I landed my agent and finaled in the Golden Heart with this young adult novel in 2015, I have never wavered in my belief that it would sell to a traditional publisher.
But it didn't.
I don't fault the story. I don't fault myself. I don't fault my amazing agent. I don't fault the publishers.
Am I little annoyed? I'd be lying if I said no, because they just turned down a really good novel. But they all had good reasons for passing, and my book just wasn't one they wanted to publish.
Still, what do you do when the plan you had for your novel doesn't work out? What if your dream for your story doesn't come true?
You can let your dream die, or you can make your dream change.
When we knock on the door of our dream, and it doesn't open, we can keep beating that door ... or we can knock on another door.
How do you know if it's time to change your dream?
Let's say to write those six novels, you'd have to give up homeschooling your child or acting in your local theater or running your other side business. Some writers would say you have to prioritize the writing! But not necessarily. You have to choose your priorities and decide what's most important to you. Maybe you'd love to write more novels, but you don't want to give up being Ophelia in Hamlet. So don't.
There's a cost to pursuing a dream, because personal dream fulfillment actually requires a lot of hours, elbow grease, and compromise. You may not want to sacrifice those things, at least to the point required to carry out your original plan.
For my book, there was one publisher interested who might have offered a contract if I was willing to change the tone and theme of the book. It would have been awesome to sign with this company! But I wasn't willing to do what they required for me to sell to them. In the end, that was simply a cost I wasn't willing to pay.
Most paths have obstacles and brambles, but when you're ready to change direction, a new path doesn't seem quite so daunting. You might have some challenges, but you can imagine yourself plucking your way along toward a new destination.
For some authors, that calm only happens once they've beat back as many vines as humanly — or even superhero-ly — possible, only to discover the way still blocked. Then the other path begins to look pretty darn good, and a peace settles on them to think about another way.
I admit that self-publishing previously scared the pants off me. Not only because I'm not the kind of
control freak savvy entrepreneur who tends to do well with making all the decisions, but I didn't previously have the resources and connections I now have. The idea of putting out the book myself isn't as frightening as before. In fact, it's rather exciting.
While I couldn't have foreseen this path for the book a few years ago, now I'm ready. Are you ready to imagine a different way? Can you see yourself getting it done?
A friend of mine wrote in a particular genre for years and experienced success in contests and in getting an agent. But her books didn't sell. The critique group she'd been with for more than a decade finally cornered her and suggested her writing voice went well with a different genre. They suggested she give it a try.
Were her other genre books bad? No, they were great! But it was time to move on. Since my friend trusted her critique partners, she sat down to pen a novel in the new genre. Months later, she'd finaled in contests, gotten an agent, and had signed a book deal.
Sometimes your close friends and fellow writers can see a situation better than you. You're tangled up in the trees, and they've got a view of the forest. If they see a better path for you, it might be worth listening.
By the time my novel submissions had reached the end of the line, I had the support of friends and family telling me to move on. They confirmed my decision and then encouraged me set a new goal — one they knew I could accomplish and they would support.
But what about persistence? Determination? Perseverance? Those are absolutely necessary in this business, and continuing to pound the door might well get you what you want. That certainly happens for some writers!
For others, you get a bruised fist, or at least a bruised heart. And you may decide your time and effort are better spent rethinking your dream and pursuing that path instead. If that latter one is you, it's okay to change directions. In fact, it's probably time.
Have you ever changed dreams in your writing career? Are you currently considering a different path?
Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® and is now up for preorder! When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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I have been experiencing a similar "unrest" on my current path. I'm wondering if I should try writing in a different genre. Might be time to ask some of my trusted beta readers who have read all my novels...
As far as giving up the dream of a traditional book deal, I did that a while back after talking to a couple of authors whose experiences with the Big 5 weren't all they'd hoped. One, like you, was asked to change the theme of her book, and unlike you, she did what they asked. The book sold and tanked. She held up her shiny hardcover and said, "This isn't my book. It's the book they told me to write. And it isn't selling."
Another author landed a 3 book deal with a big check, but her books didn't sell well either. I'm beginning to think the big publishers are losing touch with what sells and what doesn't...
I'm too much of a "savvy entrepreneur" to give up that much control of my creativity.
Write on and best of luck to you!
Tough stories about your writer friends, but I've heard similar ones myself. And that's a good idea to ask your beta readers! They likely have a good sense of your voice and where it best fits. Mind you, it should also be genre you really like, but that feedback is nice to have. Best wishes with your writing!
This was an enlightening post as always from you, you savvy entrepreneur! Every word resonated with me. I'm drifting out of my YA genre into adult mystery as if I feel a calling to go there... Don't know what path it will take me down.
Interesting, because those are the two primary genres I write in myself—YA and mystery! Hope you enjoy the shift. All the best!
Thank you so much for this post!
You're quite welcome! My pleasure.
Great post, Julie. I was one that wanted NY enough to be rejected 417 times over a 3 book span. I was at the end of my rope and patience when my agent signed me. This is a decision that everyone makes differently.
Randy Ingermanson wrote a blog years ago that stuck with me: You have time, energy and focus for 3 big things in your life. Work? Kids? Husband? Aging parents? Those are all big things. IF you already have those 3 slots filled, You're not going to get writing done in any meaningful way.
The reason I so loved this, is it relieved the guilt. If my 3 slots are filled, I don't have to beat myself up. If you're there - know that the writing will be there for you when things calm down.
Oh, I agree. Writing is much easier now than when my kids were young. Mind you, not as easy as I thought it would be once they were gone, but easier. 😉
Interrobang. Wow. A blast from the past. Haven't heard anyone mention that in decades (literally). And I agree. We need it!
Yes, we do! And an interrobang would be particularly useful writing YA, since teens often say things like, "Seriously??!!!!" 🙂
Well said. Thank you for penning this. I wouldn't say my writing dreams have changed, but they are taking much longer to realize, and I had to accept that I wasn't as far in my development as I thought. I also had to figure out where to carve out more writing time. Exactly as you say, I made a sacrifice--the many 30- and 40-mile bike rides I did solo and with friends. Now I don't ride as much (I may have 100 by year's end), and I have to work harder to prioritize hanging out with the friends I DO miss. Because I love writing (just as much as riding my bike), and my day job keeps food on the table and roof over me, I've adjusted my life to dedicated writing time with the "free" time I have. I tell folks that as long as I love writing and am having fun, this is where I'm putting my focus. Sure, I've been riding my bike since I was a kid. But I've also been WRITING since I was a kid. I think the hardest part for me is the balance, to ensure I still get workouts in. These days, it's running because I can get an intense workout in 30 minutes. I applaud you for working so hard on that Golden Heart finalist book, pursing the dream, and sending it into the pre-order stage now. Congratulations.
Thanks! I have to admit that one of my most productive years was the one when I rode my bike most. But then, that was like 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, not 30 miles! (Wow.) Staying in shape can help with productivity and mental clarity, but I suspect those Olympic medalists who put out books had ghost writers. 😉
Your post resonated with me, as I went down this path with my writing in 2011. After two years, one agent, and a market that wanted sparkly vampires rather than gritty contemporary YA fiction, my agent encouraged me to self-publish. This route was new at the time, and it was definitely a labor of love because it WAS like labor! Ultimately, I published three of my four books, and achieved decent sales at B&N and Amazon. While it was not the traditional route flaunted by my colleagues, it was something that felt right and I never regretted doing it.
Gritty contemporary YA is a big deal now. Hope you're finding your perfect audience, as well you should! Congrats on finding the right path for you.
Great post, Julie. I went down a similar route. My dream had been to be traditionally published. But my stories don't tend to fit into the genres that publishers believe will sell. So I went the self-published route. I am learning as I go. It's a lot of work, but it's so very satisfying when you sell a copy of your book to a reader who loves it! You go, girl!
Having read your book, I can see how that would be a tough sell, because it's not like a lot of stuff out there. So glad you decided to put it out there since it's a book that definitely deserves to be read!
Well said in so many ways. There are ways to use your writing talents that don't involve the traditional book deal. Your words can reach the readers who need to see them.
Thanks, Amber! We're lucky to have more options these days.
I love this, Julie. When most of us have a dream, we tend to latch tight onto it in its original form and try to keep it intact. What we don't realize is that a dream can be a living thing that evolves and changes over time, just as we do. The more we write, the more our skills and voice evolve. We should allow the dream to evolve as well. Holding to too tight may suffocate it, while allowing it breathe just might let it develop the wings it needs to fly.
Very true! I think some believe changing your path is tantamount to giving up, surrendering, quitting. But the most successful people tend to, as you say, "evolve" as needed. Thanks, Eldred!
Doing the 'math' about whether to persist on a path, truly evaluating whether it is the right one, is necessary from time to time. In my case, I would lose a lot of stress by stopping - but would never forgive myself.
Still, a useful exercise either way.
Certainly, for some the right answer is to keep going and aim for your original plan. Best wishes in achieving in your goals!
Wonderful article, Julie! I find myself genre hopping and hope that I've found a good fit in YA Historical Fiction. I began as a self-publisher and am now considering the agent/traditional publishing route. I understand after several years of trial and error that there is no perfect method and all roads to publishing seem to be in braids instead of straight and narrow.
Patience and listening skills are the two virtues I'm working hard at.
I think we need to change, evolve. If that change leads to something completely different, that's okay.
I really like YA historical fiction and want to see more of it, so I'm glad you're writing in that genre! And yes, it's good to stay open to possibilities as they come and our circumstances change. I'd certainly sign a traditional deal for a future book if that was the best path. It just didn't work out with this one, which I'm absolutely fine with now. Thanks!
I've had to change the timing of things because of family obligations.
For my first published short story, I did have to change some things, and I lost a fight over one particular compound word. It's a real word, but the final editor wouldn't agree to the word being there. I know it's a silly thing, but it's a real word, not obscene, and there was no reason to not allow it.
My dreams haven't changed, just the timing. I've been able to afford more time recently, and it feels good. Hoping I can keep up during the busy sports and holiday season.
There can be a lot of pressure in this business to do things on a certain timeline, but we need to have the flexibility to adopt a timeline that will actually work for us! Glad you've realized that and are moving forward in a way that works for you.
Hi Julie - I came back to your essay twice. I've been thinking a lot about why people choose to write. I am currently retired from a career that I had for thirty years. I loved the work, and it was always demanding and challenging, and most of the time it was creative. I was in fashion and became a costume designer. I have danced ballet (not professionally), made pottery, painted and love photography. But writing as been, for me at this late time in my life, the most creative endeavor. I never thought about making money or winning an award. It was scary to publish but I've taken the reviews in stride. I have sold more books (paperback and digital) than expected and received many more reviews than expected with 4.5 stars! I never would have thought it possible that people might read my novel! So, I am writing another one! I don't think it is healthy to have expectations about anything in life. Do what you love, or do what you must and learn as you go -- always grateful. You can only improve if you keep an open mind and open heart. You did the right thing by turning down that agent or publisher's request to change your voice. The advice may have been good, as was the advice to rewrite To Kill a Mockingbird in Scout's voice as a child. It might even be true that Harper Lee didn't want to do it, and so it was Truman Capote who came to her aid. Many authors are grateful for their editor's constant pushing and tweaking. I would have liked to have that opportunity. Good essay! I keep thinking about it.
Wow, you've done a lot of creative work in your life! Impressive. And I appreciate editorial comments and had adopted many changes in my books that made the story stronger, but the focus/theme part was just a step too far for me. Congrats on your success and your path!
Terrific post, Julie, and congrats on the upcoming release!
Like you, I didn't start with the dream of self-publishing my books when I was lucky enough to sign with a literary agent in 2010. I dreamed of being traditionally published. Self-pub? What was that? Wasn't even on my radar. Back then, self-pub had even worse associations than it does now, and folks likened it to a vanity publisher. You wouldn't believe the stuff people said to me once I was published. The mystery genre was very conservative (still is), and there aren't any awards for self-pubbed mystery authors, can't do signings at conventions, etc.
So you can see why I was reluctant at the time. But after two and a half years and a couple of "almosts" from publishing houses, we came to the conclusion that my cozy, literary-geeky, historical mystery was too niche-y for them and it wasn't going to see the light of day via traditional means. By then I'd already written the sequel and had ideas for more of them. I believed in my world of an 1890s New England women's college. How could I let that die? It became more important to me to get the series out there to readers and tolerate the stigma. I had very little guidance when I first started self-publishing (aka, plenty of mistakes were made), but I kept learning and the amazing, helpful writers I met along the way (you're one of them, sweetie!) were key to my continuing on. Now I have ten books between two series published, and I'm so glad I took this path.
Best of luck with your path, too!
I'm so proud of you, Kathy!!
I'm glad you self-published too! Fantastic series. 🙂
So true, Julie, that dreams can change along the way, and that's often a sign of growth. One of the things I've discovered is that in a case like you mention where a path you hoped for doesn't work out, there always seems to be a better outcome down the road--"better" in terms of the sort of outcome that resonates with your strengths and passions. As you say, "now I'm ready." I think it helps to trust that time will reveal why the original way wasn't the best way.
I love this statement, Colleen: "I think it helps to trust that time will reveal why the original way wasn't the best way." It's a good one for us all to hold onto!
It took 7 1/2 years of pursuing an agent - then pursuing the traditional publishing route - then having to decide when offered 3 contracts as per the changes they each wanted me to make to the story MESSAGE by changing to a formulaic genre - that had me sit back praying like crazy, and talking with my agent who'd been praying as well. NO. NO MORE PITCHING - Time to put the book out in as polished manner as possible, but within the genre it is written and with the message intact.
POSITIVE REVIEWS ARE COMING IN - HEARTS ARE BEING TOUCHED! PRAISE GOD I DID NOT CAVE TO TRADITIONAL PUB PRESSURE and PRAISE GOD I HAD AN AGENT WHO BELIEVED IN THE STORY OVER ROYALTIES!
It can feel good to "stick to your guns" when something is so important to you. Obviously, I was the same! I'm thrilled for you getting your story out the way you want and the great feedback you've received. Congrats!
Thank you, Julie Glover!
I am under no illusions that some will take umbrage at the messages in the story - but - God intended it for someone when His Spirit nudged me and encouraged me in the face of a lot of discouraging situations and circumstances. Today, I can honestly say it has been worth the last 22 months of TORTURE to see this book as a true covered novel!
Thank you for your post!