I am — and always have been — a planner.
I was that kid who started drawing up ideas for my November birthday in February. (Hmmm, I turn 31 this year. Nice prime number. I should do something snazzy.) I floundered writing as a pantser until I got some weird externally-bestowed permission to plan out my books, and then I just ran with it.
(Sidebar: we are not amused with Stephen King’s assertion that outlines are the crutch of bad writers who wish they were writing a master’s thesis. Not everyone needs to spend 20 years reinventing the wheel, Stevie-boy. *grumble* Everybody arts their own way, and more power to them whatever it is. Good day, sir.)
Over the last few years, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to plan my writing career. Anyone who’s ever tried that knows its sort of like herding fish in the open ocean armed with nothing more than a flimsy bit of slimy seaweed. (Not that I have much experience with that.) Ultimately, when it comes to traditional publishing, there’s really not much you CAN plan for. You don’t know if your manuscript will snag an agent or an editor, and if it does, how long either of those things will take or what they will mean when they happen.
I’ve seen people go from query to agent to book deal in literally a week and a half. I’ve also seen people query for 4-5 years and not get an agent. Or get an agent and not get a book deal. Or the agent turns out to be not so nice. Or the book deal falls through. Or the agent has to leave for whatever reason. Advances are huge. Or they’re tiny. Or they’re non-existent. Or they’re somewhere in the middle. They arrive on time. Or they arrive after eight months of OH-MY-DOG-BUT-THE-MORTGAGE.
I’ve seen people who had agents squabbling over them not sell, and I’ve seen people who sell huge flop.
Essentially, you can’t plan this shit.
Sometime last year, the unthinkable happened for me. I sold four books. Three to a major publisher. And then in the space of three weeks in September-October, my imprint closed and the other pending book deal with a different publisher floundered, and we backed slowly away after someone changed the game without telling us. This is the first time I’m talking about this publicly. Suffice it to say that it hurt. A lot. THE MASKED SONGBIRD came down from sale the week before Christmas, and I was a hurty ball of mess.
The game changed. It changed fast. It changed hard.
At that point, I had already been making other plans though. I had started self publishing my little Eva Jamieson smexy books. I had planned to self publish STORM IN A TEACUP, the book that had the deal fall through.
So when the book came down, I already had ideas lined up — once my rights reverted, I’d self publish my urban fantasy and submit the epic I was working on to editors. I’d go full hybrid steam ahead.
But the game kept changing.
Let me just say: for a planner like me, it’s really, really hard to stay grounded when everything is shifting beneath your feet. Where do you stand? How do you walk straight? Are you DRUNK? What is happening, and why do I have glitter in my hair?
STORM came out at the beginning of this month, and it became my anchor. It was, for the first time, something I had control over. When everything was shifting, ironically enough, it was a book called STORM IN A TEACUP that gave me back something I’d been lacking.
Looking ahead, things are still changing — and very quickly. Within a month I’ll have probably two big crazy sets of news.
The important thing for me, regardless of which path of publishing you choose (traditional, indie, hybrid, self), is to find the things over which you have power and do the best you can with them. There are no guarantees regardless. Books sometimes surprise you, and that can happen in the self publishing world as easily as the traditional publishing world. Ultimately, you have the power over your craft, to keep bettering it with every book you write. You have control over that. You can keep pushing yourself.
You have control over how you handle setbacks. Maybe not how you react to them (Dog knows I’ve spent plenty of time in the fetal position crying into my cats in the last year — and anxiety isn’t something you can just flip the switch on), but how you respond to them. How you care for yourself, and how you press on (whatever pressing on means to you).
You have the power to decide each day what it is that will help make things better, even if it’s only a teensy bit better. Some days that might be outlining a new book or writing a few thousand words. Some days it might be watching your favorite episodes of Buffy with an entire pizza and a Big Mac and a double Filet-O-Fish and a carton of cookies and cream and an entire bag of jalepeno Cheetos and NO YOU DO THAT NOT ME SHADDUP.
Some days it might be doing a Whole Other Thing.
For me, it was a lot of those things (ahem). It was also finding out that I could set a schedule for self publishing and work to grow my career that way while I worked on things I felt were more suited to the traditional market. It was figuring out what it was I wanted most from my career and setting out goals, specific goals. Like a motherfluffing business plan or something.
It could be any number of things for you. The crux of this is that the game will always change. If there’s anything I learned in the Year That Will Not Be Named, it’s that the game will keep changing. At all stages. Pre-agent. Post-agent. Pre-publication. Mid-contract. Sometimes those changes are hard and scary and painful and feel like someone’s pulled the whole ground out from under you. I had several of those moments last year.
But if you keep stringing ropes from tree trunk to tree trunk and rock to rock, if the ground falls away beneath you, at least you’ll have something to grab on to.