(Fun fact: the post title was taken from Tom Wait’s “A Little Drop of Poison”. Not that I want to poison any of you.)
There’s six weeks until my second YA novel, The Nightmare Garden, is out in the world.
When the first book, The Iron Thorn, dropped, I had high hopes. Huge hopes. Hopes so big they would break normal-sized sofas. Visions of sales numbers previously unsurpassed, of NYT list-hitting, all kinds of crazy stuff.
What actually happened? Average stuff. Average sales numbers, average interest from readers–basically what I was used to as somebody who hails from the midlist (that place where neither horribly selling nor best-selling novels live.) The reviews were fantastic, and the reader reactions even better. People genuinely love Iron Thorn in a way they never loved any of my previous work. That part was wonderful, and overwhelming, and I am so grateful for it to this day.
But what of those hopes? What happened to them? Why did I even have them in the first place, since this was neither my first novel nor my first time at the rodeo? (It was, in point of fact, my 9th published novel. I was not a green newb salivating over my inevitable movie option and star-studded multi-continent tour.)(Not that that stuff doesn’t happen to green newbs, and when it does I’m happy for them.)(No, really. I have professional jealousy, but I save it for people I know I’d actively hate even if they’d never written a book in their life. Green newbs don’t fit that category.)
Anyway, the hopes. Usual stuff happened, I think. Budgets got shuffled. The economy, which had been teetering when I sold the trilogy, tanked in the 18-month gap between deal and release date. It was nobody’s fault. NOBODY’S. I don’t blame my editor. I don’t blame my publicist. I blame the shit economy a little. I blame the giant multi-armed mutant octopus from Mars that the publishing industry has become, that hobbles a lot of good books from getting much visibility, a teeny bit. (And the first person who chimes in “You should self-publish then, hurr hurr” is getting a cat thrown at their face.) This isn’t a post about the failures of the industry or the economy. This is a post about me, and a book I wrote.
For that book’s troubles, I blame myself the most.
See, I thought I could finally rest. I was a relentless hustler for my adult novels, because I’d always known they might be midlist. Fine, I’m midlist. I’m not going to cry, I’m going to rustle up some signings and try to create a few more repeat readers. And it worked. My very first novel still sells in excess of 50 copies a week, and it came out in 2008.
It’s also tiring as fuck. Emailing for guest blogs, for events, making industry contacts with reviewers and bookstore owner and librarians. Mailing your own review copies, hustling all over the web without getting gratuitous about it. I’ve spent in excess of eight hours a day doing self-promo.
I don’t get paid.
I don’t get a break.
All I get is more visibility, and more readers.
With Iron Thorn, in a new genre, a new book (the best I’d ever written) I thought I could finally let someone else steer the ship, or at least alternate shifts on the watch with me. I could stop emailing 20 book bloggers a day seeing if they’d like a guest blog or review. I could stop paying my own way to SFF cons and lit festivals. I could just rest for five minutes and focus on actually writing books, unencumbered.
So I got lazy. I didn’t reach out to bloggers and teen readers the way I should have. I’m snarky and abrasive by nature and I didn’t give the people that matter (readers) a reason to like my book. Or a reason to buy it from snarky, abrasive me.
After I looked at my dwindling sales numbers, and after literally the hundredth time I heard “You wrote a YA novel? I had no idea!” I think I snapped a little. I had a long, angry rant at my roommate about why everything sucked, why my YA career was a disaster, I was going to have to change my name, I could never sell another book to Random House, on and on, just crazy frustration and rage built up over 11 months spilling out.
Then I calmed down and realized I wasn’t really angry about that stuff. I was angry that this book that I loved, that I’d worked so hard on, had come in with a whimper and gone out without even that. I felt hopeless. I ate some Christmas cookies and wanted to kick the wall.
Then, I got a sliver of good news. Random House Germany wanted to publish Iron Thorn as their lead YA title for Spring 2012. Lead title. Those magic words snapped me out of my funk. Someone besides me and my fabulous US editor (Editor Krista, for my regular readers) saw what we did in this book. They saw its potential for greatness and they were at least giving it a chance to reach all of those readers who would love in just like the small but dedicated cabal in the US did.
I stopped shoving my face with holiday treats and decided that while it sucked, I was going back to what I knew. I commissioned a book trailer and brainstormed ideas for swag with my author/graphic designer. I knew how YA operated now, and I knew which bloggers would like a copy of the book and might be interested in helping me promote it.
Basically, I pulled my head out and decided to do everything I could to give Nightmare Garden the chance I denied Iron Thorn.
Do I have any control over my sales? Not really, unless I magically find a way to roll back our terrible economy and give everyone in the country an extra $17.99 to buy the hardback copy. Do I have to sit on my butt and bemoan the dashed expectations of Iron Thorn?
No. Hell no. At the very least, I can try to do everything I can to help the book succeed.
Iron Thorn didn’t fail. But it wasn’t given a proper chance, and I’m not going to let that happen again. So I’m back to emailing and blogging and tweeting and 24/7 thinking “What else can I do to help this book succeed?” I still have my wonderful team at Random House, and soon I’ll also be published in the second-biggest fantasy market on the planet.
Things could be better.
But they’re never going to get that bad again.