Thursday, March 15, 2007

Writing and Ego: A Love Story

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years I’ve been a writer is that I write better (stronger, faster) when my career is going well. This is frustrating if only because the times when I most need to produce are often the times when my career is in need of a boost.

For instance, I have a hard time starting the next book until the contract is signed. (By “signed,” I don’t mean literally, since getting an actual copy of the contract often takes months after the deal has been struck, but more when my agent calls and says “they’re buying it.”) This, of course, is absolutely stupid. It’s a little like waiting for “inspiration to strike” before sitting down at the keyboard. Lois McMaster Bujold once told me in an interview that the best thing a writer can do when s/he finishes a book is start the next one. Editors always want to know “what else you have” and it behooves a writer to have lots and lots of offer. (Would you like this flavor? No, how about this one?)

I could do that, and did, before I broke into publishing. Now, I find that if I don’t have a deal on the table (or if I feel like my career is in any kind of jeopardy) I choke… or at least sputter.

If I have any concerns about my sales figures or whether or not my publisher is going to buy the next book, I find myself so consumed by those thoughts that I have trouble getting words onto page. Thankfully, even though my writing becomes more labored, I have yet to be completely paralyzed by this problem.

I need to learn how to get over this because in today’s publishing climate careers stall – a lot. Currently, I’m needlessly fretting because my editor informed me that the publisher is not printing any galleys for the second book in my current series. She says that in series romances, they often don’t print galleys, which may well be true. To me, the importance of advance copies is that they often mean advance reviews in places like Booklist and Library Journal (places that libraries, a big buyer of books, scan for titles of what they should be ordering next.) I believe my editor, I do. But, I’m suffering a bit of “once bitten, twice shy.”

Because... when my previous publishing house (which is actually my current publisher, only a different imprint) was unhappy with my sales figures and were trying to “shuffle me out the door” (my then-editor’s phrase) the thing that prompted my discovery of their disinterest was the fact that they didn’t print a galley for my fourth book. Thus, when hearing that I’m not getting a galley for the current book out in May of 07, my first thought is, “Oh, crap, time to come up with another pseudonym.”

As far as I know, my current book has sold well. At least, it’s sold well for a book of mine, which given that I was in a different genre all together, might not be saying very much. I also know that publishers these days are expecting bigger and better things from books that in the past would have happily taken up residence on the “mid-list.” My book made some bestseller lists, but not the bragging rights ones like New York Times or USA Today. My editor tells me that my publisher has ordered a larger print run for book two, which she says is a vote of confidence.

What scares me about the bigger print run is that without any advance reviews (or few) how are they expecting to sell all those extra books they’re printing? And when all those extra books are rotting in the warehouse, the publisher is going to turn to me and say “your book’s sales figures sucked. We’re dumping you, you loser.”

Thoughts like that keep me up at night.

And not writing.

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