Work on YOUR Work

A friend has the enviable position of finding himself receiving an offer of representation for his first adult novel. It’s an amazing story: first novel, first agent who saw it is totally enthusiastic. Thrilling!

But on the heels of the excitement comes the realization that possible publication brings with it a new set of problems. Right now, you may be thinking that if you get an offer or publication, heaven has come down to earth. And you’re right!

But it’s also true that as acceptance of your recognition for your hard work moves to the next phase–publication–there are new questions.

Money. Yes, there’s the money question. Children’s book advances are more modest than those for adults; but both can bring in a chunk of change. How does this affect your financial status? For my friend, he has health issues and has government health insurance which may be in jeopardy. Of course, if the chunk of change is substantial enough, it’s no problem. But if it’s just barely enough, he’ll lose his health benefits only to need them back next year. Writing can be feast or famine, lean years alternating with fat years.

Public speaking. My friend also does NOT want to speak in public. That may change once the process rolls around, but his initial reaction is a resounding, “No!” It’s really OK. He just needs to write a great story; let the publisher sell it to the public. I know: in today’s digital world, many authors do a lot of promotion. But it’s not really necessary.

The Next Book. Of course, acceptance of one book brings the hope of a career! You hope for a string of novels (or other genre books) that come out at regular intervals and creates a strong audience for your work. That means in the excitement of getting an agent, submissions to editors and acceptance–you must write the next one. And that “sophomore” offering must be excellent, meeting the promise of the first one. In fact, the pressure is really on to exceed that first one.

Amy Tan has an instructive essay, “angst and the second book,” in her book of essays, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life. She says, “I am glad that I shall never again have to write a Second Book.”

It was a real struggle to meet the “promise of the first novel.” One author told her, “The Second Book is doomed no matter what you do. Just get it over with, let the critics bury it, then move on to your third book and don’t look back.”

Instead, Tan struggled. She wrote 1000 pages on various topics. Finally, she shut out the world and wrote 30 pages and found a character she liked. She took the character with her to a different story and rewrote it six times to find a question in the character’s heart. Finally, she found a reason to tell that story: it was a gift to someone. That book became The Kitchen God’s Wife. Later, at a luncheoen, someone asked, “How does it feel to have written your best book second?”

Art&FearYes, an agent and a contract are wonderful! Absolutely.
But still the question is the same as it’s always been: how can you tell your stories, your way. Or as Art and Fear puts it, “Your job is to learn to do your work, your way.”