One of our amazing co-founders is back today to candidly share her experience with the ups and downs as a debut author. Thanks Tracey!
Surviving the Ever-Changing Career of a Debut Author
By Tracey Devlyn
In the Beginning
Many of you know my story. Back in April 2010, I received the most incredible, career changing news. News every writer dreams about. Sourcebooks wanted to buy my manuscript, plus the next two stories in the series. Wow, right? Two days later, I received an offer of representation from my dream agent. Double wow.
I lived on that double high for weeks.
What I am about to share with you is for educational purposes only. It’s not to gripe or gossip. It’s to educate, to bring awareness. It’s to prepare you for how quickly this business can change, even while you’re floating on a high.
First up, I’m going to share with you a couple “rules” my journey shattered.
1. Your first manuscript won’t sell
2. Editors need to read the whole manuscript to know if you can pull it off
3. Agents are afraid to represent anything too outside the box
I have no doubt there are some writers who have faced these obstacles and did not overcome them. My only goal with this is to show you that nothing’s a certainty in this business. Don’t let the “rules” hold you back.
• April 2012 – My debut novel released
• June 2012 – I was moved to a new editor
• September 2012 – I switched agents
• February 2013 – Book 2 released
• April 2013 – No new contract—yet
Did your eyes bug out after reading the above list? Yeah, I hear ya. Let’s take these one at a time. Remember what I said above—the details I’m going to share below are not meant to be gossipy. RU’s a safe place and all about educating writers.
Debut and Book 2 Releases
Folks, there are no words to describe release week, month, year. It’s an endless time of well wishes and firsts (book signings, video interviews, live readings, etc.). It’s also a time of one repeated question—How’s your book doing?
For almost a year, I could not answer this question with anything concrete. My royalty statement in the fall indicated a good sell through, meaning enough books were sold to cover the advance I received. However, I had no way of comparing how my debut sold to other debut books.
To this day, I still don’t have a good answer to this question. I can tell you what my new editor told me last month–my debut had a rocky start, so booksellers ordered fewer of my second book. The good news is that Book 2 is doing much better (don’t have the figures). Because of this, my editor believes booksellers will order more of Book 3, which comes out in October.
Also, my new editor ended our conversation with a stern—ask me anything. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Part of my information gap was not being assertive enough. The other part had to do with the communication challenges with my former editor and agent. More on that in a sec.
There are probably tons of reasons why an author moves to a new editor within the same publishing house. Here are mine:
My former editor used to be the only romance editor at Sourcebooks. At one point, I counted 80 authors on her annual Christmas shout-out blog. That’s a lot of authors, especially if they’re writing more than one book per year. At some point, Sourcebooks hired a new romance editor and the decision was made to move some of us over to her.
The move proved to be a good one. I love my former editor and will always be grateful to her for giving me my first break. She’s passionate about romance and really understands the genre. Because she understands what readers expect from their romance novels, she always wanted me to tone down the suspense in my books. Now that’s a hard thing for me to do. LOL The main challenge in our relationship was that our communication styles did not jibe well. Though I must say, with the help of my former agent, we had established a great process by the time I moved over to my new editor.
Speaking of my new editor—I couldn’t be happier. She’s savvy, knowledgeable, and likes to brainstorm. Now, I need to make sure I’m not squeamish about asking her questions.
You’re probably scratching your head and asking, “Why would anyone give up their dream agent, especially one deemed an ‘uber-agent’?” Believe me, it was NOT an easy decision. My former agent loves to dive into character and plot development, and I learned so much from him. The experience was invaluable and I will always be indebted to him. But here’s the thing…he’s an extremely busy guy.
As a debut author, I needed things from him that he simply didn’t have time to provide. I needed an advocate-agent—someone who would check on audio rights, foreign rights, request book blurbs, etc. Someone who would help promote me, get my name out. So, I made the very tough decision to sever the relationship. Can’t tell you how hard it was to pick up the phone and make the call, but by the time I made the decision, I knew it was the right one for my career.
Funny thing is…my former agent knew it too, so he offered a solution. He paired me up with a new agent in his agency. An agent who was actively trying to grow her author list and, more importantly, had time to do all the things I needed.
After explaining to her on the phone that I required an advocate-agent during this stage in my career and hearing the enthusiasm in her voice, I knew I had to give the relationship a chance. As with any new partnership, we had to work through a few kinks. We’ve figured it out, though, and are now working cohesively toward securing my next project. Speaking of which…
No New Contract…Yet
As I mentioned earlier, I spoke to my editor in March and learned Sourcebooks wasn’t interested in any more Nexus books, nor did the other two series concepts I pitched resonate with her.
Let’s just say, I had an Oh-Crap-Ola moment. I would normally say “Oh Shit” but I don’t want to go all unprofessional on you.
I left our meeting with a homework assignment—come up with 3-5 series concepts. Just a paragraph or two for each. Some of you might be thinking, “FIVE???” Well, facing unemployment can be very motivating.
After coming up with 5 different series concepts, I shot them to my critique partners and agent, who all gave me great feedback. Then I sent the ideas to my editor and nervously waited for her reply. What would I do if she didn’t care for any of them? See, fellow writers, the fear never goes away.
I’m happy to say that she liked several of the ideas, but one pushed to the top. I’ll start working on the proposal the moment I finish this blog.
The other really good news is that my agent loved the two series ideas I had pitched to my editor back in March. I’ve finished one proposal and sent it off to her and am working on the other (Update: will have to set this one aside to work on the new proposal for my editor!).
What does all this proposal stuff mean, exactly? Well, if I’m super lucky, another publisher will snap up either one, or both, of the other new series. Which means I could be writing for two publishers soon. Something I never thought I would/could do, but am now really excited by the prospect.
Believe In Yourself…No Matter What
Several times over the last couple years, I faced some difficult situations. What got me through—and is getting me through—the tough times is the belief that I will get past them. As writers, we’ll always come up against some kind of fear. The important thing is – is how we scale it, so that we can continue moving forward. The answer will be different for all of us. As long as we conquer the fear and the anxiety and the multitude of other emotions that pummel us, we’ll come out on top. This, I believe with all my heart.
For more information about advocate-agent/author relationship, check out Addison Fox’s article in the April 2013 Romance Writers Report (RWR). Both my agent and I thought her article was spot on.
What obstacles have you had to overcome in recent years? How did you do it?
Join us Wednesday for how to survive and thrive in the slush pile with Shelly Ellis
Tracey Devlyn writes historical romantic thrillers (translation: a slightly more grievous journey Toward the heroine’s happy ending). She’s a co-founder of Romance University, a group blog dedicated to readers and writers of romance, and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, Chicagoland’s exciting new reading salon devoted to romantic fiction.
An Illinois native, Tracey spends her evenings harassing her once-in-a-lifetime husband and her weekends torturing her characters. For more information on Tracey, including her Internet haunts, contest updates, and details on her upcoming novels, please visit her website at: www.TraceyDevlyn.com.
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