August 17, 2012

A Story of the Unsold

Below, you will find three novels debuting in 2012. They have two things in common...

The first thing they have in common? 

Well, I'm totally excited to read them! Especially BUTTER since it has such a unique premise. (Basically, a lonely and obese boy, nicknamed "Butter" by bullies at school, decides to eat himself to death on the Internet.) Fingers crossed that my library will stock these novels soon because my book budget is ever shrinking!

And the second thing these books have in common?

*Takes a big breath*

I was on submission at the same time as them.

Back in the fall of 2010, I went on sub for the very first time. My book was a middle grade novel about aliens and spaceships. It was the first book I had ever written and I had worked on it for three years straight, revising and re-writing and revising yet again, until I finally signed with an agent.

Needless to say, I WAS SO EXCITED! Like, this kind of excited. Or this kind:

Every morning, I'd hop out of bed and jump onto my computer, reading forums and blogs about going on submission. My favorite site? I found a thread on Absolute Write where writers on sub would commiserate and share news, whether good or bad. I had found my people!

As the weeks went by, some of the writers started receiving positive feedback from editors (ie, second reads, going to acquisitions, etc.). Then the book deals rolled in. And I was still SO EXCITED! I was happy for these authors and I was excited for my little book too, because maybe it would be my turn next. Maybe my good news was just around the corner.

Flash forward to the present....

Two years after I went on submission, I'm starting to see a lot of books that sold in 2010 popping up at my local Barnes & Noble. Admittedly, I feel a little twang in my heart whenever I see them. A wistful...What If?

What if my little book had sold? 
Would I see it now on these shelves? 
What would my cover look like? 
How would my life be different? 

Sometimes it's easy for me to get lost in these questions and to feel a little sad. But whenever I get mopey and flail-y, I try to remind myself of how lucky I am to have a husband who loves me and to have good friends who believe in me. And I tell myself to be grateful for what I've learned as a writer in these past two years.

So here is what I'm thankful for....

1. I'm a better writer now. 

Of course, I still have so much to learn! But if you compared my writing in 2010 to my writing now, you'd notice a difference. I'm better at showing my characters' emotions and better at world-building. I've also learned to avoid cliches. As much as it cringes me to say this, my middle grade novel had a few cliches. Mysterious prophecy? Check! Stereotypical side characters? Check!

*Cringes more*

I love my first book. It is the story of my heart—the story that showed me that I could write and finish a manuscript—but it is still my first book. I started it way back in 2008 and it's nearly 2013 now. I've grown since those early writing days, when my characters were flat and my dialogue was atrocious and my prologue even more so. But now, after five years of honing my craft, my characters aren't too shabby and my dialogue ain't so bad and I don't bother with prologues anymore.

I'm a better writer. Not perfect! But better. And I'm really grateful for that.

2. I'm a tougher writer now. 

I wish I could say that my second book was easier to write than my first, but that would be a lie of gargantuan proportions.

When my first novel didn't sell, I threw myself a pity party and then I dug into a new project with fiendish gusto. In three short months, I completed an 80,000-word YA alternate history that flew out of my brain in a whirlwind. I hoped to go on submission in the summer of 2011.


Yep, ANOMALY turned out to be a real monster. The first revision entailed switching the POV from first present to third past. The second revision required a re-write of the first 100 pages. The third, fourth, and fifth revisions...well, you get the picture. This novel made me want to rip out my eyeballs and throw my laptop across the house. It made me cry; it made me want to give up.

But you know what? I'm proud of ANOMALY. I'm proud of the story it has become and I'm proud of the writer that it has made me—tougher, hardier, stronger. I can still be a delicate flower when it comes to critiques, but I'm a tougher flower now. Like, a dandelion. Yes, I am a dandelion!

Ok bad analogy, but you get my drift, right?

3. I'm more prepared now. 

Since 2010, I've been lucky to meet a wonderful group of writers in DC. Many of them have sold and published books in the last two years, giving me a glimpse of what's it like on the other side of the publishing fence.

And you know what's funny? That other side of the fence? It's a lot like what I'm going through now.

Okay, okay, it is OBVIOUSLY really awesome and amazing to sell your book and see it at B&N and maybe even go on a book tour! Hell, that's my dream come true right there!

But once you get that book deal, after the initial elation has passed, the writerly anxiety doesn't go away. It simply shifts. Instead of queries and manuscript requests, you worry about book covers and bad reviews. Instead of submissions and acquisition meetings, you fret about print runs and sales numbers. Even authors with ginormous book deals feel the pressure too—about earning out their advances, about living up to hype.

The road to publication is filled with ups and downs, with scary bumps and u-turns. Published and unpublished alike, we're all searching for that elusive goal of selling our next book, be it our first book or our fiftieth.

Whew! Well, this was quite the rambling blog post, wasn't it? 

I still feel like I have a lot to say, but I figure you're probably snoring at your computers at this point. I guess I'll just end with this....

I'm lucky.
Everyday I get to do what I love, to create new worlds, to write stories.
How awesome is that?

So if I start acting all mopey and woe-is-me, please smack me.

Happy Friday!


  1. Thanks for the insightful post, and go you for hanging in there! You ARE a better writer now and I have absolute faith that your time will come soon & I will squee with you from all the way across the country. :)

    Also, randomly, I won ARCs of both Butter & Stormdancer. SO if your library doesn't get them, I'd be happy to send them over your way. Hopefully, I'll have read them by then, hah. :P

  2. I love you. Period.

    Can we be dandelions together? 'Cause I totally want to be one. FOREVER.

    Oh, and guess what? One day, I'm going to walk into a Barnes & Noble store, walk straight to the YA section, and pick up a book with your name on its cover. Then I will buy it. Then I will read it. Then I'll sing to it and it will cry and run away from me.

    Promise made. :)

  3. Oh, Caroline... This is a very timely post for me today. I'm sending you virtual hugs because you've reminded me that in the YA writing community, one is NEVER alone in the stress/doubt/excitement/whatever they may be feeling. You've also reminded me of what's most important in this industry: growth and patience and perspective. Thank you!

  4. I want to read ANOMALY :-)

  5. I can SO relate to this. Thanks for sharing. Great post!

  6. Caroline, this was such an amazing and uplifting post. Huge props for your ability to stay positive and enthusiastic and keep working! I think we have ALL been there, no matter what stage we are at--the crying and envy and frustration and self-doubt--and kudos to you for working through it.

    And ANYTIME you need fresh eyes, I am here. ;)

  7. I can completely relate... kinda, well not when it comes to writing, but putting your baby out there I totally get. You're a great writer and you'll become even more talented with time and reflection (you've got that one nailed). You'll see your name in print, I know you will. Can I be your first pre-order? ;o) Hugs!

  8. Loved this post, Caroline. As a writer who's just begun going through the rounds of submission and now navigating the fields of (major!) revision, your perspective is so inspiring. Thank you so much, and can't wait to hear what's next for you in your journey :)

  9. Love this post. I'm so in the same boat, only after submission I went and parted ways with my agent, so now I'm back to querying before I get a shot at submission again. *sigh* I'm new to your blog (hi!) and I was reading your other post about going with your gut--that's SO true, and I totally didn't do it. Which is why I'm back to querying. But good luck with the new book!

  10. Caroline, thanks for writing this; I went through a very similar situation in 2010. Sending good vibes for ANOMALY!

  11. ((((((hugs))))))) I <3 you and I <3 this post.