Wrap-up 2020: Great Writing year; LEss Good Publishing Year

Hello friends. This week marks my 17th year of writing with an eye towards publication. I’m 35 years old, so that’s nearly half my life! If you’d told me in 2003, when I was sending out my first-ever story submission (to SciFiction) and counting up how much money I’d make when it sold ($1200), that in seventeen years I’d release a book to astoundingly mixed reception and be looking for my third agent and be approaching 1800 short story rejections, I probably would’ve quit.

When I was eighteen, even twenty-two looked far away. If you’d told me I wouldn’t make any money or get any prestige from a sale for another four years (I sold my first story to Nature when I was twenty-two), I probably wouldn’t quit as well!

Probably there are some kids reading this blog who are like, wow what’s this person been doing all this time? I know that I used to have that reaction when I would read other peoples’ stories. Wow! What took you so long! Couldn’t you just have, like, failed a little less? It’s like Asimov telling Heinlein, "I do one draft of a story and then I retype it to correect the typos and then I send it out." And Heinlein said, "What a waste of time! Just type it correctly the first time!" And then they went and groped some women together. Actually that is libel, I have no idea if Heinlein groped women.

Anyway, productivity-wise, it’s been a great year. I completely rewrote my novel for adults, THE LONELY YEARS. I wrote a fun thriller type book, DEATH TRAP, and I wrote a book I’m planning on self-publishing when I get around to it, THE CYNICAL WRITER’S GUIDE TO THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY.

I also wrote 15 stories and sold six (mostly not the stories that I wrote), including second and third sales to Asimov’s, and my first sales to higher-tier lit magazines, West Branch and Gulf Coast. And I sold a story to Lightspeed and there was one I believe to Nature. That’s the most stories I’ve sold since 2015. It’s also the most I’ve written since 2015.

In part this came about because of frustration with my novel writing career. I think my YA novel that came out this year, WE ARE TOTALLY NORMAL, is a fantastic book, with a nuanced portrayal of a teen who really has no clue about where on the identity spectrum he falls. It’s gotten plenty of praise: the paperback edition is even going to have a blurb from David Levithan, who picked it up on Kacen Callender’s recommendation. And sales have been decent: better than those of my first book! But to many readers it was a disappointment: not the kind of book they expected or wanted. Whether that was a mismatch between marketing and content, or a mismatch between me, a thirty-five year old woman, and the teen readership, is something we’ll never know.

I’ve long wanted to write for adults, and this year I tried in earnest to market my literary novel for adults. But just as I was looking for an agent, the pandemic hit, and everything has been really slow and not quite how I expected it to go. I believe strongly in the book, but it’s been a disappointment. My thriller too has had a hard time in the search for representation. The fact is, having a trans protagonist generates a lot of excitement, but it also raises the question "Will cis-gendered women read about a trans woman?" And the answer is "We don’t know." Then there’s the whole PoC aspect, and it’s hard. I don’t know. I’ve been intermittently discouraged.

And yet more productive than ever! Coming out has allowed me to stop dancing around the issues I’m interested in. I finally feel able to just write what I want to write. And I’ve got so much to write and to say! I’ve learned and grown quite a bit as a writer, and the times I’d had the most fun this year have been those when I was most immersed in the writing (which has been about two thirds of the year).

So, in sum, not my best year, but not my worst, either. Honestly, as long as the writing is going well, things can’t be too bad. I’ve had years where the writing went miserably, and it’s those years when you really question who you are and why you’re doing this in the first place.

These past few months is the longest I’ve been without an agent since 2013, and there has been a silver lining. I’ve been able to write without someone else’s voice in my head. And not having an agent, so being unable to move forward with novel-length projects, has inspired me to find other outlets for my work: I’ve gotten more proactive about submitting my stories, I’ve been branching out into other forms. And the coping mechanisms you learn from failure are something that stay with you forever, so there’s that.

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  1. J-Bo

    Hope you find an agent soon! If it’s any consolation, being on sub in 2020 has been hell so you didn’t miss much.

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