Two days ago, I was riding in the car with Danny, running errands, and I said, “Oh my god. I just realized that I get paid to write. I’ll have money after I sell my book. I can pay for Chrissy’s college.”
And he said, “Ha ha. You just realized that? What are you talking about?”
I’m finishing book #5, GLOSS, and I’m very excited about it. It’s a fun book, a feminist manifesto of sorts, and structured like an accordion. I’ve been working on it every day for the past two years, and I’ve really enjoyed the process, but yes, I forgot that I would actually make money when I sold the book.
Two-or-so years ago, I finished my fourth novel. After a few rewrites, it was accepted by my literary agent, and she’s a great agent. Very smart. (We had a bidding war for my first novel. We’ve been pals since 2008.) She sent it off to various editors and the waiting-game started.
When your book is sent out, it’s an anxious time when you wait and wait to hear which editors are interested. You think about bidding wars and working with editors and what the cover might look like. You think about readers turning pages and seeing it in bookstores and libraries.
Well, no one wanted to represent it. The feedback was non-specific, nothing I could fix, just the “I just don’t love it enough to represent it at this time,” and “I’m really looking for something else right now,” and “As much as I would like to represent this book, I feel someone with more passion for the characters would be a better advocate,” and all the “Michele writes beautifully, yada yada, but this just isn’t for me right now” stuff.
We tried another round of editors and got the same response. Understand that agents do not take books out and submit them to editors if they don’t think they will sell. I had spent five years writing and revising this novel. It is in part about my son growing up and my dad dying and being caught in that middle spot in life. I am proud of the book, but it didn’t sell.
I think all total, the book was submitted to sixty different editors. At one point, I took a few months and rewrote the novel from a new point of view. Again, I’m proud of the book. It still didn’t sell.
So, in order to start writing something new during Covid and a deep depression and crippling anxiety about the book not selling and living during a pandemic (I mean deep and crippling), I started taking online writing workshops and teaching online writing workshops. I had to go back to basics. I had to rethink what I do and why I do it, and it isn’t about money. It’s about art and craft and making a world on the page. I made new, amazing writer friends and I started to think differently.
I had to remember what it was to write for me and not what I thought people might want to read or what might sell. I had to remember that writing stories is a gift. I had to be grateful and not bitter. According to my agent, it wasn’t that my book wasn’t good. It was just that what I was writing wasn’t what was selling or popular during that particular market. There is a business side to writing and then there is the artistic, creative side, and never the twain shall meet.
Fast-forward to 2022. I am revising my fifth novel. I work on it every day. I am excited to send it to my agent, and I hope she likes it, but I have preached to my students and myself so long and so hard about art and craft and letting the subconscious guide you, that I forgot about the money. I forgot that I get paid to do this. I am in no hurry to finish the book because I want it to be amazing. I had to disassociate money and art.
I got a job at a restaurant this year. It’s fun and interesting–seeing the inner workings. And my coworkers are cool.
I teach amazing, brilliant writers online. I adore them and their words.
If I never publish again, I’ll still write. But the thing is, I know I’ll publish. I don’t doubt it. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. It’s just that my self-worth was so inextricably tied to publishing and book sales, I couldn’t see the worth of my craft. But the money is the business side, and I’m the artist side. I’m amazed that I was finally able to separate the two. I’m glad I got that shit straight in my head. It was a long time coming.