Picking Yourself Back Up and Starting Over
by Amanda Foody
The publishing industry is competitive. As writers, we know that. We’ve been told that. We’ve experienced that. But that doesn’t mean that failing is any less heart-breaking, or terrifying, or discouraging.
And starting over…sometimes that seems even worse than the failure itself.
Three years ago, my first “real” manuscript went on submission. I say “real” because, even though it wasn’t technically the first book I’d written, it was the first book that people really noticed, that people got excited about. When I signed with an agent, people said, “Of course. That book is magic.” When I was getting interest on submission, people said, “Of course. Everyone knows that book will sell.” And when it didn’t sell, after numerous close calls and would-haves, no one was more shocked and devastated than I was.
I wish I could say that I immediately picked myself back up, dusted myself off, and finished my next magical manuscript. At the time, the only project I’d been writing was a companion novel to a book that I now couldn’t bear to think about (Pro-Tip: don’t do this). Everything about my career had been one hundred miles per hour, and very suddenly, I was nineteen years old, heart-broken, and at a total stand-still.
If this story sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. Nearly every writer has stared their own failure in eyes at least once. And it’s not easy, but you can pick yourself back up and start over. It took years, but I eventually did crawl out of my misery cave and, in more ways than one, grow up.
Here is what helped me and what hopefully can help you, too.
Step #1: Find your rebound. Learn something. Keep moving. Remind yourself that not everything you write needs to be magic because you are, in fact, a human being and not a machine. (Optional: Skip this step and move right to step two.)
First, I wrote another book, and it wasn’t at all like the Project-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. It was higher fantasy, with a big cast, and elemental magic–not the kind of books I personally have ever written. The story had some major flaws, but I did fall in love with my new characters. That helped. However, my agent didn’t see much promise in the project, and, after I’d written the entire book, I shelved it. It was another blow to my ego, but I had managed to write a book again. A rebound, if you will. (Happy ending: I gave the rebound WIP a makeover more to my style, it’s 500% better, and my new agent loves it, too.)
Step #2: Write a book, stare your initial failure in the eyes, and try again.
After that, I wrote another book. Since my last two projects had ultimately been rejected, I
decided to write something that 1) my agent loved from the start, and 2) that was totally different from anything else I’ve ever written. I succeeded. The project was strange from start to finish, but it was written, and, some people even told me, it might have also been magic.
Bad news: I’d finished the maybe-magic project, but my agent wasn’t feeling it. Split amicably with agent. Move back four spaces (and three years).
This was arguably the ultimate low. But also the moment I’m either 1) most proud of, or 2) most embarrassed by. Because, after several more weeks of moping, I stayed up all night, revised my entire manuscript, and queried a bunch of new literary agents the next day. (There is a longer story associated with this, but I won’t go into it. All in all, there were some questionable decisions made that turned out not-so-bad. My actions here were not advisable.). I signed with a new agent two weeks later.
Step #3: Regain some confidence and celebrate your achievements. You have successfully picked yourself back up and started over…
…But this is it. The moment when it all collapsed. That failure you keep seeing in the corner of your bathroom mirror is starting to look more and more real.
Step #4: Ready your stance.
I used to do martial arts as a kid. There’s a special way to stand, feet spread out, posture straight, balanced distributed, so that if you get hit, you’re less likely to fall down. So you can take the blow.
Being two years older and a tiny bit wiser, I got into my ready stance, and from the moment my agent submitted the new project to publishers, I immediately starting writing a project to potentially replace it. I’d spent two years wallowing in misery Amanda-land, and I wasn’t going to let myself slow down this time.
This is where my advice ends, but not where the story concludes. There was a brief intermission on submission when I ate a lot of chocolate and played hundreds of hours of Civilizations V, but I’m not sure those coping methods are advisable.
Getting knocked down is terrible, and starting over is worse. It took me two years before I made it back to the same place, back on submission, and that was almost two years where I felt like a total failure, the one-hundred-mile-per-hour train that just couldn’t anymore. So, if you’ve ever had this happen to you or are worried that it might, you aren’t alone. It happens to the best of us. Keep everything in perspective.
It’s also important to note that, even though I didn’t mention the lovely cheerleaders I had in my friends, family, and critique partners, this journey will always feel like my own. I’m a firm believer that the only person who can pick you up is yourself. But surrounding yourself with support will make it that much easier. Tell your friends what you’re going through and keep them close.
And, to finish the story, there is a happy ending. A really happy ending, in fact. Two months into submission, I received a very exciting call from my agent that my book was magic after all and it was going to be published, and now that book, Daughter of the Burning City, is releasing from Harlequin TEEN on July 25, 2017. That was probably the second happiest day of my life.
The happiest day of my life came a week later, when my publisher made a second offer on the very dusty, very tear-stained Book-That-Could-Not-Be-Named-But-Is-Now-Titled-Ace of Shades. Three years later, I finally get to allow myself to love it again. It’s expected publication date is in April 2018.
Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University, and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she works as a tax accountant in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books. DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, her first novel, will be published by Harlequin TEEN on July 25, 2017. Her second, ACE OF SHADES, will follow in April 2018.
Daughter of the Burning City
A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.
Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.
But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.
Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.
Ace of Shades
Lady-to-be Enne Salta and card dealer Levi Glaisyer team up to find Enne’s missing mother in a city of casinos and gangsters, while Levi’s unraveling Ponzi Scheme and Enne’s dark secret threaten to destroy them both.
Pitched as Spirited Away meets Boardwalk Empire and Six of Crows
Thank you so much, Amanda, for sharing your story with us! This is so inspiring, and as an agent, I understand this struggle as well. Falling in love with a book doesn’t always mean it will sell, but having hope that someone else will love it as much as you do can get you through those tough times. The industry is tough, but we are all tougher. =)
A special thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature! Your words are so needed and appreciated. We love hearing your stories and words of advice as you continue to help guide writers in all stages of the craft.
We hope you have a great rest of your day!