Monday, February 18, 2013

My crazy three years since "the call"

There's been a lot of behind-the-scenes author stuff happening these last few weeks. Most of it I can't talk about just yet, but suffice it to say, I'm lucky beyond belief to have the world's savviest, smartest, most dedicated, determined, and supportive agent on the planet.

A quick round of applause for Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary, please?

It dawned on me the other night when I was exchanging emails with Michelle at nearly 1 a.m. her time (did I mention the dedicated part?) that it's been almost exactly three years since I got the call that Michelle had landed me a three-book deal with Sourcebooks for my romantic comedies.

It got me thinking about what's changed in my life and in the publishing industry since that time.

I've released two books and one active-fiction title. Making Waves hit shelves in August 2011, and was nominated for RT Book Reviews contemporary romance of the year. The Chicago Tribune made me all swoony when they wrote, "Fenske's wildly inventive plot & wonderfully quirky characters provide the perfect literary antidote to any romance reader's summer reading doldrums.” And if that weren't delightful enough, Believe it or Not came out in March 2012 to reviews like this one from Publishers Weekly: "Sexually charged dialogue & steamy make-out scenes will keep readers turning pages.” Meanwhile, Michelle landed me another deal with Coliloquy, which publishes active-fiction titles like my story, Getting Dumped (sorta like a grownup version of choose-your-own-adventure). And all those books are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's kept me busy these last three years. Which leads me to my next point...

Being a published author involves a lot less book writing than you'd think. When I look back on the last three years, I've written two full manuscripts and two partials from scratch (none of which you've seen, but we'll cover that in another paragraph). That might seem like a lot, but compared with my former ability to churn out a completed manuscript in 3-4 months, it's pretty slow. So what have I been doing with my time? The answer isn't as x-rated as you might imagine. Promotion. A lot of it. At one point I was writing daily blog posts here, weekly posts for my day job, weekly posts for The Debutante Ball, and as many as seven posts a week for blogs the Sourcebooks publicist lined up during my release months. It hurts my brain to think about that. Then there was Facebook and Twitter and interviews for magazine and newspaper articles. I also spent a lot of time on editorial revisions, ranging from smaller copy edits to completely gutting and rewriting books from scratch. There was also travel – for book signings and conferences and speaking engagements. There's also the aforementioned day job, plus the fact that I do sometimes have a personal life. I'm flabbergasted I ever found time to poop, much less write new books.

Those new books I mentioned – the ones you've never seen? Yeah. About that. I was talking recently with a friend whose debut novel came out the same year mine did. Hers was wildly successful, winning oodles of awards and bestseller honors. But since then, she's struggled to write a book her publisher considers "the right next book." She's not alone, and this is something I wish I'd understood back when I thought a book deal meant the end of publication angst. If anything, it gets tougher. Editors and marketing folks use your previous reviews and sales records to determine "the right next book" for your career. Sometimes, it isn't the one you've just written. I learned that the hard way when the book I crafted as the third in my romantic comedy contract was praised as a wonderful, funny, well written story – but not "the right next book." Some of it was about tone, some was about perceived changes in the market, and some of it was just baffling editorspeak I can't possibly understand, but must respect and defer to if I want to succeed in this industry. I went back to the drawing board and wrote an entirely new book intended to be the third in my romantic comedy contract. And now we wait. And wait. Did I mention the waiting doesn't get easier? 

What the @#$% happened to the publishing industry? I'm dumbfounded by how quickly the industry has changed in recent years. It wasn't long ago aspiring authors would carefully craft query letters, lick their stamps, then lick their wounds when form rejection letters appeared in the mailbox from these mysterious, terrifying creatures known as agents. These days, agents banter on Twitter about Pop Tarts and queries with everyone from bestselling authors to those who've never finished a manuscript. Social media has leveled the playing field and removed a lot of fear for authors, and that's a good thing. Another dramatic change is the perception of indy publishing, small press, and self-publishing. I'll admit it – three years ago, I secretly saw those publishing avenues as the domain of writers who weren't quite good enough to land traditional book deals with larger publishing houses. But these days, mid-list and mega-bestselling authors are jumping ship with traditional publishers and going the indy or self-pub route. Does that mean it's the best choice for everyone? Nope, definitely not. But the fact that authors now have choices like these – and that they're regarded as legitimate career moves, rather than last resorts – is empowering and exciting.

Is this my life? If you're a regular reader of this blog, you already know my personal life has undergone some pretty major changes in the three years since my book deal. Back when I got the call from my agent, I had been happily married and happily childless-by-choice for more than twelve years, and I assumed I'd stay that way forever. But life threw me some serious curveballs that first year, and the divorce I never saw coming put a funny kink in my year as a debut author (and not the fun kind of kink). But things have a way of working out in the long run. The longtime acquaintance I tapped to be my "divorce mentor" turned out to be the most amazing, compassionate, considerate, sexy, fun, talented, kind person I've ever met. And his two kids have become a source of joy and laughter and daily amazement for me in ways I never could have expected. Is this the life I thought I'd have three years ago when I shrieked into my agent's ear over the phone line? Hell no. But it most ways, it's better.

So that's my roundup of what's changed in the last three years. What's yours? Please share!


Heather Guy said...

3 years ago, I had just moved to Maryland and got engaged to my now husband. I moved half way across the country to be with him and brought with me a car full of belongings and my little shih tzu. We went through living with his mother for about a year and a half, which was hell, because that woman is just crazy. Then a few months after we actually got married, we had to fight with her to move out into our own apartment, we added two cats to our furry children and I started back on my college degree after being on hiatus since 2006 and found the career path that I know will make me happy, though I'm still far off from finishing all my education. We moved into a rental house that I love and adopted a BIG dog. I finish my associates in the fall and also start my 4 year school at the same time. Happiest as can be, run on sentences and all!

Melania Tolan said...

Wow Tawna, you've had quite ride these last few years. I'll never forget my 1st RCRW meeting and sitting next to you 2 years ago. So much has changed since then. So happy for you and all the wonderful things that have come your way.

Judy, Judy, Judy said...

And through it all you've kept your sense of humor and entertained many people. I know that wasn't always easy and I applaud you for it!

Rhonda Hopkins said...

Congrats on all your success, Tawna! And thank you for the laughs and keeping me entertained. Whatever the publishing future holds for you, I wish you the very best. :-)

lora96 said...

Three years ago I was a newlywed who intended to remain childless and travel.

Now we have dogs, a baby girl and a new house almost finished (and a house to sell in a madly slumped buyer's market...).Travel involves a diaper bag and the destination is usually someplace like the grocery store.

So, it's basically fabulous.

Julie Glover said...

I'm glad you got "the call," as I have enjoyed and recommended your books. I have heard from traditionally published authors that it doesn't get easier once you land the deal. Of course, out here in pre-deal land, we're all thinking, "I'd love to have her problems!" Every stage certainly has its challenges. I do hope you can do more writing and less promotion as time goes on. Best wishes with the waiting. I'll cross my fingers (and legs and toes and all that) as well.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Wow, has it been that long since the great Making Waves Photo Essay Tour of Kentucky?

Since then, I've managed to turn the places I took MW into a setting for my own project, and hopefully that's going to be going on a photo essay tour of it's own someday!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

You definitely have worked very hard; I'm impressed that you were able to get all of that done in addition to the work you had to do for your day job. I know this may sound ironic coming from me, but I think you deserve a vacation.

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