I've written some very good books. I debuted well - my first novel, Fire in the Mist, won the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel and I was a finalist twice for the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer. My books are consistently rated highly by Amazon.com readers - many of them have five-star ratings. I've had wonderful reviews, I get letters and e-mails regularly that say "I don't read fantasy but I read your stuff," and "I read a lot of fantasy and you're my favorite author," and I've even a really nice note from one of my copyeditors, telling me that she loved working on my book even though she kept getting sucked into the story, because it was a great story.
And yet I've had to struggle to make it in writing. I'm still struggling, nearly ten years into my career. Why?
I made five big, avoidable mistakes when I was just getting started. I didn't have anyone to tell me not to make them, I didn't know any better, and as a result I'm having to seriously consider working under a pseudonym, something I swore when I started that I would never do.
I didn't have anyone to tell me not to make these mistakes, but you have me. It's hard writing about them now - I cannot look at what I've done and think about what I could have done without feelings of deep regret. Please listen. What I have to say here can save your career from sinking before it even starts.
MISTAKE NUMBER ONE - I did not find a publisher who published my genre well.
I submitted Fire in the Mist to only one publisher, and I chose that publisher not because of careful consideration of that publisher's list, and not because that publisher had shown a consistent pattern of creating bestsellers in my chosen genre, but because I had already signed a contract to do a collaboration with a published friend at that house, and I saw that as an "in" that would get my solo novel read more quickly. Bad, bad reason to chose a business partner.
The book sold, and I didn't give my decision a second thought. Who can think with an editor on the phone saying, "We want to buy your book?"
So my fantasy novel was accepted in a publishing house that routinely creates bestsellers and best-selling authors in SF, but that has never created a fantasy bestseller or in-house best-selling fantasy author. This was a bad sign, but I didn't know it. The publisher loves SF, but considers fantasy a weak-minded step-sister -he's a nice guy and great to work with, but he put together his fantasy line to fill in a perceived hole in his list, not because he loved fantasy. I didn't know that, either, but if I had been less naive and less impetuous, I could have figured it out.
So my books didn't matter to my publisher. He had a financial stake in them, but no personal stake. Unlike the SF novels that he loved and wanted to see succeed, my books were simply product that he needed to fill out his monthly list. He didn't respect them, he didn't respect what I did, and so he didn't fight for them the way he fought for his SF line.
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