Today’s guest post is by bestselling YA author Susan Beth Pfeffer. Susan is the author of 76 children’s and young adult novels. Her most recent book, This World We Live In, is the final book of a trilogy, also comprising the New York Times bestseller Life As We Knew It, and The Dead And The Gone. Enjoy!
I sold the first book I ever wrote to the first publishing house that ever saw it. It was a young adult novel. I was 20 years old, a senior in college, and the book was written on 80% instinct, 10 % determination, 5% luck, 3% ego, and 2% skill.
I may be exaggerating the amount of skill involved.
Because I had no idea how I had accomplished what I had accomplished, I went from instantaneous success to consistent failure with no difficulty whatsoever. Six months after I started writing my first book, I’d signed a contract for its publication. It took two years before I succeeded in selling another book.
I always do better when I have goals, although I couldn’t have told you that at the time. But I did have a goal then, and now. That was to earn enough money as a writer that I would never actually have to work for a living. The only way of achieving that goal was by writing.
So for two years, I wrote. I didn’t care what genre, or even if I’d ever read a book in that genre. I wrote everything. I wrote The Great American Novel. I wrote The Amusing Murder Mystery. I wrote The Brilliant Sci Fi novel. I wrote The Adorable Picture Book. I wrote The Romantic Gothic Novel and The Plucky Nurse’s Novel. And, of course, I wrote YA after YA.
None of them sold. For two years, the only time I heard from a publishing house was when they sent me back my manuscript.
There were, during those two years, moments of hope. The Adorable Picture Book almost sold. The Brilliant Sci Fi Novel was returned with a personal rejection letter telling me it was the most wrongheaded sci fi novel the editor had ever read and I should certainly send him my next manuscript. A couple of editors expressed some interest in the YA novels, although not enough to make an actual offer on them.
I have to confess, I didn’t complete The Romantic Gothic Novel. After I’d written about 50 pages, I realized I’d named my dark brooding hero Lord Montgomery of Cliftcrest. I burst out laughing and put the manuscript aside. But all the other books, I wrote from beginning to end (remember that 10% determination?), and sent off, full of hope that this would be the one to get my career back on track.
They were an awful two years. I lived six days a week for the delivery of the mail. I convinced myself that I understood editors’ schedules, and spent entirely too much time waiting by the telephone for calls I never got. I dreamed of acceptances and then woke up to realize it was only a dream.
During this two year stretch, my first book (Just Morgan) got published to rave reviews and excellent sales. I was a successful published author. Just one that didn’t know how to write publishable material.
The two years of failure ended with two successes. I sold two different YA novels within a week of each other to two different publishing houses, and my moribund career kicked back into gear. And while I’ve had a couple more stretches during the 40 odd years of my writing career where no one was even remotely interested in anything I had to offer, I can honestly say I never had a day job.
There are a handful of things in this world I truly believe in. One is that a book started on Tuesday will turn out differently than that same book if it had been started on Monday or held off on until Wednesday. I believe every single moment of a writer’s life affects their work in ways that cannot be calculated. I know I’m a different writer today because of those two years of dashed hopes and continuous failures. Maybe not a better writer, but a different one.
Remember my Plucky Nurse’s Novel? Orphanage Nurse, I think its title was. I’d sent it off to whatever house was publishing plucky nurse romances those days, and I waited and waited and waited to hear back from them.
Five years after I’d mailed it to them, they returned it with a form rejection letter. It took five years for them to determine it wasn’t suitable for their needs at that time.
Somehow, I suppose, even that experience had an influence on my writing.
Just don’t ask me what!