So it couldn’t have been more fitting that this month at WU, we’re chatting about just what the heck to do when the publishing industry throws you a curveball. Because if you’ve read any of my past posts here, you know that I’ve been thrown a few curveballs myself as of late. Indeed, the last time I was here, I announced that after four books within the traditional system (I’ve been at HarperCollins, Random House and Penguin), I was opting to take the leap and go indie  with my fifth book, THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES . So I know from curveballs. And that’s not even the first screwy pitch I’ve been thrown in my eight years of writing fiction. So today, I thought we would talk about Plan B. And what to do to come up with it, and how to implement it when the time has come to accept that Plan A just isn’t going to cut it, even if you desperately hoped it would.
In case you’re doubting that I’m an expert in Plan Bs, here’s a short run-down on my own publishing hiccups:
- I wrote a book, my very first book, that got me representation but failed to sell to a publisher. After I wrote another book, said agent told me she thought it would do more harm than good to go out with it, as she didn’t think it would sell. She gave me a choice of revisiting the old ms, writing another one from scratch, or…walk away. I was heartbroken and devastated…for about 24 hours. Then I woke up and realized I was walking away. Plan B.
- After I found new representation, my new (and amazing) agent sold that manuscript (the one that would do me more harm than good) at a four-way auction. Yahoo! Right? Yes and no. It was thrilling and incredible, but that book (at the time – it has since go on to sell many more copies) only sold so-so, and when the time came for the publisher to buy my next book, their offer was significantly lower than my initial advance. Again, I was given the option of accepting the offer or…walking away. My agent and I put our heads together, and because we really believed not just in my book but my career, we…walked away. Plan B.
- From there, I landed at a dream publisher/imprint. I loved my editor; I loved my imprint; I was ecstatic. Then my editor left, which was a huge bummer, but in this industry, it happens. I wished her well (still do – we’re still in touch, and she’s fantastic!), and chalked it up to bad luck. I published my second novel, and then on the eve of the the publication of my third novel, my imprint imploded and was quickly dismantled. Very little of what had drawn me to this imprint – the people, the intimacy of their work, – remained. The editor I’d been passed to also left. So I was on my third editor in three books, surrounded by a changing infrastructure that I didn’t trust. What was I going to do? I think you know the answer to this. Though I was contracted for another book, I paid it back and…walked away. Plan B.
- I ended up at my third publisher and fourth editor. Despite all of this flux, I was so excited for the road ahead. Then, for a variety of reasons including my editor heading to another publishing house a few months before the book came out (again), the experience proved to be deflating. Disappointing. So much so that I thought about leaving publishing altogether. Many, many months passed, until finally I found the itch (and passion) to write again, and then, ultimately, as I’ve discussed before, I opted to go indie. Plan B.
SO. The above is a nice little summation of why Plan B is so important. Any of these crossroads could have derailed my career entirely. But because I was willing to take a left when I thought I’d be taking a right, I came out okay. Here are a few suggestions and tips that I’ve gleaned along the way when it comes to formulating your own Plan Bs:
- Hold on to your dream but don’t hold too tightly. There is something to be said for tenacity in this industry. There is going to be a massive amount of rejection, and you’re going to have to find a way to move past it. However, there is smartly moving past it, and there is blindly moving past it. When my first manuscript failed to sell, I HAD to let it go, even though (at the time), I was certain it was brilliant. If I had been resistant to abandoning that book, I wouldn’t have been able to move on and write my next one, which became my debut. Have a reasonableness to your Plan B. For example, if you’ve queried 100 agents and all have passed, consider that it might be time to write something new. There is zero shame in this.
- Understand your motivation. This one is complicated because what we write is so driven and tied into our emotional landscape (ie, the desire to be a bestselling author or the belief that our writing is award-worthy), but this same emotion can hinder us when it comes time to re-evaluating our plan. Every time I took one of my Plan B leaps, I had serious heart-to-hearts with both myself and my agent. In each conversation, I had to ask myself (and my agent): where do I hope and expect to be by making this change? When I left traditional publishing, for example, my hope and expectation was to rejuvenate my passion for my writing by trying something new, and it was also to seize more control over both my books and my career. My goal was not to top a bestseller list. (Which is nice if it happens, but again, not my specific goal.) I set reasonable benchmarks and understood why I set said benchmarks. These really helped me take the step toward Plan B.
- Don’t confuse a change of plans with failure. Listen, sh*t happens. I had three editors leave when I would have much preferred to build a career with any of them. While all of this flux left me a little bit demoralized, I never chalked it up to something that I had done wrong. Or when one of my books didn’t sell as well as hoped but was reviewed well and widely, I initially wondered if I’d done something egregious – there is a lot of blame to go around, and plenty of it is put on an author. But realized that I’d done everything that had been asked of me: I wrote the book they wanted; I delivered what they asked. If it didn’t do well, I wasn’t going to blame myself. I was going to figure out how to do it differently the next time so that I wasn’t put in this position again. You know what I did? I went indie. I didn’t see myself as a failure when I’d lived up to expectations.
- Be realistic. I’ve gotten a lot of emails recently from aspiring writers about going indie. So I want to be clear here that while I think everyone should do what is best for him or herself, not everyone is going to have success with one specific track. Indie publishing is hard. It takes a lot of self-starting, a lot of research, a lot of rolling up your sleeves and digging in. It’s not for everyone. Please be realistic in what you and your personality and resources can accomplish. Just as not all traditionally published authors will see smashing success, neither will all indie authors. There are very few one-size fits all answers with a Plan A or a Plan B.
- Don’t rush into anything. It does feel like most of what authors do in their careers is…wait. We wait for agents to reply to us; we wait for editors to read our work; we wait for a book to come out a year after we completed it. So when a Plan A goes askew, there is an instinct to rush to Plan B. Because Plan B is…something, right? It’s at least getting the ball moving! But. Don’t. I mean, I get instant gratification as much as any writer, but instant gratification – say, throwing your book up on Amazon – is not what cultivates a successful Plan B. Research, examination, thought goes into a good Plan B. An immediate rush of accomplishment isn’t a long-term career plan. So think carefully, think strategically, think not just in terms of weeks but years. Then start putting together the pieces for what’s next.
Anyone else have to come up with his or her own Plan B? Weigh in!