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A Hard Change Will Do You Good

Flickr Creative Commons: Torbeln Ronning

I didn’t expect it, but changing publishing houses is like living in Mayberry your whole life and deciding to relocate to London. Potentially forever. You’re aware that it won’t be an easy transition, but you can’t imagine it’s that hard. People speak the same language where you’re going and historically, we were all once kinsmen.

Change is the essence of life. People do it every day. Even nature is perpetually evolving: winter, spring, summer, fall. So this should feel organic, right?

Not quite. I won’t sugarcoat the truth. This has been one of the most arduous journeys I’ve ever experienced. Nearly more difficult than getting my first book published—because then I was simply happy for an open door. I was content to have my novel be made real on bookshelves. I didn’t know anybody in publishing, and they didn’t know me. My publisher and I were new sweethearts, and I hardly edited a dozen words of my manuscript before it went to press.

Bless all the experienced authors who cheered and smiled and let me think it all so snappy. If I met my debut self right now, I’d pour her a stiff drink and say, “Girl… start taking that Zantac.”

Here’s something you need to know about me: I’m loyal to a fault. I fiercely defend my trusted relationships until I reach an absolute, indisputable end. I don’t know how to be any other way, personally or professionally. So I stayed at my original publishing house for nearly ten years while it and everyone in it changed.

I went through six or seven editors—so many I can’t even recall the exact count. They just kept leaving my imprint. And for those of you who’ve never had your editor leave in the middle of your book project, I think I can speak for the rest of us: it completely knocks you off your creative horse. Your writing legally belongs to the publishing house, not the editor employed by the house. So there you stay to be assigned to another in-house editor, who is usually inundated with projects already. Back to square one with the nice-to-meet-you’s, never mind the ins and outs of the book you’re working on. Do that 6-7 times and you feel like a redheaded stepchild. How could you not?

What many of you don’t know is that when my latest novel The Mapmaker’s Children released, my lovely editor left for another publishing house imprint, and I was assigned once more. This was the straw that broke the writer’s back. My agent and I agreed that I needed to move to a fresh house. Easier said than done. Here’s why…

Unlike with my debut, I know people now.

1) First there are the people I’m leaving behind at my old imprint. As I mentioned, my editors might be gone, but it takes a village to launch a book. There are publicists, sales managers, marketing teams, graphic designers, art departments, audiobook directors, actors, book club leaders, and dozens of assistants working their tails off across the board. I am walking away from nearly a decade of working with them. Think about it: a decade of Christmas gifts, lunches, emails, sharing of triumphs and challenges. I care about these people!

So how do I say goodbye at 800 miles apart? How do I tell them that it isn’t you, it’s me without sounding cliché? How do I let them know just how much they’ve meant to my career and life without coming off schmaltzy? I still haven’t figured that out.

2) Secondly, there are my author and editor friends. All have given me solid advice while praising their imprints as the best. Publishing is every bit business and every bit personal. But an author can only belong to one house, which means a choice that has the potential to damage feelings.

There is the other side to consider, too. By trumpeting myself as officially on the market and submitting to those editor friends, they are then forced to express an opinion on my writing. To be candid and fair, we might be chummy, but that doesn’t automatically mean they like my work. Literature is built on subjectivity and being able to come together to discuss individual sentiments. That’s the noble reflection, but we’re human. We feel hurt easily. So if those friends passed on me or I passed on them, where would that leave our day-to-day relationships? Good God, this monstrous catch-22 had me stewing ulcers for months.

After a painful, pensive trial (so long and drawn out that I won’t bore you with the details), my agent and I decided on an exclusive submission. Maybe you’ve heard of this before. I hadn’t, so bear with me while I explain. It’s pretty much the publishing equivalent of putting all your literary eggs in one basket and mailing it. You don’t really know how it’s going to be received at the destination. All you can do is pray that at least one of the eggs arrives solid. I wrote three different book proposals and sent them to a preferred editor who I felt could be my editorial love-match. It was a lesson in faith, to be certain.

So was it worth it? Was all that time and turmoil worth it? Absolutely. I’m thrilled to be joining the esteemed William Morrow imprint at Harper Collins, and the book I’m writing now has my heart more elated than any other. My new editor is all I could’ve hoped for in an editor—truly my first pick. I learned that fate has a way of leading us to exactly where we’re meant to be.

Each of us has a calling. When we hear it, we’ve got to leap out of the nest or we’ll never fly. That calling could be deciding to finally write the novel we’ve been dreaming about for a decade, joining a new writing group, or any step outside our comfort zone. I can say from my experience that doing the hard thing is always the best choice. Our biggest job is to not be afraid of it.

So now it’s your turn, what hard change would do you good?

About Sarah McCoy [1]

SARAH McCOY is the New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker’s Children [2]; The Baker’s Daughter [3], a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central [4]; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico [5]. Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post [6] and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports doctor, and their dog, Gilly, in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with Sarah on Twitter [7] at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page [8], Goodreads [9], or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com [10].