(Author’s note: initially I thought I’d write some type of instructional post, but in the process of planning and writing, it turned into more of an effort to inspire those of you who are in the early phase of your writing life—probably because I’m in the early phase of my most ambitious project to-date and can benefit from the sentiment myself. –TAF)
When I was an aspiring author working on my MFA from ’03 to ‘05, my goal was to become a working novelist, i.e. to make my living from my books. To that end, I began reading the trades—Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace—so that in addition to learning the art and craft of fiction writing, I could learn the business of it as well.
In addition to the news about publishing houses and editors and agents and bookstores, I read deal reports announcing lucrative book and film/TV deals almost every day. And I was envious. I wanted to see my name there, see my book there. Whenever I visited a bookstore or library, I would find the shelf on which my book(s) would one day rest. I’d scan the authors’ names—Ford, Forster, Foster—and there, that spot, right next to Connie May and Karen Joy, that’s where I would live. When I watched films or TV shows adapted from novels, I’d imagine the thrill those novels’ authors must have experienced (and, possibly, the disappointment or anger when the job was done badly, but never mind that; in the dreamer stage, only good things result).
However: I also knew there would be none of the above for me unless I could write a saleable book. So I kept at it. I finished a draft of my thesis, showed it to my thesis director, listened to his feedback, and then rewrote the damn thing from scratch. Defended it successfully. Sent it out and acquired an agent—who sent it out, and sent it out, and sent it out, and…eventually we faced facts and I wrote another, different book. Which sold!
In late ’06 I saw my name and my book deal in the trades. In ’08, that book was on the store and library shelves I’d once stroked with intent and affection. There was some action on film/TV rights, but nothing came of it. Same thing with my next book, and the next. Selling an option was, for me, like trying to catch a minnow in a stream with my hands.
But my fourth and most recent novel, Z, was the charm. My first historical novel, first NYT best seller, first book to earn out its advance—it got the attention of a particular someone in the film industry (Christina Ricci) and, after a lot of behind the scenes effort and then many months of negotiations, we had a deal for a TV series. I finally had that minnow in my hands! I was, once more, one of those authors I’d used to read about. Or, nearly— [Read more…]