There's a saved "Retrospective" in my blog archive from the beginning of 2012 that starts like this: If 2009 was the year of optimism and 2010 of wish fulfillment, 2011 was a year of uncertainty... I wrote it around this time two years ago, but never posted it. Never even finished writing it. It was too hard to say what I was really thinking back then because if I was completely honest, it would have read something like: 2011 was the year I thought I might not make it as a writer.
My last book, The Vision, came out that year. I also wrote another book in 2011 called Touch and parted with my agent. I wasn't happy about the split, but it was necessary. And I figured I'd get a new agent and we'd submit Touch in time to stick to the book-a-year publication schedule I had in my master plan.
But finding an agent to take on Touch was much harder than I expected. I got lots of encouragement - I like your writing, but don't think I can sell this book, its too similar to something on my list, let me know when you have something else - and an offer that wasn't a good fit. At the end of 2011, I had two published books and a polished draft, but no contract, no agent and not much optimism about what would come next. So I skipped the Retrospective. What was the point?
Enter 2012. I signed with a new agent early that year and, after a few revisions, we submitted Touch to my publisher. Finally, I thought. Back on track. There's no way I'd have a 2012 book, but 2013 would be close enough.
And then my publisher passed on Touch. And my agent told me it'd be a tough sell to other publishers. This wasn't a huge surprise - I'd heard similar feedback on my agent search - but it was still disappointing. Together, we decided to shelve it and move on to the book I was just finishing: How It Ends. My agent read the rough draft in March and gave me some notes. I spent three months reworking the book, had some readers take a look and sent it back to her, hoping it was done. Nope. I went back at it again. And again. Major re-writes to fix the things that weren't working.
I sent the third version off to her in early August 2012. I'd rewritten about 90% of the book and was really hopeful. I truly thought this time it was finished. I will never forget the moment in my vacation apartment when I read her response that said, in part: I’m sorry not to have better news. I just don’t think I can sell the book in its current form and don’t feel as though we are just one more revision away, cleaning up a few things here and there.
If 2011 was the year I thought I might not make it as a writer, that moment of 2012 was when I was sure of it. I was never going to sell another book.
I almost quit. I moped around for a while after that email, told myself I could do other things. Maybe I could get a job at a publishing house. Or an agency. And then, I decided to try one more time. I overhauled the book again, thinking hard about my agent's feedback. Her response when she finished reading it a couple months later was one of my most gratifying moments as a writer: Wow! This is so different! And I think its really working. I'd love to send to a few editors...
Sometime in there, 2012 ended and 2013 began. I wrote another book. It came together much faster and easier. But I skipped the Retrospective then, too, still gun shy about optimism.
In 2013, we got not one, but three offers from publishers for How It Ends, the manuscript I thought would be my last. It comes out this October from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster as This Is How It Ends.
2013 was a good year, a year of enlightenment, of perspective. There will be times when I will fail. When I write the wrong book or write the right one, but not well enough. There will be books that don't sell. There will be years that suck - I very much doubt 2011 and 2012 were the last of them. But, in retrospect, they only sucked for writer-me. For mom-me and health-me and wife/sister/daughter-me, they were pretty damn good. And, while writing is important to me, it's a fairly small piece of what really matters.
I might only be brave enough to publish writing Retrospectives in the years that don't suck, but in the years that do, hopefully I'll go back, re-read them and remind myself that this too shall pass.