By the time I published my first book, I had five full manuscripts hidden away in drawers, and had been working earnestly to be published for eight years. I have a file folder full of really great rejections (as every submitting author knows, there are degrees of rejections, ranging from abject silence to “I really like this, but…” with everything in between). Many of these were very close calls, but in the end, the books were just not selling. I remember those days much better than I want to, and I remember, with manuscript five, coming to the realization that this dream of mine might not happen. I had always thought of it as a sort of guarantee–I’d wanted to be a writer since I was six years old, after all. How was it possible that it wasn’t meant to be?–but now I realized that there was no guarantee, and that, for whatever reason, I might not ever publish.
It was a devastating thought. This was in the dark time when self-publishing really wasn’t an option unless you had thousands of dollars and your own distribution network, which I didn’t. I had an agent; I had finaled in several prestigious contests; judges lauded my work. But the brass ring consistently eluded me, and I had to ask myself the question that all writers eventually come to: if I never got published, would I keep writing?
The answer for me was yes. I had always written; I had files upon files, notebook upon notebook of stories and novels that I’d written only for me, never submitting them and never intending to. I wrote for my own entertainment. I wrote the stories I wanted to read. And the day I made that decision that, yes, I would continue, I also made a decision of a different kind: if I was going to continue on, then I was going to forget about what was selling and write a story just for me.
And you know what? That story was the one that finally sold. It was the novel where I found my voice, because I wasn’t trying to write to sell. While I do think that paying attention to what’s selling and what is marketable is important, I also know that unless you’re writing what you absolutely want to write, your own vision, and no one else’s, you have nothing to say. Every single time I forget this lesson and ask my agent what I should do next, she says: Whatever you want. Write the book you want to write.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the latest trends, but the fact is that by the time you discover a trend, editors and agents are already overwhelmed with it and moving on. In the end, it is how you see the world–you, your eyes, your vision–that is your gift. So yes, be smart. Pay attention to the business. But know that most editors and agents and readers don’t really know what they want to read until they read it. If pirates aren’t selling, but you write the quintessential pirate book, the one that changes the way everyone views pirates, it will sell. Be yourself, follow your own voice.
Write the book you were born to write.
Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of several novels. The Best Reviews has said she writes “Fascinating historical fiction.” Her books have been chosen for the Borders Original Voices program and IndiBound’s Booksense. A former television news photographer with a BA from Western Washington University, Megan Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. Find her at: http://www.MeganChance.com.