fatal or fatalism

Odd things going on today in my head. Some of that has to do with Book Six (why oh why did I think I could write a sixth novel in this series? and why did nobody STOP me from signing the contract?); some of it has to do with the trade paperback release of Tied to the Tracks


and the sinking feeling I’ve got that there will be no marketing for this book other than what I can cobble together in my amateurish way. Which is not unexpected — every other midlist author out there is in the same boat — but it’s still discouraging.

When Homestead came out in hardcover with a teeny tiny little press, I fully expected it to sink quietly into oblivion. A novel in an unusual format about women in rural Austria a hundred years ago, doom and gloom on every page… no surprise if it didn’t even make a blip on the radar. I was still proud of it, but I didn’t have any expectations.

But in the odd way the universe has of screwing with expectations, Homestead won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. I found myself flying places to talk about it. I was standing near Margaret Atwood at the Orange Prize ceremony because we both had books shortlisted. Never, ever would I have imagined such a thing happening when Homestead sold to Delphinium Press.

There was no marketing budget for Homestead. Somehow it was in the right place at the right time, the indies took it under wing, and it began to roll downhill.

A lot more energy was put into Into the Wilderness by Bantam, and it did better than I expected. It is still in print. I don’t know about the sales figures because I just refuse to look at them. I know my own weaknesses, and obsessing about numbers I can’t control is a big one. I do know one thing: it paid out the advance. I don’t know if that’s true for the other books in the series.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m standing at a kind of crossroads in my career as a novelist. Pajama Girls is in production; I’m working on Book Six. Beyond that I have no contracts. Nor am I actively looking for any at this point, because on paper I don’t look like a great bet. TTTT did modestly in hardcover. If it does better in trade paper (please dog), and if Pajama Girls does well, at that point I’d have some bargaining power — or better said, my agent would.

At this moment it could go either way. In a year’s time I might be looking at going back to the traditional workforce and writing in my spare time.


If you look back at the early entries in the original weblog you’ll see that I have always been keenly aware that this ride could end before I was ready to get off. I’m doing what I can to promote the work so that it has a chance of finding a readership, but there are hundreds of novelists out there doing the exact same things I am. Some of them have written better novels, or novels with a more popular theme. Some of them will do something in terms of marketing that goes viral, and then the lack of publisher support won’t be as important.

At the end of the day, I can look at the novels I’ve got out there and be satisfied. Some of them I like more than others, but I’m proud of all of them. Maybe things will start to roll and ten years from now I’ll still be going strong. Maybe not. In either case, I have no regrets.

9 Replies to “fatal or fatalism”

  1. Even the most sucsessfull writers had there lean years, so if it all goes ta poop tomorrow don’t fret overly much, it’ll come round again. Unless..frettin is what gets those creative juices churnin’, that seems ta be the common denominator amongst creative types, desperation, angst, worry..right, your just putting your thoughts down, clarifying, probably not expecting any input. I’ll stop rambling then. No worries! Oh, I put the word out ’bout TTTT to half dozen people, s’all good :)

  2. Real life is stranger than fiction, sure, but your way with words makes real life as interesting as fiction here on your blog.

  3. I know you’re venting, but that would be such a shame to have you not writing for a living. I’ve read everything you wrote (more then once I might add) and you know I love it ALL! I’m passing the word on and I’ll pass it on even harder now, because that would just be a crime to not have you writing more stories.

    Off to myspace to recruit more readers!!!

    I know, you’re venting, but still, I can’t have my favorite author not writing!!!

  4. Pam your my blogging hero, short and sweet, no blah,blah blah. I could LEARN from you! I pledge, from this day forward, to stop writing long rambling comments that are much ado ’bout nothing, also..doing it again :(

  5. Thank you for your kind words. I think my somber mood was brought on by two things: trying to stay on target with Book Six, and the awful feedback about TTTT actually being in bookstores. I hoped and assumed that Berkley would do a better job of getting the book out there. Can’t sell it if it’s not on the shelves.

  6. Please do not give up on latest wilderness book!
    I have them all and re-read them constantly. We have to know how Bonner saga continues/ends. Too much unfinished business with this family we all know so well.

    Also these novels give an Englishwoman like myself important historical insights into events and locations. e.g. Never realised New Orleans was so racist. You tread the path through important historial detail and family saga so well, a rare gift.
    Please do not disappoint us.

  7. I love your candor. It does seem unfair, because writing as wonderfully as you do should be enough, shouldn’t it? I would struggle greatly with this. Don’t apologize for venting…I’d been uber-frustrated. You should not feel the need to be publicist as well. I often group publicists along side weathermen-as long as they look the part they can say/do what they like, be continually incorrect, and claim it was all out of their control. ;( Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine having an Uncle like Runs-for-Bears standing in every meeting, intimidating them into working hard for you!
    One idea to get new readers…can you post book club/reader’s notes on your website for the books? I know that many book clubs make their annual lists solely on the availabilty of discussion notes. I stumbled upon your books by chance, as a lover of historical fiction, and have read the whole series in two month. I know others would do the same. I plan on introducing my club to your work on my next selection date!
    Don’t sell yourself short…I am sure you have another story about our beloved Bonner/Scott clan in you!

  8. I’m sure you’ve climbed out of your funk, but I’ve got to add my “2 cents” too. I was trying to explain to my husband, who doesn’t read (he’s not illiterate, he reads, just not for pleasure) how I can get so engrossed in a novel (I am re-reading Fire Along the Sky and completely ingnoring him and the chores). To me it’s like this: most romance/fiction, run of the mill stuff, is like fast food-good and tasty, but not filling. Books like yours are a steak dinner, the meat-and-potatoes you really need every so often to sustain you. And I think if we lost your voice it would be a true tragedy. It seems there are many of us out there who are big fans of your works, and I think TTTT will do great.

  9. Hey Rosina
    If I was you, I’d want to go and sit in the kitchen with Curiosity. A rocking chair apiece, the smell of bread baking and the sound of children running round outside. I am sure I’d feel different when I left than I did when I went in.

    There are 2 bookshops I visit regularly in my local town here in Auckland, NZ and I always walk by to see how they have arranged your books on the shelves. Into the Wilderness is still in the Top 100 category, which is updated periodically on sales, so hopefully this means there are new readers coming along and getting to know your work all the time. TTTT is still in prominent placing on the shelves and I do confess to rearranging them now and again so they are more visible to passing shoppers.

    So I have the utmost faith that you will still be being paid to write long after book 6 has been a success.

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