Monday, April 9, 2007

Recollections and Lessons Learned On My Maiden Voyage

Recently I was thinking about my first book, how naïve I was , and the lessons that I learned. With the exciting news of my first sale, (then writing prehistoric fiction under the name Lynn Armistead McKee) I didn’t really give a hill of beans about the advance or anything other than the fact that Berkley was publishing MY book! (That’s the first naïve part) It was originally a horror/occult novel, but the editor requested I take all of that out so it would appeal to a broader audience—in other words change the genre. My immediate answer was, “Sure, no problem.” I had no idea what I was in for. This was no simple revision, but what did I know? (That's the second naïve part.)

A month later and deep into the revisions, I received a horrifying phone call from my agent’s assistant (my agent was on vacation in Turkey) telling me that my editor had left Berkley and I was orphaned. I had to ask what was the worst-case scenario. He sadly related that there was the possibility that the new editor might not like my book, and it wouldn’t get published. My first thought was that I had already told all my friends that I was going to have a book published. Yikes! Luckily, the new editor liked the book, and it continued along in the editorial process—which was another eye-opener. Didn’t a writer get a call on Monday that a publisher was buying the book, and then it was published on Friday—or something like that? Why would it take an entire year? Wow, see how uninformed and virginal I was.

Finally, revisions complete, final edits done, ARCs out, and then the big day. I had befriended a Waldenbooks store manager, and she called me when the books arrived. I gathered up all my family and headed to the mall with a video camera. I was going to surreptitiously capture the first sale. (Like I didn’t stand out in the crowd with a video camera stuck to my eye.) That’s about the time my stomach turned over and I felt like I was going to throw up. All this time I had been anxiously looking forward to seeing my “baby” on the shelf. I was so sure that I would be ecstatic. Now, through the camera lens I witnessed someone pick up my book, read the back blurb, thumb through it, then put it back on the table. For the first time I realized that not everyone was going to like my book—after all we don’t all like to read the same thing. But the worst was that I became acutely aware that some of those people who wouldn’t like my book were going to be my friends. I had never really considered that.

Amongst all the rude awakenings during my maiden voyage into the publishing sea, that was the rudest.

I heard Stephen King speak once, and he said his publisher spent tons of money doing a survey on why some people don’t read Stephen King. He said he told them it was because some folks just don’t read that sh--. The publisher went ahead with the survey anyway and King said that what they found out after spending many thousands of dollars was that some people just don’t read that sh--.

Authors have to have tough skin. It’s part of the package. I have switched genres and publishers, changed my pen name to Lynn Sholes (my real name—I had what I call a regime change—divorced and remarried), and now co-write thrillers with Joe Moore for Midnight Ink. Even though we have had wonderful feedback and great reviews, as every writer knows, from out of the fog a rogue reviewer sometimes emerges, or you occasionally get a flat response from a friend. Changing genres, publishers, and names hasn’t changed the bottom line that not everyone will love what I write. I can’t be offended by that or I’d never write again. Blowing it off is a lesson worth learning. When I don't get the fabulous comments from a friend that I wanted or when the creep from hell posts a less than super review on Amazon, I have to keep in mind what I discovered in the mall behind the lens of my video camera and also when listening to Stephen King-- some people just don’t read that sh--.


Mark Combes said...


I've been in sales and marketing all my life and I've developed a fairly thick hide. But when my own mother didn't like my book - well that found the soft spot! Fiction is a personal thing - what I like you might not like - but that's why they publish 100,000 books a year.

Mark Terry said...

Great post, Lynn.

As I started reading your post, I thought of a Stephen King anecdote (different, as it turns out, from YOUR Stephen King anecdote).

King said he was on an airplane and he went to the bathroom and on his way, noticed a woman reading a copy of his book--I think it was "Carrie." This was the first time it had ever happened to him. He thought, "On my way back I'll ask her, kind of casual, how she liked the book,and when she says she did, I'll introduce myself and offer to sign it." So on the way back from the bathroom he asked her how she liked the book and she snapped, "It's shitty!"

He mumbled, "Oh, I guess I'll pass on that one then," and stumbled back to his seat, having learned, apparently, a big lesson on reality.

I've always thought that was a great story for all writers.

Nina Wright said...

Lynn, thank you for your post! And not just because misery loves company.

I have cheerfully offered to sign stock at numerous bookstores where management declined, saying they were quite sure they'd be returning my books to the publisher.

The best pay-offs for shattered illusions are the discovery that (a) we really do have a saving-grace sense of humor, (b) we can continue to learn and improve, (c) it's okay when people don't like us or our stuff, because--as long as we are earnest and flexible and determined--somebody else eventually will, and (d) my personal favorite: because I write fiction, I can find a way to creatively "use" all the awful stuff that happens to me!

We just have to keep trying new things! I'm a huge believer in "Regime Change," as Lynn eloquently put it, having completely reinvented myself at least a dozen times already and being in the thick of it yet again....

Onward ho, fellow fictioneers!

Bill Cameron said...

I was doing some drive-bys over the weekend and at one store a woman was standing nearby when I introduced myself to the store manager. The woman said, "Oh, you wrote a book?"

She sounded interested so I told her a bit about Lost Dog, and she said, "That sounds like the kind of thing I like to read."

Then I found myself standing there, waiting for . . . something. I dunno what. I guess I thought she was going to actually buy it, but suddenly I realized she was just being polite. So I mumbled my thanks and lurked away. At least she didn't call the cops or anything.

Keith Raffel said...


Thick skin, that's the key. What if an author were in a room with 200 people and knew that 100 people would buy his/her book and 100 would tell him/her no way? I'll bet an awful lot of authors wouldn't approach anyone. After all, there's a 50% chance of rejection.

Mark Combes said...

It's a little like baseball isn't it? A hall-of-fame hitter will not be successful 70% of the time. It's a numbers game - you've gotta find that small percentage of the reading public that will buy your book. And you've got to hear "no" a whole lot to capture that percentage.

And we all thought writing the book was the hard part!

Candy Calvert said...

Oh, too true, Nina. And (laughing here), if I did'nt know you were in Florida, I'd think you'd stopped into my most unfavorite Texas Big Chain bookstore where my offer to sign stock was recently met with (in a veddy British accent, and while peering down nose and over glasses): "Oh, no-oo, we don't sign PAPERBACKS, because then we can't return them."
Some how I smiled--probably because I was hoping Nora Roberts would pop in right after me, not give her name--and then be rebuffed for offering to sign her zillion-plus bestselling PAPERBACKS.

Now, all together, let's hum "Paperback wri-iter." ;-)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Love the "regime change" line. I always think of myself as recycled.

Thanks for the reality check.