There’s a great Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel, Breathing Room, in which the heroine is a self-help guru whose fiancée embezzles all her money, and leaves her a laughing stock with her career in ruins. She runs off to a romantic villa in Italy, gets involved with a fabulously handsome actor who always plays villains, and it’s a really fun book.
But the line that has always stuck with me is when she meets the actor’s agent, and he says: “If you were my client, I’d tell you to reinvent yourself.”
The heroine does just that, and ends up even more rich and famous than before. (Not to mention marrying the handsome actor.) But that line lingered in my mind…even before my own career hit the rocks.
the last chapter of my old career, as a well-published but mid-list author, the recession had hit the bookstores hard. Borders died, and Barnes & Noble was in critical condition. But when the recession struck, both of the only two large bookstore chains in the country responded by stocking only books they knew would sell in large numbers—the bestsellers and popular series—which left mid-list authors with very few sales for anything that came out in those years.
My first Knight & Rogue book, released before the recession, sold about as well as my other books—solidly mid-list. But then the recession hit, and the big chains ordered only a handful of book 2, and an even smaller handful of book 3. And with a bad sales record for books 2 and 3, there’s not a major publisher in the world who would put out books 4 through 6.
The agent I talked to after my old agent retired (great plot complication, if this was fiction and not my life) advised me to change my name, write something completely different, and start over from scratch. And I suppose that’s one way to reinvent yourself.
(Fleeing to a romantic villa in Italy was out of the question, for a number of reasons, not least that I’ve never been as rich as the heroine of Breathing Room.)
But three out of four of my fan emails were from people asking for more Knight & Rogue books, I’d planned the series from the start for a six book story arc…and damn it, I wanted to write them.
So I decided to reinvent myself in a different way, by going mostly-indie. I say mostly, because instead of bringing the book out entirely on my own I contacted a local micro-publisher, Courtney Literary. Deb Courtney will handle all the technical aspects, and offered amazingly good terms…and the fourth Knight & Rogue book, Thief’s War, is coming out at the end of February.
Deb is giving me a high enough percentage that I can sell far fewer books than I did through HarperCollins and survive. If I sell half as many books, I’ll thrive. And if I sold almost as many books as I did going through a major publisher, I’d be doing great. (I should mention that my idea of great is fairly modest.) But I have no clue how many books I’ll sell. None, zip, zero, nada. There’s no way even to guess—so I’m going to find out the hard way, by doing it.
We’re all the hero of our own story, so I’ll shamelessly declare myself the heroine. Here I am, past the dark moment, heading straight for the climax. And I have no idea whether my story will have a happy ending, or turn into one of those dreary, pointless tragedies where the heroine has to go out and get a day job again. (No handsome actors in sight. Rats.) This being real life, where climaxes don’t usually happen within a few chapters, I won’t even get a hint about how Thief’s War is selling until the beginning of August.
Reinventing yourself sounds so uplifting. Downright inspiring. But watching my savings drain away, I’ve learned that reinventing yourself is hard and scary—and I’ve now got a lot more respect for heroes, who launch themselves into the climax never knowing whether they’re going to win or lose. (And maybe basing major financial decisions on novels isn’t the smartest thing to do, either.) But I’m doing it…and in August, I’ll let you know how it looks like coming out.