A few weeks ago, I wrote a post over on Tumblr about success.
I’d just walked into a bookshop in Edinburgh, hoping, as many author do, to spot my own work tucked away somewhere on the shelf. When I found not one, but two major displays–a table stand and a wall runner–I stood very still, trying to make a memory, and then, realizing I couldn’t be counted on, I snapped a photo instead. The photo doesn’t do the feelings justice.
These days I see my name paired more and more with the words “overnight success”, and I’ve heard that the average overnight success takes 10 years. It’s taken me 9, so if that means I’m ahead of the curve, so be it.
I started writing when I was a kid, poetry mostly, didn’t try my hand at anything longer than a short story until I was in college. I wrote my first novel as a sophomore, an acid trip through the underworld that will never be published, but it got close enough for me to get my first true tastes of failure. A literary agent, a year on sub to publishers, five separate acquisitions meetings. Five times getting all the way to the door and then being told it wasn’t good enough to go through.
I was a college senior when I decided to try again.
It would have been easy to walk away–failure isn’t fun, and I was pretty good at other things that wouldn’t take so much flesh, but I couldn’t bear the thought I was a fluke. Pride and all that. Plus I had this idea swimming through my head. Two sing-song lines about a village and a witch and a secret in the wind.
It was called THE NEAR WITCH, and the summer after I graduated, it sold to Disney.
It didn’t get much press aside from the fact it was a debut (the industry loves to tout debuts, as though lack of experience is the natural precursor to massive success). The book was in a select number of stores for a very short time, 1-2 copies max, and disappeared by the end of its first season. Out of print at 18 months.
I wrote a sequel, THE DARK REMAINS, but the publisher decided after it was written that they’d rather have something else, so back into the drawer it went.
Instead I wrote THE ARCHIVED, about a library of the dead. That one got a bit more traction, and a loyal cultish following, but by the time its sequel, THE UNBOUND, hit shelves, I’d been informed that the publisher wouldn’t be finishining the trilogy. It had earned out, but still under-performed by some invisible, unknowable measurement. (The hardcover of THE ARCHIVED was just taken out of print.)
At 25, I was scarred, terrified that my career was over, because I’d given something everything I had, and it wasn’t enough, and I didn’t understand how or why or what I was supposed to do next, and part of me wished I’d walked away back when that first book didn’t sell, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. And my anger, my frustration, my stubborn resolve was louder than my fear, so I sat down and wrote something else.
It was a book for me. A book to restore my joy, to remind me why I did this masochistic thing. And it was a secret, a sheltering of the creative process so that that no publisher could take away what the writing of it gave me.
That book was called VICIOUS.
It was a strange supervillain origin story and it took me to a new publisher, Tor, that took a chance on me. And that, over the next four years, would restore my faith in myself and my industry. The book itself was a risk, a niche, but I had an editor who championed me and a team who believed in my work and nearly 3 years after release, that book is still selling strong.
Also in the midst of the dear and chaos and loss of that first series, I signed a work-for-hire contract for an early Middle Grade at Scholastic. The book were designed for Scholastic Clubs and Fairs titles and sold more than 600,000 copies, and STILL got turned down by Barnes and Noble. I never got to see those on shelf.
My eighth book, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, was probably the one that launched my ship, the one that first garnered me that title of “Overnight Success”, though it would be refurbished with each subsequent release. ADSOM was the first title to get great store placement, amazing reviews, and it’s still selling strong–the hardcover is now in its 9th printing, the paperback in its 6th, and every signing I do is filled with fans of Kell and Lila, Holland and Rhy, and it’s an amazing to have a readership that cares as much about these books as I do. I recently sold TV rights, and was signed on to write the pilot episode.
My ninth book was part of a multi-author platform at Scholastic. I hope I didn’t tank that series. It feels like I might have, or maybe it was just winding down, as series do, but I’m really damn proud of that book.
My tenth book, A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, the sequel to A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, was my first book to ever hit the New York Times list. It was the first time I got to go on a national book tour, and see hundreds and hundreds of readers, some who were new, and some who’d been with me since the beginning.
THIS SAVAGE SONG was my 11th book. It was my first YA since THE UNBOUND, a strange, dark, existential novel about what it means to be monstrous, what it means to be human.
And this past week, it debuted at #1 on the New York Times list.
This is not a post meant to brag.
Success is a thing so largely out of our control.
Overnight Success is almost always a myth.
Half of this industry is luck, and half is the refusal to quit.