March 22, 2011

When the party fizzles

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 7:53 pm

Imagine you’re blowing up this great balloon, it’s brilliant blue or bronze or scarlet, and you’re blowing, and blowing, and blowing, and it’s gonna be great, the biggest balloon ever, you can just see where on the wall you will hang it to welcome all the guests…and then it suddenly escapes your lips and flies all over the room with that horrible farting sound, only to lie dead and shriveled on the floor.

I promised you guys no more back story posts because I thought I might be done. I mean, I wasn’t counting chickens or anything. I was knocking wood, and feeling humble and humbled by my time so far in this industry. I was hoping other writers better than I would hurry on their own way to success.

But I did think mine was in sight.

You see, my agent  had found a fantastic editor. An editor who grokked my work. Who seemed more passionate than any of the 13 before who have wanted to acquire something. She was working like crazy at the house to be able to make an offer. A wonderful writer, whom I am not naming only because I don’t have his or her permission, had read my work and offered support, and the editor had already managed to get many of the people at the house on board. I was closer than I’d ever been–and I’ve been close. Achingly close.

[Interruption. Authors are the most wonderful people on the planet. If you have to try and come up in a notoriously difficult profession, it better be writing. I've heard whispers of professional competition, but all I've ever seen have been writers helping writers, remembering what it's like to toil unpublished, and wanting to extend a hand. Sending the elevator down, as Dennis Lehane puts it.]

Things got tenser. I filled out some things for my agent, putting down on paper plans that have been roiling around in my head for years now. The editor had read my other book a year ago, and liked it. Now she wanted to have it on hand again.

I admit that I began to get just a little–OK, maybe more than a little–hopeful at that point. (It had been 5 weeks).

This was really going to happen. Wasn’t it?

No, it wasn’t. There are a lot of moving parts to a publishing house, and a lot of people have to see things the same way for a book to be acquired. It seems baffling to me, because of course, books are acquired every day. But for whatever reason, mine won’t be. Not this time. Not by this editor.

How do we pick ourselves up after raised hopes, crushing disappointment, and battered self esteem? (How good can I be if time after time I ultimately fail to sell?)

My agent has been wonderful. She is a champion in all respects of the word. Her loyalty, faith, and passion are unmatched–every writer should have an agent like this. I have to repay her soon, and I do mean repay.

I don’t know what will happen next. I’ve hosted Writing Matters panels on alternate routes to publication. Am I meant to go down one of those roads? Barry Eisler just decided to, but Barry Eisler has been making a living in this industry since he was a young man. He has the means–and maybe more important, the validation, to try something different. He’s also got an audience, but others have shown how that can be built.

But the validation. Getting this close this many times doesn’t feel like validation. It feels like I couldn’t hack it in the final minutes of the game.


Aye, there’s the rub.

Doesn’t every writer dream of holding her book in her hand–a book somebody else believed in enough to put there?

Should I give up that moment we all yearn for?

It’s like not getting to go to my senior prom all over again.

I don’t know what I should do. Please leave a suggestion. And tune in again.


  1. Jenny, even with this devastating news, you’re still Jenny Milchman, wife, mother, friend, and author extraordinaire! You’ve also got something else- ambition, strength, fortitude, and connections in the industry.

    Now, we’re all waiting for your next literary adventure to begin!

    Comment by Shelley Stout — March 22, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

  2. Thank you, Shelley. I appreciate your words–and your thinking of the next step as an adventure…

    Comment by jenny — March 22, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

  3. Jenny, no matter what path you end up taking, promise us one thing–don’t ever give up! You’ve come so far already, and you’ve come so close. It would be a tragedy if your books didn’t see the light of day, even if you have to go a more unconventional route to get them published and out there in readers’ hands. Besides, you’re such an inspiration and resource to many aspiring writers out there–we need to see you succeed, for your own sake, as well as for all of us that you’ve supported. I believe that you can do this, however you have to do it. Count me in for WOM whenever you’ve embarked on the steps that get you closer than ever to holding that book in your hands with your name on it.

    Comment by Becca — March 22, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

  4. THANK you, Becca. Those are wonderful words. And–I will do as you suggest. One way or the other.

    Comment by jenny — March 22, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

  5. I’m so glad to hear it! ^_^

    Comment by Becca — March 22, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

  6. Jenny, when you get the attention of Author Not Mentioned, it’s no little thing. It’s a huge affirmation of you and your work and all the time you’ve spent honing it to perfection. Just because someone had a budget conflict (and you know that happens more than we care to admit), or a hangover, or whatever caused them not to see your wondrousness, doesn’t necessarily equate to any lack on your part.

    But the pain remains. Feel it for a bit, then put it into the little dark box it belongs in and stack it with all of the other painful things we’ve encountered in our lives.

    The only way you fail is to let go of your dream. Period.

    So right now, when you’re feeling battle-broke and out of everything, just hold onto that dream in your heart. Make sure it’s safe. Because, my friend, it’s yours. It’s valuable. It means something. To you and everyone who cares about you. Don’t walk away.

    The publisher failed. You didn’t.

    Love and Hugs.

    Comment by Peg Brantley — March 22, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

  7. Jenny:

    It’s not you. It’s not your work. It’s simply a really wacked out industry right now. Too many people are basing decisions on fear, not hope or possibility. The fact that one person, (yes one person,) put the kabosh on your book at this house is enormously frustrating. And I know what it’s like to feel that.

    You will land someplace and your book will make many readers happy. We’ll all enjoy your overdue success. And I for one will look back at that one person and feel kind of sorry for him or her.

    Love ya, love ya, thinking of ya…

    Comment by Pamela DuMond — March 22, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

  8. Thank you, Peg. That means a lot. In fact, I don’t know how to keep describing the magical words left here. You all, my fellow writers, and readers, keep me in this game. You know how hard it is to hold onto the dream. And how essential.

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 8:00 am

  9. Thank you, Pam, and the point about the industry right now is a good one. This has happened to me even before the industry went haywire, but you’re right, I think it’s gotten worse. The good news is there are other ways to get books out there–you can take the mechanics away, or turn them on their heads–but having the story inside us. That is a gift.

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 8:09 am

  10. SO frustrating! I am still just at a total loss for words. I don’t “get” it. At all. I don’t see how this leviathan industry is going to survive. It’s insane. YOU’re a good writer. YOU had all your ducks in a row, and then some. It’s these editors, this industry, that let you down. But we readers will keep reading you. Your fans will not let you down.

    Comment by Savvy — March 23, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  11. That I know right down to the soles of my feet, Sav. Thanks.

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  12. I hear you about the validation aspect. (I didn’t go to the prom, either.) But the joke is, publication by a major house doesn’t give you the validation you think it will–same as the prom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After reading Barry Eisler’s blog, I am inspired to investigate self-publishing. Perhaps it’s better not to be invited to the prom if all you’ll get is a bucket of blood on your head.

    Comment by Sara — March 23, 2011 @ 9:35 am

  13. And you even managed to allude to one of the Master’s books–in fact, his first, which was oft turned down until he almost gave up. (Of course it did ultimately sell for 6 figures in the 70s in paper). But it’s a great point, Sara. Most proms did suck, from what I hear. Am I hanging around, hoping to be invited to the pig slaughter? Or can the majors offer a debut-er especially something…special? I don’t know, but I do know it will be decided within the next month or so. And thank you for your support–and your grokking.

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  14. Also, just wanted to say…do it, Sara!! Do it!! I want to read your next one (please put in print, pretty please, I can give you some advice :)

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 9:52 am

  15. I know the story, and I still want to cry when I read it.

    Comment by Judy — March 23, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  16. Thanks, Judy. Don’t cry…

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  17. Jenny-I am SO SORRY about this falling through. Frankly, it scares me. You’ve had so many almosts, that the book has to be GREAT, yet it seems traditional publishing is being very very cautious… and maybe not in a way that works for you. I read an article that was a conversation between Barry Eisler and Jon Konrath, and one of the big points was all the ‘never published earlier’ people who’ve had really great success. 10,000 books a MONTH type success, when self-pub was the first place they went.

    I KNOW the risks, but I honestly believe you are PAST THEM. Most people who have no business self-pubbing are the kind who jump straight in from agent rejections or contest losses. You’ve put years, plus had the agent and editor polishes. I think you’re ready. (and I will totally enlist in your army, should you decide to go that route– I haz minions, 2)

    Comment by Hart — March 23, 2011 @ 10:09 am

  18. Thanks for saying all that, Hart–not the scared part (because clearly, you have better luck than I do, and some of this is pure luck ;) but the rest. I read the Eisler stuff–one difference is he has been successful in the industry for a while. But you’re right in what you say. I have one last shot at the majors–it will be a blog post and a tribute to someone someday–and if that doesn’t pan out, there’s an idea I will run by all of you, and see what you think.

    I mean, if Hart will lend me her minions I should just do it now. I could be on a plane to Hawaii by nightfall ;)

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  19. So sorry to hear the news, but perseverance is the answer (well, eat a gallon of ice cream and then persevere). Didn’t J.K. Rowlings submit her book 29 times b/4 it became one of the biggest blockbusters? I think you told me that. Someone else I know had her work rejected 39 times before it received an award when she submitted it on the 40th time. Don’t give up. And I will definitely bring a bottle or two of wine on Friday.

    Comment by Stacey Gill — March 23, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  20. Oh, Jenny. I’m so sorry. And I know it, because I’ve been there. It’s both reassuring and the heardest thing when it’s not someone saying, “no, we don’t like it because of XYZ,” because then you could fix it! But instead it’s whim, or did someone stub their toe on the way in to work and end up cranky. So take heart that it’s not about your writing. You have people staunchly on your side because of the quality of your writing. It’s like finding Mr. Right. Keep kissing the toads. Hang in there!

    Comment by Tammy Kaehler — March 23, 2011 @ 11:20 am

  21. Thanks, Stace. You’re right about those authors–the thing is not that I’m waaaay past those numbers (with 4 novels being subbed to all 20 majors multiple times) but that I’ve gotten verrrry close to a sale 14 times now. I think a lot of people have trouble finding the right way/time to break in, but instead I’m hearing, Of course this should break in! And then it doesn’t…quite. So not sure what to do about that–but have a few ideas.

    Ice cream is first.

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 11:22 am

  22. Thank you, Tammy, especially for the laugh. (I *knew* I should’ve gone in and stub-proofed those stairs ;) Love to hear your been-there stories if you ever want to share…

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 11:29 am

  23. Do NOT stop writing. You have the talent and you need to hang in there. There’s never been a better time for writers than now, with all the small presses as stepping stones to bigger and better publications!

    Comment by Jean Henry Mead — March 23, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

  24. Thank you, Jean. The optimism is well taken–for us all.

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

  25. Isn’t this a nerve-racking business?
    I always believed, if it was good enough, it will be published. JUST because it’s good enough.
    It’s so maddening to realize, when you see the endless celebucrap that’s published, and that sells like gangbusters, that good writing, and a good story, are SO HARD TO SELL NOW.
    All we can do is keep writing, keep improving our products, and keep hustling to get someone to PUBLISH them!
    Keep at it, Jenny.

    Comment by Rosemarie (Summertime Rose) — March 23, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  26. Thanks, Summertime. You’ve hit some nails on their heads. (Yesterday I felt like I was hitting my head on some nails :) Anyway, I will. And you will too, right?

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  27. Oh, Jenny, I’m so disappointed. For you and for me because i want to read your book. I know it will be wonderful.

    The really, really bottom line hard fact is that marketing departments run the world and they don’t know or care about passionate stories. And you promote so brilliantly–I can’t imagine what they could be looking for!

    but, my dear, do hold to the vision. Only a wonderful book could come this close. But then, that’s part of what makes it so hard, isn’t it? the best way out of the doldrums is to have a Plan B and go there immediately. maybe not non-traditional yet, maybe just a smaller house? Small houses aren’t bad–you get more attention.

    Holding on for you.

    Comment by Donna — March 23, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

  28. Thank you, Donna. You may have taken the words right out of my mouth. Whatever direction proves viable, I will be discussing it right here, with all of you, because you all are my counsel, my wisdom providers, first.

    Comment by jenny — March 23, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

  29. So much of this business is about helping each other, Jenny. And you certainly help all of us with your unceasing support. As you said in your article, there couldn’t possibly be a better fraternity in the world than the brother/sisterhood of writers. I’ve been in this business more than 30 years and can’t remember meeting a jerk. (I’m sure I have, but I can’t remember.) smile.


    Comment by Donna — March 24, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  30. Thank you, Donna. Nope, not a jerk out there. I have this dream one day of being able to support writers by helping them toward publication. But I’m glad you feel support of whatever sort I can offer now…

    Comment by jenny — March 24, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

  31. Oh wow – you’ve described it beautifully. I’m currently on submission, and what a rollercoaster it is! I’ve been reading the back story posts, and your journey is phenomenal (and seriously heart breaking).

    I’m following you – because I know that stories like these always have amazing endings!!! Here’s to balloons that are full and flying for all of us – however our books find their readers!

    Comment by Jolene — March 25, 2011 @ 8:13 am

  32. Jolene, welcome to the site, and thanks so much for reading, following… empathizing! I would love to hear more about your own roller coaster…one day you can contribute a Made It Moment here :)

    Comment by jenny — March 25, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  33. Jenny – You cannot quit. I am waiting for an autographed copy. Seriously!

    Comment by Juanita — March 29, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

  34. I won’t quit. I won’t. Thank you, Juanita. (And I want to send you that book!) I just may feel a little crushed, letting go of this dream. I never did get into Harvard. Or go to the prom. I’m thinking my road might be the less traveled one.

    And that has made all the difference, as the poet said.

    Comment by jenny — March 29, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

  35. Jenny,

    It’s obvious you’re a fantastic writer. Obvious. So, now what to do about this situation?

    Number one: does it, in your opinion, have the makings of a good movie, either for television, cable,
    or mainstream movie theatres? If so, write it as a script and/or have your agent submit it as a manuscript
    novel to entertainment agents. There is crushing need for MATERIAL in the movie and television
    business because of the explosion of TV stations. Learning to write a script is really fun, and it’s immensely helpful for learning even more about structuring a story.

    Number two: since it appears that the novel has now reached its saturation point in submissions to traditional publishers, I think you should bring it out as an E-book IMMEDIATELY. From Amanda Hocking’s situation, it’s obvious that STORIES SELL, and it’s equally obvious that you have a fantastic story or you wouldn’t have received so many close calls. If you’re reluctant to bring out this one, then what about the others that didn’t quite make it? Get them all out there. How many books do you have that could, RIGHT NOW, be published? That’s key to building a readership, so that an enthusiastic reader can hop to your next one, pronto, when they discover you. Cut your agent in for some percentage.

    It’s the wave of the future, that’s utterly obvious. I’m not doing it myself merely because I may not have to — we’ll see. Meanwhile, I’ve given MONDAY’S CHILD to a computer person here, who is taking it apart and making digital copies of the each page, in order to bring it out as an E-book.

    I see, as well, your struggle to understand who you are as a writer (ie. “what does this mean?”), and I do that myself. I think there is something you’re aiming to learn by this — what is it?

    Best, Jody

    Comment by Jody — March 30, 2011 @ 8:23 am

  36. Hi Jody,

    I so appreciate your faith as well as all your food for thought here…I’ve actually had an alternate route presented to me that I think (after this one last shot at the majors plays out) I will follow in just the way you’re saying. It includes print as well as e, which is a priority of mine (Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day et al…) You’re right, I’m trying to find the meaning here, and I think it has to do with what I want not necessarily being what I need. I tend to focus on traditional markers of success–and they don’t necessarily want my focus, if you know what I mean :)

    We’ll talk more–


    Comment by jenny — March 30, 2011 @ 8:31 am

  37. Jenny – Scientists just today released a study on how devastating rejection can be; they are talking about rejection in a relationship, but this book rejection thing is just as devastating. The science says it activates a pain and suffering center in the brain the same as physical pain, and I believe it, but after a certain point if one hangs in there long enough, he/she becomes enamored of it…working like a pin cushion to take the slings and arrows. But frankly, I would take the rejected manuscript to do exactly as I have done with these so-called unpublishable books that there is no audience for, according to THEM, the book about a subject no one wants to hear about according to THEM (I have had many such Manuscripts) and I’d go indie publisher all over these people. I was told no one wasnts to see anohter book about Salem Witchccraft or the Titanic, and guess what. Turns out no one who is an editor in NYC (a surprisingly small crowd by the way) wants to read another witchcraft or Titanic based tale because my READERS, most who have never read anything of mine before, are making these books fly off the eShelf. March has seen some 1200 books sold– and ecah book sold is a vote to see the next.

    I have found Vindication in Kindle publishing, publishing with a partner, not someone I have to constantly butt heads with on every decision made for the book.

    Just my two cents.
    But be kind to yourself. It feels like being fired but you know most often good people and hardworking people who are fired are fired for no damn good reason….same is true of rejections from publishers, esp. the big six.


    Comment by Robert W. Walker — March 31, 2011 @ 12:10 am

  38. Thank you, Rob–I consider your words and experience to be wisdom, and I am considering it all very carefully…

    Congrats on those sales!!

    Comment by jenny — March 31, 2011 @ 9:38 am

  39. [...] [...]

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  40. [...] So where were we in the backstory? The party had fizzled. I was t-h-i-s close to an offer from Viking, manuscript up there at the very top, process drawn [...]

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