Dry spells. Well. I’m kind of an expert. I’ve had so many long ones, I hardly remember how to type. But I will try, because this is IMPORTANT. Settle in, lovelies—this is a tale. A tale followed by a very lecture-y, Lessons Learned section. (You’re excited, right?)
So. I published my first novel, a romance, just before I got pregnant with my first child. What great timing, thought stupidly naïve and optimistic twenty-something Bev, who promptly left her full-time, in-house editing job and planned to get a book published every year…
I did leave my job, but couldn’t get another book published for the life of me.
I realized I’d used that first book to process some of my own life experiences (though of course, the thing morphed into something completely different during the writing process) and it seemed I couldn’t just pump out stuff I wasn’t feeling. Okay, I told myself. Think about what you really want to write, and wait until you’re inspired.
Like, for years. Meanwhile, I published a writing-related zine and took on freelance editing projects while being a fulltime caregiver to my two adorbs children.
Finally, ‘chick lit’ (ugh, still hate that handle) became a thing and I was inspired again. Funny books about relationships! Sign me up! I got one published by Harlequin’s ‘Flipside’ imprint.
Which promptly tanked cuz suddenly there was too damn much chick lit on the market.
Then I became inspired by the MG and YA books my kids were reading.
And I wrote I Was a Teenage Popsicle. Which landed me an agent and sold quickly in a two-book deal to a big house and was optioned for film and television. (Note: it sold to a YA imprint, which required me to hit a certain word length. This will become important later. There is no test.)
The sequel, Beyond Cool, tanked. Sequels are hard, y’all. But actually, the entire MG/YA market was tanking cuz it, too, had been flooded after Harry Potter.
I did manage to sell a book about a teen genie to a large German publisher, but it didn’t sell in North America.
And of course, nothing came of those TV options. (Except a season-long gig as a writer on somebody else’s show. Which I wasn’t very good at.)
It was at this point I realized that what I’d tried to establish as my ‘brand’ (funny and contemporary with a sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal twist) probably didn’t play to my strengths. I’d never been a huge sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal reader, though I did love some offerings in those genres. Like many MG/YA writers back then, I think I’d just been secretly hoping to pen the next Harry Potter. Really, I just wanted to tell stories about people and families and relationships—the stuff of everyday life—in my own funny-but-not-funny way.
It actually took me several years to reach the above conclusion. Once I did, I started writing again with baby steps. Some short stories. I thought the first few were really good.
Then, of course, I shot myself in the foot by thinking I could create a connected short story collection for the YA market. Connected YA short stories weren’t actually a thing, but surely I’d be the exception! *Sigh.* Of course, the stories I wrote to fill out the book were crap, so naturally, nobody wanted it. (Also, connected YA short story collections turned out to definitely not be a thing.)
Another long wait.
Then the American election happened. And I rage-wrote a book in three weeks.
It was short and funny, aimed at the MG market. No padding for length this time.
It got a few rejections, but then it sold. To someone who has asked me for more books!
Short, funny, contemporary MG. It’s taken me decades to realize that’s what my long-form stuff should be. (In fact, I’ve rewritten the Popsicle books as MG books AND THEY’RE SO MUCH BETTER! As I said earlier, I really struggled to hit the YA length in those books, and always felt bad about padding them. I hope to get them republished as MGs.)
I’ve also realized–weirdly, now that my kids are grown–that I desperately want to write short, funny picture books. A couple of them are currently going through the acquisitions process at a big house. The editor there likes my style, too, and has invited me to send her more.
I’m under no illusions that it will be smooth sailing from here on in. But I do know now that a long dry spell–or two or three or four–will not end a career.
Here are more Important Lessons I’ve Learned:
This writing thing isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a business of highs and lows. The highs are very high and the lows are very low. Long dry spells—whether externally or internally induced–are, in fact, the norm. You’d best get comfortable with that.
Have a backup. Most of us cobble together a living with a combination of writing, editing, and teaching gigs, and we also try our best to get paying speaking engagements and grants. Honestly, if I had to do it over, I’d have never left my full-time editing job. Once out for a certain amount of time, I couldn’t get back in. I tried. I now tell young writers—especially young women writers—to never, ever leave their jobs!
It’s okay to take breaks. It’s okay to not write every day. Currently, the conventional wisdom seems to be that you aren’t a real writer if you don’t put your butt in the chair every day and hit a certain word count and blah, blah, blah…
Eff that. Putting my butt in the chair every day just resulted in piles of crap that didn’t sell. What works for me is waiting until I’m inspired to write something. (I can afford to wait because I have a backup—a now very successful editing business. Again, HAVE A BACKUP! AND DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!)
Finally, you do you. Write to your strengths. Take the time to figure out what you’re meant to write. What do you like to read? What do you feel passionately about? What lessons have you learned in your life that you’d like to impart in a book? (PSA: Do not write hammer-over-head, obvious message-y books. Kids hate those.)
I’ll end now. Even though I could do this all day. Suddenly, it seems I have a lot to say…
BEV KATZ is an editrix and author whose hobbies include dancing, hiking, and smashing the patriarchy. Her upcoming middle grade novel Who is Tanksy? comes out in Fall, 2019. More about Bev at http://bevkatz.com/