Monday, December 12, 2011

My First Time: Lise McClendon

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today's guest is Lise McClendon, author of the mystery novels Blackbird Fly, Nordic Nights, The Bluejay Shaman, Painted Truth, and several others.  Her latest thriller, Jump Cut, was just released by Thalia Press under the pseudonym Rory Tate.  She has served on the national boards of directors for Mystery Writers of America and International Association of Crime Writers/North America.  Visit her website here.

My First Failure

The choice of this topic probably tells you something about me.  Failure, for my money, is far more interesting than success.  You learn very little from success except how to order better wine.  But from your failures you can grow, learn, mature, and find a deep satisfaction in this writing life.

My failure is not exactly a writing fail, although I have no doubt screwed up many times in that department.  This was an error of judgment, a failure to see past my own nose and realize that other people had motives that might serve them well, but might not serve me at all.

Years ago, when I started writing fiction, one of my best writer pals lived close by.  We had been in a writer’s group together and were both writing mysteries.  She was older than me, a charming person, outgoing, helpful, and fun.  We talked on the phone almost every day.  During those self-doubting times she buoyed me, kept me going.  When she got a contract for her first mystery with an editor I had met at a writer’s conference, she urged me to send my novel to him.  At this point I was working with my second agent at a New York firm.  They had been sending the book out, looking for a paperback deal.  A mass market deal in those days was much more lucrative than a hardcover deal.  When I asked them to send the book to this press that published hardcover originals, they demurred.  I took the book back and sold it to them myself.  Book sold, author published.  All good, right?

Unfortunately relations between the editor and my friend soon soured.  She complained about him, a lot.  I attended my first mystery convention with my friend after her book came out but before mine had.  We got buttons made that said “[the editor] abuses me,” and laughed our heads off.  But later when her problems with the editor got so bad she wouldn’t fulfill her contract for a fourth book, it wasn’t so funny.  I had to deal with the editor too, and at that time he was perfectly pleasant.  But I listened to her, believed what she said about him.  I got a new agent and told her I didn’t want to publish at the editor’s house any more.  If those things about him were true, well, I’d just take my ball and go home.

Four long years passed while my new agent tried to place my series somewhere else.  My second book, Painted Truth, had been highly praised but without another book right away, my career died on the vine.  Eventually I sucked it up and got back in with the editor’s publishing house.  My third and fourth books in the series were published by them.  Along the way I discovered first-hand about those problems with the editor.  We had our personality clashes and communication issues that would have surfaced sooner or later.  But if I hadn’t taken my friend’s opinions to heart when I didn’t have problems of my own, I would not have wasted those four years chasing rainbows.  By making her issues my issues I shot my career in the foot.

Your writing career is your own.  Yes, people can help you, but they can also hinder you.  Your books, unless you have a co-writer (my condolences if you do), are yours and yours alone.  Do what's in your own best interest as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.  The business of publishing is mercurial.  One day you’re hot, the next day you’re leftovers.  You have to keep reinventing yourself, keep learning, stay up on the latest.  Publishing is changing at a rapid pace.  Hell, I’m on Twitter just so I won’t get left behind.  Many writer friends of mine won’t even discuss “the twitter.”

My friend no longer publishes fiction.  Whether she writes at all, I don’t know.  She left that editor’s house for a larger one and a huge stand-alone deal.  It was going to be epic.  But she never finished that big book, never published the fourth book in her original contract.  People still ask me about her but we don’t talk any more.  I moved away and moved on, learned from my mistakes (I hope), wrote another series at another house, and now have my own small press.  When I told an acquaintance that I was publishing my new thriller, Jump Cut, with my small press, she asked: “So that’s self-publishing?”  Yes, I answered, more or less.  One thing I’ve learned from my mistakes: leave your ego at the door, as long as your book gets out there into the big, bad world and finds readers.  That’s what it’s all about.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for letting me get that rant out, David! I appreciate the opportunity to be here at the Quivering Pen!