The best book I’ve ever written hasn’t been published yet. It hasn’t even been contracted.
This isn’t some lame attempt at metaphysics or inspirational tripe. I mean this literally. The book is written, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. But I can’t sell it, and it’s driving me nuts. Let me back up briefly to correct something in that first line. The book has been contracted once, but the publisher went under before the book saw light of day. It was a small press, sort of. Certainly it was far smaller than Tor, which has published the rest of my novels. And we did manage to get the book rights back before the publisher folded. But reselling the book has been difficult to say the least.
I’m writing about this not because the particulars of the business side of this saga are terribly interesting; really, they’re not. Rather, I’m writing this post because there’s an emotional dimension to this issue with which I’ve been grappling.
I love this book. I mean I really love it. I believe it truly is the best book I’ve ever written. The narrative just flies, the characters are dearer to me than any I’ve created for other books, the magic system is tremendous fun. Most of all, I love it because it’s so different from my epic fantasy. (It’s contemporary fantasy, with a mystery twist and a dark theme. That’s really all I care to say about it right now.)
The thing is, that difference, which is so central to my feelings about this novel and the volumes I hope will follow, is also the source of my deepest fears about the book. You have to understand, since my agent and I started trying to resell the thing it’s been rejected many times. While I love the book, something seems to be giving editors pause. And I’m starting to wonder about my own perceptions of the novel. After ten books and several short stories, I’ve become pretty adept at evaluating my own work. At least I have in traditional fantasy. But this is . . . different. What if I can’t judge this work properly because I don’t know the subgenre well enough?
I’ve edited and polished the thing until it shines (though I’ve taken care not to overwork it). I’ve done one extensive rewrite that improved it quite a bit. I’ve put it away for months at a time and then gone back to read it thinking that maybe when looking at it fresh I’d see its flaws. I’ve done this twice, actually. Upon rereading it both times I was struck again by just how much I love the book. My agent has always liked the book, but has never loved it as much as I do. She liked it a good deal more after the rewrite. My wife, who never liked the concept of the book in the abstract loved it when she read it and agreed it was my best work. And she’s usually a tough critic.
We’ve all heard the stories of authors whose work was rejected again and again and again until finally it found a home and then went on to be a huge success. I want to be the guy in that story. But when do the rejections outweigh my belief in this book? When do I accept that even though I love it and remain certain that it’s my best work ever, no one else sees it the same way? I’m not ready to give up on this novel yet. I still believe it will sell, and I also believe that when it finally hits the shelves it will do well. But my faith, in this book in particular and in my self-judgment in general, has been shaken by the experience. And I fear that sometime soon, I’m going to have to let go of this dream.
So, I guess I’m asking: When does that time come? When do I give up and accept that those editors who have rejected it know better than I what’s good and what’s not? Have any of you faced similar issues in your own work? Is it possible to love a book too much? Could it be that in making the book so special to me, I’ve made it less attractive to others? I’d be grateful for feedback.