As an unpublished — yet — writer, I often feel like all I need is that one break.
You know what I’m talking about.
I just need to get that one agent to read my work.
I just need to get that first book published.
Then it all falls into place and you get everything you ever wanted.
That is so untrue, and I know it.
I know it because I have friends who have found an agent and then parted ways because the agent/author relationship just didn’t work out, and now they’re back to square one.
I know it because I’ve been to conferences where I’ve met authors who showed me a published first novel and wryly related how they are now struggling to find a publisher or an agent who will work with them on their second.
And I know it because I learned today that even a history of excellent writing and what I assumed to be strong sales doesn’t guarantee you anything.
Elizabeth C. Bunce is a great writer of YA fantasy. Her first book was “A Curse As Dark As Gold,” a respinning, if you will, of the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale. It was selected as a “notable” book by many organizations including the ALA and won the William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut.
Then came “Star Crossed,” a fantasy about a determined young thief and the intriguing group of young nobles she falls in with when a robbery goes wrong. This one won the ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Remarkably, as I began reading it, I found myself completely captivated even though, after a tense and thrilling start, nothing that dramatic happens in the first dozen or so pages. This is a gift few current authors have. YA writing now is all about flash and dash: hit ’em early, jump in and hit the ground running, no time for building or developing character, hurry hurry hurry! Bunce takes her time and yet is constantly building the reader’s curiosity about what happens next or what happened before, even if the characters are just floating quietly down a river. (But where are they going? Who are they getting away from and why? And which of the stories that the narrator is telling about herself is true?)
The sequel to “Star Crossed” and the second book of a planned trilogy was “Liar’s Moon.” More of a straight-out mystery, it was very different but also entertaining, well-written and vintage Bunce… and it finished with a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger that had me screaming at the book. If I were less respectful of books, I would have thrown it across the room. It was a brilliant ending. Brilliant! Killer! Agonizing! I went straight to the author’s Facebook page and practically begged her to send me her draft pages of the third book.
Turns out, that may be all I ever get.
Bunce’s publisher, shockingly, has yet to “pick up” that third book.
How do you commit to publishing two books of a trilogy and not the third? Do we leave Frodo and Sam at the edge of Mordor and not follow them in?
I won’t claim to understand this situation — I can only imagine that finances are behind it — but this kills me, and not just as a reader who wants to know what comes next.
As a writer, I want to believe that once you’re in, you’re in.
That a talent like Bunce’s, once recognized, must be honored and appreciated and valued.
I need to believe the thing that keeps me going: Just get published, and you’ll be ok.
I know it’s a business, but it’s a business that supposedly has art at its center. How can they possibly justify this?
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