Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Value of Waiting by Claudia Mills

Here is something that happened to me that happens to VERY VERY few writers.

The first full-length middle-grade novel I ever finished got published RIGHT AWAY.

And here's what I learned from this: I wish it hadn't.

My remarkable luck in getting published was owed to several factors. First of all, this was a VERY VERY long time ago. That book came out in 1981. Getting published was vastly easier back then. It truly was. Second, the company that published my book was the same company where I worked as an editorial secretary. They liked me - I think they even loved me - and this helped them to like, and even to love, my book. Third, I took pains to try to come up with a topic that would be publishable: that would have that "extra something" that might come to a librarian's notice. So, although I am not Cuban-American myself, I took my experiences from having a Cuban-American boyfriend and spending time with his extended family and drew on these to write a book about a Cuban-American girl's search for identity. This was also WAY WAY before (most) people realized the importance of "own voices" narratives.

So my first book was published. Hooray? No. It was a not-very-good book that received lukewarm reviews (and one scathing review rightly calling me out for my clumsy portrayal of Hispanic culture). It's been out of print for decades.

My second book was published, too. Hooray? Well, this time it was a book I ripped from my own heart, sharing my own most deeply painful childhood experience. I honestly thought this book would win the Newbery. I even made some notes for my Newbery acceptance speech. But it didn't win the Newbery. It, too, received mixed reviews, including this one (which I can't locate now but quote from memory) that said: "Mills's new book is so good one devoutly wishes it was even better."

I now devoutly wish that second book had been even better, that I had had the skill and experience to write the book that story deserved.

My next few middle-grade manuscripts were rejected: surprise, surprise. And then a few more were published. And finally, with my SEVENTH published book, I wrote one that I don't now cringe when I remember it. In fact, I still like this book. I like it a lot. The literary world did not go wild over this book, but they had already gotten used to me as a writer of somewhat mediocre mid-list titles. Would they have gone wild over this book had it been my first book? Maybe. Or maybe not. But at least with this book I published a book I'm still proud of today. I'll even tell you the title, though I don't have a jpg image to post of the cover: The One and Only Cynthia Jane Thornton. I doubt you can find a copy of it anywhere, but you have my permission to read it, if you do.

So the moral is: it's okay not to publish your first book. Or your second, or third, or fourth. Or fifth or sixth. It's okay to give yourself time to learn your craft and grow into the writer you want to be, with these growth pains happening in private spaces rather than in the public sphere.

There's value in waiting. There really is.

6 comments:

  1. Ty for your honesty and helping us know there is a right time for all things.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I realized that I hadn't done myself, or my career, any favors, by publishing work that wasn't truly ready.

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  2. Claudia, I appreciate your openness in sharing all this. I agree that everyone wants to rush to publication but I think it's harder to get published as a midlist author than to be potentially the next big thing (what all publishers are looking for), so this is great advice for anyone with the patience to take it!

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    1. Thanks, Ginger. And yes, especially nowadays, it's a lot harder to get that second book published if the first one is a dud. Sigh...

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  3. I so get this. I got a rights reversal of my first YAs, and I'm in the midst of some revisions for re-release.

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    1. That's so cool that you have a chance to revise and re-release!

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