Exactly one year ago today, my debut YA novel, FLYAWAY, released from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I’d had books published by small presses before, but this was the biggie: my first novel with a major publishing house. Like most debut authors, I went into my launch with a naive sense of optimism, and in typical Aries fashion, I had fantasies of taking the YA world by storm. I envisioned stellar reviews, awards, perhaps even a movie deal! (A little over-the-top, I know, but we Aries folk are nothing if not ambitious.) At the very least, I was sure that this was the start of a distinguished career, and that in no time I’d be signing contracts for more books. One way or another, the release of FLYAWAY was going to change my life.
None of that has happened. FLYAWAY has garnered mixed reviews – some glowing, some not so much. It hasn’t received any awards, and I haven’t heard a hint of a movie deal. So far, I have yet to sell a second novel. And I’m still working the same jobs, still struggling to pay the bills, still squeezing writing into the cracks in my overstuffed schedule.
To say that I’ve been disillusioned would be a little strong; disappointed, perhaps. The truth is that I’ve had to take a big bite of a reality sandwich of my own making.
Not to say that there haven’t been wonderful things about having my first YA novel out in the world. I’ll never forget the walking-on-air giddiness of having my lifelong dream come true or the show of support at my book launch. I’ve loved getting to know other YA authors, both online through communities like The Elevensies and in person. I’ve had a blast at book events and discovered a passion for talking to teens about books. My debut year has been an experience I’ll always treasure.
And now that I think about it, my life has changed profoundly, though not in the ways I imagined it would. This year has taught me to manage my expectations – not to give up hope, but to set my sights on achievable goals, goals that are within my control. I can’t control how reviewers and award committees will react or whether an editor will make an offer for my next book. But I can control the quality of my work, which is where I’m now putting my focus.
This year, I’ve had to recommit to my writing. Like someone who’s been hurt in a relationship, I’ve had to open myself up to falling in love with the process of creating a novel all over again. And this time, because I now understand that there are no guarantees that my work will be published, my sense of commitment is stronger and deeper than before.
I’ve also had to recommit to my “real life.” Now that the dream of a star-studded literary career is fading into the distance, at least for now, I feel a new gratitude for the work that allows me to make a living, and for my family and friends who are so deserving of my time.
Don’t get me wrong: more than anything in the world, I’d love to publish another novel – or two or three. I’m still gunning for some awards and – who knows? – maybe even a movie deal. The difference is that now I have hopes instead of expectations. And I think I can live with that.