Last December, I was wrapping up a calendar year in which I had published Unmaking Marchant, Trapped, four Red & Wolfe serials, four Beast serials, and four Hansel serials—each serial series a novel-length story.
I rang in 2014 woefully unprepared for the reality of caring for an infant in a city far away from family. Trapped was mostly finished before my daughter was born in November 2013, and I thought Marchant could be finished in snippets after her birth.
Not so much…
From day one, I taught my new baby to sleep at night with the bedroom light on—because I realized with the light off, the contrast between my computer screen and the dark room was too jarring; it would wake her. Rather than rocking her, I trained her to go to sleep bouncing on my lap while I sat on the bed, reaching over her tiny body and typing on a hot pink Asus computer. I worked almost every night while she slept. Many times, all night.
Almost every word of Unmaking Marchant was typed with my right hand, while I held her in my left arm. One night around 4 a.m., I put her down in the room we shared, walked quietly into the den with a plastic sports bottle in hand, and hurled it at the wall, so hard it shattered into three pieces.
I have an older child, a then two-year-old son with special needs. I knew how to be a mom and be an author, but I hadn’t been “Ella James” in his infancy. When Marchant came out and ended with a slight cliffhanger, people complained about that and its length. I said nothing. The truth was, that’s as far as my one-handed efforts could extend in the allotted timeframe.
An author friend with a baby about my daughter’s age asked me how I was releasing at all. She wasn’t getting anything written, she said. (I’m sure she actually was). I wrote back, “Don’t feel bad. I can’t do it either. I cry every day.”
Serials seemed the perfect business model for me. I could write and publish in smaller snippets, reducing the length of time between pub dates and (hopefully) keeping me “relevant.” Having to meet frequent “do or die” deadlines kept me from lagging—and sleeping. If I had a deadline, the household paused until I met it. I worked almost all night as a rule, and dragged my zombie self from bed around 10 a.m. Still, I found myself pushing pub dates and, a few times, missing pre-order dates.
The hero of Red & Wolfe felt cornered by the world and lived as a recluse on a private island. His heroine made her dirty deal with him because she had to; she’d run out of money. Beast was a literal prisoner. Annabelle, too, was imprisoned—by poverty. Hansel and Leah met while they, too, were imprisoned.
Not just a book title.
I felt ridiculous. I knew I was fortunate. “Ella” had supported my family since mid-2012. I was living what had been my dream for years. Difficult years, where I worked unpleasant jobs and came home and wrote for four to five hours every day, often ten hours on Saturdays and Sundays. People were reading my words. I had a Facbook page, and people liked it! Miraculous.
Everyone I knew told me to calm down, to try to relax. “Just do your best and don’t worry.” But I couldn’t. “If I don’t publish every three months, people will forget me! The market is crowded. Every author is publishing at least two or three books a year.” I vividly recall telling my friends, “Even Abbi Glines publishes several times per year!” Abbi Glines—the benchmark. My family believed my hype and set their clock by my pub schedule.
In early 2015, around the time Sloth was due out, I had a serious health issue accompanied by a very serious depression. None of my good friends were surprised. I missed the planned Sloth pub date by three months.
Someone I was working with at that time said something that haunted me, along with all my own demons. “You can’t wait this long to publish, Ella. How ‘big’ do you think you are? The readers won’t wait for you.”
An author’s late book is not significant in the lives of her readers. But for me, this was disaster. Many, many times, I contemplated finding a new job. Something I could do more easily. Something more consistent. I waited and waited for the bottom to fall out. For the income to dry up. For my readers to forget my name.
I heard that person’s dire prediction in my dreams. If I close my eyes, I can still hear it. “The readers won’t wait for you.”
You aren’t good enough. You aren’t significant. You aren’t worth waiting for.
When Sloth finally presented its slow self in mid-June, I had zero expectations. No one on my team could be sure how it would perform. But it did well. Really well.
And still, I told myself, “You better hurry with that next release. The readers won’t wait for you.” I held to my zealous belief that without four or at least three new release in a year, I couldn’t stay competitive.
And then today, I realized: Murder’s pub date is in January.
As I sat there by my Christmas tree, in my warm, safe home, where I have trash service and satellite TV and high-speed Internet and a pantry full of food, as I sat there writing and tweeting about my Sloth sale, it hit me: In the last year, I have only published ONE book.
After all that…
Not even my own dire predictions came to pass, because I’m not in charge. Forces far beyond my control keep the world turning.
To a large extent, you are in control of my success. You who buy my books. “The readers.” At the risk of sounding like a self-important author making an Oscars-style speech, I feel compelled to thank you.
This year is almost over. Compared to the other years I worked as “Ella James” this one, with its one release, seems quiet. But it’s the most fulfilling. The most exciting. It has taught me—once and for all, I hope—that it’s impossible to predict the future. Projections and calculations are ultimately futile. You can only do the best you can, and try to trust in the goodness of things. (There really isn’t any harm in hoping and projecting positive outcomes).
To quote L. Frank Baum of The Wizard of Oz fame, “Never give up. No one ever knows what’s going to happen next.”
That couldn’t be more true. I’m looking forward to it.