Sunday, July 27, 2014

Happily Every After, or What Happens Once a Book Comes Out

Welcome once more to Jenny Milchman!

Since I put bread on the table much of my adult life teaching and counseling gifted college-bound students, I take more than usual interest in the career of a younger gifted American author like Jenny Milchman.

In her post today Jenny shows a strong sense of direction for her life as a fiction writer, combined with humility, grit and undiluted courage!

It is my hope that her personal revelations will give strength and courage to other writers -of whatever age - pushing steadfastly through the intricate mazes on the arduous path to acceptance, publication and the rewards of being recognized as a real pro!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Thelma asked me to write a blog post about “how all this success and fame is affecting me” and I read her instructions and thought, Who is she talking about?

I should back up and tell you a little bit about myself (although really, I’m so famous that surely seeing my name should be enough). Ha. Not.

It took me thirteen years to get my debut novel published. Thirteen years of shuns, as in rejection, humiliation, and degradation. Of pulling myself up afterwards, slapping myself around a little, and saying, “Get out there and do it again.”

Unfortunately the ‘again’ part kept happening. Over a period of eleven years, I wrote eight novels, worked with three agents who submitted five of them, and together we amassed fifteen almost-offers from editors who were interested, but couldn’t get a deal okayed. I lived on the cusp of almost for more than a decade.

Finally the literary sea parted, and I was offered a contract for novel #8. Exactly how is a story that’s been told in other posts and articles. What I’d like to talk about now—the part Thelma was asking about—is what happened next.

What happened first-next is that I learned that rejection doesn’t stop just because you land a publishing deal. My debut hadn’t even come out when my agent told me that novels #7 and #9, both of which we’d submitted to my publisher as a follow-up, weren’t quite right. The novel that would come out after my debut turned out to be my tenth.

But Thelma is right that some magical things did begin, and in many ways, landing that publishing deal changed my life and allowed me to do things I’d dreamed of for decades.

Find readers. See someone, then many someones pick my book up off a bookstore shelf. Walk into the crowded event space of a bookstore or a library and get to speak.

Hmmm, funny what a writer’s dreams consist of, isn’t it? It isn’t buying the yacht—or even being met by a handler at the airport on book tour (neither of which has happened to me yet). But getting to share your story, closing the circle Stephen King describes between author and reader? I’ll take that over ten private jets.

But I keep circling back to Thelma’s initial prompt, and I don’t want to be disingenuous about it. It’s true that my debut novel met with some success. It won an award I will always keep in the annals of memory as my “Oscar moment” and has been nominated for two others. When I was given the Mary Higgins Clark award—by Mary Higgins Clark herself—my editor and my husband had to push me up to the stage. My name had been read, but I hadn’t quite registered it.

And thanks to rigorous research by my publisher as to how best to put digital pricing to use, the same book landed, briefly and low down, on the USA Today bestseller list. I got to see my name praised by the New York Times, and better than that—my story. People and places that wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t made them up.

Remember, this was a novel that had been rejected by everyone. By 2010, when my agent and I were out of options, we had received two final rejections. The first said—

• “Love the array of characters, but the plot moves too slowly.”

While the other went—

• “The plot goes like quicksilver, but we’d have to cut some of these characters.”

What’s a writer to do, with no plot and no characters? We decided to do neither, and then came our eleventh hour reprieve, leading me to believe that if a writer wants to succeed, knock on every door, and then start knocking on things that aren’t doors.

And afterwards, along with the success? A lot of ongoing doubt. Some people liked my first book, but trust me, plenty of people didn’t (just read my reader reviews). I would be lucky enough to see a second novel come out a year later, but that brought with it a whole other set of fears. What if those who liked my first book hated this new one, and those who hated the first hated this one even worse?

Does it ever stop, this writer’s quandary, a primordial soup of second-guessing and undermining yourself? I’d like to ask Stephen King that. Or Kathryn Stockett. You know…the truly famous and successful ones.

I wonder how they see themselves?

There are other doubts besides writerly ones. Every night I wrestle with what kind of lesson my career is offering my kids. Part of the reason I stuck it out as long as I did was because I didn’t want this story to end for my kids on a note of rejection. What kind of Cinderella tale is that? But now the kids are a part of my journey in ways most children aren’t privy to a parent’s career. Is this a good thing—a study in hard work and how there’s always something to reach for? Or should I be leaving my children to school and Scouts and soccer, and shielding them from the realities of a career in media and the arts?

Here’s the thing. As any real writer knows—from Stephen King to the newest newbie on the block—it’s the next book that counts. The one we’re dreaming up in our heads. The one we’ll turn our attention to the moment it’s ready. And nobody, not Stephen or Gillian or JK, knows what their readers will think of that one.

The doubts don’t end, but luckily something else stays constant, too. The readers. The ones whose distant promise kept me in the game for thirteen years. If we keep writing for them, then any success and fame may seem ephemeral and fleeting, but that’s okay.

Coming back to a new story will keep our doubts at bay, too.

© 2014 Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman’s debut novel, Cover of Snow, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick, won the Mary Higgins Clark award for best suspense novel of 2013, and has been nominated for a Barry and Macavity. Jenny’s second novel, Ruin Falls, also an Indie Next Pick, has just come out to starred reviews, and her third, As Night Falls, will be released in 2015. Jenny is now dreaming up the next one.

Find Jenny online at


  1. Beautifully said, "keeping our doubts at bay." Wishing you continued success and it was interesting reading about your journey. And it certainly sounds like you're still enjoying the ride. Thanks!

  2. Dear Folks, my original title of Jenny's piece was " Humility, Gratitude and Fame ". Jenny embodies both humility and gratitude - I believe readers will see that in her writing. tjs