The Sixth Time Was Harder

When I sold my first book in 2001, I felt as if I had climbed Mount Everest in my shorts. It was my first big accomplishment. I wrote a book and someone paid money to put a cover on it, print it and put it in book stores. I wrote a book and newspapers like San Francisco Chronicle and the LA Times; and magazines like TIME reviewed it. I wrote a book and people read it.

Alas, not enough people read it.

I sold four more books and that brings my total to five published novels (who’s counting) – all with book covers and editorial support.

My books sold okay. I have a readership. I get royalty checks, albeit not enough to pay the bills; which is fine, because I have this day gig that pays well and is also enjoyable.

You’re not breaking out; you’re not selling enough to be interesting; you’re five books old and you’re not a young debut writer anymore. No one wants to take a chance. This is midlist hell.

I wrote a book about surrogacy and I really liked it. That’s saying a lot because I usually don’t like what I write and can find many, many things wrong with it (and this is why I don’t read a book after it’s published).

I believed in this book. My then agent said the market was tough and he’s been good for me so I knew he wasn’t bullshitting me.

But I wanted to see this book out of my hard drive.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

I went looking for a new agent. I got very lucky. I found Rayhané Sanders and she said the magic words, “I believe in you.” And so began a journey.

Rayhané is your uber-engaged agent. She edits She fixes. She makes it better. She works so very hard for you. I was terrified that she was working so hard because what if the book doesn’t sell and she has put all this effort into it? I was worried about her feelings and returns rather than mine. Yes, she’s that good.

Finally, the book was ready and Rayhané sent it out to everyone. And I mean everyone.

It was a long four months.

She’s in the West Coast, I’m in Copenhagen. I stayed up late every night, waiting for emails and woke up early to see if there was an email.

There were emails. Lots of passes.

One editor loved the book, even talked to me but couldn’t make it happen because my past sales were not good enough. I was sure that this was the end. My career as a writer was over. I wasn’t going to go the self-publishing way (I just don’t have that kind of bandwidth, I’ll be honest), so this was it – the end of the road.

Good thing I started to paint, I joked. But painting is a hobby, akin to knitting – writing is the real deal, the true love, part of my identity. I remember telling me husband that if I couldn’t sell a book I don’t think I’d ever be truly happy again. Sounds insane, right? But also true.

The problem with not selling a book for me was that I felt as if my permission to write was taken away.

So here I am spending hours and hours on weekends and holidays writing, and for what? At least when I paint for hours and hours, my husband and kids enjoy the paintings.

Writing? It’s entirely too selfish and why am I even doing this? So I can collect more reject letters? Polite ones that say “not for us” or ones that say “hey, I read two books about surrogacy at the same time and I went with the other one.” It’s just too hard.

I asked Rayhané several times if it was over. She ignored my drama and said that she wasn’t giving up hope. How pathetic then that I was.

I asked my husband if maybe this was it and I should make my peace with it. I wrote a good book and people liked it but not enough to buy it. I also can’t go back in time and change my past sales. Once a midlist writer, always a… .

But if I wasn’t going to be a writer anymore, who was I going to be? As identity crises go, this was right up there with turning thirty five and realizing that not all my dreams were going to come true and the stretch marks were forever.

By this time I stopped checking my email incessantly. There was either no news or bad news. I was seriously considering getting under the covers and staying there. Right around this time, things at work exploded in a nasty and stressful way. Summer refused to make entrance in Denmark, it was gray and dull. I was slowly starting to lose my mind.

The only bright spot was three weeks of summer vacation. Spanish wine and tapas; and heat. I wasn’t even going to write. Why the hell should I? It isn’t like I’m going to ever sell anything.

But magic happens sometimes. And it did. To me.

I checked my email (more for work than for play) and there it was. Danielle Marshall from Amazon really wants to buy the book. Publishing with Amazon is a different experience – how do you feel about it?

How do I feel about it? I feel great about it. Here’s an editor who loves my book and is ready to believe in me. She’s giving me a chance. I’m grateful and very, very lucky.

You won’t see your books in stores: I live in Denmark and I already don’t see them in stores; and I can ensure that the stores I go to keep copies as Amazon will print trade paperbacks.

You won’t get reviewed in the big outlets: I had all the reviews and they’re very nice to get; now I’d like more readership.

Amazon is big on eBook and audio: Good. I haven’t bought a physical book in five years (trying to save trees and like to read on my iPhone and Kindle) but have 200+ in both Audio and eBook formats.

My husband asked the question that he needed me to think about. “Do you feel less validated because it’s not one of the big houses?”

I didn’t know the answer before I spoke and when I did I knew it was how I really felt. “I don’t give a fuck. Amazon is a publishing house. They bought my book. They’re going to put a cover on it, copy edit it, print it, audio it and sell it. An editor out there loved my book and wants to build my writing career with me. I have permission to write. This is perfect.”

I’m grinning like a fool for the past week. Giddy.

I look back and tell my husband, “This was so hard.”

He says, “Yeah, harder than the first time when you didn’t know the business. This time you knew and it was much, much harder.”

A House for Happy Mothers, my sixth novel will be published by Amazon’s Lake Union imprint in May 2016.

Amulya Malladi