When I told people that I had a new novel being published this year, as I did on this blog recently, revealing the beautiful cover, a lot of folks commented on how prolific I was. With three books published in a span of just two years, it does seem that way, but really, it’s an illusion.
My first novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley, was published by Braddock Avenue Books in May of 2019. That’s almost eight years after I finished a manuscript that I deemed ready for submission to agents and almost seven years after the publication of What the Zhang Boys Know, my novel in stories that was published in the fall of 2012 by Press 53. (That book was largely finished by the fall of 2010 and spent a year or so on submission to large publishing houses by my then-agent before Press 53, which in 2009 had published my first story collection, In an Uncharted Country, picked it up.)
The novel’s route to publication was long. I landed an agent for it in the fall of 2011, we worked on a round of edits, and by mid-2012, that agent and I had parted ways. (Long story.) The book then languished because I had other things going on, including the publication of my novel in stories and subsequent promotional appearances for that book. In 2013, when all that had died down, I worked on another revision to the manuscript, looked for a new agent, and also continued to work on another novel. (Most writers I know are always working on one project or another, or several at the same time.)
Just before Christmas 2013, I landed a new agent for Shaman and, after a round of minor revisions, we went out on submission in January 2014. Unlike a lot of agents, he really persevered and did, I think, four rounds of submissions before throwing in the towel. By that time, mid-2016, more than two years after we started, I had finished a new novel (which is the book coming out only now). My agent suggested some revisions on that book, which I made, and while he was sending it out to publishers, he encouraged me to submit the earlier novel to small presses, which I did.
At that point, late summer of 2016, with two books “finished,” I was beginning to work on a new novel, more ambitious than anything I had done so far. (Spoiler alert: It’s now January of 2021 and I’m STILL working on that novel, with no end in sight.)
In mid-2017, deep into work on the new project, I received an offer from Braddock Avenue Books to publish The Shaman of Turtle Valley. Because there is not much money involved in publishing with a small press, and because the agent didn’t hold out much hope for the new book landing at a major publisher, we agreed to end our relationship. No hard feelings. He worked hard for me and I appreciated his efforts, but it just wasn’t worth it to him to continue.
While Shaman slowly worked its way through the publishing process at Braddock, I did more edits on the next novel. Because the book had already been agented and had been submitted to major publishers, I believed—based on advice from writers, editors, and agents—that my options were either to submit the book as it was then to independent presses or do a substantial revision (with name change) and then start over with agents. In essence, I took steps toward doing both. I made submissions to small presses, but I also engaged a developmental editor to advise me on how I might revise the book. In the summer of 2018, I had that editor’s suggestions in hand and began to revise. And just when I started on those revisions, I received an offer from Regal House Publishing to publish the novel in its previous form. Now, there’s a dilemma for you. The editor’s suggestions for revision had resonated with me, but a publisher was interested in the un-revised book.
Solution: come clean with the publisher. I spoke with the publisher’s Editor-in-chief and described the changes I planned to make—which were substantial—and the editor agreed completely, even indicating that she would have made similar suggestions. So I signed a contract with Regal House for Oliver’s Travels and spent the next couple of months making the changes. At that point, late summer 2018, the edits for Shaman (scheduled to come out in May 2019) were done, and now the manuscript for the new novel was also done, and I began to get more serious about the new project I’d been working on since 2016.
In early 2019, however, I had the unexpected opportunity to go to an arts colony for a week. Instead of pushing ahead on the novel, I used that concentrated period to work on assembling my uncollected short stories into a manuscript, to see if I might have enough for a collection. I didn’t, quite, but in addition to the stories I did have (mostly published but as yet uncollected and a few unpublished) I also had a bundle of ideas for new material, and in short order I had not only produced several short stories to polish and start submitting to literary magazines, I also had a draft of a new book. That was one of the most productive weeks of writing I’ve ever had.
The Shaman of Turtle Valley appeared in May 2019, seven and a half years after I’d finished it, and six and a half years after the publication of my previous book. It hadn’t taken me very long to write, in retrospect, maybe just two years. Finding a publisher and getting the book out took much, much longer.
Shortly after Shaman came out, Press 53 offered to publish the new collection of short stories. The timing was tricky, however, because we didn’t want it to appear too close to either of the two novels. In the end, we arranged to bring out House of the Ancients and Other Stories a full year after Shaman, so it came out in May 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. Not great timing.
Oliver’s Travels had been scheduled to appear in the fall of 2020, but the publisher understood the problem of being too soon after the story collection, so publication was pushed to May of 2021, almost five years after I finished that book and sent it to my agent.
Publishing three books in the span of two years may seem like I’m being a prolific writer, but truthfully it’s all just the whim of the publishing gods. What I will take credit for, however, is perseverance, which the real key to the industry.