She Who Can Make or Break Your Writing Career
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Since this blog ran over a month ago, I have learned that, in fact, Sessalee Hensley has supported THE CINDERELLA PACT. In fact, THE CINDERELLA PACT will be on the Barnes & Noble Beach Reads table from June 19 until July 17 at a nice discount. So, thank you Sessalee! )
Yesterday, I had to talk to my agent. I really love my agent and I really hate talking to her. Maybe someday she will call me to announce that I'm #12 on the New York Times bestseller list, that my success is better than one ever imagined, but not now. Mostly she calls to discuss my future and what I need to do to break out.
This is because Sessalee Hensley didn't love my forthcoming hardcover, THE CINDERELLA PACT.
Actually, I don't know if Sessalee Hensley loved THE CINDERELLA PACT or not. I don't know if she even read it. (Doubtful.) For all I know, she took one look at the cover with the glittering Christian Louboutin shoe, flipped through the opening chapter about a woman who is fat pretending to be a thin, hip British advice columnist who writes a column about how easy it is to lose weight and sighed, tres, tres bored. Then she tossed the book aside and moved on to what was next in the pile. Like a Julian Barnes or something.
If Sessalee had loved it, I would have heard. Dutton would have called crowing.
If you don't know who Sessalee is, by the way, and you're a writer of fiction, listen up. Sessalee is the mega buyer for Barnes and Noble. Sessalee orders for ALL the Barnes and Noble fiction collections. All of them. Being inconceivably human, she also is equipped with a thumb that either goes up or down and, along with it, your career.
Unlike my agent, I don't find it surprising she didn't love my baby. I mean Sessalee loved LOVELY BONES which had a printing of 952,000 in its first month, largely thanks to her. THE CINDERELLA PACT is not a book about rape, murder or anything bad. It's all good. It's about being loved for who you are, about dieting and succeeding or dieting and failing and meeting a hot guy along the way. It's about friendships. It's warm and fun. Kirkus called it a "delightful frolic." You get the picture.
Before I got into publishing, I didn't know a lot of things. I didn't know that paperback sales were driven by print runs. I didn't know how to read a Borders label to find out how many books had been ordered for that store.I didn't know that you needed a first printing of over 50,000 in hardcover to make the NYT. I didn't know about Sessalee.
Ignorance is bliss.
Of course, the whole Sessalee thing makes even the most honorable writers into whores. You have a sick desire to send roses to Sessalee, cure her cat's cancer, repaint her apartment. But Sessalee, it is rumored, cannot be bought. She will, however, increase her orders if you have a confirmed appearance on TODAY or you are on Oprah. Last I checked on my schedule, there is neither a Today nor an Oprah. It is, in all fairness, a very busy schedule.
This is where the small independent stores get screwed, too, because you want to tell everyone on your mailing list GO OUT AND BUY THE CINDERELLA PACT AT BARNES AND NOBLE THE FIRST WEEK!!! You want to tell them this because Sessalee sniffed at Judy Blume's SUMMER SISTERS (which my daughter loved) on the pretense that Judy Blume readers don't grow up to read books; they grow up to read magazines. (Actual quote is from the Wall Street Journal.) And then all the Judy Blume fans ran right out and bought tons of SUMMER SISTERS from Barnes and Noble and Sessalee - who apparently can change her mind - took a hint.
I have fantasies of overweight women and formerly overweight women (gee, that should be about half the population) rushing out to B&N's everywhere to buy THE CINDERELLA PACT the first week it's on sale. I want to be a fly on the wall when Sessalee throws up her hands and says, "Who knew The Cinderella Pact would be such a hit?" and puts in an order for 20,000 more copies.
Yet, what would Mary Alice at Mystery Lover's in Pittsburgh have to say about that? She who has been so supportive of me. Or the good friends at Murder by the Book in Houston? Or the Moravian Book Shop? These are my true boosters, no? These are the people who know their readers, their customers and what they want. They're the ones who say, "Have you tried Sarah Strohmeyer's latest? You should."
So what to do? Well, the first thing to do is forget about it. I can't help it that Sessalee didn't love the book, plenty of others did, like Meg Cabot and Kirkus. I suppose I could sit down and analyze what books Sessalee loved and didn't and then write like the ones she loved. But I've got kids to raise and a garden to weed and a Bubbles book to revise.
Instead, I think what I'll do is learn from my mistakes. If there's any mistake I've made in this business, it has been to - at times, not always - concentrate too much on what sells versus what I love to write. Because in the end, the latter is all that matters. And though the industry will always, always push you to write yesterday's hit, don't let them. Stick to your guns. It could be tomorrow's phenomenal bestseller.
Thanks, Sessalee, for that much.