If You Weren't You, I Could Sell This In A Minute

I have always been in love with writing, always believed I was put here on this small blue ball of earth to do exactly that -- write. As a child, I lived inside of books and stories, certain that I'd grow up to write my own. I haven't, however, always been in love with the career of being a writer. Or I should say, the career of being an author. I've had a great time with my journalistic career - probably because I've retained control of that.

I published my first novel in 1982, following the tried-and-true rule of "Write what you know." I fictionalized a portion of the life I had led, as the daughter of a prominent governor who then ran for president. It became kind of a national scandal, as the book was regarded as a slash-and-burn portrayal of the Reagans. (My fictional family was the Canfields, and I thought they were actually pretty normal, as families go.) Apparently you can write what you know except when your father is in the White House; then you can't.

I have only 2 things to say about my first novel:

1. It was a pretty harmless book to have caused such a furor.

2. It wasn't a very good book, so please don't read it.

Anyway, my error in judgment placed me firmly inside a box -- spray painted with graffiti- style words like "rebel," "controversial," "black sheep," and various other names that we don't have to go into.

After two other novels, which didn't sell very well, I wrote an autobiography. Bad move. I succeeded in cementing the seams of my box, allowing people to scrawl even nastier graffiti slogans on it, and I had no one to blame but myself. Most of what's in that book should have been kept in a therapist's office, and if I'd had a therapist at the time, it would have been. Don't read that book either.

I grew, I learned, I changed... I grew up. And that emerging person was reflected in my writing. That's kind of what happens in life -- we figure things out, we don't stay the same. Yet when my book The Long Goodbye (about losing my father to Alzheimer's) was initially shopped around, one publisher said while turning it down, "No one wants to read Patti Davis saying nice things about her family." (By the way, you can read The Long Goodbye, I'm quite proud of it.)

Apparently publishers didn't think anyone wanted to read my fiction either. I began my current novel, Till Human Voices Wake Us, about twelve years ago, before The Long Goodbye came out. I had a wonderful literary agent at that time, Jed Mattes, who passed away in 2003. He shopped around a partial manuscript and told me that everyone liked it, but no one was making an offer. "If you weren't you," he said sadly, "I could sell this in a minute."

I finished it after he passed away and another agent sent it around to publishers. The same thing happened -- everyone liked it, no one wanted to buy it. She said it was because I was the author and then she stopped returning my phone calls.

I published two more books, both non-fiction, and kept working on novels. Two more novels were shopped around, with the same results: good work, no sale. I began to pay close attention to the trend toward self-publishing, especially books published by Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace. I was impressed that a huge company like Amazon, which could have just continued only selling conventionally published books, was leading the way in allowing writers to put their work out into the world.

It is, after all, the basic desire of all writers -- a chance to release their work into the world where it will either succeed or fail on its own merits, not hampered by a publishing house that gives up if there isn't a huge surge in sales the first week out, or who markets the book in a way that isn't respectful to the author.

Writers do feel that each book is like a child, who we nurtured and helped develop, and then have to put out into the world. With each of my traditionally published books, I felt like I was dropping off my child in a strange city, in the senseless murder district, with, "Hope you make it."

I don't feel like that anymore. I love my novel Till Human Voices Wake Us -- I loved writing it, I love the characters, I love the story. And now I get to keep nurturing it by keeping control of how it's presented. I dictate what publicity I will do and how the book will be presented to interviewers. I obviously can't dictate readers' reactions - so far people are liking it. But even if some readers don't, as long as they're judging the book and not me, I'm grateful for the feedback.

I'm finally excited about my career as an author. I'm looking forward to releasing my other two novels through KDP and CreateSpace, and I have already begun another novel. There is now a boundary line in my career, separating being conventionally published and self-published. And I'm very much at peace on this side of that boundary line.