Do What You Never

Life is full of Always and Never. How could doing what you never change your life?

Facing your fears sometimes means doing the thing you never do. It means risking failure. Or giving up something that’s important to you when it isn’t working anymore.

I had an incredible opportunity in the summer of 2014. I was invited to sign my books at the American Library Association conference in Las Vegas. My publisher put my daughters and I up in a fancy room at a fancy hotel. We got to meet Judy Blume! A very nice man sat me at a table with stacks of my books in a massive conference room booth. I gave away all my copies. People were happy to have them. It was the most fun.

It was what I’d always dreamed about.

Right next door was my publisher’s young reader’s booth. Where EVERY YA librarian in attendance visited to choose books they wanted to put on their shelves in the next year. My books weren’t there. They were with the books set up for adult librarians.

My young adult books sold to an imprint of a massive publisher that doesn’t actually publish young adult books. At least, not very often. And it turns out that the young reader division and the adult division don’t work togehter. There was no way for me to move my books over to where the interested librarians might find them.

I’ve been thinking about something a lot lately.

Two somethings, actually. Always and Never.

There’s a whole list of things that writers always do, and a list of things they never do. And even though publishing is in huge flux (and has been for a while) and even though it is entirely possible for a traditionally published writer to decide to work completely outside the traditional publishing system, they almost never do. Because change is hard. It hurts.

Sometimes change means giving up what you’ve dreamed about your whole life–because things aren’t the same now as they were when you picked up that dream. The new dream is right there, but it means putting down the old one. At least for the moment. And that is seriously hard to do. It can feel like your brain is telling your fingers to let go, but your fingers aren’t listening. Remember that scene in the first Lord of the Rings movie, when Gandolf wants Bilbo to leave the ring behind, and he keeps saying he will, yes, he has–but trying to go out on his next adventure with it still in his little hobbit pocket?

Yeah. Like that.

I’m a traditionally published author. My books Viral Nation and Rebel Nation were published by an imprint of Penguin. That’s as traditional as it gets. It’s the dream. The one that I’ve had since I was eleven years old and Tomie dePaola came to speak to my elementary school. It’s the dream that countless writers share with me. I’ve really struggled, because that dream didn’t work out the way I thought it would.

My books sold to a publisher who doesn’t sell young adult books.

Barnes and Nobel didn’t pick up Rebel Nation. 

My publisher didn’t pick up my third book–which means that so far my career consists of 2/3 of a trilogy that no publisher will agree to help me finish.

And for quite a while, I lost my mojo. It’s true, and very hard to admit. I forgot that writing is supposed to be about the story, and not about selling the story.

Here’s where I am now. I either get to finish on a cliffhanger and leave my story there, move on to the next thing, or I get to think outside the always. To do what I never. And it’s so scary, it hurts. Because there is so much risk. A self-published failure. Spending my time on something that no publisher wants, when I could be writing something that they do want. Or might want. Because I have no way of knowing.

I know I have no way of knowing because I have this book already written and I’ve tried to sell it traditionally. It’s a book with a story that I love so much. I’ve gone through two agents trying to get it out into the world.

But it doesn’t fit the mold. The protagonist is too young. The story is too dark. It’s too adult for the YA publishers and too YA for the adult publishers.

And the author’s last book didn’t even get picked up by Barnes and Nobel.

I think you’ll like the story. Maybe I know you better than the people who have to be focused on its bottom line.

Maybe we’ll take them by surprise.

Wasted by Shaunta Grimes

Wasted is the story of a 14-year-old boy named Noah who is teetering on the edge of becoming a third-generation addict. It was inspired by the trial of two 15-year-old boys who murdered three people that I covered in rural Nevada in 1999, and by living in the same small town where they are still in prison 15 years later. And by the kids I treated when I was a drug court counselor. And by my big, beautiful, stark, empty state with its little island-like towns that must be some of the most isolated, isolating places in the country.

My fear of stepping away from a dream that was so hard won (being traditionally published) has kept me from releasing this book for the last two years. Two whole years. The fear that the agent who didn’t want to represent it was right, or the publishers who rejected it were right–of proving that I was wrong, publicly. That’s scary. Big time scary. It’s my never.

The one I’m going to jump into with both feet.

I’m going to get Wasted out into the world. And I’m going to use it as a learning experience for all of us. Stay tuned.

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1 Comment

  1. Shaunta,
    Yeah! Do it. Then see if you can get the rights back from the Nation books and publish the third one! My students and I are waiting!

    I cant wait to read Wasted, too.

    Self-pubbing is scary, but you’ve already got the gold ring even if it turned out to be brass. Now go for a new gold ring. Read up on J.A. Konrath who got his rights back and is selling millions.

    Good luck,