Attention, World: I SOLD A NOVEL.

When I was fifteen, my parents dragged me to a book release party.  Not that I knew it was a book release party; I was, like every fifteen-year-old kid, self-centered to the point that I wore my colon as a hat.  It was at the Goldsteins’ house, so I assumed it was another party celebrating the fact that brave Mrs. Goldstein had survived yet another round of brain surgery.

But no.  Mrs. Goldstein – a clear-eyed woman who walked with the help of a cane – pressed a hardcover book into my hand.

“I wrote this,” she told me.  “About my experiences, relearning how to walk and talk and write.  It’s a memoir.”  And though I’d read so many stories that I had ink permanently dotted on my nose from sticking it in books, it had never occurred to me that actual people wrote them.  Authors were Gods who lived in little editorial heavens, flinging down books from clouds up high.

But Mrs. Goldstein had written a book.  And taken it to the publishers in New York.  And gotten it published.  She told me all about how she wrote it, how you had to send it in a manila envelope to people, the letters of rejection you’d get, and slowly I came to understand that books – books! – were written by people like you and me.


When I was fifteen, I vowed to publish a novel.


When I was nineteen, I wrote my first novel: “Schemer and the Magician.”  It was about a nerdy college kid (basically me) and a wiseass college kid (also basically me) who got kidnapped by aliens and sucked into a galactic war OF INCONCIEVABLE CONSEQUENCES.

…It wasn’t very good.

I sent it to two agents, who wisely never responded.


When I was twenty-three, I wrote my second novel: “A Cup of Sirusian Coffee.”  It was a Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy-style riff on the afterlife, where for all eternity you were forced to do whatever you did in life.  Were you a plumber?  Look forward to spending the next five Pleistocene epochs fixing pipes.

I wrote the first three chapters, handed them around to my college buddies, who thought it was hysterical.  So every day I cranked out another chapter, handing out printed manuscripts to a small group of fans who demanded to know what happened next, until eventually I snowballed a slim plot into a musical Ragnarok that shut the universe down.

This one I sent out to three agents, two of whom dutifully informed me that I was not quite as clever as I thought.


When I was thirty, I wrote my third novel: “The Autonomist Agenda, Part I.”  Screw my own muse, I thought: this one would be commercial.  So I wrote the first book in a huge and complex fantasy series, complete with smoldering relationships guaranteed to appeal to the ‘shipper crowd, and prophecies that propelled a young boy on the inevitable journey to become a Big Damn Hero, and even a gay warrior because I was Just That Ahead Of The Curve.

(Not that it was revealed he was gay until Part II.  I had Plans, you see.  I’d sell all three books at once!)

I slipped a copy to my friend Catherynne Valente, who’d had some success at this writing gig.  She read part of it, then took me out to a sad lunch at Bob Evans to break the news.

“I guess you could get this published somewhere,” she told me.  “But is this really what you want your name on?”

I guess I didn’t.

But damn, I wanted my name on something.


When I was thirty-two, I wrote my fourth novel: “On The Losing Side Of The Dragon.”  Sure, the winning knight eventually kills the dragon, but what about all those poor wannabe schmucks who get devoured along the way?

I gave it to my wife.  She informed me she liked how it ended, really liked it, but the beginning was tedious.  She would never have gotten to the good stuff if she hadn’t been, you know, obligated to read my crap on account of our wedding vows consisting of the words “to love, honor, and beta-read.”

I locked myself in my room and cried all evening.  Thirteen years of effort, and I had not managed to write one single novel that anyone wanted to read.  I had not sold one story.

All I’d ever wanted to do was write novels, and I pretty much sucked at it.


When I was thirty-five, I wrote my fifth novel: “A Cup Of Sirusian Coffee.”  Wrote the whole goddamned thing from scratch.  It was a funny idea, and my college buddies still asked about it, so clearly I just needed to go back to the drawing board.

This was novel #5 – and that was the toughest one.  See, Stephen King, my favorite Unca Stephen, had written five novels before he sold his first one.  He’d famously wadded up Carrie and thrown it in the trash, and his wife had rescued it, put his ass back in the seat, told him to keep going.  He did.  Fame and fortune resulted.

That meant this was my lucky novel.  This was the one I was guaranteed to publish.  After all, how many novels did you have to write before you got good?

After sending the new manuscript far and wide, I heard back from a publisher two years later.  They told me the opening paragraphs were “interesting” but then it “fell apart quickly… if the author could capture the style of those first paragraphs again, it might be worth it.”

But by then, I’d pretty much given up trying.


When I was thirty-eight, Catherynne Valente yelled at me.  “Just send in the damn application,” she said.

“I’m not a good writer,” I told her.  “The Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop is for serious writers.  I’ve sold three stories in twenty years, for $15 total.  I’m never going to get in.”

She smiled.  “So send it in.  Just to shut me up.”

I did.

I got accepted.

I got scourged.

I got to learn that over the last twenty years, I’d accreted all kinds of bad habits – stiff plotting, flabby prose, a reliance on recreating stereotypes instead of actually writing about people I knew.  Clarion taught me that I wasn’t a bad writer, I’d just been too overconfident in my raw abilities… and now that I had finally been forced to acknowledge all my weak spots, I could fix those and reinvent myself for the better.

Over the next three years, I sold fourteen stories, five of them at professional rates.  For which I still thank Catherynne.

But I wasn’t quite ready to write a novel.  Not yet.


When I was forty-one, I finally got the courage back to work on my sixth novel: a sweeping science-fiction epic called “The Upterlife.”  I spent a year revising it, and – I shit you not – not two hours after I finished the final draft of that damn novel, Mary Robinette Kowal called me up to tell me that my novelette Sauerkraut Station had been nominated for the Nebula Award.

If that wasn’t a signal from God that I was ready to sell a damn novel, what was?  I sent that manuscript to all the best agents, with a killer query, telling them by way, I’m up for a Nebula this year and I just happen to have this novel for you.

They all rejected it.

Every.

Last.

One.


When I was forty-three, I wrote my seventh novel.  It was Breaking Bad with magic, a desperate bureaucromancer turned to manufacturing enchanted drugs to save his burned daughter… and it was by far the best thing I’d ever written.  I polished that sucker until it shined.  It shined.

But I was two novels beyond Stephen King.  I’d been struggling to get a novel published for twenty-four years now, clawing at the walls of the Word Mines, and I had no hope of anything but oh God I couldn’t stop and I realized that I wasn’t going to stop, that the breath in my body would run out before I stopped writing tales and who the hell cared if I got published or not I was locked in.  I had to create.  I had to.


And I sold it.


Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz.  The story of Paul Tsabo, bureaucromancer, his daughter Aliyah, and the kinky videogamemancer Valentine DiGriz, who I’m pretty sure you’re gonna love.  Published by Angry Robot books – the very publisher of whom I said to my wife, “If I could have any publisher take my first book, it’d be Angry Robot.”

Coming to bookstores on September 30th.  (EDIT: And you can pre-order it now through Amazon. Lordy, that was fast.)


I don’t care what novel you’re on.

Do not give up.

(Cross-posted from Angry Robot’s blog.)

35 Comments

  1. Fran Wilde
    Apr 14, 2014

    Congratulations, Ferrett! Congratulations, Angry Robot!

  2. Sara Harvey
    Apr 14, 2014

    CONGRATS!
    And well-deserved!!!!
    *love!*

  3. J. Kathleen Cheney
    Apr 14, 2014

    That’s great! Congratulations!!!!

  4. Caroline Lambe
    Apr 14, 2014

    So excited to have you on the AR team, Ferrett – congrats!

  5. Stephen Ramey
    Apr 14, 2014

    You go, guy! I soooooooo look forward to buying and reading this.

  6. John Wiswell
    Apr 14, 2014

    This is fantastic, sir! Angry Robot is a splendid publisher, and that sounds like a fine idea for a novel. I look forward to seeing it in print – and right around my birthday, too.

  7. Dale Ivan Smith
    Apr 14, 2014

    That is truly awesome news! Thrilled to hear this. I look forward to reading the book. You persisted, kept learning and growing to reach this moment. Well done!

    And thank you for the encouraging words here to we fellow novelists struggling through our journey. You shine a light that shows it is indeed possible.

  8. LaShawn
    Apr 14, 2014

    WHOOOOOOOOO!!!

    (And this gives me much encouragement with my own opus. Much, much encouragement.)

  9. scyllacat
    Apr 14, 2014

    Big ol’ green-eyed congratulations, says she who became convinced of her unsuitability for fiction back in her college creative writing classes. Seriously. I may preorder.

  10. Mary Garber
    Apr 14, 2014

    AWESOME! Congratulations on your forthcoming novel publication, and on hanging in there. And thanks for cheering on the rest of us with your tale of dedication, despair, and more dedication.

  11. Marc
    Apr 14, 2014

    That’s awesome! I’m so very happy for you!

  12. Thanks for sharing that. I feel a bit better over the glacial pace of my career. Wish I could do Clarion. Best I’ve got is a MFA from SoHK.

    Congrats on your sale.

  13. Liz Argall
    Apr 14, 2014

    Congratulations and thanks for sharing your process diary ^_^

  14. Terri Jones
    Apr 14, 2014

    PRE-ORDERED. Delighted for you! But even more delighted for ME! 😀

  15. Mishell Baker
    Apr 14, 2014

    It was #6 for me. This stuff always takes longer than we expect, but it’s sooooo worth it.

  16. Tim Pratt
    Apr 14, 2014

    Congratulations! That’s fantastic.

  17. michael cahoon
    Apr 14, 2014

    I have preordered it, and I will eagerly await it.

    Congratulations! :-)

  18. K'lee
    Apr 14, 2014

    Fantastic story and very encouraging for those of us looking to join you with our first published novel.

    Thanks for this!

    K’lee

  19. Eric Wagoner
    Apr 14, 2014

    Fantastic! Congrats, Ferrett. I’m looking forward to reading it this fall.

  20. Lyssa
    Apr 14, 2014

    My heart is so full for you right now! I am also going to pre-order! And then I am going to ask you to sign my book when next I see you, because that’s just the best! :)

  21. Brad R. Torgersen
    Apr 14, 2014

    Good work, Ferrett. There is an almost indescribably beautiful joy in achieving that first novel sale to the publisher with whom you most desire to work. I got that experience last summer (when I sold The Chaplain’s War to Baen) and I still don’t think I’ve quite come down from the high.

    Be proud, sir!

  22. Mary Elizabeth Burroughs
    Apr 14, 2014

    What a post! Such excellent news expressed with dynamite and flounce. As soon as you summarised the intriguing sounding novel, I wanted to read it.

    Freaking congratulations, Ferrett!

    –From one of your very unsurprised and totally chuffed Clarion classmates.

  23. Maria
    Apr 14, 2014

    FUCK. YES. Pre-ordered. So excited to see the world you’ve created. So happy this is how your how work is panning out. So incredible for you, and for your long time readers.

  24. katthemad
    Apr 14, 2014

    Great news! And I’d STILL love to know what ever became of Amaryllis Shartoofle.

  25. Robyn
    Apr 14, 2014

    Congratulations. So deserved. You rock.

  26. Jim Ryan
    Apr 15, 2014

    Congrats, Ferrett! Looking forward to reading it!

  27. Grayson Bray Morris
    Apr 15, 2014

    Congratulations, Ferrett! And thank you so much for the encouragement to the rest of us that is this post.

  28. John Palisano
    Apr 15, 2014

    An absolutely wonderful post. Inspiring. Funny. Heartwarming. And I love the ending. Congratulations. I’m not alone in being thrilled to read it, and just over the moon for you. Here’s to it and your success!

  29. Mylène Dorias
    Apr 15, 2014

    Congratulations! Well done! I went to amazon to pre-order but found, they only have a paper-version there. Do you, perchance, know whether there will be a Kindle (or any other e-book) version? My eyesight isn’t good enough to read paper books, so I’d be grateful for an e-book …

  30. lucretia
    Apr 15, 2014

    Couldn’t happen to a more dedicated, driven, writing machine! Very much looking forward to reading it Ferrett. Your the reason I donated to the Clarion drive. Because you »are« “that guy” who will inspire young writers. Much well deserved kudos.

  31. Abby Goldsmith
    Apr 15, 2014

    Ferrett, that post was both inspiring and wonderful, but it also filled me with angst. I’m behind you. I’m about to write my seventh novel–ninth if you count the two I wrote as a teenager–and I have yet to even get an agent or editor to read mine. Not a single one. I’d feel so much better about the rejections if they would actually get past the query letter and/or first chapter. And I went through the Odyssey Workshop and made some pro short story sales, plus beta readers enjoy the series I’m writing, so I feel as if my writing chops are up to it. Apparently my marketing chops are falling way short.

  32. Crystal
    Apr 16, 2014

    I’ve been passively following your blog since 2005, enjoyed reading your journey thusfar. Will immediately purchase your book. CONGRATULATIONS!

  33. Mark D
    Apr 16, 2014

    Congratulations, great work!

  34. Kristine
    May 6, 2014

    As a young writer myself, I have to say that your story is very inspirational. And your book sounds interesting too–I’ll have to check it out when it’s available. Congratulations!

  35. Darren J Hanson
    Sep 3, 2014

    I really want to read “A Cup Of Sirusian Coffee.”

    Hope it’s the next novel you get published. Sounds like it’ll be a wild ride on an Adams-esque roller coaster!

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