Authors remember where they were when they got word for the first time that a major publishing firm was interested in their work. I recall the exact place and time when I opened up an email from then Simon & Schuster Vice President Anthony Ziccardi. I was sitting with my youngest daughter at a table in Disney World, ready to eat lunch. It was at Cosmic Ray’s in the Magic Kingdom, around 11:37 a.m.
It was sent August 5, 2009. I read it on August 6th. “Hi Michael, I am interested in discussing the publishing rights to your book, Necessary Heartbreak. Thanks!”
I stared and stared. I wondered if one of my friends had gone to my website and sent me this email through a contact form. Many of them had listened to my angst over trying to sell the story to a publisher. Maybe they’d gotten sick of me squawking about it endlessly.
I ignored my lunch for several minutes and looked at it again. He did leave behind a phone number and email.
So it had to be true.
I kept reading it, over and over again.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the day. I forwarded the email to my agent and awaited her thoughts that night. We spoke on the phone later. I don’t think my feet ever touched the ground that day.
The interest was confirmed by my agent the next day. It was real.
It would take about two weeks before an offer was made.
It became more real.
Then I was given a deadline to hand in a manuscript. I revised and added about 100 pages to the story. It was a better novel than the one Simon & Schuster had first bought.
It was a great story ─ or so I thought.
Fast forward six-plus years to two weeks ago. It has been almost five years since Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness was published. I’ve followed it up with An Angel Comes Home, Everybody’s Daughter and The Greatest Gift.
I’m downstairs talking to a friend. She’s reading Necessary Heartbreak. I haven’t looked at the book since it came out. I try not to look back at previous works because I feel it pulls me away from what I should be doing in the present – writing the next one.
She’s asking me questions about certain scenes so I grab the book. I read some of the passages she is asking me about.
And I cringe.
Did I write that sentence?
Did I publish that mess of a paragraph?
What was I thinking?
I repeated words within the same sentence.
Don’t make me read more!
But I did. I thought of many wonderful ways to revise this story. I could have expanded a scene between Jesus and the main character, Michael. All of these glorious writing ideas flooded my mind as I continued to read.
I did my best not to literally tear apart the pages.
Okay, I may be a bit dramatic here. But you get the gist of my thoughts.
Necessary Heartbreak was my first attempt at writing fiction. I had spent most of my life as a reporter, a radio interviewer and also had produced some work for ESPN.com and The Sporting News.
What I thought was totally brilliant writing in that first book was nowhere near my level of work in the next few works I produced. It was painfully obvious to me after reading it with my friend that night.
I would think most authors do go through this, especially with their first novel. I wish I had taken more time to write Necessary Heartbreak. It was a terrific story idea about a widowed father and teenaged daughter finding a tunnel through an old church back to the time of Christ’s last week.
There are many times when I wish I could just grab the rights back from Simon & Schuster and rewrite it.
I would think many authors feel this way too. J.K. Rowling even had her doubts about the ending to the Harry Potter series. She has expressed regret that she didn’t finish off the story with Harry and Hermione being together.
Author suffer. We bleed as Hemingway says. We bleed profusely when it comes to our own work and doubts.
It’s so hard to let a manuscript go. You feel you could make it better with just one more round of revisions.
Then you worry about removing too much of the story.
Finding sanity in the world of writing is impossible. Ask any author. They will tell you.
They will be the men and women who are likely to hesitate if you ask them about their first published work.