Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Book of My Heart

There is a phrase I'm hearing more and more: "book of my heart." It's a term writers are using to explain to others that the particular project they're working on is one that is very personal and dear to them. All books are works of art and take some of ourselves to write, but a "book of your heart" is one that is ripped from your very soul. It's the important one, your baby, the one that you wrote with blood, sweat, and tears; the one that means more to you than any other.

And it's a beautiful sentiment. If an author tells me she's on submission with the "book of her heart," then I know it's a particularly important time in her life. If an author tells me he's just finished the "book of his heart," this calls for more than a toast--it's an all-night celebration of joy.

But I also think there's an important thing for everyone who's a writer (published or not) to know.

The book of your heart doesn't always sell.


I have a book of my heart. I wrote it in college, and it was my third (unpublished) novel. Writing it was like magic. The world consumed me, and despite the fact that I was working on my Master's thesis and writing academically nearly full-time, I would give up sleeping and eating in order to keep working on the book of my heart.

I loved that book. It had everything I loved: magic, a touch of romance, excitement, mystery, family themes, heartache, tough decisions.

It was the first book that was mine. The other two novels I'd written before were not really good, and they were basically copy-cat novels of other books I loved. But the book of my heart was all me. It is still, I think, the most original thing I've ever written.

But it never sold.


Not for lack of trying. And it came close--very close. Thanks to a connection at a writer's conference, it got to the acquisitions table at one of the Big Six publishers (agentless), and I even got a revision request and a ten-page edit letter. I thought the book of my heart would break me into the market; I thought it would be my debut. And--after about a hundred rejections from agents and a rejection from the Big Six publisher I'd been working with...it didn't sell.

I eventually moved on to the next book. And the next. And the next. And as I wrote each subsequent book, I worried that I would never write a book as good as the book of my heart. That that book had been The One, and since it didn't sell, nothing would.

That's why I'm writing this post today. Because I'm starting to see this phrase, "book of my heart," more and more often, and a lot of times it's accompanied by a corollary: "it's the best thing I can ever write."

And too often? People will only write the book of their heart.

Don't do this. Don't do this. A book of your heart comes rarely--and sometimes you'll only ever taste that magic once--but publishing isn't just about the magic. And sometimes the book of your heart? It isn't that good. Despite the fact that my book of my heart is my mother's favorite thing I've ever written, I can look at it objectively now and realize why it didn't get published and why it probably never will. It slips between the cracks of genre, it doesn't really have a home on any shelf, even in YA. It's too weird. Maybe one day I'll be able to revise it, but for now, it's more like "Jabberwocky" than Alice.

If you're a writer who is unpublished, then I hope and pray you will eventually write the book of your heart. It's a wonderful thing, and the closest I've come to touching magic. But I also want you to know something very, very important: the book of your heart is not the apex of your writing. It is not necessarily the best thing you've written, and it's not necessarily your only shot at getting published.

Very often the book of your heart is a practice novel--you've written it too early in your career, and the quality isn't there (even if you can't see that). Or it's so close to your heart that you can't properly edit it. Or it's a story important to you--but not the rest of the world. Or it was easy to write, and the next thing isn't. Or it was hard to write, and you don't want to think of writing the next thing because that will be hard, too. For whatever reason, chances are that the book of your heart just isn't meant to be published. But that doesn't mean it should be the last thing you write.

And also? The magic will come again. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was not the book of my heart. I know of no writer that has more than one book of her heart. But I felt the magic when I was writing ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Maybe the point of writing the book of your heart is to open your eyes to see the magic in everything you write, to find the scenes that speak to your artistic soul.

My point is this: don't weigh all your dreams on one book. Don't think you've only got one chance. If you write the book of your heart and it doesn't sell, remember this: not all of them do. And the important thing is not to stagnate at that point, but to try to find the magic again where you can.

62 comments:

Christina Lee said...

This was so lovely.....and so so so very true. Love this: "Maybe the point of writing the book of your heart is to open your eyes to see the magic in everything you write, to find the scenes that speak to your artistic soul."

Corinne said...

Great post! And excellent perspective for any author to have. It is a long journey to publication for every book, and you can't hit every single one out of the park. Thanks Beth!

YA Bibliophile said...

I'm not a writer but I find that the idea of a "book of your heart" can apply to non-writerly things. Thank you for this beautiful post. It was a great reminder for me today. You are wonderful!

tracythewriter said...

Thank you so much for writing this, Beth. I'm nearly at the point of having to trunk "the book of my heart" and it's been weighing on me so heavily. Your perspective has made the burden a little lighter.

Jess Keating said...

The highest of fives for this post!! Such wise words. Thanks, Beth :)

jennygranola said...

I'm so glad you finally did get published. I'm so glad you stuck to it and never gave up. Because if you had given up, we wouldn't have your wonderful novels, this wonderful blog or a wonderful conversation in a book store in Ashville :) The world is a better place with Beth Revis in it!

Thanks for the encouragement! I feel the magic, but so far, it's not selling ;)

David Macinnis Gill said...

I have a book like this, too. Like yours, it came very close to selling but didn't, and I wrote two more novels before my work finally broke through. I hope one day that it does get published, but it's okay if it doesn't. It opened many doors and made me a better novelist.

Tammy J. Palmer said...

I'm writing the book of my heart. It might not fit into a specific genre, which means traditional publishing will probably reject it. But that doesn't mean that there won't be an audience for it. Thanks to Indie publishing we now have the option of letting the readers decide if it's worthy.

Bria Quinlan said...

Yes! Yes to absolutely everything you said here. Beautifully put, Beth.

Jo Knowles said...

Oh, I love this. Thank you. I think it continues on, if the "book of your heart" does sell. And then flops. And you think: "Well, that's it. That was the best I could do and no one even noticed it." But I don't think you've ever done the best you can do because that's for tomorrow. You can always do better. Your heart is a big thing.

Love,
Jo

Kelly Wiggains said...

Thanks for this post. I'm actually reading Across the Universe right now and enjoying it!

The longer I teach and write, the more I see that good writing is mostly about persistence and consistency.

Aprilynne Pike said...

I have for several years referred to the book coming out next summer as "my heart book." This one is actually going to be published, but it has taken a long, long time. And you're so right; EVERYTHING about it feels so much more personal, and because of that I have fought my editor on more plotlines and lines I just want to die before cutting than any other of my 6 edited books. Honestly, it has been so exhausting to write and edit this book, I don't think I WANT to write another heart book for a long time!! So even if your heart book gets published, you may find the journey harder.

Katherine said...

Beth, this post spoke to me in so many ways. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm currently writing the book of my heart. It was the first story I ever started writing, and it has everything I love. It may never be published (esoteric, as you said), but I'll finish it if only because it is the truest expression of myself I can conjure. I didn't love the second story I started working on, not at first, but I'm learning to find those little gold nuggets--the magic--and unearth them. Who knows, maybe number two will be the one? :)

Julia Karr said...

Great post, Beth!

Sonia Gensler said...

I've been thinking a lot about the book of my heart lately. I think it deserves another chance. But if nothing happens with it, I won't fall apart. Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this, Beth!

Angelina C. Hansen said...

Putting the "book of the heart" out there for others to read is heart-wrenching. Having it rejected can be devastating.

You wrote, "I eventually moved on to the next book. And the next. And the next...".

If it weren't for keeping busy writing the next and the next, I think the submission process might have broken my writer heart.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Beth. I hope many, many, many writers read this post!

Elsie Chapman said...

Wow, this post is beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Beth. I do think every writer has one of these books; it's a rite of passage, maybe.

Gabrielle Carolina said...

Perfect, honest and true!

"...The book of your heart is not the apex of your writing. It is not necessarily the best thing you've written, and it's not necessarily your only shot at getting published."

Eva Pohler said...

Thanks so much for writing this.

Gwen Cole said...

I recently let go of a book that I'd been working on for the past half year, and once I was able to let it go and work on something else, it never felt more right.

Andrea Mack said...

Thank you for this post. So often you hear that you should only be writing what you love--but it's impossible to love all of every novel all the time. I agree with you that it's important to keep writing and working on new stories too.

Gemma said...

Ms. Revis,

I feel as if you've read my mind. I've since moved on to other things, but for some reason, the last few days I've been feeling really down about the many close calls but no cigars of my own book of my heart (which I trunked a year ago) - only I didn't have the words to express it. Despite the fact that I can now see its flaws, I've worried that it was the best thing I'll ever write, and that since it wasn't good enough, there's no point in continuing to try because nothing will ever be good enough. I've read (and enjoyed!) Across the Universe and just assumed it was the book you'd always dreamed of writing, so it was really nice to hear that there is life after the book of your heart. This was *exactly* what I needed today and the answer to a prayer. I think you've written the post of my heart. :)
Thank you.
Gemma

Natalie Aguirre said...

Such great advice Beth. I've been working on my book for 9 years-slower because of work & my daughter. I'm going to query it but I know much as I love it, it might not be the one. So I'm starting a new one.

storyqueen said...

Wow. This is a great post. I don't know if I've written the book of my heart yet, but I know that it's sometimes really hard to commit to the next thing--the worry that whatever you write next won't be as good as the last.

Thanks for the pep talk.

xoxo-

Shelley

Christian Frey said...

Kind of like your first love? Who maybe didn't get along with your friends or family, who you grew up or grew away from, but who always hold a certain place in your heart...

Leigh said...

Such a beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting post. I should print this out and stick it on my wall.
Thank you so much.
Leigh

Keri said...

I'd be better off if I was completely and utterly obsessed and in love with just one novel I was working on. At least that would keep me from flitting between manuscripts!

Excellent post, Beth. It's all too true. Some people think that specific novels are their babies. I actually find that concept...kind of creepy.

I do think you should fall in love with your own books but I also think you need primarily fall in love with writing. If you fall out of love with writing and give up because of one book, it's a real shame.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Preach it!

Sara said...

Excellent advice, Beth. It's sort of got me wondering, though - if the biggest problem with the book of your heart is that it slips through the genre cracks, might you ever consider epublishing it for your fans who aren't necessarily looking for a book to fit on a certain shelf?

Maybe there are other reasons why it should remain in your files, but I hate to see great books go without readers just because they aren't easily categorized.

Hugs!

sachianna said...

How eloquently inspiring.

This is an absolutely heartfelt post, and I appreciate the time that you take to share your thoughts with your fans. Please know that both ATU and AMS are special to me because even though these books were not the books of your heart, they most certainly have heart! :)

KM said...

I might have gotten a little emotional reading this...lol

I'm currently querying the "book of my heart" and I'm getting lots and lots of rejections, and it's been difficult gearing myself up to work on another because I'm pretty sure no other book will be MY book the way this one is. I'm just trying to write something that others will enjoy too now. But this post was so very wonderful, and I appreciate it. :-)

Michelle said...

This...is exactly what I needed to read tonight. I've been querying the "book of my heart" for months now, and each rejection feels more and more personal. But the fact is that, just because it's important to me, doesn't mean it's important to everyone else. And I need to realize that's okay. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

Megan Shepherd said...

I adore this post, Beth. It has so much truth to it. You've really managed to put into words what I've struggled with for a while. The one book I *really* want to write, the book of my heart, just hasn't ever come together well. And other books, which I don't love quite as much, are simply better. It's a weird paradox, but your explanation here is so great.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Something about that jabberwocky description and the genre-bending makes me think, "Graphic novel."

Lo said...

See, now you're just being RIDICULOUSLY perfect.

Vicki Tremper said...

Wow, thanks for such an important post.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I so know this. The first book I ever completed is the book of my heart. No others since have been that way, even the one I'm writing now that I LOVE. It's not the same. I know why that book failed but I don't have it in me to change it. Not now, not yet, perhaps never, who knows.

Susan Adrian said...

*whispers*

I've had more than one book of my heart.

The first one didn't sell, like yours. But then I wrote a bunch of other books. And then some bad things happened and I quit for a few months.

And then I wrote another one, one that was even MORE of me than the first. I didn't think it possible, but it's true.

And the sequel I'm writing now? Still that magic, which wasn't the same with the other books at all, even though they were my babies.

So yeah. You can have more than one.

pjthompson said...

Thank you for stating this so beautifully. Yes, I have one of those novels. It also spent an exciting, but ultimately disappointing, time at a Big Six. I marketed the heck out of it, but it never sold, and now I'm at the stage you're at: I see where it's broken, I know why it didn't sell. I still love it. Thankfully, I went on to write other novels and hope to write more. But, yes, writing The One changes everything. Once you've written the novel of the heart, your perceptions of the creative process change. It liberates the creative mind to follow its own path, to discover new paths. It helps you become the writer you are meant to be.

Tara Hudson said...

So much truth here, in both your post and the other comments. There can be such a sense of loss associated with this type of book, when things don't go the way you think they will. Thank you for reminding us that sometimes, a loss is a gain in disguise.

Bee said...

What a beautiful and important post, Beth. Thanks for sharing.

There's so much emotion and just, life, attached to this book of the heart, that it's hard to let go and write something else after that, but it's so very important that you do.

What a lovely message.

Lissa Price said...

So many reasons why I <3 you, Beth, but this thoughtful, revealing post is one of them. Oh, the times I've tried to convince unpubbed friends not to obsess over one manuscript, rewriting it over and over.

It can sometimes be like a love affair... you think it's the book/boy/man of your heart, but maybe it's not. Maybe the one is to come.

Elana Johnson said...

Love you, love you!

Savannah Smith said...

This post was just what I needed. :) I can't believe I've never heard the term "book of my heart" until now...but that's exactly what my WIP is. I've been writing it for YEARS (in fact, it's about to be 3 years old in November, when I first got the idea for it). It's my baby. If I could LIVE in the book, I would. The characters are so dear to me, so precious.

Thank you for this post, Beth. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful! :)

Denise said...

Hi Beth.

I read this post twice last night and had to sleep on it before I could respond. It moved me so deeply that I couldn't find the right words to express my gratitude. I'm not sure morning will make much difference in that regard, but I'm going to try.

The "book of my heart" is out with publishers right now. It's had some very nice rejections, but bottom line is it's been rejected multiple times. I just turned it back in on an R&R, and I'm desperate for the editor to see the value in the changes and say, "Yes, I'll take a chance on this book." The thought of trunking it is a miserable one for me, but my heart is definitely lighter after your blog. Why? Because no matter what, I wrote the story I had to tell, the one that my soul became attached to and that became a part of me. I am so proud of this book. I may look back in 5 years and see all its flaws, but it won't matter. Love is blind that way. But if it comes down to trunking it, I will do it with much more grace and security knowing that you, and so many of my fellow writers, have been there before me and will follow after. The book is worth something to ME, and that's what matters most. I guess your post helped me realize I can't put a dollar figure on the love I have for this project.

Thank you so much,
Denise

S.J.Kincaid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S.J.Kincaid said...

Beth, I didn't see this post until today. Wow. This is a fantastic post. It eerily parallels my own experiences. I posted about this on Ellen Oh's blog a while back http://elloecho.blogspot.com/2011/08/whats-best-writerly-advice-youd-give.html

... I also had a book of my heart - the *third* book I ever finished (first one that I started, though, and the second one queried, though). It got to acquisitions at one of the big six publishers... Then it got shot down. I was so crushed. I truly believed after that book that I'd never find the same love for a story again, the same magic again.

Actually, the reason I banged out my next two manuscripts was basically because I hoped to get one of them published, just so I could use that platform as a published author to get the book of my heart published. But just like you, I suddenly was able to find magic in other stories again. With the sixth manuscript I wrote, I began to love a story again. With number seven, (INSIGNIA, the one that sold), I went into it knowing I could recapture the magic anytime, knowing the book of my heart hadn't been the end of it.

The funny thing is, now when I re-read the book of my heart, I don't really like it anymore. Have you re-read yours since you sold Across the Universe?

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I knew there was a reason I should have kidnapped you in Asheville--seems like you always say just what I need to hear! I too have a book of my heart that didn't sell and I know it's because it just wasn't sellable. But, thank you for the reminder that there is always more than one chance and always more than one story inside us. Kudos to you for moving on!

xo,
Tiffany

Kim Purcell said...

I love this post. Sometimes it's hard to give up on the book of your heart, even when you've sold another. You think, if I just rewrite it one more time...However, sometimes it's meant to be practice and that's okay. And sometimes the book will resonate with everyone and become a bestseller. Yow! You just never know.

Lisa and Laura said...

We have a book of our hearts that our agent hated. I still think about that damn book. I still haven't totally given up on it. Maybe that's the secret...put it away, but never ever give up.

Ran said...

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Christina Farley said...

Lovely. I haven't written the book of my heart yet. It's there, tucked away in that secret place inside of me, but I haven't dared open that door yet. I'm not sure I'd be able to write it the way it should be written. So I'll let it sit there until I'm ready.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Excellent post! The book of my heart did finally get published (just recently!), and I know I'll never have the same experience again. It has been amazing. I hope one day you get to share yours with the world. You are an amazing writer. :)

Anonymous said...

Well said. I have written what I have considered the 'book of my heart.' I cried through the characters pain, love and loss. I celebrated their joys. I wept at their deaths. And reading it again, it isn't technically even that good. But the passion it inspired in me was tangible. While I have written things 'technically better' and others' have experienced them to be emotionally ripe, I have not been as emotionally engaged in any characters as I was in those of 'the book of my heart.' Thank you.

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Lieder Madchen said...

That was lovely. :) I had a story that I once thought was the book of my heart, but I never felt the magic when writing it, so it has stubbornly stayed in my head. I think it was just more of an infatuation, now. I've come close with a couple of short stories, but I'm still waiting for true love.

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