Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Second books: Marie Lamba's long and winding road

This is the latest in my series of "second-books" guest posts, about writers dealing with the "What next?" after their first books come out. I consider Marie's story to be especially inspiring, and I'm glad she agreed to share it!

My Long and Winding Road to OVER MY HEAD
by Marie Lamba

Let's face it, for some second books the path to publication is twisted and uncertain.

My first novel, What I Meant…, was accepted by Random House in a 2-book deal, and I was thrilled! The first novel was scheduled for 2007, and the second for 2008. So in 2006 I began writing my second book.

Running out of Gas:  I plotted out the sequel to be about Gina, the best friend who had been acting weird. I called it What I Did… I wrote 50 pages and just stopped. There was nothing wrong with what I wrote. But I quickly realized it wasn't the story I wanted to tell.

Detour:  I started again. The second incarnation was called What I Said…, and it was about Sang (heroine of the first book), and what happens when she falls for a 20-year-old lifeguard. Of course she's at odds with her Indian dad over this. Plus he's got his own problems: dealing with his brother being ill, and trying to keep this secret from his kids. The plot had passion, forbidden love, lies, loss.
By August I had 75 pages. The editor emailed me her schedule. Could I deliver the completed manuscript by September? In three weeks??? But what about that January 2007 date in the contract? Turns out that was more a guideline. I negotiated for six weeks.

The Fast Lane:  Every day I woke up, sat in the chair and wrote and wrote. I'd never felt such pressure. What if the words didn't come? I couldn't dwell on this. I couldn't dwell on anything. My fingers flew. My ass hurt. My family ate takeout. To my amazement, the words did come. The plot took shape. This book was even stronger than my first.
I delivered the manuscript on time, and my editor loved it. The book went through editing. The cover was designed. All good, right?

Total Breakdown:  It was summer 2007, three weeks before my first novel came out, when my book-writing world crashed to bits. My second book, What I Said…, was cancelled. Just like that. With the book business starting to shrink, my debut novel was one of the first Random House titles not picked up by chains. Plus, my editor was leaving the business and my book was orphaned. So it was over. Nothing I could do. I could keep my advance.
Devastated. Only word that fits here. I didn't know such things happened to writers, to books that their editors loved, to books that were contracted, for God's sake. I fell into serious mourning, and slid the manuscript onto my shelf like it was a child's coffin entering a crypt.

Arriving at Last:  Flash forward four years. Changes in ebooks and P.O.D. make it possible for an author to create a beautiful product and reach the world. What I Meant… is in its third printing, Publisher's Weekly called it "an impressive debut," and readers continue to ask for more books about Sang and her friends.
I pull the manuscript off the shelf, removing it from "the crypt" and read through it. I love this book so much, it hurts. It makes me laugh out loud, and in the end, cry. Like Sang in this novel, I decide to "take the plunge." I rename the book Over My Head, because I like this title better. I have the cover and the interior professionally designed, and at the end of June 2011 I publish it myself!

Finally this book can come to life in the minds of others. Finally this journey is over, with the happiest of homecomings.

May your book publication path be smooth and may the publishers meet your every need. And, if they don't, may you know it's never the end of the road. Safe journeys, everyone!

Marie Lamba ( is a full-time writer whose work appears in national magazines including Writer's Digest and Garden Design; she is published in the anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-MacKenzie). Her short story "What I Did…" will appear in the anthology Liar, Liar! (Mendacity Press) this fall. Marie lives in Doylestown with her husband, two daughters and one rather too interesting poodle.

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