News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (; author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

The Wednesday Writer’s Corner: A Siren’s Song of “Impending Success”

Next week, I’m going to do a more “nuts and bolts” post on planning the middle of a novel, but in recent weeks, my mind and heart have been drawn to a few tragedies I’ve seen among writers who came out on the more painful side of “impending success”—and I sort of feel the need to offer some thoughts. 

There is a strange window in the world of a writer once he/she has found a publisher, signed a contract, delivered a novel, and then finds him/herself inside that misty period of time (which can last as long as a year) just waiting for the novel to be published.

Often, the size of the advance and the attitude of the publisher can affect expectations on the part of the writer.

JC and I were paid a very modest ($6,000) advance for Dhampir, and with the exception of our editor we had no contact with anyone at our publisher.  Our agent at the time seemed quite surprised that any New York publisher had made an offer on the book.  The book received almost no marketing.  We knew nothing about the publishing industry at that level, and when the book came out in mass market paperback, we had no expectations.  We were lucky.  A month later, the book was in its third printing.  Eight months after that, we received a royalty check for $21,000—nothing Earth shattering, but certainly unexpected and quite welcome. 

However, we were stunned by the book having exceeded expectations.  Our agent was stunned.  Frankly, I think everyone except for our editor was stunned.

So, that’s one side the coin.  We had absolutely no expectations at all, and we were pleasantly surprised by some modest success.  The book could just as easily have tanked, and we could have been lucky to even earn out that initial $6,000.  That happens all the time.


Okay, the other side of the coin can occur when a publisher pays a writer a fairly large advance and makes a bit of a verbal fuss, and the writer becomes convinced that he/she is going to be the next HUGE thing, and that the book will sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and that life after publication will be very, very different.  I’ve watched several writers in that six-month to a year window prior to publication who are floating on the joy and promise of “impending success.”  I’ve sat on panels at conventions and seen their absolute confidence that within the span of a few months they will be the next Robert Jordan . . . and are on their way to being wealthy.  I’ve watched their close friends (who are mid-list writers) sitting around them and looking at them with great envy.

I was even in a conversation once regarding one of those midlist writers--who had seemed a bit blue lately--when another writer said, “Oh, I think he’s just really depressed over [insert name]’s impending success.”

But me . . . I tend to look at those glowing, expectant, impending writers with concern—even worry if I care about the person.

Few things in this life are a dead certainty.  Now, there are some writers in that window of time who really can be sure of a wild success.  Justin Cronin for example.  His book, The Passage, probably could not have been anything other than a complete and utter success.  The marketing money that Ballantine threw behind that book was staggering.  They managed to turn that book into a success long before it was published.  I think he was pretty safe in feeling confident.

However . . . after the great success of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey