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Every project starts somewhere. I had to fail at my only dream before I could start this one.
File Under: Behind the Curtain
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This post explains who I am and what I’m doing with this site. It’s pretty dark, like espresso or MAC’s Smolder eyeliner, but I can’t explain what brought me here without it. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though, and it’s not just the sparkle of a tiara. It’s you, here, now, reading this post. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
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To quote my favorite New Found Glory song, here’s the story so far. I’ve written ten books since 2008 and published nine of them. What have I learned from this process? That I’m a fucking idiot.
I also turned 41 this past August. So far, all it means is that every day I’ve spent in the sun is now visible on my face. I’m older, but no wiser. In many ways, I feel dumber than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.
Like John Snow, I know nothing.
Like Socrates, I know that the only true wisdom consists of knowing that I know nothing.
Life has not turned out like I thought it would. For starters, my books make no money. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Add up what I make per month with 9 books and 1 box set on 5 digital platforms and you get the title of a Smashing Pumpkins song.
The worst part is that I know why things are so bad.
It’s because I made every mistake in the book…as well as outside the book, the box, and any other metaphorical spatial designations intended to limit one’s ability to make such mistakes. Nope. I blew through ’em like a homecoming team through butcher paper.
Book publishing has made me lose my ever-loving mind. It has taken a hatchet to my self-esteem. I used to think I was good at it. I don’t anymore.
There are a handful of people I’m not related to who appreciate what I write, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart (Jan, Nancy, Diane, Mike, Annette, Amanda, Jen). But up until a year and a half ago, I was still dumb enough to think I was that snowflake whose career would magically catch fire just because her books were good.
Let me be the first to tell you that it doesn’t matter whether your book is good.
This is a brick wall I have dashed my brains against for ten years now.
It helps if your book is good, but there is no controlling force in the universe that will see your book, realize the quality of your prose or how hard you worked, and adjust the scales of fortune to reward you accordingly.
I’ve aced every writing class I’ve ever taken. I’ve won national contests for fiction and non-fiction. I’ve placed in international contests. I get paid to write professionally. Every teacher I’ve ever had has told me I can do this, sometimes better than anyone else they’ve ever taught.
I can write, folks.
It doesn’t matter.
No one fucking cares.
Proof of the Above
The Romanov Legacy, my thriller, was rejected by 150+ agents. A Vampire in Versailles racked up at least that many rejections, and that was in the Twilight era, when everyone and their grandmother could sell a vampire novel… except me. The Cherbourg Jewels, written in three weeks as my first ever attempt at a romance novel, won a Daphne du Maurier Award from the Romance Writers of America. It was rejected by 20 agents. There were hundreds more rejections for other books and short stories. Do not think this list encapsulates the sum of my failure.
Finally, I took a page from Little Women and Shakespeare–I looked in my heart, fool, and wrote. The result was the most real, the most painful, and the most true-to-life book I’ve ever written, The Red Road.
No one cared. I racked up at least 200 rejections for that one.
I gave up after that. Or, to be more accurate, I gave up on getting an agent and a traditional book deal.
That’s when I discovered self-publishing.
The Delusion, Part 2
With renewed fervor, I wrote and I revised and I published. I made book trailers, which is super fun. I ran ads on Facebook and Amazon, which is not. I created a media kit and reached out to local papers and reviewers. I sent press releases. I did blog tours. I bought those expensive courses. I read those how-to-market-a-book books. I got a BookBub. I got a mailing list. I gave away tens of thousands of copies of my best work. I joined giveaway groups. I wrote a series. I tried different genres. I fucked with covers, titles, prices, keywords, and categories using software that knew better than I how to fuck with covers, titles, prices, keywords, and categories.
I did what they told me to do for five years and nothing worked. It was never enough, or it was never the right choice, or never the right time, or never the right sequence, and that’s on me. I know why now.
I wrote all the wrong books. I made them all the wrong length. I put all the wrong words inside them. I depended on my brain and my heart and my gut and my training because I believed I had something special, that I was born for this. I was wrong. I staked my entire life’s dream on something that was wrong from the get-go.
Like Bridget Jones said to Mark Darcy, “You don’t have to go out of your way to make me feel like an idiot. I already feel that way most of the time.”
The Hard Truth
The hard truth, the truth that hurts worse than going to the dentist, is that good writing is not enough. Let me say that again: The only thing I’ve ever been really good at is not enough.
This truth hurts so badly that I have a text file saved in my Google drive titled “Suicide Note.” It was just an exercise, a way to vent, but I meant every word of it. In it, I remind people not to tell kids they can grow up to be anything. They might believe you, and they might end up fooling themselves for four fucking decades. I wanted to grow up to be a best-selling author. Not gonna happen, but I sure as shit believed everyone who told me it would.
I worked hard at writing because it mattered more to me than anything else in my life, including my health, my family, my job, and my marriage. I thought that once everyone else realized what a good writer I was, I would feel good about myself. They didn’t, and I don’t, and now it’s too late.
When Life Hands You Lemons…
If this all sounds pretty dark, well, it is. But here’s the thing.
I’m still going.
I’m writing my 11th goddamn book.
There’s nothing else I can do.
That’s the worst part.
I have exactly two superpowers, you guys: turning every traffic light in front of me yellow, and making every ordinary thing look hard.
Every time I get gas, I fumble to replace the stiff-as-shit gas cap, angling my wrist and throwing my body weight into it because I don’t have enough grip strength to turn it two clicks to the right. “You make that look hard,” the hubby says. I know. Do you think I do it on purpose? I’m not normal. Never have been. I don’t know why people are still surprised by this. I told you I was 41, didn’t I?
But I’m still writing, because there’s nothing else I want to do.
Maybe my story will encourage you to start writing. Or to keep writing. Not to give up even when every metric ever dreamed up by a marketer tells you to just pull the plug. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. Because if we do, they win…and all I have left is my stubbornness and the willpower not to let them take the only illusion that ever mattered from me.
…You Paint That Shit Gold
So what happens next? Clearly, I still love writing. And stealing awesome album titles for my subheadings (from Atmosphere, if you were wondering).
Clearly, I’m not cut out to sell my own books. All I see are the flaws, which means marketing is an exercise in how much I can lie to myself in order to lie to you. This does not make me happy.
So I’ve decided to keep writing, but I’m going to change the way I do things.
I’m not listening to any more marketing advice.
I’m not listening to anything but my heart.
A year ago, I had to sit down and ask myself, “What the fuck is it that you actually like? Does anything make you happy anymore? Who the hell are you?”
At the time, I didn’t know.
So I watched the Sacramento SPCA’s weekly live shelter tour on Facebook, which some weeks is the only thing that makes me feel human again.
Then I went to my bookshelves and I looked at the books that make me me. I asked myself what my earliest memories of reading were, and what I turn to again and again.
The answer wasn’t thrillers or mysteries or romance or any of the things I’ve ever written.
The answer was history. Specifically, royal history.
But I Already Had Something Gold…
I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as when I came home from El Gabilan Library with an armful of young adult biographies: Marie Antoinette, Empress Josephine, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I.
These women were my gateway drugs.
It wasn’t until later that I discovered Nicholas and Alexandra, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Henrietta Maria, Marie of Romania, and Empress Frederick. Why the hell do we call her Empress Frederick? Her name was Victoria and she was the smartest woman in Prussia for 40 years.1
1Disingenuous and improperly placed footnote: We call her Empress Frederick because she told us to, but I was on a rhetorical roll and it felt right to ask the question.
I’ve decided to go back to what I love…these epic stories so full of pageantry and power and love and war and tragedy that I actually feel alive again when reading them.
You may be familiar with my Tiara Tuesday posts. I indulged in these awhile ago while manically trying to start a literary fire with a pile of headless matches. People commented on these posts, said they loved them, and asked for more. I said thanks, but I’m too busy working on other shit no one cares about.
I had the golden ticket – a topic people wanted to hear about, that they literally begged for, and I ignored it. But I’m listening now.
…And I’m Cashing It In
I’m taking the style and tone and content of these posts and going macro.
I’m working on the story of Hilda of Baden, whose tiara was stolen from the Badisches Landesmuseum in late April of 2017. You WOULD NOT BELIEVE the amazing threads I’ve found to follow in her story. I sent my mom a tidbit I found about Hilda’s mother-in-law, and Mom was like, “Are you sure? That seems weird and possibly not true.” But it is! And I’m going to tell you everything in three books.
I’m in love with this project, you guys.
Maybe those other failures were just leading me here, to this point where I was forced to go back to what I loved, which was also what people asked me to do in the first place. What if all that angst could have been avoided? What if I had listened way back in 2013 when I first started writing those tiara posts? If only, if only, if only….
The worst combination of words in any language, ever.
But I’m not too old to fix my own mistakes.
I want to tell you all about Hilda, her charming dad, Adolph, her spirited mom, Adelheid-Marie, her domineering mother-in-law, Louise, and her tragic niece, Antonia.
Sometimes history is stranger, sadder, and weirder than anything I could make up, which is why I have to share it with you. But I want to do it my way, which is pretty much Drunk History meets The Crown.
Are you in?
Because this really is going to be a thing.
I may have finally figured out what the hell I’m supposed to do with my life.
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MUSIC, POST AUDIO: “Motions” by Rafael Krux. Generously made available via FreePD.com.
Dear Jenni, Many thanks for your most kind response to my message. I’m delighted to read that you feel fulfilled in your writing, at last, and hope that you will continue to entertain and inform us for many years to come. With very best wishes, William.
You have had a pretty tough time and I trust your husband and family have been supportive. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and used to be easily discouraged by setbacks, so I can really empathise with your dilemma. Having experienced severe depression, it’s taken many years to get to the point where I’m ‘content’ with my lot and I hope you, too, have found some peace in your creativity even if you’re not yet on the ‘Best Sellers’ list! I greatly enjoy your YouTube posts on royalty and was greatly impressed with the new YouTube biography of Princess Marie Louise; I have read her memoirs and would have loved to have met her. I look forward to your next vlogs and new publications. With all good wishes from Oxford, UK.
Thank you so much, William – Marie Louise stands out as one of the women I’ve researched who I’d most like to have a drink with and swap travel tales. I’m so sorry to hear about your severe depression. I wish there was an easier way to get to that feeling of being “content.” I do feel like I’ve gotten there, thanks to a big move across the country and this relatively new focus on royal women instead of fiction. Even if there is no best-seller in my future, I feel like I’ve had a chance to touch far more people this way, with the stories of royal women. And I suppose that’s all any writer really wants…to hear from people that their story was entertaining, enlightening, inspiring, or all of the above. Thanks to lovely messages like yours, I feel like I’m achieving that, even if it’s not the way I dreamed of for so many years. Thanks so much for letting me know I’m not alone. Now back to working on that next video script…I have another amazing royal story I can’t wait to share with everyone. Greetings to everyone in Oxford! -Jenni 🙂
Wow, you have been through the wringer, and you are awesome. I love that you could publish this blog post without me worrying about you, even though it was indeed super dark. Hang in there, and why the heck should people NOT flock in DROVES to hear about every single royal woman ever?