QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jillian Medoff: From Flattened to Fabulous

By Sarah Pinneo | @SarahPinneo

If you stick around the Query Tracker community long enough, you’ll hear many a story of dogged persistence and eventual triumph. For authors, these stories are like good food and strong drink; they sustain us, sometimes make us drunk with their power. Last week I heard an incredible author’s story that just needed to be shared.

Author Jillian Medoff got her big break before Query Tracker ever came online. In 1997, her first novel HUNGER POINT was published to great acclaim, which was followed by huge sales in 2003 when it was made into a Lifetime movie. Fabulous, right? And in 2002, her second novel was published.

“And it flopped,” Medoff told me. "It had great reviews... and lousy sales."

Nevertheless, she spent six years writing another, more literary book. This was the one “that I deemed a Masterpiece,” says Medoff. “I believed in the book so deeply, I genuinely thought it would change my life. It had multiple points of view, it went back and forth in time. It revealed truths about the human condition.”

And it didn’t sell to a publisher.

“Although my work had been rejected countless times before, this rejection flattened me. For weeks I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t write; I could barely read. I was ashamed of my failure.”

But also, Medoff was ashamed of her sorrow. “It was just a book, after all—and my hubris.”

So for a time, Medoff gave up.

“The truth about writing fiction is that nobody asks you to write, and no one cares if you do. In fact, it often feels as though people are actively arguing against it.” Ouch. Truer words were never spoken.

So why did she start writing again in the end? “Because the world is an absurd, chaotic place,” says Medoff. “And my books help me make sense of it.”

The book she wrote next was fueled by the rage that this experience had inflicted upon her. “I was bitterly angry that my career as a published novelist was over, and more important, that it wasn’t my choice.”

The result was I COULDN’T LOVE YOU MORE (Grand Central / 2012). Vanity Fair calls it “daringly sympathetic,” and People magazine wrote that it was “dazzling” and “hilarious and heartwrenching.” “A gripping story of choices and second chances,” says the Examiner. And there’s a big blurb from Jodi Picoult on the front cover.

This story gave me chills, because we’ve all had that rage. Sometimes things look grim, and quitting seems like the best option. It takes a strong writer to conclude that failure doesn’t have to be permanent. Somehow Jillian Medoff proved that failure is only one stop on the train. And even if you step off there once in awhile, there is always a way to step back on again.

Says Medoff: "I am a working artist. While it's true that I have been published, it's also true that as a working artist, I am rejected in one way or another every single day of my life. I've seen the highest highs and lowest lows, but my failures are as important to my career as my successes; maybe they're even more important. In the end, I hope to one day have a body of work that will reflect how I've matured as a writer. I think it's the best I can hope for; that is, to do work I'm proud of. Everything else—publishing, great reviews, money—is the luck of the draw. To give up, though, ensures that you'll never get lucky."

Sarah Pinneo
is a novelist, food writer and book publicity specialist. Her most recent book is Julia’s Child. Follow her on twitter at @SarahPinneo.


Debra Feldman said...

I can sympathize with your career highs and lows having had (am having) the experiences myself (though careers other than writing). Your attitude is terrific as are your achievements, whether recognized by others or not. Congratulations.

Shannon Schuren said...

I love this! I am going to print it out, frame it, and hang it above my computer. "My failures are as important to my career as my successes; maybe they're more important." Thank you, thank you for this reminder!

Sarah Pinneo said...

Yes- it is a mantra to remember. I have often considered having the following tattooed on my person: authorship is a marathon, not a sprint. ;-)