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That Time I Walked Away from a Book Contract

Back in September, I was hiding from a hurricane during an ill-fated, impromptu trip to the beach. The power had gone out, and my little family and I were sitting around in the dark, sweating, and listening for tornados. Cell service was intermittent and incredibly weak, so when I received an email with the subject line “We’d like to talk to you about writing a book . . . ” I frantically tried to open it and of course it wouldn’t load. The agony! Half an hour later I had just enough of a signal to call my mom, who gamely jumped into action and opened the email for me on her laptop.

It was from an editor at an east coast publishing house who wanted to talk to me about writing a book. Obviously I very much wanted to talk to her about writing a book too, and arrangements were made for a zoom meeting the following week.

That zoom meeting led to me submitting a book proposal and outline, followed by a sample chapter and patterns. Then an offer was made, a contract proffered, and upon the advice of an author/knitting friend, I procured an agent. I was working on the book night and day, overcome with excitement that I was going to be an author. With a real book! Available in book stores and libraries!

But then something happened. I sat down and really thought about what I was doing. Every morning I would go downstairs, make my tea, and get to work. I poured my heart into chapter introductions, and spent my days conceptualizing patterns and knitting furiously. David, my husband, who could win nerd contests for Excel mastery, did calculations for me based on the patterns I was producing and the work I was putting in to them. He reluctantly, and very kindly, told me how much money I would lose by continuing to work on the book.

Here’s something I fully understand and accept: publishing companies make the lion’s share of the profit from a book. As they should! They’re taking all the risk, and incurring all the expense of paying authors advances to write the book, plus all the material costs in actually producing stacks upon stacks of books to be shipped out to booksellers around the country.

But in my case, I was going to willfully be putting everything I’ve built on my own on hold. My ability to self-publish patterns, continue doing my podcast, and hanging out with all my sock-knitting friends on Instagram would have been drastically reduced during the many months it would take to sweat out this book. And I would have lost a lot of income. I rely on my pattern sales to fund huge portions of my life (like paying for insanely high health insurance premiums).

So while my agent was going back and forth with the publishing company over the terms of the contract (she’s the loveliest person, by the way! I’m so grateful she wanted to work with me!), I was agonizing over what to do. Realize a long-held dream of becoming a published author, knowing that I would lose so much income in the process, or walking away (for now), and continuing to do what I’ve done for the last year: write and publish patterns, continue growing what I’ve started to build, and work on a book in my spare time.

I chose the latter, and it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I still don’t know if it was the right one. But I’m at peace with it, and I do plan on writing that book still! Hopefully someone will want to publish it at some point when I finish it (if no one does, I will probably sink into Anne Shirley levels of despair and declare myself the stupidest person who ever lived).

I’m sharing all this for a couple of reasons: 1) I just wanna tell people that I was an (almost) published author. It’s hard keeping that kind of thing to yourself, no matter how vain and ridiculous you might appear (it’s probably only fair that I should show you right off the bat in this, my inaugural blog post, that I am supremely vain and ridiculous). And 2), I want you to know that sometimes its okay to walk away from things you really want if the timing or circumstances just aren’t quite right. It’s HARD, I won’t lie. How do you say no to opportunities that theoretically you should be grateful and overjoyed to have?!?

I said no because I’m almost 40, and I have an expensive disease, and two tweens who need all kinds of food, and shoes, and electric pianos, etc.,. We also have important plans for 2021, my little family and I. We want to move to another state (one with four seasons, a lack of sticky humidity, forests, and an ocean preferably). This book, this very (very VERY) treasured book project, as much as I wanted it, would have interfered with bigger plans, and bigger necessities.

So if you’re wrestling with big decisions, and you don’t know which path you should go charging down, I’m with you in spirit! It’s thrilling and scary and the doubt (oh the DOUBT) can overcome all reason. But ultimately you know yourself, and you should trust that you know what’s best for you, even if what you know is best sounds categorically insane.

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