Back at the end of 2009, I was writing a book called 33. It was about a kid named Syd who was suicidal and kept trying to kill himself. The problem was that none of his attempts ever succeeded. He’d hang himself and wake up later with a headache. Jump off the top of a tall building and land without a scratch. The story followed Syd and his friends on a road trip to find his ex-girlfriend (one of the sources of his depression) and figure out why he wasn’t able to die. I’d actually come up with an explanation about quantum immortality. There’s a cool article here, but the basic idea is that every time Syd tried to kill himself, the universe would split, and in one, Syd would be dead, while in the other he would be alive. The resolution was less clear to me, but would have involved multiple versions of Syd coming together to prove why they were the version who deserved to live.
The point is that I got about 3/4 of the way through the book before giving it up. Someone in the publishing industry that I trusted told me my was too dark, and that no one would ever read or publish a book where a kid kills himself 33 times. I wrestled with the decision for a while, and despite loving the book and having a solid amount written, I shelved it and quit.
Today, I opened Goodreads and saw The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand. Here’s the synopsis:
Adam Strand isn’t depressed. He’s just bored. Disaffected. So he kills himself—39 times. No matter the method, Adam can’t seem to stay dead; he wakes after each suicide alive and physically unharmed, more determined to succeed and undeterred by others’ concerns. But when his self-contained, self-absorbed path is diverted, Adam is struck by the reality that life is an ever-expanding web of impact and forged connections, and that nothing—not even death—can sever those bonds.
The point isn’t the fact that someone wrote a similar book as me. That happens all the time. Ideas aren’t as unique as we think they are. The point is that I should have listened to myself. I had a story I believed in and I gave up on it because someone told me no publisher would want it. But the book above stands as proof that anything, done really well, will appeal to someone. Back then, my book was only a first draft and had a lot of suckage going on. But if I hadn’t quit, if I’d put in the time and really made it shine, that could have been my book I saw on Goodreads today and not someone else’s.
So, write the books you love. Write them the best that you can. Don’t cut corners, don’t settle for good enough. Just write. Because maybe my 33 wouldn’t have sold, but at least I wouldn’t have woken up on a Saturday morning to find a similar book on Goodreads and wonder if that could have been me if I hadn’t given up.
I’ll never make that mistake again.