Monday, August 30, 2010

Three (Bad) Emotions You Will Experience as an Author

One of the nice things about spending time with authors who are at different stages of their careers is being able to share experiences. Some things (like movies, books, and even meals to some extent) are even better when it’s a surprise. But as a writer, it can be downright annoying to expect things to be one way and discover that you have no clue how things really are. I remember years ago when I first met Sariah over the phone. As we talked about sales numbers, I told her that I wished I’d known coming in what realistic sales numbers were. I’m not sure how completely she bought into what I was telling her at the time. She had some pretty lofty goals. I think having big goals is great. But you also need to have someone tell you what the rest of the market is doing, or your goals are nothing more than wishes.

New writers seem to ask this same question more than any other. What can I expect? So today, I thought I’d share three negative emotions you WILL experience and how to deal with them. Next week I’ll share four positive emotions.

1) Impatience.

I sat on a panel last weekend with a bunch of other published children’s authors. When we were asked what we dislike most about the industry, almost universally people said how long everything takes. For example, let’s say you come up with an amazing book idea today. If you’re a really fast writer, you might have a first draft done in three months. Then take another three months to rewrite. Next comes submitting. Let’s say eight weeks to get a request for a partial. Another eight to twelve weeks for a full. And at least another three months for an offer of representation. So far it’s been let’s say fourteen months—if everything works like a charm—just to get an agent.

Next the agent is probably going to give you edits. Another two months. The agent starts submitting. Another two months. Maybe more, maybe less. You get a deal. Now there is a very good chance that you will wait at least 1½ to 2 years for your book to come out. More if it’s a picture book.

From idea to book on shelf—three years. If everything works like a charm. And all during that time, you are waiting on pins and needles for the next step. Will she like my query letter? Will he like my full? Will they make an offer? When will I get my edits? When will I hear back? What if they hate my changes? What if the editor moves to a new publisher?

Now you understand why published authors can’t help smiling a little when a new writer comes up and says, “I’m writing a book because my husband lost his job, or we want to buy a new car or I’m sick of working in a shoe store.” There’s nothing wrong with these reasons at all. In fact most authors who are honest will tell you that we all dream of writing for a living. But we’re talking about three years. That’s a long time. And don’t get started on how little most published authors earn.

Now let me be the first to say things CAN happen quicker. But for most authors they happen even slower. It might not be until your third book that you get an agent. Your fifth that you find a publisher. And remember that panel of published authors? They have books out and they’re still impatient. You WILL experience impatience. How do you deal with it?

In my experience there are three ways of dealing with impatience. The first way is by cutting out the middle man. Tired of waiting for an agent? Self-publish. Tired of waiting for the time a traditional publisher takes to get out a new book? Create an e-book. This is certainly an option. As we discussed last week, more and more people are taking this route. I will say that unless you already have an audience though, this is not a shorter or quicker route to publishing success. You are still going to need to put in years of work to build up enough of a following to make the effort pay off. If you’ve already got a following or just want to see your work available to the public. Go for it.

The second response is to give up. Three years is a long time to wait, so why try? The thing is, three years from now you will still be three years older. You can either be three years closer to your dream, or you can be right where you are today. Which leads me to the solution I recommend.

Stay busy. Work on the next project. You know that whole thing about the watched pot never boiling? That’s true with publishing as well. You never know what’s going to work. It may be the book you wrote a year ago finding a publisher. It may be the book you’ll write a year from now. The agent you get may not sell this book, but she may sell the next one. The horror novel I have coming out next year was actually written and agented more than six years ago.

If you sit watching the mailbox or waiting for the phone to ring, you are killing yourself one day at a time. Remember the three year’s older thing? If it’s going to take you that long, why not have four novels ready and waiting by the time your first one makes it? You’re still going to be impatient, but at least you can be productive.

2) Envy

Travel and food writer, Kim Wright, wrote a great post on authors and envy here. I won’t repeat what she says, because she does it so well. But two things in particular caught my eye. One was that it feels as uncomfortable to be envied as it does to envy someone else. There’s nothing harder than telling people you know are as talented or more than you are about a success they deserve every bit as much as you do. Unless it’s having someone you’re close to succeed while you’re still waiting to. Neither of these feels good. But if you write long enough you will experience both sides.

The second thing is her point about how we envy the most those who are closest to our talent level. You don’t envy the huge national best-selling author. You envy the person in your critique group, or your writing league, or your friends.

I had serious envy just in the last couple of days while reading the ARC of Ally Condie’s soon to be released “Matched.” Her writing is so elegant, so beautiful, that I seriously would have given almost anything for that talent.

So how do you deal with envy? Exactly the way Kim says. Use it to motivate you. Remind yourself that if they can do it so can you. I tell people that I inspire other writers all the time. They say, if he can publish a book anyone can. And it’s true. I didn’t start writing my first novel until I was thirty seven. I didn’t sell the first novel I got an agent with. I’ve never won an award or hit a best-sellers list. But what I do have going for me is persistence and a string desire to improve. If you have those two things, you will succeed.

3) Depression

I’m not talking about the clinical illness—although that can come along for the ride as well. I’m talking about the moment where you just want to throw it all away. It’s when you just feel like you don’t have what it takes, and you’re sure quitting is the only way to go. Interestingly enough this moment almost always comes along from someone on the outside. An agent, and editor, another writer, a bad review. Someone tells us we aren’t good, and we believe them. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard we ARE good. The one negative is what breaks the camel’s back.

If you are a writer, you are going to have to deal with depression. It could be tied to envy. Maybe you are bummed out because another writer had some great success. Maybe you just realized your great idea had been used somewhere else. Maybe you just got your hundredth rejection. It’s perfectly okay to feel depressed. Just remember that like Kim says about feeling envy, you’re in good company. Anyone who strives to succeed in the arts will experience depression.

The key is to not let it last too long, and to come up with a course of action. Someone said your writing sucks? Find out if it does. If so, improve it. Take a class. Read a book on writing. Fix what’s broken. If this project is hopeless, set it aside and start on something new. If your writing doesn’t suck, then remind yourself as Rob pointed out in a recent e-mail that Pride and Prejudice has one star reviews on Goodreads, and something called Everybody Poops 410 Pounds a Year got a five star review.

Either a book with interesting facts about bowel movements is better than P&P, or different people have different tastes. My good friend Ally may have an amazing book, but does it have demons who strip naked and camouflage themselves to slip past a circle of hell hounds? I think not. The best cure for depression is to remind yourself that things are not as bad as you think they are at the moment, and that absolutely nothing is stopping you from starting on something amazing today.

So, yeah, you still want to be an author? Even though I promise you that you will experience all of the above emotions, and many just as bad? Excellent. Because we need authors who are willing to fight through adversity, and your prose will be that much stronger for having made it through the fire. Next week, the good parts about being an author.

(And BTW, Christy, I owe you something special for becoming my 100th follower!)


Anonymous said...

Boy, I can totally relate to item number 2 - Envy.

There is this guy I know, he's a pretty good storyteller and is able to write his stories down and have people enjoy reading them. I, on the other-hand, am an excellent storyteller and can craft an engaging tale like no other, but I am no writer. It used to bug me that this other guy was making a decent income from his stories and my inability to write my stories down was keeping me from making money.

One day while looking in the mirror, I realized that it didn't matter that this other guy could write his stories down and make money from selling his stories - I shouldn't be envious. It didn't matter anymore because on that day while looking at myself in the mirror, I realized something important. I am better looking than this other guy and he was probably more envious of my good looks than I was of his writing and thus he was overcompensating by writing and publishing every story that came into his head - it is his only way of getting the attention he craves.

The talking, time-traveling spider living in the corner of my bathroom agrees with me.


J Scott Savage said...

"I am better looking than this other guy and he was probably more envious of my good looks than I was of his writing"

Proving that you are indeed a great storyteller, Dave! :)

But you can also write. You just need to do it.

Daron D. Fraley said...


All true. Every one of the three. Thank you for the great write-up!

Magenta said...

I don't like to admit it, but even a young author wanna-be like me has experienced these emotions. ~,~

I used to be impatient with myself to finish my full-blown fantasy novel and make it perfect in a matter of months. Never happened, of course. I'm doing better now, though. ^_^ I know that good writing... I mean, REALLY good... takes time and practice.

I'm a bit envious of my favorite authors (how do they do it?!?) as well as some of my friends, who either write really well or are making their way up the publishing chain.

But then again, it's not so much envy I'm feeling rather than a sense of wonder and approval at a particular author's writing style, or a sense of pride in myself at associating with just the right people. ^_~

I guess I have been mildly depressed about my writing before. I think that everyone else is so much better than me at writing books, so why should I bother to try? ~,~

But I think I've been able to get over my depression by thinking, "Well, so what if I've spent 5+ years of my life on 1 book that will probably not make it? I may not be a novel writer, but I think I can be a pretty dang good poetry writer. And perhaps I've even got a future in short stories." ^_^

Hey, no one told us that writing was going to be easy, right? We do it because we love it.

Can't wait for you to point out the good parts about being an author. And congrats on 100 followers! ^,~

Heather B. Moore said...

Great summation, Jeff! All true.

Jennifer Griffith said...

I really like this post. I think I will share it in our writer's group this week. It's tough when we keep getting rejections to plug away, and I love what you said about P&P versus the bowel movements. Strangely, a great motivator! Love it.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Oh, yeah! You nailed it. Sad, but true. But thanks for letting writers know they're not alone struggling with these emotions.

Valerie Geary said...

Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou! I've been struggling something awful this week and this post was a fantastic encouragement! A good reminder not to wallow for too long in the mud. Get up, brush off the dust and get back to it.

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

Because of all these, I've decided to take some time off. Do something else for a while. Come back later when I can deal with it all again.