As I was lying awake at 3:30 a.m. this morning, as I often do, I started thinking about a phrase that my husband sometimes utters to me when I get stressed out or disappointed about the goings-on in my writing career:
I thought you just wanted to be published.
I cringe whenever he says this, but I also can't really fault him for his ignorance. He has a career in which the expectations of him and his work are fairly cut-and-dried. He gets a reliable, bi-weekly paycheck that hinges on his work being done, not on how well he was able to sell it.
And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that people who've never walked in a writer's shoes have no concept of just how much hard work and uncertainty are involved in the quest to make a living as a published author.
After all, we:
- write with no guarantee of publication
- wait anywhere from months to years for contracts, and therefore advance money
- get royalty statements only twice a year
- are responsible for a good chunk of our own marketing
- are provided no health insurance
- have no guarantee that current publications will lead to future publications
- I could go on and on, but you get the point, so I'll stop there
I suppose it makes sense that there are a lot of misconceptions about what happens when a person gets published, because a) it's not the most common job in the world and b) when it comes to books, many people are only familiar with whichever titles are in-your-face popular. Therefore, they assume that everyone who gets a book deal is automatically the next JK Rowling.
Or, you know, they watched Sex and the City, and are under the impression that writing a weekly newspaper column affords you a Manhattan apartment and a never-ending supply of Manolo Blahniks. (Spoiler alert: NOPE.)
I don't think most people realize that just "getting published" is not the end goal. Sure, when you're writing with no guarantee that anyone except your mom will ever read your work, and when you're facing rejection left and right, or when others get book deals on their first try after you've just shelved your third manuscript, there probably came a point where you ground your teeth and pulled at your hair and let out a primal,
"I just want to be published!"
But the struggle doesn't end with publication. For those not in the know, let me clarify. You hear, I just want to be published.
What we mean is, I want other people to love my stories as much as I do.
No author has ever used I want to be published as code for I want my novel to be an indistinguishable drop in a vast ocean of books.
Because honestly? Unless you are JK Rowling, that's how it can feel sometimes.
You don't want to annoy people by talking constantly about your books, but you also need to make people aware of them. Unfortunately, self-promo usually feels a lot like this:
Sometimes it seems like no matter what you do, you just can not make people care. You worked your ass off writing, deleting, editing, rewriting, polishing, editing, copy editing, proofreading, promoting, promoting, and promoting some more, and yet, you still feel stagnant.
You know that comparing yourself to other authors is the WORST thing you can possibly do, and yet you can't help but feel defective when they single-handedly tackle goals that feel so out of reach for you. Or when they're talking about how behind they are on their Twitter mentions, or apologizing for not being able to answer the fan mail that comes at them in droves while you check your inbox/mentions like
So yes, even when you've ultimately succeeded *at* your goal, it can still be difficult to feel like you're succeeding *within* your goal. Especially when you're always wondering if your smaller successes will lead to bigger ones, or if every hurrah will be your last.
For the non-writer types, let me break it down further.
Let's say you've been pining for a vacation for a really long time. You try for quite a while to make it happen, but for whatever multitude of reasons, it doesn't. Then, at last, you book your dream vacation to **insert beautiful, exotic spot of your choice here** And you are thrilled.
But when you finally get there, you're sick as a dog, the weather sucks, and the airline has lost your luggage. You have no idea when or if you'll ever make it back to this place again for a do-over.
When you tell this to other people, they respond: But I thought you just wanted to take a vacation?
See what I did there?
And I'm not saying that the WHOLE vacation sucked, that there were zero redeeming moments.Or that being able to call yourself a published author sucks in any way, shape, or form. I'm saying that you can achieve your big-picture goal, and still have moments of disappointment or disenchantment.
Authors don't "just want to be published." They want to succeed at being published.
And while those moments of disenchantment can be brutal, they don't take away from the fact that you've done something kickass by just putting forth the effort. They don't change the fact that complete strangers fell in love with something you wrote, with a world you created entirely in your mind. Those moments, no matter what your brain tells you, are not a harbinger of feeling like crap forever. And they sure as hell don't mean that you've blown your chance to do better.
Because every day is a new chance.
Because, really, you have already succeeded. Even if it doesn't always feel that way.
Think about it. If people who aren't in the publishing "know" automatically equate you to JK Rowling just for getting a book deal, it's because they are IMPRESSED. You did something they could never do. And for that, they think you are the shit.
And I think, honestly, that this - "you've already succeeded" - is what my husband actually means when he says, "I thought you just wanted to be published."
So the next time you're frustrated and someone says this to you, be the published author in their life who helped them find a better way to say it. (Or let me do it for you.)
Then, let them know exactly how they can help by directing them here, here, and here, and tell them to let everyone else and their mother know too.
And how is your publishing journey going today?