Last week I wrote a long, emotional post on my private blog. I put up that post on my private blog because I was afraid to talk about those feelings in public, and I was afraid to say that I’ve been unhappy lately. After days and days of stewing and whining and crying, several events have led me here to my public blog to talk about the biggest lie I have ever believed. It’s also the biggest lie I think every writer believes. This is not the post I put on my private blog. That one still seems too raw and close to my heart to let out into the world, but this post contains a few raw things, as well, so read on if you’re interested.
There are a lot of things published authors don’t talk about publicly – usually traditionally published authors. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in my years of blogging that once an author snags an agent, the focus of their blog usually changes. Once they sell a book, it changes even more. Once their book is close to its release date, they start to seem distant. They talk about publishing a lot. Their posts contain carefully planned honesty. Something seems like its missing, and more often than not, that missing piece is never shown after they are published. A sort of veil goes up. A wall, even, and thus we come to the division between the published and the unpublished. Even worse, there is a division between the self-published and the traditionally published. But this isn’t really a discussion between self and traditional publishing. It’s deeper than that.
I may be generalizing, but these divisions are painfully real. It’s how I’ve seen it. It’s nothing against published authors, no matter how they’re published. Heck, I’m a published author with one self-published book and one traditionally published book which is at that close-to-release-date point. Have I put up that veil? That wall? You bet I have. Except, in this post, I want to knock part of it down, even if just for a moment.
I think most writers go through a cycle. There’s the newbie phase where everything is about the book. Everything. There’s a sort of numb-like happiness going on. Ignorance is bliss, I might say. Then that writer moves into another phase, and that might include a second book or a third, or maybe they’re still on their first, but they become aware of other writers – even more, they become aware of publishing. It’s a vague thing in the background – a glittering aspiration that’s not even considered a reality yet. Then the worst phase hits. The writer feels the need to get published. They feel like they’re ready. This is where the DREAM enters in, and where trouble starts. Some writers are blind to where their writing lies, if it’s truly ready for publication, and some writers seem very aware of where their work stands. Either way, most writers themselves (whether their work is or not) are never ready for publication. It’s pretty much like becoming a parent. Nothing ever truly prepares you for that. Then there’s the next phase, the phase I’m in, and that’s actual publication. This is where the huge transitions take place. This does not include getting an agent. That was in the previous phase. No, I’m talking about actual publication, whether you’re going at it yourself or through a publisher.
I’ll be honest. Self-publishing was a transition, but it was not the same as traditional. There are many factors, but the main factor being that everything was literally coming from me. Even if I had hired editors and cover artists, etc., it was still all through me. My business. My decisions. Nobody was relying on me, and if I failed, it only affected me and maybe a few other close loved ones. That’s it. Traditional has been monumentally different because it’s not just me. It’s a lot of other people, and the book is larger distribution-wise, and it’s permanent. So, now that I’ve explained that, I can say that at least for me, traditional publication has been a completely different emotional ride. In a lot of ways, it has been harder.
That aside, I must get into the main point of my post, which is the Big Lie. Remember that DREAM I mentioned above? That dream is part of the lie. It also can’t be avoided, in my opinion. If you desire publication, you’ve most likely faced the DREAM head-on. For a lot of authors it includes grand things like a large publisher, world domination (*cough* I mean foreign rights sales), a hardback debut, a perfect agent to guide you through everything, and a large amount of cash, whether that be in an advance or through sales or, of course, both. It also includes recognition, respect, and the ability to keep publishing and writing successfully according to the world’s standard of success. Well, don’t let go of that beautiful dream because no matter what anyone tells you, it IS possible. I’ve seen versions of it happen to a lot of authors I know. However, the dream isn’t the complete lie because it can certainly happen. There’s a version of this dream in the self-publishing world, as well, and it also contains Big Huge Things that happen to only a small percentage of authors.
The problem with the DREAM? It relies on outside forces to make you happy, and as we all should know, that’s a problem. If you hang your hopes – even subconsciously (and that’s very easy to do) – on that dream making you happy, EVERY SINGLE THING that does not meet that dream is going to shove you down flat on your face and mess with your head and your happiness.
So, what’s the lie? The lie is that once you reach a certain point in your writing career, you will be happy. When you finish your book, you’ll be happy. When you get a full request from an agent, you’ll be happy. When you get an agent offer, you’ll be happy. When you sell your book, you’ll be happy. When you make more than 50 sales a week on your self-published novel, you’ll be happy. When you get a large advance, you’ll be happy. When you you get an offer from a publisher on your self-published book, you’ll be happy. When you get your first gushing fan mail letter, you’ll be happy. Get the point?
The truth is, I think we all fall into this terrible trap, not only in our writing careers, but our lives in general. You have fallen into it, you are in it right now, or you have been there or are about to go there. It’s like a required stop, it seems. As for writing, though, unfortunately, I have to tell you that debuting a novel is not super fun. In fact, the stress, the emotional strain and drama and pressure, pretty much sucks the life out of most of the excitement I had going. I’ll even admit that on some days I would just take it all back and not publish at all. Putting Cinders, my self-published novella, out into the world was exciting, and I wouldn’t change that experience. It was scary and difficult, but it was exciting, and the excitement won out. Putting out Monarch…well, that has been different. It seems the more I learn about publishing, the more disappointed I am in any dream – because even if I met all those things the dream can offer, I would still be disappointed. How can I say this? Because I have some close friends who are published authors, and they are all on completely different paths – big paths, small paths, even the dream path, and every single one of them has admitted their disappointment in one thing or another, usually with a lot of pain in their voices.
The bottom line of the lie is that publishing will make you happy. It will not make you happy. It only makes things harder and more complicated to find happiness in your writing career. You’ll have brief stints of elation. I have, but in the end, it’s all fades away like a rainbow. If you want happiness in publishing, you’re going to have to look beyond publishing, I can promise you that. It’s just like marriage or having a child or landing a dream job. Just because you find your true love and get married, that does not mean you are set for life in the happiness department. It requires constant work, constant reevaluation, and constant positive thinking despite your circumstances.
One of my favorite quotes is from Scott Hamilton’s book, The Great Eight. He sure went through a lot of crap in his career and in his life in general, but in this book he talks about how he has found lasting happiness in his life. One of the key things I’ve found is this:
Many times people get tied to the disappointment of what failed rather than focusing on the success that awaits them in the next opportunity.
Using this as a base, I’ve found that no matter where you’re at in your writing career, there is always more opportunity when things don’t go the way you dreamed. Part of what makes writers amazing is our ability to be creative, and we should let that seep into every aspect of writing, including our publishing path. I’m not with a huge publisher, so there are a lot of things that I could let disappoint me in the choice I’ve made. I don’t get a hardback debut novel. I don’t get an advance. I don’t get thousands of dollars poured into marketing. I didn’t even get my book mentioned in Publishers Weekly. Woe is me. Poor, poor me. I should be disappointed. I have friends who have SO much more than me. They got amazing deals, thousands of dollars, beautiful hardback books with pearly jacket covers and embossed titles, even paid book tours. And as I’ve already admitted, I’ve felt a lot of stress in this huge life transition of writing as a side hobby to writing as something very serious. The thing is, taking something too seriously that is supposed to be fun will kill you in the end. So I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to remember the essentials, the basics of why I’m here doing any of this – TO GROW. It all comes down to that, doesn’t it?
I think one of the most important things in life is to allow ourselves to grow. Every choice we make, every step that helps us evolve into a better person, a better writer, a better friend, is something we should embrace and enjoy, no matter how difficult it is and no matter where we are at on our personal path. Publishing your novels will not bring you happiness, but embracing the changes (good and bad!) that it will bring into your life no matter where you’re at in that journey, will bring you happiness. Understand that your dreams will change as you grow, and you must learn to change with them. Failure belongs only to those who stand still as opportunities pass them by.