Alright, folks. I’m gonna lay it down here. Over the years, I have had some great conversations with friends – writers and non-writers – about the tough end of being an author: the shame we keep hidden when things go sideways and are too embarrassed to talk about it, our relationships, our worries. And one thing that always comes out of these conversations, especially with friends who are not writers, is that they think that more people would want to know these things.
What things, you ask? Well, the things that give writers shame and anxiety, but shouldn’t because they are totally normal even though no one is publicly talking about them! And so, for your reading pleasure, I’m here to tell you, if you are an emerging author, afraid to put your work out there for fear of failure because it looks like no one else suffers, if you are an established writer and know all this personally, if you are not a writer at all and just like ‘misery loves company’ stories, this is for you. A small list of writerly thoughts. Like, a list of 9, which I hope you appreciate, because that means that I didn’t write 10 just to make 10, right?
- Rejection: Getting a book published does not inoculate you against future rejection. We often hear stories about how such-and-such amazing book was rejected hundreds of times before it hit the big time. I myself have done a TEDx talk on rejection. It is a well-trod topic that writers and readers like to talk about. But we often think that it only happens before you become successful, and not after. What we don’t often realize is that each book – EACH BOOK – goes through a process of being picked up. And prior success, while it helps, doesn’t mean that your current book will be bought be a publisher, or that you won’t go through a process of rejections before – if ever – it is bought. There are no guarantees in publishing, so do your best, do the work, with each.
- Publisher Relationships: Sometimes your publisher, whom you love and who loves you, can’t get with your next book. This happens! It hurts, but it makes us stronger. It is a business, and there are many reasons for why certain books are picked up at particular times and others are not. A book being signed is a perfect elixir of timing, writing, story, money, other books, people, the alignment of the stars, and whether you’ve recently offered a sacrifice to the writing gods. But one deal doesn’t always mean more deals. This might be for any number of reasons, including because you’re trying a different genre/topic/style and they don’t publish those kinds of books. And that might mean, if you have a multi-book deal, that you then ‘owe’ a book to a publisher. A good problem to have, but can induce anxiety also.
- Be a Great Client. This is not a failing or a worry, but I wanted to stick it in here because I think this is really important. Your relationship with your agent, if you have one, and your publishing house, if your book is signed, is so important. So many people are hustling for you. Be kind, be grateful, be the guest who is invited back. I always think about this Neil Gaiman quote about being two out of three:
“You get work however you get work, but people keep working in a freelance world (and more and more of todays world is freelance), because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.” Honestly, aim to be all three. No one’s perfect, but kindness and gratitude for the hard work of people working in books – I mean, that is a labour of love! – is the bare minimum in my opinion.
- Anxiety. Do I have nails left? My experience is that writing is 80% waiting. Waiting for people to read your work and send their thoughts down the pipeline back to you. The best thing to do while waiting is to write, thus completing the circle.
- First Draft = Sucko. Your first draft will suck. It’s best that you just come to terms with that. It is akin to trying to cut a pathway through a jungle with a machete. Eventually, sure, you’ll have a paving machine, and it will all be smooth, but at the start, it is hard to see in front of you and you’re getting attacked by giant bugs. And yes, I’m sorry that this metaphor for writing has now taken on the visual of decimating the environment, but I started there and I’m sticking with it.
- Other Authors Are My Jam! Relationships with other authors are balm for the soul. I am SO grateful for having met writers who are at all different stages in their careers, and who have become friends of mine. We share stories, we know the players, we compare war wounds, we offer advice and empathy and excitement in a way that our non-writing friends can’t. Not better, just different. So when you get those rejections, call up your homies and share a glass of wine. They’ve been there.
- Social Media is a Double-Edged Sword. It can be amazing, inspiring, it can lift you up. AND. It can really eat at you. Everyone is a great writer on Instagram. Part of our writerly hustle is to humble brag about all the great shit we’re doing, all the reviews, all the events, all the everything that sounds amazing, and doesn’t really show you that in addition to getting invited to a terrific event today, we also got a shitty review on Goodreads or a rejection via email, or ghosted by someone, or we’ve just gotten to ten thousand words in cutting through our jungle-road first draft only to discover it’s going in the completely wrong direction. Tread carefully on social. It can help and hurt, it gives with one hand and takes with the other, etc.
- Pub Day! Your publishing day, your Pub Day, which you anticipate, shout about, wait for with baited breath, and then it comes…and… Uh… So the truth is it might be a day where nothing really happens and it feels completely anti-climactic. My advice is to find a Champagne bar with your best friend, which, for the record, I did last time, and it was perfect. Find someone who you can stick with that day, and make plans in advance. You have something to celebrate, so do it, don’t wait for it. Your ceiling at home is not going to open up with balloons when you wake up, fyi.
- Do the Work. Ending on a high note, lemme just say this: it is a slog. You work away privately and then you hope it will get out into the world. That process, the getting-out-into-the-world bit, is LOOOOOONNNNNGG. It is hard. It is often full of hardship. But the very best thing you can do is to keep going in spite of any and all difficulties. Be a tireless advocate of your work. Be a workhorse to make it better. Do. The. Work. The rest will come.