by Steve Laube
In the constant ebb and flow of this industry we have authors celebrating and authors in tears. Ask any agent and you will hear the same. For every author excited about their new contract there is another experiencing bitter disappointment.
And I wish I could fix it.
To hear the anguish is difficult, but to be the one who delivers the bad news is heart-wrenching. Why is it they seem to come in bunches? What do you do when you run into the inevitable disappointments the writing experience throws at you?
If “success” is left undefined it will be impossible to know if you have achieved it. Is it a byline? A certain size contract? An enthused publisher? A specific number of books sold? Making $100,000 in a year as a writer?
Because there is very little public data available a writer often defines success by comparing their situation with that of another author. (The irony is that other author may be doing the identical comparison but going the other direction and using you as their criteria for success.)
Last week Randy Alcorn wrote in his blog the following brilliant perspective:
Our culture is riddled with a poisonous spirit of entitlement. We always think we deserve more. We’re disappointed with our family, neighbors, church, the waitress, the sales clerk, and the department of motor vehicles. Ultimately we’re disappointed with God. He hasn’t given us everything we want.
What madness! If only we could see our situation clearly—even for a moment. We deserved expulsion; He gives us a diploma. We deserved the electric chair; He gives us a parade. Anything less than overwhelming gratitude should be unthinkable. He owes us nothing. We owe Him everything. When you realize you deserve nothing better than hell, it puts a “bad day” in perspective, doesn’t it?
So you’ve been rejected by yet another publisher? So your publisher failed to do what you had hoped in marketing your book? So your agent thinks your new manuscript is weak? Put it in perspective. Should your happiness or your contentment be contingent on publishing success?
I know three successful authors who went through some very dark times in their career. The first, after having a half dozen books published, went through a dry spell of five years where she could not sell anything to anyone. The second had a dry spell of seven years between published novels. Seven years! Without a single sale? The third spent 10 years writing non-fiction and had little or no publication before switching to fiction and finding success.
The principle here is that none of them quit writing. Each felt called to the work of writing and remained faithful to the art. Despite years of frustration they kept at it.
This is one advantage of the ability to self-publish. I know of two authors who had their book manuscript declared unacceptable by their contracted publisher and the project cancelled. A crushing judgment to be sure. In both cases the writer reworked the material and released it in ebook form. And later both authors signed new contracts and continue to write great books.
So if you’ve hit a setback in your writing career, no matter the scale, take a moment or two to absorb the pain and disappointment. Then shudder with vigor and blink your eyes dry. Let that setback be just another step (albeit a backwards one) in your writing journey.