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 another is experiencing bitter disappointment.
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? Winning a coveted award? None of these? Then what criteria do you use to define “success” in the writing life?
Because there is very little public data available (sales info derived from Amazon rankings or Author Central is incomplete at best), a writer often defines success by comparing their situation with that of another author. (The irony is that other authors may be doing the identical comparison but going the other direction and using you as their criteria for success.) “Why are they successful and I’m not?”
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 current publisher kicked you to the curb? So your agent thinks your new idea or 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 careers. After having a half dozen books published, the first endured 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 ten years writing nonfiction and had little or no publications 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.
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 shake yourself with vigor and blink your eyes dry. Let that setback be just another step (albeit a backward one) in your writing journey.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.” (2 Corinthians 4:17; Psalm 95:3-4).
[This is a revised version of a post that originally ran in August 2012. Amazing how it still holds.]