When the Outlook is Bleak

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?

Define Success

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?

Keep Writing

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.




24 Responses to When the Outlook is Bleak

  1. Avatar
    Robin Patchen August 6, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    Great post, Steve, and so true. If I’m a writer, then I write despite the setback, disappointments, and frustrations along the way. My husband has setbacks in his work occasionally, but he still goes to the office every morning and works his heart out. I have to have that same work ethic as a writer. There’s no time for an emotional meltdown, no real excuse in the fact that I’m an “artist.” The great artists keep working even when nobody likes their work. As writers, we must keep writing and leave the results in God’s hands. Like Randy Alcorn said, in the end, God’s already given us so much more than we deserve. When we write for His glory, we worship him and feel his pleasure, and if that’s all we get out of it, then it should be more than enough.

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    Rick Barry August 6, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Today’s post delivers and even-handed dose of reality and hope. It’s really encouraging (in my opinion) despite the bleak-sounding title. It also reminded me of the writer named Moses, who had to wait until he was 80 years old before he started accomplishing all the things for which God had been preparing him all along.

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    Heidi Chiavaroli August 6, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    Thanks so much for the inspiration this morning! And I love the quote from Randy.

    I’m reading a book by Tullian Tchividjian called Jesus + Nothing = Everything. In it Tullian says, “Our performancism leads to pride when we succeed and to despair when we fail. But ultimately it leads to slavery either way, because it becomes all about us and what we must do to establish our own identity instead of resting in Jesus and what he accomplished to establish it for us. in all its forms, this wrong focus is anti-gospel and therefore enslaving.”

    Love that, and the reminder in your post to persevere. Thank you!

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    Beth August 6, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    Great post! Once published, aspiring writers think you have all the answers and stop worrying about your career as a writer, which is far from the truth, at least for me and most authors I know. I don’t ever take my work for granted, it’s a God given gift that goes in the direction He wants my work to go. Loved Rick’s mention of Moses! An incredible example for us to live by!!

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    Jeanne August 6, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Such a timely post. I got stuck on defining success. What goes into the definition, and how willing am I to work through disappointments and setbacks to achieve it? What drives me to work beyond disappointments? These were just a few questions that came to mind as I read that section of your post. 🙂

    I, too, loved Randy Alcorn’s words. Keeping an eternal perspective helps me walk through life more “successfully.” Not often with ease, but hopefully always with Jesus.

    I write through the tough times because God gave the story to me, not someone else. It’s gone through many iterations and hopefully become better since the first time I wrote it. The choice to persevere in writing, comes one decision at a time. Thanks for your encouraging post today. I suspect I’ll be thinking about through this day. 🙂

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    Elaine Baldwin August 6, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    Thank you, Steve, for your encouragement and for Randy Alcorn’s admonishment to watch out for entitlement thinking. I often have to check my own outlook when I feel pity parties coming on. Just think if the prophets of God quit speaking God’s own words just because no one was listening or worse being persecuted because they did listen and didn’t like what they heard.

  7. Avatar
    michelle griep August 6, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    What an encouraging post! It’s always a great reminder that writers write. Period.

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    Timothy Fish August 6, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    Success is a moving target. I remember going to some meetings with my parents when I was a kid. I looked at the guys on stage and those were the “important guys.” But now, after having been on that same stage several times, I don’t feel as important as I thought they were. However a person defines success, it doesn’t feel like success when you get there.

    • Avatar
      Robin Patchen August 6, 2012 at 9:46 am #

      “However a person defines success, it doesn’t feel like success when you get there.” Ain’t that the truth, Timothy!

  9. Avatar
    Grace Fox August 6, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Thanks for the wise words, Steve. This morning (before I read your post) I read Psalm 28:7 — “The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.”

    I stopped on the words “I trust him with all my heart” and thought about whether or not I truly embrace them in regards to my writing career. It’s easy to believe them when a long-awaited contract comes, but not so easy when years pass without one.

    The words “my heart is filled with joy” and “I burst out in songs of thanksgiving” also challenged me. Knowing what Christ has done for us in light of eternity, and knowing that nothing can thwart His purposes for us while we tarry here ought to fill our hearts with joyful songs no matter what.

  10. Avatar
    Becky Doughty August 6, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Thank you for your words of encouragement. Let me turn them around and give them back to you – keep writing, Steve. Keep encouraging us. It’s good to know there are agents like you fighting alongside us in the trenches.


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    Rebecca LuEllaMiller August 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Great post, Steve. I appreciate you quoting those lines from Randy Alcorn’s article. Yes, entitlement is a slow poison eating away at the contentment God would have us enjoy.

    I also appreciate your explanation for writers comparing themselves to writers. It makes so much sense, and is something I want to pray God will show me how to guard against.

    Becky (another one! We’re ganging up on you. 😀 )

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    Carrie Turansky August 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Good encouragement! Thanks, Steve. Yes, it’s true….if you are a writer you keep on writing. I am glad we have the option to create eBooks and get those motr stories out there for our readers. It’s also encouraging to see publishers more open to authors doing both traditional and self-publishing.

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    Erin MacPherson August 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    This post is such an encouragement for writers… especially during down times. I had a time last year where my outlook was so bleak that I decided to give up writing. My agent had (very kindly) told me that it didn’t look like any future books were going to sell and I had resigned myself to moving in a new direction. But God had other plans and just when I thought my career was over, I got a contract on the books I never thought I’d sell. I think your advice to keep writing is the most important one.

    • Avatar
      Ellie Kay August 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

      When I first started out as a writer, I received 19 out of 20 rejections. Fast forward a few books and a few years, I can now make my living as a professional writer and I still get 9 out of 10 rejections. I had a recent year with a boatload of “no, thank yous’ and I told Steve: “I am sorry that I’m not making you any money lately. But I want you to know that God is teaching me that I’m not what I do. I am not defined by what I do, but by who I am in Christ and who God says I am. God calls me the apple of His eye, fearfully and wonderfully made, the head and not the tail, created for a purpose and He still has plans for me.” A few months later, a book deal came through and I”m writing it now. However, I’m still not what I do, I’m who God says I am.

      • Avatar
        Jeanne August 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

        Thanks for that important reminder: I am not what I do. I am who God says I am–His child.

  14. Avatar
    Joanne Guidoccio August 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Thank you for the inspiring post! The writing journey is a challenging one, with its many twists and turns, and there is one “right” path to success. I also have to guard against comparing myself to writers at different stages of their careers.

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    JennyM August 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    I’ve written one book, which I think will do well…once I get in the door. I have a sequel to that one half done. I have 2 stand alones in the wings and am excited to get working on them, plus another series plotted out as well.
    Each book is set in with the same hub, but with spokes going in and out to various parts of the world.
    I have no shortage of stories, but some days I have a definite shortage of hope. One theme of my first book is “did I give you a spirit of fear?”.
    No. No, He didn’t.
    He gave me a skill and a gift.
    My job is to take what I’ve been given and shine the glory back on Him.
    He never compares His children. Why should we?

  16. Avatar
    sally apokedak August 6, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    Loved this post.

    As I read, I was thinking, “Keep your eyes on Jesus…that you might not grow weary in well-doing…” And, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…and the things of this world grow strangely dim.”

    We have Jesus. When we complain now we’re like a man with two fists jam-packed with gold complaining that he can’t pick up a penny from the ground.

  17. Avatar
    Rebecca Barlow Jordan August 8, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    I have often called myself the rejection queen because of the year I received 1000 rejections–not for books at that time, but for other writing pieces. It wasn’t until 10 years later that my first book was published. And like many, there were gaps between each book. (Still are.) None of us enjoy rejections or bleak times. But rejection loses its power if your love for writing and the gift/calling God gave you exceeds your need for publication or a large following. When you write for Him, He has a way of finding an audience, whether great or small. And His idea of success is so different from ours. I forget that sometimes. Just look at the Psalmist David. I’ve always been amazed that anyone would think what I wrote was worth publishing. But more amazed that God would allow me the opportunity to do something I love so much and in some small way, contribute to His kingdom work. An audience of One is the best audience of all. He won’t reject us! Great post today, Steve–loved Randy’s words as well. And maybe it’s a good reminder for us to keep finding new paths and avenues to use our gifts–like the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” Or maybe just a reminder to be patient and wait on the Lord. :-)Thanks!

  18. Avatar
    Pam Halter August 9, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    This is also a timely topic for me. I was on faculty for the Greater Phila. Christian Writer’s Conference last week. I came home with a request for a proposal for a nonfiction book. Hopefulness! I also came home to a rejection regarding a YA novel I had been very hopeful about. Sadness. And I just sold a devotion. Happiness!

    This is a crazy business. We’re hardly ever static, are we? I’m constantly hopeful, anxious, disappointed and happy – all at the same time.

  19. Avatar
    Barbara Robinson August 9, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    Only two words to say: Keep writing.


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