Some of you will disagree with everything I say here, and that’s okay. I hope this doesn’t get too depressing for anyone. It’s not meant to be. This is what happens when reality gently taps me on the shoulder and reminds me of what’s important. (I’ve re-written this post four times already, I’m done.)
Let’s start with this, because it’s amazing:
Damn, I love me some Flynn Rider.
Those guys have dreams. Perhaps not realistic dreams, but they’ve got ’em. Don’t we all? I know I do, and I know (
because I’m a little psychic because I read your wonderful blogs) that many of you share my dream. Not for me– for yourselves.
We want to write. We want other people to read and love what we write, and we’d really like to get recognition and at least a wee bit of money for that. We want to see our books on a shelf and go, “Yes, that’s mine. I did that.” And then if you’re me, dissolve into a puddle of tears because this is what you’ve always wanted.
Doesn’t sound like so much to ask, does it? Some of you are laughing right now because you know that it IS a lot to ask, and it’s a hard dream to have. And it’s a dream that an unbelievable number of people share, all of them caring as much about their work and believing in it as hard as I do mine. I find this very humbling.
It’s a great dream, don’t get me wrong. When you love what you’re doing and there are examples in front of you every day of people just like you making it, getting their books published and turning into massive bestsellers, you think, why not me? When you get to the part where you’re collecting rejections, there are stories of those very same authors and books getting just as many rejections. You think, “it’s part of the process.” Well, I assume you do. I don’t have much experience with this part yet, but I will, one way or another. We all do, if we put our stuff out there.
We maintain hope, but at the same time, we understand that for most of us, it’s not going to happen. Whether because we’re deluding ourselves when we think our work is good enough (not you guys, your work is the cat’s pajamas. I’m saying me and those shady-looking writers over there), or because of a variety of factors beyond our control*, we’ll be lucky to see our beloved words in print.
Oh, we can skew the odds in our favor, for sure. We can read up on writing craft (and read everything else we can get our grubby mitts on and learn from), we can make our work the best it can be, we can market the heck out of it, we can go to conventions** and meet agents or editors who just might remember us if we make a super-good impression, we can spend hours and days crafting the perfect query letter. We can hire great editors and take their advice, we can find amazing cover artists and devise the perfect pricing strategy. It makes a difference. It doesn’t guarantee success.
Depressed yet? I’m not.
There’s a kind of freedom, for me at least, in knowing that the odds are long and the road hard, in understanding that some things are beyond my control, and that that’s absolutely, perfectly fine. It helps me understand the difference between goals and dreams. Writing the best books you can and doing the best you can for them, that’s a worthwhile goal. Having a bestseller that’s made into a blockbuster movie and then there’s the money and let’s say a super hot actor falls in love with the author behind it all (hey, why not, right?) is a dream. If it keeps you going, it’s a good dream. It’s not a reasonable goal, though, and we’re all going to be mighty disappointed if we make that kind of luck and success a goal we expect to achieve.
Optimism is necessary, and it’s fantastic. Realism is, too, but in a different way. I say we need both.
This brings me to another, tangentially related topic. You know those people who seem to pop up on every agent’s blog asking what the next big thing is going to be, as though they can write it to order and be guaranteed an agent/contract/publication/bestseller? That’s hilarious, isn’t it? Kind of adorable.
There’s a reason they say to write what you love, and to write because you love it, not because you think you could be the next Stephanie Meyer if only you could catch the wave of the next trend in publishing. Odds are you’ll put a lot of work into something you don’t actually care about, and have little to show for it. No matter what you do, books that aren’t as good as yours will probably rise higher. It sucks, but it happens (not mentioning any names). But if you love what you do, believe in your stories and feel passionately that this is what you’re meant to be doing, you’re not wasting your time. Whatever level of commercial or critical success you achieve (or don’t), you’ve done something worthwhile.
I like that idea.
So yes, I’ll polish up this book that I’m working on, wash its face and send it out into the world, telling it to play nice with the other kids (but not too nice) and not to trade its carrot sticks for cookies in the lunch room. And then I’ll get back to work on the next one, because that’s what I do.
Publishing may sometimes seem like an exercise in futility (and I’ve deleted paragraphs outlining why this is so, you’re very welcome), but writing never is. Not if it’s what you love.
*(that agent just signed someone and doesn’t care to add another just now; your book isn’t on-trend and the publisher doesn’t want to take a chance; you decide to self-publish and through the whims of fate and Amazon your book never gets any exposure)
**If you can do this, I’ll try to only hate you a little for it.