Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, August 30, 2010

Three (Bad) Emotions You Will Experience as an Author

One of the nice things about spending time with authors who are at different stages of their careers is being able to share experiences. Some things (like movies, books, and even meals to some extent) are even better when it’s a surprise. But as a writer, it can be downright annoying to expect things to be one way and discover that you have no clue how things really are. I remember years ago when I first met Sariah over the phone. As we talked about sales numbers, I told her that I wished I’d known coming in what realistic sales numbers were. I’m not sure how completely she bought into what I was telling her at the time. She had some pretty lofty goals. I think having big goals is great. But you also need to have someone tell you what the rest of the market is doing, or your goals are nothing more than wishes.

New writers seem to ask this same question more than any other. What can I expect? So today, I thought I’d share three negative emotions you WILL experience and how to deal with them. Next week I’ll share four positive emotions.

1) Impatience.

I sat on a panel last weekend with a bunch of other published children’s authors. When we were asked what we dislike most about the industry, almost universally people said how long everything takes. For example, let’s say you come up with an amazing book idea today. If you’re a really fast writer, you might have a first draft done in three months. Then take another three months to rewrite. Next comes submitting. Let’s say eight weeks to get a request for a partial. Another eight to twelve weeks for a full. And at least another three months for an offer of representation. So far it’s been let’s say fourteen months—if everything works like a charm—just to get an agent.

Next the agent is probably going to give you edits. Another two months. The agent starts submitting. Another two months. Maybe more, maybe less. You get a deal. Now there is a very good chance that you will wait at least 1½ to 2 years for your book to come out. More if it’s a picture book.

From idea to book on shelf—three years. If everything works like a charm. And all during that time, you are waiting on pins and needles for the next step. Will she like my query letter? Will he like my full? Will they make an offer? When will I get my edits? When will I hear back? What if they hate my changes? What if the editor moves to a new publisher?

Now you understand why published authors can’t help smiling a little when a new writer comes up and says, “I’m writing a book because my husband lost his job, or we want to buy a new car or I’m sick of working in a shoe store.” There’s nothing wrong with these reasons at all. In fact most authors who are honest will tell you that we all dream of writing for a living. But we’re talking about three years. That’s a long time. And don’t get started on how little most published authors earn.

Now let me be the first to say things CAN happen quicker. But for most authors they happen even slower. It might not be until your third book that you get an agent. Your fifth that you find a publisher. And remember that panel of published authors? They have books out and they’re still impatient. You WILL experience impatience. How do you deal with it?

In my experience there are three ways of dealing with impatience. The first way is by cutting out the middle man. Tired of waiting for an agent? Self-publish. Tired of waiting for the time a traditional publisher takes to get out a new book? Create an e-book. This is certainly an option. As we discussed last week, more and more people are taking this route. I will say that unless you already have an audience though, this is not a shorter or quicker route to publishing success. You are still going to need to put in years of work to build up enough of a following to make the effort pay off. If you’ve already got a following or just want to see your work available to the public. Go for it.

The second response is to give up. Three years is a long time to wait, so why try? The thing is, three years from now you will still be three years older. You can either be three years closer to your dream, or you can be right where you are today. Which leads me to the solution I recommend.

Stay busy. Work on the next project. You know that whole thing about the watched pot never boiling? That’s true with publishing as well. You never know what’s going to work. It may be the book you wrote a year ago finding a publisher. It may be the book you’ll write a year from now. The agent you get may not sell this book, but she may sell the next one. The horror novel I have coming out next year was actually written and agented more than six years ago.

If you sit watching the mailbox or waiting for the phone to ring, you are killing yourself one day at a time. Remember the three year’s older thing? If it’s going to take you that long, why not have four novels ready and waiting by the time your first one makes it? You’re still going to be impatient, but at least you can be productive.

2) Envy

Travel and food writer, Kim Wright, wrote a great post on authors and envy here. I won’t repeat what she says, because she does it so well. But two things in particular caught my eye. One was that it feels as uncomfortable to be envied as it does to envy someone else. There’s nothing harder than telling people you know are as talented or more than you are about a success they deserve every bit as much as you do. Unless it’s having someone you’re close to succeed while you’re still waiting to. Neither of these feels good. But if you write long enough you will experience both sides.

The second thing is her point about how we envy the most those who are closest to our talent level. You don’t envy the huge national best-selling author. You envy the person in your critique group, or your writing league, or your friends.

I had serious envy just in the last couple of days while reading the ARC of Ally Condie’s soon to be released “Matched.” Her writing is so elegant, so beautiful, that I seriously would have given almost anything for that talent.

So how do you deal with envy? Exactly the way Kim says. Use it to motivate you. Remind yourself that if they can do it so can you. I tell people that I inspire other writers all the time. They say, if he can publish a book anyone can. And it’s true. I didn’t start writing my first novel until I was thirty seven. I didn’t sell the first novel I got an agent with. I’ve never won an award or hit a best-sellers list. But what I do have going for me is persistence and a string desire to improve. If you have those two things, you will succeed.

3) Depression

I’m not talking about the clinical illness—although that can come along for the ride as well. I’m talking about the moment where you just want to throw it all away. It’s when you just feel like you don’t have what it takes, and you’re sure quitting is the only way to go. Interestingly enough this moment almost always comes along from someone on the outside. An agent, and editor, another writer, a bad review. Someone tells us we aren’t good, and we believe them. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard we ARE good. The one negative is what breaks the camel’s back.

If you are a writer, you are going to have to deal with depression. It could be tied to envy. Maybe you are bummed out because another writer had some great success. Maybe you just realized your great idea had been used somewhere else. Maybe you just got your hundredth rejection. It’s perfectly okay to feel depressed. Just remember that like Kim says about feeling envy, you’re in good company. Anyone who strives to succeed in the arts will experience depression.

The key is to not let it last too long, and to come up with a course of action. Someone said your writing sucks? Find out if it does. If so, improve it. Take a class. Read a book on writing. Fix what’s broken. If this project is hopeless, set it aside and start on something new. If your writing doesn’t suck, then remind yourself as Rob pointed out in a recent e-mail that Pride and Prejudice has one star reviews on Goodreads, and something called Everybody Poops 410 Pounds a Year got a five star review.

Either a book with interesting facts about bowel movements is better than P&P, or different people have different tastes. My good friend Ally may have an amazing book, but does it have demons who strip naked and camouflage themselves to slip past a circle of hell hounds? I think not. The best cure for depression is to remind yourself that things are not as bad as you think they are at the moment, and that absolutely nothing is stopping you from starting on something amazing today.

So, yeah, you still want to be an author? Even though I promise you that you will experience all of the above emotions, and many just as bad? Excellent. Because we need authors who are willing to fight through adversity, and your prose will be that much stronger for having made it through the fire. Next week, the good parts about being an author.


At 8/30/2010 3:18 PM, Blogger Don said...

Great post, Jeff. These are all oh-so-very familiar.

Can't wait to read about the good stuff next week!

At 8/30/2010 7:05 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Great post, Jeff. The funny thing is these three gremlins continue to stock every writer no matter how many books they manage to get published.

At 8/30/2010 7:18 PM, Blogger Jewel's Gems said...

Awesome post, Jeff! You, feeling envy? Never:-)

At 8/30/2010 7:52 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Impatience, envy, and depression? Sign me up! Oh wait . . . I already signed up. Darnit. Great post. Totally true. I range through all those emotions and likely all the positive ones you'll be talking about next week in just one day.

I've envied petty much everyone including Ally Condie and you too :)

Isn't that a commandment somewhere? Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's contract, agent, or book deal? Guess I'll be repenting later.

As I am on the brink of finishing a new manuscript, I am impatient. Impatient to be done with this one and working on the next one, impatient to be submitting, impatient for the next contract. We are sick, sick people to inflict such madness upon ourselves. But I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

At 8/30/2010 8:18 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

Impatience-check. Envy-check. Depression-check, check, and double check. I may not be published, (yet) but I guess I fit in, anyway.

At 8/30/2010 9:22 PM, Blogger Carolyn V. said...

This was such an excellent post! I can't wait to hear the good stuff. =)

At 8/30/2010 9:30 PM, Blogger Terri Ferran said...

Thanks for the post, Jeff. I was having a depressed (as in clinically) day and these three negative emotions seemed so positive to me!

Of course, I'm also battling bed bugs, a major re-write,three abscesses and a vertically-fractured tooth.

I used to envy you, but then I realized you've got to be about as old as I am, and that cheered me right up!

I envied Ally Condie, too. My first "real" booksigning was with her, before her awesomeness was exposed. So I'm really quite close to her--her and Kevin Bacon. Just six degrees apart.

At 8/30/2010 9:37 PM, Blogger Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen said...

Reading your post was like looking inside my mind. Writers really aren't "normal," are they? :)

At 8/30/2010 9:40 PM, Anonymous Gregg Luke said...

I've dispensed medications for all three of these. Trouble is, when the pills wear off, the impatience, envy, and depression are still there. The best way to fight them is PROVE THEM WRONG. Stay too busy to get impatient. Use envy to stimulate your next masterpiece. And turn depression into constructive criticism. There will always be someone better than you. But there will always be someone who feels you are better than they are.
Great post, Jeff! You're my inspiration.

At 8/30/2010 9:57 PM, Blogger Liz Adair said...

Great post. Now I want to read about those naked deamons.

At 8/30/2010 10:42 PM, Blogger Tanya Parker Mills said...

Excellent post. As I thought about it, I realized all three of those feelings stem from pride in one way or another--a big weakness of mine. The key, as you point out, is to think to the future by continuing your writing. That way you stay humble and teachable, realizing your skill as a writer or storyteller is, itself, a work in progress. Every writer, no matter how famous or lauded, wants to keep improving. We all want our next book to be even better.

At 8/31/2010 8:49 AM, Anonymous Sherri said...

Shared on Facebook...great post!

At 8/31/2010 11:37 AM, Blogger Michael Knudsen said...

Right on target! I can go through those 3 emotions in the course of an hour...several times a day.

At 8/31/2010 2:15 PM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Thanks, Jeff! I'm glad to know that I'm in good company here.

At 9/01/2010 12:26 AM, Blogger susan dayley said...

3 negative emotions? I was thinking; despondency, discouragement, downright dimwitted (I have a thing for alliteration). Before I saw who wrote it, I thought, this post is probably going to be yada yada yada. And then #1 was impatience! Smack right between the eyes! Only for me it’s impatience with myself to finish the rewrite. I’m impatient to get it submitted, impatient to get it accepted, impatient to turn it over to someone else so that I can start the next story. And the characters of my next story are getting impatient. They’re past the foot tapping stage and approaching the “we’ll see you in your dreams” stage. Maybe this would be some of those naked demons?

At 9/03/2010 8:37 PM, Blogger Charlie Moore said...

I would like to be published in the LDS market, just because I like to write and I am LDS. I have been published in other venues, but in ways most would consider not credible. That does not bother me.

I also believe your three bad parts of writing are on point, Jeff. One thing I personally do is separate writing (the process of accomplishing something I can personally be happy with) from publishing (the business end from which all of your negatives stem).

I do realize the two are interlinked for anyone wishing to see their story on a bookshelf. My point is that separating the two helps me with the frustrations of all those (bad) parts. Even for those works an author doesn't publish (and there are many, many), at least they can say, even if it isn't the best, that "I created something I am happy with and I am moving forward.

I respect and am happy for any successful $$ authors, but I do not envy them. Would I like to be successful in terms of $$? Sure. To a point. After I paid off my mortgage and bought my truck, all it would really mean, however, is that I'd be writing out a larger tithing check. That's all.

Finally, I believe support (in whatever form works) is invaluable in dealing with the impatience, envy and depression you speak of.

At 9/04/2010 12:42 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


You beat me to the punch on part of my blog for next week. More on Monday. But I agree with what you are saying.

At 9/04/2010 7:08 PM, Blogger Janette Rallison said...

So true, Jeff! Sometimes at confernces I wonder if I should be encouragaing aspiring authors or warning them.


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