A few weeks ago, I got an email from Joni, an email like the kind I’ve gotten from many writers before her. It dealt with frustration and impatience. The “all dressed up with nowhere to go” pain of just wanting to have a book out. This past weekend, while I was supposed to be away from the computer and having a life (ha!), I got a similar email from a client. Sorry, dear, but I’m going to quote it:
Okay, so I am working on my book, and I keep getting so worried that I’ve got SO FAR to go that I just close the document. I’m worried that after this round, it still has readers to go, and then another round of other readers and then I am so slow with revisions that it will be 2013 before it will be done.
My advice for Joni and for my client is: dig in, get your eyes off the calendar, and do your work. Getting published isn’t a matter of course. And it’s certainly not a matter of speed. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that publishing is slow in most cases. Slow. Sloooooooooow. Slow as molasses. Slow as frozen molasses. Slow as a cube of frozen molasses frozen inside a bigger cube of even slower frozen molasses. You get my point, I think.
When publishing finally decides to move — or if it moves quickly — it’s out of a writer’s control. Which house will buy what, which editor will love what, how much they’ll invest in a project, how much marketing they’ll give it, what the sales will be like, which readers/librarians/booksellers will respond to what and how, what will win awards, what will take off up the bestseller charts and what will quietly blip off the radar screen, etc. etc. etc.
If you think you’re freaking out now about just getting your work published, imagine the full-scale neurotic meltdown that awaits you once you have royalty statements to read, bookstore events where you always feel like the nervous hostess, wondering if anyone will show up, Goodreads/blog reviews to stress over, school visits and public speaking engagements, 24/7 access to your Amazon ranking and, now, BookScan numbers for your sales, organized every which way!
Conversely, learning and practicing and revising are the only things you can do to take control of the process. If you’re just honing your writing, it’s probably a good thing that you’re not out there as a full-fledged author yet. Think about not just the shiny publishing contract and the spike in Twitter followers and the glory of realizing your dream. There’s a whole career and business element, too, most of it amazing, some of it challenging and anxiety-making. It’s okay that you haven’t gotten there yet. You have to really be ready for this sort of thing, and thinking you’re reading and actually being ready are two different things.
This is as much of a pep talk for me as it is for Joni and for my client and for countless other writers out there who are feeling similar frustrations. Do you think I sit around saying, “Well, I think I’ve sold enough books. Time to pack it in and rest on my laurels.” Absolutely not. I am the most impatient person I think I’ve ever met (my mother would definitely agree with me here).
Once I get an offer, I immediately want another one. If I sign an incredible client, I go back to my slush pile the very next day and keep an eye out, because the submissions don’t stop coming. If I close an auction, well, I have a nice stiff drink first, of course, but then I want to jump in to the stress and exhilaration all over again a few minutes later. If an hour passes without an email from an editor, I start to wonder if there’s something wrong with my email client and then bang on my laptop to make sure it’s working properly.
I know it was just January 1st and that we have a bright and shiny year ahead of us. Our resolution lists are long and our resolve is screwed to its sticking place. But I think that’s also setting some writers up for a case of the crazies: “2010 didn’t do it for me, so if I don’t FINALLY achieve my goals in 2011, I am going to freak out!!!!!!”
Well, here is the number one piece of advice I can give: be patient. It goes hand in hand with the idea of resilience and not giving up and constantly generating new ideas (all discussed in my “Dealing With Rejection” post). And as much as I talk about the publishing business/agents/queries/submissions on the blog, here’s my other advice: it really is all about the book idea and the execution. In other words, the craft.
This year, I will doggedly pursue book deals for my clients, court new clients, and leverage my authors’ budding careers to get them more business. But, for my own sanity, I will also cultivate patience. 2011 is going to be a wonderful year. Keep reading, keep writing, don’t stop trying…but also spare yourself the paralyzing anxiety of the ticking clock.