Back in 2007, I published a post here called The Unpubbed Writer’s 7 Deadly Sins. It seemed to resonate with a lot of readers, and was our first experience with the power of StumbleUpon as our stats reached new highs. I was published in 2009, and have had it in mind to revisit this idea–the what-not-to-dos–from a published author’s perspective. I’ve collected some of my own missteps here, but I also reached out to one of my favorite author communities–Fiction Writers Co-Op–to round out the list. If you’re unpublished, learn these lessons now and save yourself some grief later; and if you’re published and doing any of these things, take heed.
The 7 Deadly Sins of the Pubbed Writer:
1. Believing that publication means you’ve found Easy Street. I wish I could tell you that once you’ve published a book you’re suddenly gifted with a smooth ride in this industry. You might think that your next works will flow effortlessly from your fingertips because you’ve traveled this way before; you know how to write a book. But the truth, at least for most of us, is that each book presents with its own lessons and challenges. You’re still going to want to rip your hair out at times, and need another writer’s fresh eyes on your work, and decide on occasion that you’d much rather have been a banker. You’re going to need to open one or twelve of your writing books when you’re stuck–to figure out what went wrong or because you need a hit of inspiration. You’re going to question in some of those moments that you know anything at all, if your muse was replaced by a rusty can of SPAM.
So, no, the writing doesn’t necessarily become easier.
And just because you’re “in” with a publisher, just because you have an editor who chose one of your works and deemed it worthy of a cover and a shelf, doesn’t necessarily mean smooth sailing either. Says author Judy Merrill Moticka:
Editors leave, houses change/restructure, and just because I have one published book out there, it seems that each submission is just as hard as the previous one (or . . . harder). There is no straight path.
Unfortunately I can validate everything Judy said. My debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was published by the Shaye Areheart imprint at Crown (Random House) in 2009. The imprint shut down unexpectedly in 2010, shortly after my editor left to work at another publishing house. I had a two-book deal, so what was going to happen? I was absorbed by Crown imprint and assigned another editor. She left this year. (Here’s hoping the third editor is the charm!) This business can be as twisty and turny as the writing itself. You just have to hang on, work in earnest, and be as prepared as possible for the unexpected by understanding that Easy Street in the book world is pure fiction.
2. Playing compare and contrast with other authors’ careers. There will always–always–be someone out there who is making more money than you are, who is selling more books than you are, who just always seems to land on his/her feet in a way that makes you feel a little (or a lot) envious. Try reasoning with your emotional response. Says author Melanie Benjamin:
We all seem to want the same career- the career only a scant handful of writers will ever have. We’re not all going to be NY Times Bestsellers, or win awards.
Adds author M.J. Rose:
We each write our own books and live our own career paths. To invite comparison is to negate the beauty and power and grace of what we create. Comparisons invite self-loathing.
Try to be grateful for where you are and for all that you’ve accomplished, and recognize that the publishing biz is like one big ladder: We all have our rung, and we’re all capable of moving up.
3. Allowing voices other than your characters’ to impact your writing process. One of the hardest parts of writing a second book is setting aside the memory of readers’ comments and criticisms over your first book so that you can work unhindered. I found this to be exceedingly difficult as I worked through the first draft of my second manuscript, and I’m not alone. Said author Marisa de los Santos:
Thinking about reader responses (even positive ones, ESPECIALLY positive ones) to your earlier books when you’re starting a new one is a deadly sin. My experience is that the only way to be true to your readers is to be true to your book, to silence all those voices and listen only to your characters and the demands of your story.
4. Taking things personally. Your novel–the one you lost sleep over, cried over, obsessed over for years–was slammed into unconsciousness by one of the top reviewers or a snarky person on Goodreads who felt compelled to give away the curve-ball ending. You thought your publicist was going to get you a feature in Redbook but instead he offered you a spot in your local Neighborhood Courier (circulation: 40). Your book, which sold for a shtankload of money, didn’t end up selling very well.
It sucks. It does. But none of these things are about you as a person, which is why you shouldn’t take any of them personally. You cannot control how others consume your book or if they consume it. You cannot control how things shake out with publicity or orders or sales or buzz. You cannot make people love you or your work. All you can do is hang tight to your sanity and remind yourself that there’s a clear divide between business and personal.
Said author M.J. Rose:
Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. So a sin is confusing love and business and taking business failure personally. Our editors are not our friends. Our publishing houses don’t love us. Our agents as much as we respect them and even adore them aren’t in it unselfishly either. This business is going to hurt you at some point – at least keep it from being that much more painful thinking someone who loved you betrayed you.
5. Raging publicly–or denying your feelings entirely. You don’t like the way your book was handled, or what your editor said in his last email, or that clause in your contract. You hate your cover. And while we’re on the subject of Things We Don’t Like, you don’t like author Smarmy Pants. You don’t like Smarmy as a person, or her books. So go ahead and blog about it if you’d like, but don’t be surprised when word gets around and you never receive another publishing contract again; no one wants to work with author Angry Blabbermouth.
No, it’s not a good idea to air your grievances to the wide world and expect anything good to come of it. But that doesn’t mean you have to choke on your bitter stew alone. If you have a trusted confidant, tell that person how you feel, what you’re going through. And at the very least, acknowledge your feelings to yourself. Said author M.J. Rose:
You will read a book and know that it is not as good as yours. You will find the cliches and the awkward phrases. The wooden characters. The boring pace. The insipid dialog. You will see this book become a bestseller while your book languishes in the 100,000s at Amazon and you will feel jealous rage. To deny this is to turn anger inward which leads to depression. Scream at the fates, Let yourself feel with all your heart how furious you are. Only then can you actually continue writing.
Some say it’s unhealthy to have jealous feelings, but jealousy is–for better and worse–an aspect of being human. Don’t hate yourself for feeling jealous, but don’t accept it without trying to work through it either. Acknowledge it. Sit with it, and try to understand it. Then release it, because you can’t control Smarmy or her books or her Amazon rank, and you can’t change the cover now, or that last editorial email, or what your publicist did or didn’t do. You can, however, control your digestion of all that anger. You can control your response by recognizing nasty feelings and thoughts, then evicting them from your mind by thinking something way less nasty. And you can control what you set free from your mouth and fingertips in public forums. Control what you can. Let go the rest.
6. Neglecting to give back. Writing is a solitary venture, but it’s also one that requires us to draw from the wide world–what we observe about people, places, human emotions, and more. Take time when you can to give back to the world that provides you with inspiration. Said author Christopher W. Gortner:
Success can breed a level of egocentrism in a writer that blinds us to the realilty of what we do. It’s a book, not a cure for cancer. Remember that and don’t stop helping others. Get involved in activities that transcend the obsessive-compulsiveness of writing.
Remember too that you’re a part of a writing community. Do you support your fellow authors? Are you reading? Said author Ernessa T. Carter:
I’ve had a complete conversation stall, when I ask an author what she’s read lately and she’s answered “Oh, I don’t have time to read.” Much like established actors make time to workout, I think published writers should make time to read.
If you’ve been touched by a book, reach out and tell the author so. Mention them by name in your blog posts, on your Facebook page, and by participating in #FridayReads on Twitter. Said author Randy Susan Meyers:
The world of books is an intricate web of love and critique. Writers know well the sting of the bad review—from readers and critics. How lovely then, when writers choose to balance out the scale by singing the praises of books which stun them with their loveliness, insight, page-turning value, escape-from-reality quotient: you name it. Writers sin when they don’t give props to books they love.
7. Forgetting the most important thing. It’s a hard drop down the rabbit hole when you enter the world of publishing and need for the first time to focus on the business of books. Numbers. Amazon sales rankings. Re-orders. Returns. Second printings. Keep the momentum going, keep your name out there, work, work, work. You may be asked to blog and Tweet all over the place. You may be asked to grow your Facebook “fan” page until you have triple the number you do now. And because you know the importance of the business of the book and your place in it, you may let it drain too much of your time; it’s an easy mistake to make.
Building your platform, for all that it is important, is not as important as what you do best: write. Try to keep it all in perspective. Says author Kathleen McCleary:
I’ve found it oddly freeing to also work as a BOOKSELLER and have the opportunity to witness firsthand the very short life of a book. Part of my job is to scan the books on the shelves in the store and pull any that are “due out,” meaning they’ve been on the shelf 3-4 months. I then take those books in the back room, where they are either “stripped” (the cover is yanked off and they’re recycled) or sent back to the publisher. MY book was one of the ones due out one day, and returned to Hyperion (God only knows what they do with it). It made me feel like I could let go a little bit of some of the intense agonizing I do about my writing, to feel that all I could do is write the best book I can, with all the truth I had to tell, and let it go and be satisfied with that as much as possible. If people read it and connect with it and it means something to them, that’s the success, not the Amazon ranking.
Editors and publishing houses come and go. Amazon rankings, Twitter and Facebook followers rise and fall. Take care of the most important thing that is within your control: your ability and desire to write. Take time to nurture your internal, creative platform–the one that allows you to peer out over life and pluck pieces of it so that you can create grand tales that impact people. This creative platform will grow when you get out in the world, talk to others, listen to music, read, walk, observe. This platform will ensure your well doesn’t dry up and that you don’t burn out. This platform is worth growing more than any other, as it’s the one that will sustain you. Because at the end of the day, it’s not important how many Tweets you sent, or how many friends you have on Facebook, or how popular your blog became. What’s important is that you captured life in a phrase, that you touched someone, that you said what you meant to say in 90k words and that you’re proud of that. In the end, it’s all about the book.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s by Janine