Dear Soon To Be Published Author,

photo by Evan Leeson
photo by Evan Leeson

Yes, I’m talking to you. The one over there, not meeting my eyes for fear I’ll see the self doubt and despair that have begun to edge out your sense of purpose and  confidence.

And you, there in the corner, looking everywhere but at me, afraid to believe that your time is almost here. It is. You’ve been working hard, for long years, carving out time, pouring your heart and soul into your work, perfecting your craft, and, maybe most important of all, not giving up. So yes, your turn is coming. It’s just around the corner there where you can’t see it, but it’s heading your way. It might be here in two months or maybe two years, but it will be here. Unless you give up. Then it will never arrive, so whatever you do now, don’t give up.

 

I would like to sneak in before the crowd and be the very first to congratulate you on your impending publication, so CONGRATULATIONS!!

 

However, since I probably won’t be there when you receive the actual news, I’d like to take this moment to share a few survival strategies with you, ones that have served me well over the years.

 

  •  If you’ve been searching for professional validation, a sign that all your efforts have not been in vain, being published will feel wonderful. It will shift something in your internal landscape, un-pop a highly pressurized cork and your long held in elation will finally have a chance to bubble free. You will cross a threshold that you can never uncross—you will have entered the ranks of Published Authors. Whether or not you go on to publish a second or third book, you will have done something that many aspire to, but few actually achieve. Nothing can take that achievement away from you.
  •  You will experience a series of firsts—first phone call offering representation, first phone call with an offer of publication, your first contract, your first check, the first time you hold the physical book in your hands. All of these are huge milestones, so be sure to take the time to savor them. I mean, really savor them. Let the weight of all the dry years, the lonely years, give resonance to the sweetness of your victory. This is hugely important and something that even well-seasoned authors don’t do nearly enough.
  • Remember, you have not left all your problems and heartaches behind. You have simply leveled up and traded one set of problems for a new set. But also remember, you eventually overcame all those obstacles to getting published, so these new problems can also be managed.
  • As your actual publication date draws near, anxiety may very well be your new BFF. Relax. This is normal. Accept it and don’t feel anything is wrong with you because of it. It is simply the nature of publishing, of a career in which you are actually in control of very little.
  • Find—as soon as you are able—a way to separate the act of writing from the business of publishing.
  • Avoid developing the ego-surfing habit if at all possible, or ditch it as soon as you are able. Unfortunately, this will often be right after you’ve just seen something that will devastate you.
  • When you wake up in the dark hours of morning, or toss and turn unable to sleep for the fears and insecurities nipping at your toes, find a way to pour that into your writing. Let it feed your work and give it urgency. I said urgency, not desperation. One is born of plumbing the authentic emotions that you feel and the other is drawn from the fear of having to feel them again.
  • Someone in the world desperately needs that story you’re struggling to tell. It might not even be the one you’re working on now, or your first published book. Those might just be building your writing muscles so you can do justice to the real story you need to tell.
  • Don’t spend every physical, emotional, and financial resource on doing ALL THE PROMOTIONAL THINGS. Some publishers would like you to believe that your book’s sales will rise or fall with your efforts alone, but that is not true. Pick a handful of promotional activities, hopefully some of which you actually enjoy, then save the rest of your energies for pouring into to your next book.
  • Find writing rituals that bring you pleasure—lighting a candle, a cozy coffee shop, a kick ass laptop, a special pen or fine notebook. The more you honor the act of writing, the easier it is to stay connected with why you’re doing this.
  • And remember despair? That old friend from your pre-published days? You may be surprised at how often she comes knocking at your door, wanting you to come out and play. Sales numbers, promo dollars, list position, author envy, deadlines, artistic frustration, and never-good-enough-itis, all will do their best to get you to open that door. Resist. It is not a race. It is not even a competition. It is simply your life, one that revolves around capturing your artistic vision truthfully on the page and in turn sharing it with others.
  • Be a little bit humble. Gratitude and a little bit of humility are your friends. They are also excellent for the soul.
  • When people connect with you over your writing, whether by sending you a review they wrote or emailing you their reaction, save those that make you giddy with joy. Print them out or cut and paste them into a master document to read when needed. This is not an exercise in ego-stroking, but a reminder of how magical it is to connect to another human being through our writing.
  • When you feel wrecked and broken and raw from the writing life, use it. Take those feelings and explore them. What personal hardwiring or psychic part of you made this so hard, tragic, joyous, or triumphant. Dissect yourself and your feelings to better understand not only yourself, but human nature, then use it to further enrich your writing.
  • Also, exercise. That will help with the stuff you can’t pour into your work. It is also a great way to diffuse the physical manifestations of anxiety.
  • You may achieve wild success or you may fail spectacularly. While of course we all hope for you the former, be aware that either one will upend you and turn your inside out and cast you so far from the shores of your own familiar self that you will hardly recognize yourself anymore.
  • But here is the secret to that: If you can find your way back to the work, the work that you love and that lured you onto this journey in the first place, then you will always—always—be able to find your way home and re-center yourself.
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About Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers is the author of fourteen books for young readers, including the Theodosia and Nathaniel Fludd series. Her most recent book, GRAVE MERCY, is a young adult romance about assassin nuns in medieval France. A lifelong introvert, she currently lives on a blissfully quiet hill in Southern California.

Comments

  1. says

    Oh, Robin, you are wonderful!!! Thank you for these. I especially took note of the difference between desperation and urgency, of the anxieties that sometime push me and at other times derail me. But yes, writing always feels like coming home.

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  2. says

    “Someone in the world desperately needs that story you’re struggling to tell.” Your words jumped out at me today. Robin, I’ve never thought of my stories as being ‘needed’ by anyone. This is a fascinating concept. Why do we need stories? I don’t have that answer but that would certainly make for a fascinating post at WU.

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    • says

      Oh Paula! We need stories to escape and to connect. To see other ways of being. To witness transformational journeys so we can find our way to our own transformations. To learn about life and people and human nature.

      Which is why it is SO important we write deeply and truly, so that those things will be on the page!

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  3. says

    This felt very much like a personal note from you. I’m not exactly sure what made it feel so intimate, but when I was briefly distracted and then came back to continue reading, I actually forgot I was reading WU (something I do daily). It felt like an email from a friend.

    I think the thing I love the most is the reassurance that I can always find my way home through the work. It really has become my touchstone to sanity (or is it my own particular brand of insanity–whichever, it’s the norm… It’s home.)

    Thank you! You are a treasure to an aspiring novelist, Robin.

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  4. says

    This was exactly the post I needed to read right now, on the verge of the first of my series of three novels coming out–both the most wonderful thing and the most overwhelming! Thank you, Robin, for this kind, calm, supportive reminder to relax and enjoy and take the pressure off. :)

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  5. says

    Thank you, Robin! This made my day and gave me some much-needed renewal. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the daily efforts add up, but they do and I need to not lose sight of that.
    :)

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    • says

      Ha, Don! Clearly you missed my tweet yesterday about my year long panic attack finally being over! And my family would laugh their fool heads off if they heard anyone claiming I had achieved any sort of Zen state.

      But yes, writing is always my path back to sanity.

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  6. says

    “So yes, your turn is coming. It’s just around the corner there where you can’t see it, but it’s heading your way. It might be here in two months or maybe two years, but it will be here. Unless you give up.”

    I’m not so sure. I was reading today’s deals at Publishers Marketplace, and saw books are being scheduled into 2017 lists. I know it’s a long process, but there are only just so many slots available–not enough to publish every talented and tenacious writer (yeah, yeah, I know–self-publishing). I feel like one of those hopefuls who fill a stadium waiting to audition for American Idol.

    I truly appreciate your wisdom and find comfort in your words, but the odds are stacked against us (but I’m still writing ;))

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  7. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    “It is not a race. It is not even a competition. It is simply your life, one that revolves around capturing your artistic vision truthfully on the page and in turn sharing it with others.”

    Love this. I am posting it on my board of quotes. Thank you.

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  8. says

    I’ve spent the last several weeks fighting with a laptop which is laggy and glitchy when I use Scrivener. (And I heart Scrivener with a raw and fierce love because it works with my brain.) Then I spent the the last several days drooling over laptops I wanted and can afford, lamenting the expense and wondering if I deserve it when I’m not yet published.

    Screw it. No more. Thank you, Robin! I’m placing my order now and if I begin to question myself, I’ll remember this passage:

    “Find writing rituals that bring you pleasure—lighting a candle, a cozy coffee shop, a kick ass laptop, a special pen or fine notebook. The more you honor the act of writing, the easier it is to stay connected with why you’re doing this.”

    Jan, off to the coffee shop with a restored peace of mind

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  9. says

    Hi Robin, Thank you so much… I love the articles from
    Writers Unboxed – but today’s SO MUCH hit the bullseye. Your
    kindness and empathy to those of us still struggling in the
    hinterland is outstanding. Just… thank you. (Feeling a tad
    emotional right now, truth to tell…)

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  10. says

    Robin, after I read, “Someone in the world desperately needs that story you’re struggling to tell,” I’m framing your blog, Dear Soon To Be Published Author.

    I’ve not only been struggling emotionally to get my story into my iMac, I-Pad, I’ve been struggling with the software to write it down.

    Now, after trashing Word years ago;what with all those bells and whistles, I downloaded once again. Now I love Word. Trying to conquer Scrivener to get it all in one place.

    Between Word and Scrivener I’ve got to face my story.

    Thank you.

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  11. Marcy McKay says

    I’m going to save your post, Robin. I look forward to the highs and lows when my time comes for publication. Thanks for your encouragement!

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  12. says

    Maybe it’s hormones, but this sentence just made me tear up. “Someone in the world desperately needs that story you’re struggling to tell.”

    This is what everyone needs to hear.

    Thanks, Robin.

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  13. says

    It isn’t here quite yet. Close. I can feel the tingle of its approaching lightning strike.

    Thank you so much for these precious, generous, thoughts and reminders.

    I will save this and pull it out to re-read when the zap happens.

    Hugs!
    Pearl

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  14. says

    So thankful for this post. Especially this: “Someone in the world desperately needs that story you’re struggling to tell.” Thank you.

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  15. says

    I thought admiring my newly published books would be the treasured experience but as I write thrillers, the real spine tingler is when a reader comes up to me, wags their finger in my face and says “I’m mad at you! You kept me up all night reading your book!” And it’s happened more than once–that I can take to the bank.

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  16. says

    I particularly love your third survival strategy tip about trading in one set of problems for another. I know that even though being published is the very thing I want, I am also aware of the complications that will come with it. Am I ready? Can I handle it? Am I really sure I want to be a published novelist??? And, yes, I know I can handle the new set of problems because I have already overcome so much just to get to this bend on the road. I have invested years of blood, sweat, and tears. I’m not wasting any of that!

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  17. says

    Robin, With my pub date about a year away, I’m feeling so
    many of the emotions you describe. The self-doubt and the waiting
    and the anxiety and the WAITING! Thank you for your calming words.
    They shone bright and true among the many voices offering advice
    out there. Your agency sister, Christine

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  18. says

    Dear Robin, This is fabulous. I feel as if I received a personal letter from you telling me everything I need to hear as I get ready to publish my first memoir. I’m bookmarking this. I may even frame it for easy reference. Thank you!

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  19. Aviva Siegel says

    This was a wonderfully validating post, I am keeping it to refer to when I do get published. : )

    thank you for your thoughtful words, Robin!

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  20. says

    Brilliant post, Robin. All, so true. I repeat the one about ego-surfing – I call it ‘drinking your own Kool-aid’. It’s poison. The fall isn’t worth the high.

    I also echo your call to celebrate. You’ll need those memories to surmount the trials that don’t get smaller.

    I’ll add my hearty congratulations!

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  21. says

    Two weeks off publication and I feel actually queasy with
    anxiety. Not helped by someone sticking up a 2 star rating on
    Goodreads a month before the book is actually out. Am now convinced
    everyone is going to hate it. So thank you for such a wonderful,
    wise post. I feel a little less crazy for reading it.

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  22. says

    Robin–
    Your article is charming and potentially useful, especially to the young. But since it speaks mostly to those poised before what always appears to the young as a seemingly endless future, I would like to suggest to you a more ambitious project. Please write an inspirational piece, not for the young, but for the older writer. I am of course speaking of myself, and as one who long ago experienced all the firsts you name: the call, the contract, the first book in hand that actually turned a profit. And then–nothing. For years, decades. But then new agents, new novels–and still nothing. Hence, a writer with one commercially published book who is obliged, as the days dwindle down, to finally stop the glacially slow, tar-baby-like cycle of agent searches, and self-publish.
    The reasons for you taking up this challenge are twofold. I’m sure I am not alone, so an inspirational essay on this subject might serve many aging scribblers. And it would also serve the young, as a cautionary tale that goes beyond those risks you’ve already spoken of.

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  23. says

    Robin, thanks for this reminder. I will file it away to revisit often in this next year, I think. The mix of elation at having finally self-published, and discomfort of feeling like an imposter – can I really call myself an Author?! – had left me wondering how to reconcile accomplishment with all that is left to do on the promotional front. Yay! – it’s okay to celebrate…. and then, get back to work.

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  24. says

    Thanks for that. I needed to hear that.

    I’m struggling with feelings of isolation.

    Five years ago I’d built up an excellent professional network. Then something happened in my life and I had to ditch the Internet for a couple of years. That’s a very long time.

    Now that I’m trying to rebuild my professional network, it’s hard work, possibly harder than when i had first built it. The current Social Networking environment doesn’t have the same depth that mailing lists and Usenet Newsgroups had.

    So yeah. It’s good to hear that I’m not completely left in the cold, that this may simply be a lull in the very slow pace of publishing.

    Right now, I’d be grateful for the sound of crickets, so quiet are things.

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  25. says

    Robin,

    I believe you covered just about every emotion and inspiring moment a first time author could expect. You triggered one memory in particular that was near and dear to me; the act of holding a finished copy in your hands for the first time.Like one of the characters in my own book, “Bruecke to Heaven”, the feeling of accomplishment didn’t really hit me until that moment.

    Well done!

    I will look forward to hearing more from you.

    Thank you for sharing.

    -Timothy

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  26. says

    Lucky for me I glanced at the newsletter from Rate Your Story today…otherwise, I would never have seen this wonderful post! Or discovered you, Robin! YAY!

    Thank you for your encouragement and inspiring words…you are a great cheerleader. ;)

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  27. says

    Read, tweeted, posted, blogged, read again, shared with all my writer friends and groups. Love your message. As a debut author I so have to learn to forgive myself for my future blunders! And we all need to be kind to ourselves.

    Keila

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