If we allow ourselves to remain at the mercy of our desire for perfection, not only will the perfect elude us, so will the good.” – Alex Lickerman, M.D. in Happiness in this World
I’m at a very strange crossroads in my career.
On May 7, 2013 my 13th book will be released. SEDUCTION was the most difficult book I ever tackled. (For one thing I wrote it in longhand in antique journals with an old fountain pen and green ink.) As a result of how difficult it was, it’s become the most fulfilling book I’ve ever written.
But I’m facing the most un-perfect book launch I’ve ever had. Due to an ongoing negotiation between my publisher and B&N, my book won’t be on display in the largest retailer in the U.S. It won’t even be available in most B&Ns. And no one can buy a book if they don’t see it or know it. There’s more I won’t bore you with.
This un-perfectness is having an effect on me. All that is good about this book suddenly isn’t good enough.
And there is so much good.
When I discovered the little-know fact that starting in 1853 Victor Hugo conducted over 100 séances, and I decided to write about it for my 2013 book, no one knew that the movie Les Miserables would be made into a new film, no less come out within 6 months of my pub date. It’s not good – it’s great that the movie was such a hit, as the attention for Hugo is at an all-time high.
Plus I have a gorgeous cover, SEDUCTION is a May Indie Next List pick, the trade reviews have been wonderful, and there’s more I won’t bore you with. But I can’t see any of it. I’m obsessed with what is going wrong.
Last week I was moaning about all this to my wonderfully wise agent, Dan Conaway. He agreed that it sucked. Then he quoted Aristotle or Confucius or Flaubert or Voltaire (it’s attributed to all of them).
Perfect is the enemy of the good.
Wow. Zing. The words went right through me and resonated as if I was Esmeralda right up there while Notre Dame’s bells pealed.
If you are a published writer, I bet they resonate for you too. Nothing can hurt your love of writing more than getting published. Not because the biz isn’t filled with wonderful people trying to do their best (it is and they are) but because writing is an art and publishing is a business. No business is ever perfect, but ours feels especially broken right now.
Setting your sights on, striving for, hoping for, praying for a perfect publishing experience is natural… I don’t think you can survive as an author if you aren’t an optimist. But that same optimism that you’re going to have a perfect publishing experience can turn on you and ruin the experience you are going to have.
What’s your idea of perfect?
Getting a six-figure deal? What happens when you get $75K? To someone getting $25K, getting $75K would be amazing. But to you – eh –you can’t see how good it is.
Perfect is a marketing campaign that includes an 18-city tour and ads in New Yorker, The New York Times, and USA Today, and getting only a 4-city tour and ads in Goodreads and Shelf-Awareness and Bookmovement – eh –you can’t see how good it is.
You get the idea. We all know what a perfect publishing storm is. But the truth is most of us will never get it. It’s also the truth that life isn’t fair and the best books aren’t always the ones that win the lottery.
The oft quoted poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”
It’s the perfect question right now for me – and perhaps for you.
I’m going to unfocus on perfect and try, so very hard, to see the good. Care to join me?