In these days of relentless self-promotion, we authors generally avoid sharing our bad news. Our posts and tweets, our websites and interviews emphasise the positive: a publishing deal, an interesting writers’ festival, a new creative partnership. Sometimes we talk about fighting our way through adversity to achieve a goal. But only rarely do we feature the professional setbacks we experience along the way. The message we want to get across to our readers is that we’re doing just fine!
While I’ve been lucky enough to earn a living as a novelist for quite a few years, and am still internationally published, I’ve had my share of setbacks, major and minor. Along the way I’ve become a little better at dealing with reversals. The most recent occurred not very long ago. One of my major publishers advised me by phone that, after crunching the numbers, they couldn’t justify producing a print edition of my next novel. They’d initially be releasing it in e-book only. This news came in only a month before the (then) planned publication date. The novel was part of a series, and the earlier books had been published in both print and e-book.
Some of you might say that I should consider myself lucky to be published at all, and I do, of course. But this was still a shock. It needs to be seen in the context of my being an established mid-list author with a long track record, and with every previous book having come out in a print edition.
But even the biggest publishing houses are feeling the financial crunch. They’re under massive pressure from an ever-changing market. Publishing is a business, and decisions like this are made on the basis of economics, not sentiment. Although deep down I recognised the truth of that, my feelings were at that stage stronger than logic. I knew I had to find some strategies for dealing with them before they derailed me. I had a looming deadline for another book, and I had no time to wallow in negativity.
I took the dogs out for a walk (exercise + undemanding company = calm) and gave myself a mental talking-to while doing so. Here’s the result, which I hope may help others in a similar situation.
Writer’s response to a professional setback:
1. Anger (It’s all their fault):
It’s easy to blame other people – the publisher, the marketing team, the cover artist, the distributors, and so on. All rolled into a big fat ‘It’s Not Fair!’
It’s natural to feel anger when things go wrong. But trying to lay blame is pointless. Stewing in resentment achieves absolutely nothing. As for fairness, publishing is a business, and this was a business decision.
2. Guilt/sense of failure/grief (It’s all my fault):
A reversal often makes the writer doubt herself and her abilities. This happens even if she’s had proven success in the past. It happens even if she believes wholeheartedly in her book, because her first reaction is based on emotion, not logic. A writer can experience real grief, as at a death, when a project gets canned before it sees the light of day. That can be crippling.
It’s OK to feel sad. For a while. Then you have to pick yourself up and get on with whatever comes next. Put a reversal of this kind in the context of a world where people were facing war, famine, poverty, slavery or homelessness on a daily basis, and it becomes pretty unimportant.
Writers have very active imaginations, so a situation like this can spark off all kinds of crazy and unhelpful thoughts and it can be hard to shut them down. Every negative thought you’ve ever had about writing and publishing seems to surface, and the result isn’t pretty. For me the worst was this one: I can’t do it anymore. Not helpful when I had a three-book contract to fulfil.
It’s hard to avoid brain churn when you are stressed, but this sort of stuff is patently nonsense and gets in the way of everything else. The usual de-stressers (exercise, meditation, talking to family and friends, hugging the dog) all come in handy at this point.
For me, it was important to do some writing that same day. Making progress on the new book went some way toward restoring my belief in myself. I also jotted down a plan for dealing with the publishing challenge:
1. Get all the relevant facts
2. Consult an expert
3. Stay calm and focused
4. Accept what cannot be changed; respond to the new challenge
5. Learn from the experience
There was a happy ending to this story – I was recently advised that the book in question would after all be published in both print and e-book. And I submitted my new novel on deadline.
Do you share your setbacks as a writer, and if so with whom? Just your close circle, or your readership in general? How do you recover from professional setbacks?
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