Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes
I found this post on Tumblr a few days ago, and I had been meaning to write an article in response to it for a few days. Sometimes, however, you come across something else to talk about that takes more precedence–or that needs to take precedence. But the basic gist of this post is that readers–and I’m not sure if this is an ‘on average’ thing–have this notion that once you’re an author, it’s a gold-colored mountain you don’t even have to climb. You just have to take the stairs, because writing is hard work, but you’ll only keep going up, never once stumbling to publish that next book. That mountain just keeps spitting golden dollars at you, and you’re suddenly a celebrity, be it micro or what, when that’s far from the truth.
(I’m excluding self-published authors from this post because the above article doesn’t seem to include them. Even so, self-published authors can relate to some of the fears present within the linked post.)
In any case, I implore you to read the post before continuing on with mine, as I basically want to touch upon this one point:
Published authors deal with all of the same fears that unpublished authors do, and most of them are magnified by a factor of ten. The fear of the blank page, the fear of not meeting publisher/editor/agent/audience expectations, the fear of embarrassing yourself. These fears can be absolutely crippling. They can prevent the books you want to read from being written at all. I guarantee you, the author in question is a lot more upset about this than you are, no matter how much you love their books.
The above quote is so real for me.
So for those who have never been published, it sucks getting those rejection letters, right? You start to question if your writing will ever be good enough, or if you’re even cut out for the field of publishing. And if you answer both those questions, and you realize you’re not, well, then, at least you have an answer. Yeah, you can definitely self-publish that book, but not a lot of people have the money to do so, or the ability and skill to market and promote said book; thus, that book goes on to collect dust. You may never put your fingers to the keyboard again, but at least you have an answer. Then there are some who persist, and that persistence comes with rewards, but publication doesn’t alleviate the fears that unpublished authors have. As the quote states above, they are heightened.
Imagine already having a book under your belt as a traditional author, be it with a small or big press. Imagine that the reviews are rolling in. They’re good at first, but then bad review after bad review after bad review just starts killing all those other reviews. Your confidence is suddenly shaken worse than those rejection letters, I can promise you that. You wonder if your publisher made a mistake on you, because publishers sometimes do make mistakes on books. Either the books don’t sell well at all, or they sell well, but the horrible reviews start to kill those sales. That sort of a guarantees that the publisher will not take on any future projects of yours, even if you have a literary agent–and it can guarantee that you’ve just lost a great deal of your audience. Even if you’re close to your publisher, have a relationship with said publisher that isn’t so formal, don’t be deluded. It’s still business at the end or the day.
In fact, the author (Jordan Locke) of The Only Boy, has a literary agent, but that agent could not find a publisher willing to take him on because the dystopian hype is waning. He went on to self-publish it, and I’m grateful he did, because I loved the book. At the same time, he didn’t have to sink that much money into it, if any at all. He and his agent had already edited the book to death, and he is a graphics artist, so he was able to create the cover art himself. He probably formatted the book himself, too.
When Stars Die has 61 ratings. Currently it shows 55 reviews on Goodreads at a 4.42 average, so I’m not sure what the real average would be if you added in those 6 other ones. It tends to jostle between 4.37 and 4.47. I have more 5 star reviews than any other star reviews. Even so, as time goes by, I expect that those ratings will pick up in intensity, and when they do, will they be continuously okay to great reviews (3 , 4, 5 star), or will they start dragging my book down the proverbial mountain?
I have an author acquaintance whose ratings started out great, probably more than the 61 I have right now, but as time went on, the ratings grew worse and worse. Her rating is dangerously teetering, and any more bad reviews could push it into the 2 point something range. I loved the book, but I find it’s more of a literary dystopian than a commercial one. Most people lack the necessary analytical skills to truly understand a book that is literary in nature, so books like that are often more difficult to understand than books that are commercial–unless you’re John Green, who might actually be more commercial than literary.
It’s a very real fear I have, that my book will eventually plummet into horrible-rating land. Sometimes I wish the book had never been published. It’s totally irrational, and that could be my anxiety disorder speaking, because publication has always been my dream. Even so, let me point out to those who haven’t been published yet, if you’ve already been published and only see rejection letters for your next book, those rejection letters will sting 10x as hard. After all, you’ve published once. Why wouldn’t you be published again? Or are you just going to be a one-hit wonder, and that’s it?
Once you’ve published a book traditionally, your expectations of publication grow more than someone who has never published a book. You basically expect that your current publisher, who loved your previous book and would most likely enjoy the next because it fits with their tastes, will take on your next project. And when they don’t, you feel more lost than ever before. Which brings me to my next point.
When Stars Die went off without a hitch. It was a relatively easy book to write, and a relatively easy book to find publication for. High expectations were met, and, admittedly, those met expectations made me preen. But then I started going into the second book, and I began to realize that it was much harder to write than the first, and I think any author should expect that with a sequel. Libba Bray did. I worked my butt off on it. I even had two professional editors (one who did it for free, and even edited books for mainstream publishers), edit about 20 chapters of the book before the mainstream one and I had to part ways because I couldn’t intern for her anymore–although I will admit her fact-checking skills were lacking. However, her comments were phenomenal for TSAI. Her comments are the reason When Stars Die is the way it is today–and why it was so easy to write.
Then the other editor, now-turned author and a former pupil of hers, enjoyed it, even though I knew there needed to be a first book, as there was a lot of information given in the beginning that needed to be broken up; thus, When Stars Die needed to be written. She did a copy edit of the book. She seemed to believe no structural changes were necessary. I still made structural changes, though, after having been away from it for a few years. Doesn’t mean she was wrong. Just means I thought up a better path for the book to take.
So I was confident when I sent this book off, unable to find anymore more that needed to be done with it. Mariah had some great criticism, which is more than I can say for previous beta readers I’ve had with initial drafts of the book years ago, that initial draft being a terrible piece of garbage, so entirely different from The Stars Are Infinite, the current book I sent off.
Even so, this sudden dark pall overtook me, especially yesterday. Those high expectations for the first book hadn’t been met with the second, and even though I knew it would need work (what sequel doesn’t?), I didn’t expect that I’d begin to feel like a failure.
Your ultimate fear is that you will not meet your agent/editor/publisher/audience’s expectations. They adored your first book, but then you feel like you’ve disappointed them when your second book can’t compare to your first. Your publisher’s opinion is what matters most, though, and if it seems like you’ve disappointed them, you begin to question whether or not subsequent books you write are even worthy of publication, or even worth writing. You yourself might love the story, but you might only ever be the one, until you start hating it because it doesn’t meet anyone’s expectations.
So it doesn’t matter that you have one book published. Not one bit. Yeah, you defied all odds, but now you have to keep up that success, and when you can’t, you spiral into this temporary depression. Sometimes it’s not temporary. Sometimes that book you want to send off to your current publisher goes unwritten for a few days, thus forcing you to lower your expectations further over when you’ll get it finished.
Now that you’re an author, people are going to expect that you will keep publishing. You’re going to expect that you’ll keep publishing. And when those expectations aren’t met, you wonder if you were ever good to begin with.
I’m writing All Shattered Ones right now, because I can’t outline the third book in the stars trilogy until I know just how much work TSAI will actually need. I don’t write all three books in a trilogy at once before sending the first book off. A lot of authors don’t. It’s why it sometimes takes two years for the sequel to come out.
So I’m writing ASO, this contemporary fantasy, wanting it to be my next book to keep my readers fed, so to speak. It’s not in The Stars Trilogy. It’s a standalone. While I know exactly what work it needs when I go through to revise it after I’m done writing it, my biggest fear is that even when I work my butt off on it, my publisher won’t take it. Then I’ll feel completely lost. Yep, I can totally sub it to other publishers. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, but I already have in mind that I’m going to seek a lit agent for a contemporary book I’m going to write once The Stars Trilogy has been completed. As it stands, I can’t do anything with A Collisions of Stars, until I have the edits complete for TSAI.
As you can tell, I feel like a complete and utter failure, despite what others have said. When I can’t meet someone’s expectations, I feel like I’ve failed that person, that I disappointed said person. Sure, I can handle edits and criticism just fine, or else When Stars Die wouldn’t exist. If I meet someone’s expectations, even if there is still a lot of work to be done, I can feel comfortable knowing I didn’t disappoint that person.
I suppose it’s a fault in me. I’m a people pleaser. When I can’t please people, that feeling of total failure sets in. I feel like I’ve studied for hours for a particular test, took the test, only for that test to be handed back to me with a 63. It didn’t matter how hard I studied. I still got a 63, and only I can come back from that. No amount of reassurance can take back the fact that I got a 63 after all the hard work I put into studying (and, yes, this mostly happens to me in history-related classes, but it’s the essays and projects that always made up for the tests).
All in all, only I can come back from feeling like a failure. No one else can do that for me.