The Problem with Perfection and Publishing
I think I’ve deleted and rewritten this post at least five times now. This has been a difficult piece for me to write so I hope you’ll bear with me.
For the last two weeks I’ve been in a deep, dark place. I’m really not sure what brought it on but it could be a combination of things: two tragic and untimely deaths in my life, the worry of having a second book on the way, the pressure of being a “Type A” personality in a business that follows no rules. If I’m honest, I’m pretty sure it is a mixture of all these elements that’s kept me from sleeping these past two weeks.
Sleep deprivation causes havoc on all parts of the body including the creative mind. Lately, the thought of sitting down at the computer has filled me with terror just as much as the idea of putting my head on the pillow. What if I could never sleep again was scrambled right in with what if I never write another story.
Both these thoughts have kept me up late into the morning and pretty much ruined any real semblance of life. It’s been a tough road, but I’m slowly clawing my way back. How have I done it? First, I talked over my worries and fears with family and friends and then I asked for help. Second, I came to this truth: NOTHING IN PUBLISHING IS WITHIN MY CONTROL.
This is a very scary thought for a total control freak like me. What’s even harder for a perfectionist is the thought of constant rejection-which I’ve had a lot of recently.
Here’s where I get totally transparent because I think writers at every level come up against these kinds of walls, but many are too embarrassed or uncomfortable to admit it publicly.
The truth is I’ve been without representation for almost two years. In that time, I’ve queried about twenty agents with two new books. One is a YA Contemporary and the other is an Adult Contemporary Romance. In both cases, I’ve received full requests but unfortunately no offers. For someone once agented, this is a bitter pill to swallow.
Now here’s the kicker (and I’m keeping it real here) many of the agents I queried knew I already had an offer on the table for my next book. They could have agreed to rep me for that book and take on whatever I was writing next. One would think I’d get some automatic offers, right? Bird in the hand and all. Sadly, no offers came. I can’t explain it away except to allow my head to go to a dark place. Maybe my writing sucks. Maybe I’ll never get another agent. Maybe I’m only a “two-book” girl.
It’s really easy to fall down this rabbit hole. To think your past books were total flukes. That somehow you pulled a “fast one” on your publisher and they just “thought”you were a good writer.
With clarity and time I’ve come to realize NONE of this is true. What is wrong is my idea of perfection. For all my claims of not wanting to compare myself to other writers’ careers, I’ve done exactly that. I’ve been chasing an unrealistic picture of success, and that picture has turned into a monster with nasty, sharp teeth.
Publishing is a fickle friend. Sometimes it lays a golden path in front of you with beautiful offers and accolades. Other times, it’s an unforgiving beast that knocks you down at every turn. You see none of this when you start out. You write that first book with stars in your eyes and a dream in your heart. This is a wonderful place to be. Hope is eternal and the sky’s the limit. Unfortunately, as you dig deeper into the business things get a little rocky. But here’s the truth, and I know it’s corny, but you don’t get the damn rainbow without the rain.
Ask anyone in this business about their path and MANY will tell you their horror stories. If you get in deep enough, you learn about people who are on their third agent and have had four books on sub with no deals. People will share that they’ve queried five books and still don’t have an agent. Critics and pessimists may say this is because those writers don’t have talent or the right story. I call b.s. Those people grinding and hustling every day are the ones who will be successful. Right now they’re just at the mercy of the beast called publishing.
I’ve been writing for close to ten years now. You would’ve thought I’d learned all these lessons sooner, but we all have our own timing in figuring things out. That’s okay. What I want to share is that publishing is a rough business. Some may not have the wherewithal to stand the dark days and the frequent rejection. But for those who do, I hope you’ll learn from my story.
Everything in publishing will not be sunshine and roses. Most days it will feel like an uphill battle. The key, at least for me, is to remember why I’m putting myself through this meat grinder. The answer is story.
Right now in the “Notes” file on my phone I have four concepts I’d like share with readers one day. As I learned of late, maybe those stories won’t make it that far. Does that mean I stop? Probably not. Every time I try to walk away the stories dig in deep and drag me back.
While it’s true publishing is a tough world, what I’ve learned in my struggle is that first and foremost I write stories for me. If I’m lucky enough to connect with an agent again and sell another book then that’s icing on the cake. Again, tough lesson to learn but it’s the truth.
Writing in its most base form is about spilling out your creative well. It’s not about perfection, advances, royalties, signings, or awards. It only took me ten years to figure this out. For you, writing friend, I hope you discover this truth sooner. Once you do, all the rejection in the world won’t matter because you’ll still have the most important thing: your story. Hold onto it tightly because in the end it’s really what matters most.