It’s funny how, once I got my book contract, all of my friends and fellow writers suddenly seemed to think that I had it made. I’d achieved the Holy Grail of writing and now everything in my life must be perfect. It was as if I’d been kissed by some god and was now in rarefied air. The truth is about as far from the Elysian fields as you can get, so let me debunk this myth that publication changes everything right now.
After a brief moment of celebration and a fairly big to-do over signing the contract, my life got back to normal pretty fast. The toilets still needed to be cleaned. The groceries still needed to be picked up and the dog needed her bath. Bills still had to be paid and relatives were still sick and dying. Nothing changed. There was no magic dust that settled over my life and suddenly made everything perfect. Yes, one tiny piece of my life had expanded into new territory, but the totality of my life was still pretty much the same.
Not that I’d expected anything different. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to have figured out how life works, but I never expected magic. Yet I see this myth persist among writers who say, “If only I can get published my life will be so different. And better!”
Maybe it will be. But probably not with your first book. Unless you’re one of the tiny percent of writers who receive a huge advance and literary accolades before the book is even published, you’ll probably go on much as you always have. Your book will come out and it will sell or it won’t. You’ll write another or you won’t. Maybe in a few years and a few successful books down the road you’ll look back and say, “Gosh, my life is different now from how it was five years ago.” Maybe by then you’ll be writing full time and traveling to events and conventions instead of slogging to your office job every day. Until then, though, publishing doesn’t really change much.
Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to have figured out how life works, but I never expected magic.
If anything, being published only adds to the stress and insecurity that you feel. Instead of making everything perfect, it brings its own set of troubles to your life. Oh, to be sure they’re good troubles to have, but I don’t think a lot of writers realize that instead of fixing everything in your life, publication gives you a whole lot of other things that can go wrong.
Now that my book is just two months from release, all I can think about is what if it flops? What if people hate it? What if I can’t market it well enough? (And what’s the best way to market a book, anyway? I’m not a marketer but I’ve got to learn!) What happens if I make a fool of myself at an event? How do I even afford to go to events? And then there’s the stress of writing book two in the series. And then three. Will they be as good as the first? Will my publisher want them? Can I do it again? What if the first was the only book I had in me? Related to that is the question of what happens after this series? Can I do another? Can I make a career out of writing?
And on and on it goes. Being published doesn’t magically make all the worrying and work stop, it only adds more work and worries to the stew that is already your life. Nothing in your “regular” life has changed and now you’ve added all this other stuff that you have to deal with. I’m not saying that getting published isn’t wonderful because it is. Or that I’m not grateful because I am. However, publication adds basically another full time job to everything else you’ve already got going on in your life. It doesn’t set you up in some place where all you’ve got to do is daydream and let the checks roll in.
And you have to remember: Getting published once doesn’t mean that you are now set with a new career for life and that you will get to write what you want whenever you want. Publishers go out of business and you may have to begin the hunt all over again. Your book may not sell well, your publisher may dump you, and no one else will take a chance on you. And this isn’t just a problem for “smaller” writers. Some authors have ended up being touted as the next big thing, their first book received a ridiculous advance, and they were everywhere for a while. Then, suddenly, they were gone. For whatever reason, the star-kissed career fizzled out.
In other words, one book doesn’t mean that you get to quit your day job, or that you may never have to go back to your first line of work again. Yes, you can build a career as a writer, but it’s likely to take a while and there are plenty of things that can torpedo your dream. Publication doesn’t make you untouchable and forever exempt from failure .
Being published doesn’t magically make all the worrying and work stop, it only adds more work and worries to the stew that is already your life.
And yet this seems to be what many writers believe. I hate that they will experience crushing disappointment when reality arrives.
Publication is nice. It’s been a lot of fun to follow my book through this process. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really cool people and do some things I never thought I’d do. And I’m sure there’s more of that kind of fun in my future. But I’ve still got to clean my own toilets, pay my bills, and do plenty of things I don’t want to do. So it is for most writers. Life goes on as always.
If your expectation for publication is that now life will be perfect and you can do whatever you want to do, get out now. Publication, even with a seven figure advance, can’t magically make anyone’s life perfect. It can make it a bit more interesting, but it can also make it harder and more challenging. It can’t change your crazy mother-in-law, it can’t fix your health problems, and it won’t do your chores for you. As it has always been, there will be some things about your life that you cannot fix, and many things that you can fix but which you will have to fix on your own. With or without a publishing contract.
(Photo courtesy of bykst)