How Do You Keep the Faith?
About writing and publishing, at least
I had this whole post planned based on some really great tweet threads by some fantastic editors outlining the number of submissions they get, what they try to acquire, and what they are actually able to buy. And you know what? It was kinda depressing! The number was low! For many reasons! Not least being these two editors were assisting other people and while also trying to build their own lists and that “assisting other people” part is huge and gets no glory. They don’t usually get to count their bosses books as their own, in terms of something they acquired (because they didn’t do that, they just did other crucial work), and all the attention is paid to that batting average of how many submissions they get (where the subtext is the bigger the number the bigger deal you are as an editor) and how many you get to buy (which, same actually). But it’s not really true and more is not sustainable!!!! Every editor cannot keep acquiring more and more and more books, regardless of what **I** personally want, or who is deserving or basically anything else. We’re all at burnout levels already anyway, so, I am not doing my planned run down of those editors’ numbers because writers may think the main takeaway is it’s hopeless, the odds are against me and for publishing people, it’s well, if you could just do a little more then the agents/writers/and readers would be sooooooooo happy! Would that it ‘twere. If only.
But also, a statistical analysis of any single editor’s (or writer’s or agent’s, for that matter) acquisitions or sales is not broadly applicable. These two editors linked above work in kids books. What is true for them is not necessarily true for adult books. Anecdotally, I’ve had a MUCH easier time selling adult books than kids books this year, but that hasn’t been true for some of my agents friends I’ve talked to. This doesn’t mean you should ditch your YA novel and make everyone 24 and call it adult. That would be misguided to say the least. There isn’t a reliable way to squeeze data out of publishing so that a wide swath of writers (and agents!) can benefit from that information. Not even sales data! Sorry, numbers people. Publishing is just not the place for data driven, widely applicable stuff.
So, what useful thing can I tell you here, to assuage your (understandable!) feelings of helplessness? Here are my tips for keeping the faith, at least in writing and publishing:
Remember it’s a long game.
You’re saying yeah Kate, I know. I’ve been trying to get published for years! Me, too! And I look back at those years of trying and writing and remember that it wasn’t my actions on one single day, or even an event on one single day, that made a difference. Worrying every single day that you’re not getting a response to whatever you’re waiting for is just going to make every single one of your days tense and anxious. I know it’s hard. But try to remember it’s what you do over time that matters, not any single given day. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen at all.
There will be so much you don’t know!
You’re saying, too, that doesn’t help Kate!!!!!! Not knowing things is the worst!! And boy howdy I could not agree more. But guess what? Most everyone is in the same boat! They don’t know if what they’re writing is good or not. They don’t know if it’ll sell, and if it does sell to a publisher, if it’ll sell to the reading public. They don’t know what kind of advance they’re going to get, or if they’ll get another deal after that. Even the most super successful writers I know still have doubts about their work and if anyone is going to buy it! Take comfort in this, that no one knows what they’re doing either. You’re not alone.
Keep something of it for yourself.
Kinda related to what I was talking about last week, about how to like what you write, make a part of your writing life something that’s just for YOU. Whether it’s naming your villains after that jerk from in high school or giving your characters the special powers you always wish you had, do something to make yourself happy. If you’re writing something just to impress everyone else, you’ll just end up disappointed when they don’t notice it in exactly the way you wanted them to. Because that never happens.
It’s never done.
A book is never perfect. Even when it’s finished and published, there’s still probably a typo or a line you would have cut or something you should have kept in. I think many of us writers are anxious for the DONE part of things, the step where you’ve GOT the agent or the deal or the pub date or the award or the whatever and that means you’ve ascended unto…something? Writerdom? And then everything is easy. You’re a writer because you say you are, but because you’ve collected other attributes or milestones or whatever. There isn’t a point where someone says Yes to every single idea you ever have and you never struggle again. I know this is not welcome news! But, again, like above, everyone is in this boat! Ok, of course there are some authors who never hear no, but it’s not as many as you think! If you stop worrying that you’re not at that mythological point in your career, because that point is not real!, then you can just go back to being a writer, like everyone else. I’m sorry it’s not easier. No one said it would be easy.
Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the best pep talk in the world! But I hope for some of you, the advice of letting go of your expectations is helpful. Your writing life is your own, and it may not—most likely WILL not—be like any one else’s. Focus on yourself. Do your work. Keep going because it’s for you.