Ed. Note: In our spring/summer series – “The Tough Times, and How I Wrote Through Them” – one of this site’s regular contributors will write about a complication they’ve faced in writing and/or publishing, a complication you’re likely to experience someday, and they’ll disclose how they got past it (alcohol may be part of the answer but, no, it’s not the whole answer).
By Wendy Tyson
Admit it, you’re certain the day you get that offer of publication your life will forever and completely change. The people who rolled their eyes when you told them you were (still) working on your novel? They’ll respect you. Bookstore managers will clamor for the chance to have you sign in their shops. Money will come rolling into your bank account. Your confidence will soar. Family and friends will flock to support you, spreading the word about your wonderful book like flu at a crowded holiday gathering. You’ll become a household name.
Maybe your spouse will finally understand why you spend so damn much time at the computer. Why you mumble about great locations for murder during family vacations. Why you play the “publishing lottery” year after year, continuing to pursue a passion that has only a marginal shot at paying out.
You’ll be able to quit your day job.
You’ll finally buy that home on the Maine coast, the one high on the cliff overlooking the Atlantic, because you’ve always envisioned yourself writing novels from somewhere dramatic and just a little bit dangerous.
Okay, maybe that last bit of fantasy goes too far, but I think most writers—myself included—believe at some point things will change substantially once a publisher buys their book. All the work, all the lost hours, all the heartache of rejection will finally be rewarded. And that reward will make the days/months/years before it worth the effort and sacrifice.
Here’s the thing: your life will change dramatically. And not at all.
Sure, some authors experience instant success. I was not one of them. My debut novel, Killer Image, was met with largely positive reviews and a modicum of fanfare. Many of my family and friends rallied around me. They shared posts on social media, “liked” my author page, bought books as gifts, and attended local signings. My husband, a supremely-practical man who eschews fiction, was proud. My mother strategically positioned my book on her coffee table so no one who visited could miss it.
I was invited to speak at festivals. I debuted at ThrillerFest in a room packed with several hundred people. The local newspapers wrote articles about me. My bank account did not swell.
In fact, I spent more that year than I made.
Within a few months after Killer Image was released, some of the initial excitement had worn off and I was left feeling strangely deflated and cut off from my “normal life.” Looking back, I think I was going through an odd social shift, one I didn’t clearly recognize at the time. I had become immersed in the writing world. Suddenly I was surrounded (virtually) by other people like me. People who had struggled for years to get published, or who were still struggling. People who knew how lonely writing could be, who understood the fire that made writing just as necessary as breathing—and didn’t see that as an overly dramatic cliché. People who commiserated about bad Amazon reviews and comprehended how much it meant to have a contract extended. I started to see my world as bifurcated into BP and AP: before publication and after publication. I could relate to my new friends; I felt estranged from my old.
Before I knew it, book two was out. Then book three. And four. Fewer family and friends showed up at signings, replaced eventually by readers (hallelujah!). I became less reliant on friends for social media posts. Readers took time to write reviews (thank you!). I stopped feeling disappointed that those closest to me just didn’t get it. I found a rhythm over time, one that allowed me to continue writing and blogging and engaging with readers while reconnecting with my old friends and my old life. I realized that nothing had really changed except me. I’d lost perspective.
People who lose a great deal of weight often say that after the initial thrill wears off, they’re left with themselves. I think publishing is a lot like that. For many of us, we work so hard to improve our craft, sometimes writing two, five, ten novels before one gets published, that we expect publication to be that a-ha moment that changes our lives. The truth is, it’s just another moment—one to be acknowledged, celebrated, remembered, perhaps, but simply a moment in a string of moments that make up your life.
I recently attended a talk by man who is a well-known bestselling nonfiction author and public speaker. Upon arrival, every member of the audience received a copy of his latest book, and the woman introducing the author asked us to hold up our copies. When the speaker reached the podium, he smiled. “I should have taken a picture and sent it to my wife and kids,” he said. “They might finally be impressed.”
The audience laughed. I don’t think he was joking.
I wish I’d known then what I know now.
It’s important to appreciate all that came before and all that will come after that publishing contract, but maintaining a sense of balance is critical. Temper expectations. Your life will change. You’ll be part of an incredible community of fellow writers and readers and you will be paid to do the thing you love. Never lose sight of why you write, though, and recognize that publication is not a panacea. Be grateful for the people who are in your life, especially if they don’t understand why you write but they put up with you anyway. Because long after your book is released, long after reviews are written and checks are cut and awards are handed out, you’ll be left with yourself.
Maintain perspective and the rest will fall into place.
WENDY TYSON has written six published crime novels. The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series. She lives with her family on a micro-farm near Philadelphia.
To learn more about Wendy Tyson’s newest novel, click on the cover below:
Previously in The Tough Times (And How I Wrote Through Them):
Going Bananas, by S.J.I. Holiday
Dirty Little Secrets, by Jennifer Hillier
Parting Ways – DDWID (Don’t Do What I Did), by Gwen Florio
The Tough Times, by Tom Sweterlitsch
Writing Through Rejection, by Elizabeth Heiter
Writing Against Deadlines, by Rob Brunet
Facing Your Personal “issues” and “Issues,” by Shannon Kirk
Shutting Down Places Like Eliot Ness, by J.J. Hensley
On Time Management, by Mark Pryor