Up the Creek Without a Yacht

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 Jenny Milchman

You know how writers will get together and laugh at all the myths and misconceptions of this business? Some of those myths aren’t even worth a laugh, they’re so patently, obviously ridiculous. Like the one about writers expecting to get rich. “Don’t buy the yacht yet,” someone will say dryly after a writer signs her first contract.

I was the writer who bought the yacht. I mean, not literally, but I definitely went into this biz without a lot of reality. Rose-colored glasses, check.

For example, when I first began querying agents, I sent my letters via FedEx (yes, this was in the days before email). You know, because my queries absolutely positively had to be there overnight. And even after I got my first offer of representation—eight months later, so a first-class stamp probably would’ve served me just fine—I assumed that my book would receive offers from publishers promptly, and probably multiple offers at that, resulting in a big firecrackery auction.

Imagine my surprise when my book didn’t receive so much as one nibble.

I went on to be repped by three wonderful, hardworking, committed agents, but they weren’t able to sell my second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh novels either.

Once my eighth book finally sold, do you think I learned to make my expectations a tad more realistic?

Not really. I mean, I didn’t write a girl book become some instant bestseller, so the yacht was still on hold, but I definitely had one in mind. Still wearing baby candy pink lenses in front of my eyes, I assumed that I’d keep releasing books under the auspices of my brilliant editorial team until my career and readership grew.

And then my editors were both let go.

It’s a known phenomenon in this biz: the orphaned writer. Except I wasn’t under contract at that point, so it was more like I was floating, untethered in space.

How do we writers weather the tough times in this biz?

By now I know that no matter how lucky we are, whatever things might come easily, others will arrive more encumbered. Or not at all. And even if I still dream about the yacht—or at least my dream house—from time to time, I’ve grown realistic enough to have learned a few things. I’ll share them with you in case you face the same curve ball I did, or some other slam out of left field.

Writers need someone by their side. Preferably more than one someone.

It’s great if one of them is in the biz because people who share this wacky, wonderful passion/profession/crazed pursuit of ours understand it in a way few others can. As I drifted around in outer space, it was my agent who yanked me back to earth. She promised I’d be published again, which comforted me during many a sleepless night on submission, a process that the author who contemporized southern gothic fiction, Joshilyn Jackson, calls “a special kind of hell.” (For more on this, read E.A. Aymar’s terrific piece HERE.)

However, since you don’t want to call your agent/editor/mentor at 3 a.m.—at least, not too often—it really helps to have a non-industry someone in your corner too. Parent, sibling, spouse, best friend, or pet, it doesn’t matter. Someone you can spill your heart to, moan about industry vagaries seemingly designed to be excruciating, and even (gasp) talk about something besides writing or publishing with.

Learn to combat depression.

This business is a recipe for depression, which some theorists say arises from a low locus of control, or the sense that we don’t have dominion over what happens to us. Well, guess what? As writers, we don’t. We can control the written word to a degree, but after that, your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen, as the loss of my editors shows. So we must do things to combat the depression that often follows a tough time.

Develop a hobby. Do self-comforting things, like exercising, baking, starting your day with a triple latte. Read, or put all books aside. Write, or allow yourself to take a break from writing. Collapse on the couch. Whatever activity gives you relief is pretty much okay during a tough time, so long as it doesn’t harm you or anyone else, of course.

Gone today, here tomorrow, AKA this business can turn on a dime.

I’ve never really understood the latter saying, but if it means that things can turnaround when you least expect them to, the originator of the phrase was probably talking about publishing. The downside to this is that, well, your editors can be let go when you thought you were married for life. But the upside is that your agent might find an even more perfect match for you next time, as mine did when she got me that auction I’d dreamt about so long ago. When things appear bleakest, total bliss can be right around the corner. And you won’t even know it.

The great women’s suspense author, Hank Phillippi Ryan, celebrates what she and her husband call “You Never Know Day.” Instead of their anniversary, this is the day before. The day everything was about to change for the better…and they had no idea.

For writers, every day is You Never Know Day.

With one caveat: you have to stay in the game. Be in it to win it. As long as you keep writing, perfecting, honing your craft, sending out queries, submitting, releasing books, growing your readership…well, that yacht might be about to be yours.

I’ll see you at sea.

Jenny Milchman’s fourth psychological thriller, Wicked River, will be published by Sourcebooks in May 2018.

To learn more about Jenny Milchman’s most recent novel, click on the cover below:

Previously in The Tough Times (And How I Wrote Through Them):

On Submission, by E.A. Aymar

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same, by Wendy Tyson

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