I have a confession: I’m disappointed that I’ve not been published yet. I also feel a twinge—okay, sometimes a heap— of embarrassment when well-meaning friends and family ask about my books’ journeys and I have to explain my publishing process (and admit that I've been rejected), or when total strangers hear I’m a writer and ask, “Can I buy your book at Barnes & Noble?”
Nope. I've been working at it for four years (seven if you count the three years I spent working on an MFA in Creative Writing) and, from that perspective-- the one that says being published is the only way to be a "serious" writer-- well, I have nothing to show for it.
Lots of blood (figurative) sweat (literal) and tears (definitely literal) and nothing but some completed, meticulously revised (and revised.... and revised again) manuscripts on my laptop that only a handful of others have ever seen.
Does this mean I'm just a shitty writer? Well, maybe. I like to think otherwise, but I suppose it is possible.
The thing is, so often in writing/publishing circles, we hear those big flash bang stories of overnight deals (at auction! for major bucks!) and movie options and NYT bestsellers and oh, my!
But the reality for most of us is likely much different. Most writers will struggle for years, first on writing the book(s), then trying to land an agent, then trying to sell it. And most of us? Well, we won't sell our first book. We may not sell our second.
Me? I'm on my third (third attempt to sell, more like 8th completed manuscript). And there were a couple attempts at finding an agent before the manuscript that got me offers of representation.
I have a feeling my story is a much more typical publishing journey, but nobody talks about how difficult—soul-sucking, even—it can be. Or if not nobody, than at least hardly anyone*. The Overnight Success is a much sexier story.
There is nothing sexy about rejection. And yet, for most of us, it will be par for the course for our publishing journey despite how much we want to be the exception, to be the Sexy One. Maybe, if we’re ‘lucky’ it will be seasoned with some close calls and R&Rs. There are of course, dozens of factors at play here-- trends, lists, styles, etc. most of which, a writer has zero control over.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be traditionally published. I hope so—I write because I love it, yes, but frankly, I also write because I long for my stories to be read. I don’t have a crystal ball to view into the future, the only thing I know for sure is that if I don't try again, if I don't type that next word, that next sentence, that next paragraph. If I don't draft another book, revise another chapter? If I stop now?
Well, then I am guaranteed to never be published.
So despite the odds, despite the lows and the rejection, today I decided to pick myself up, sit myself down at the computer, and get to work. Again.
*Some people have said, “You can’t blog about failure. What if an editor Googles you, sees that and then is like, ‘We don’t want to publish her!’”
Well, if some editor Googled me and if s/he read this post and decides that being honest about the challenges of being a writer is grounds to decide not publish a book they were otherwise considering? Well, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t want my manuscript to be acquired by that individual anyway.
Over the last few years, a lot of writers have been turning to Twitter at the urging of their friends, crit groups agents or publicists to "establish a social media presence" and "engage with their publics." Which is a fancy way of saying interact with would-be readers so they will know who you are and want to read your book(s).
The trouble is even though it's been around for a few years and that means it's basically a dinosaur in the world of social media, not everyone seems to understand how to use it properly-- or at least, how not to use it. It's not just newbies who make mis-steps either.
Now, I have a background in PR and Advertising so I have a fairly solid grasp on branding and messaging, but you don't need a PR background to properly navigate social media. Some common sense and following a few key tips will go a very long way. It's actually reeeeeeeally important that if you do social media, you do it well because if you are writing books, presumably you want to sell them one day and in order to do that, you have to have people who want to buy them. And in general, people like (will sometimes go out of their way) to support writers/artists who they think are genuinely decent humans. Conversely, people will steer clear of supporting those who come off as assholes. That means they won't buy your book and probably, they might tell their friends not to buy your books.
DO NOT be the asshole.
To that end, here are some general DOs and DON'Ts with Twitter:
(I'm focusing on Twitter because I think it is the easiest way to establish a social media presence but also because the nature of Twitter is that it's a two-way street. Whereas with Facebook or Tumblr or a blog/website, comments are an option but they aren't necessary. With Twitter though, give and take is, well, kind of the point).
• DON'T follow a bunch of people so that they'll follow you and once you've got hundreds of followers then in one sweeping motion unfollow most of them so it appears you are like, totally fetch and uber popular. Your followers will notice when you were following 900 and now you're following 30. And it makes you look, well, as my grandma would say, like you've gotten too big for yer britches. And you think they can't tell, but there are tools out there for the discerning Twitterer to tell. For example, who.unfollowedme.com.
• DO converse with readers and acknowledge their tweets of congrats or enthusiasm for your books. Obviously, you can't always respond to everyone and every single tweet, but you can make an effort to respond to some. It's as obvious as saying, "Thank you" when someone pays you a compliment IRL. *hint, retweeting ALL of those compliments? NOT the same thing. Which brings me to my next point.
• DON'T overwhelm your followers with nothing but self-promo tweets. Take a look at your feed and the ratio of tweets with links (to your reviews/book etc.) to those without. If you've got more promo than convo? You're doing it wrong. And it is one of the surest ways to lose followers.
• DO engage in conversations. Twitter is an awesome tool to build real relationships with people who under ordinary circumstances, you may never have met.
• DON'T block people. There is a small caveat here that if someone is offensive or rude, then yes, go ahead. But if someone is just really enthusiastic or tweets @ you more than you'd like, DON'T BLOCK. Blocking is not an invisibility cloak because dude, we can still see you. If someone is enthusiastic about your books and they notice that their following count dropped (as it does when you block them) they will likely try to re-follow and get a message that you've blocked them. Yup, Twitter tells them flat out. Like I said, you are NOT invisible! So even if someone tweets you frequently or maybe is bordering on annoying, remember that that person is a reader and blocking them essentially says, "Don't buy my books." Actually, it says "Tell everyone you know not to buy my books."
Why on EARTH would you want to send anyone that message? Hint: you wouldn't.
• DO follow people. It's difficult to follow everyone who follows you, but make the effort to curate your feed and follow people who tweet interesting things or just make you laugh, and you should try to follow at least some of the people who follow you. If you do, Twitter will feel like less of a chore and more like a fun place to hang out once in a while. Or all the time. Your choice.
• DO be genuine. Be yourself. And the best part about Twitter is that it's not real life so if you're normally sort of shy, you don't have to worry because typing a message @ someone is a much easier way to put yourself out there than talking to someone. And also, technically Twitter is writing so if you're a writer, then hello! This medium is yours!
Most of this seems self-evident, right? Like, "Duh. Be a decent human." But just yesterday I saw two rather well-established writerly types make some of these blunders. It still happens. A lot.
The bottom line is that writers are also readers, and readers are people, just as you are, in fact, a person. And no, readers are not "the little people," they are the very important people who allow you to do what you do and if you play your cards right, using social media to engage with them can be a mutually beneficial experience. You do write to be read, after all. At the end of the day, readers are the people you work for.
So to recap, treat Twitter like life. And the life rules are:
1) Don't be a douchenugget. Or an asshole.
2) It's not all about you.
3) If you think you're fooling someone, probably the only person you're really fooling is yourself.
Anything you'd add or icky habits you wish people would break?
I snickered when Anne Hathaway proclaimed she would use her Golden Globe as a "weapon against self-doubt." Mostly, because the sentiment was cheesy and came off as rehearsed. Like I could almost hear that speech-writing "ah-ha" moment (for such a fabulous actress she kiiinda stinks at delivering non-rehearsed sounding speeches).
But I wonder about the idea: a weapon against self-doubt. Wouldn't that be great?
Like, feeling like a loser today? Bash in that feeling's brains!
Comparison and grass-is-greener fever making your blue? Deliver it a karate chop to the balls!
I know people who've had all manner of success in various fields (medicine, business, music, parenting, academia, art etc. etc.) and they all struggle with it. Every single writer I know (self included!) struggles with it, no matter how many books they've published, accolades they've garnered or money they've made (and I'm a writer who's yet to do, er, any of those things, so there you go).
The reality is we ALL hear the voices from time to time, the ones that sometimes whisper, sometimes shout things like, "You'll never be good enough" or "You should just give up."
So what's an unarmed humanoid to do?
First of all, I think self-doubt is actually a good sign. Yes, you read that right. We doubt ourselves because we are not content to rest on the things we've already achieved and instead, insist on doing more. Writing more. Creating more. Going further. Pushing ourselves somewhere new and different.
We experience self-doubt, then, because we insist on moving forward.
Okay, so if the disease is inevitable, then what is the cure?
Well, unfortunately, there isn't one.
Think of self-doubt as a rhinovirus (aka common cold). You overcome it and a season or two later, it comes back in a slightly different form.
Even with that Golden Globe sitting on her mantel (next to the SAG and the Oscar and every other award they handed out last awards season), unless Anne Hathaway decides never to act again, she will inevitably struggle with self-doubt at some point.
Just like a rhinovirus, the only thing you can do is address the symptoms. Take a "sick day" and spend time doing something totally different/unrelated. Conversely, some people like to push through, to keep busy and keep working. One word on the screen and then another until you've got a sentence. And then another. I met a guy once who said he didn't allow himself the luxury of "writer's block." This was pre- Sweet Brown, but essentially his sentiment was the same, "Ain't nobody got time for that."
Finally, know that you're not alone. That even people like Anne Hathaway are not immune from the disease. We all go through it and, provided we hang in, we all come out the other side, our immunity just a little bit stronger.
ETA: When all else fails, WINE. Or Chocolate. ;)
Guess what today is! World Book Night 2013!
I've got my box 'o books and I am ready to distribute. I'm THRILLED to get to hand out free copies of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale . It is one of my favorite books of all time and I can't wait to share it with random people throughout my city!
Are you handing out books for WBN? If so, which book? Do you have a plan for handing them out or are you just going to randomize it?
Here's to spreading the book love!