Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by fellow Top Ten Blogger, and published author, Larry Brooks of Storyfix.
Other than the pure delight of pouring words onto a blank screen, we writers have one thing in common. And it’s huge.
It’s the dream of getting published. We all have it in one form or another.
The process of pursuing “the dream” is a life lesson in itself. And while the fruits of the dream validate themselves when you get there – yeah, it’s a hoot alright, no question – there’s a little surprise waiting for you in the bookstore parking lot. One that brings the life lesson of chasing that dream full circle.
It’s not quite a dark side. But it is an unexpected challenge.
Because getting published can make you crazy. I know, I’ve been there.
The Surprise Dream Swap
Before we publish we have these little conversations with ourselves. If I can only publish one book before I die, I’ll be happy. I’ll be fulfilled. I just want to see my book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble. Just one. Please God, I’ll never swear at another driver on the freeway again.
Just getting there is enough, we believe. Dreaming beyond that is too big, too much at this point. Sure, it’d be great to be the next Dan Brown – hey, we dream about winning the lottery, too, which has about the same odds–but we’ll settle for just showing up.
Book signings. Reviews. Keynote gigs. Workshops. Running into someone waiting for a plane who is passing the time with your book.
We swoon at the idea of it.
And then, when it happens, something changes, and quickly. The dream has been fulfilled. But suddenly, unexpectedly, and without the caveat of humility because now that you can smell it… you want more.
You want a career. You want to be Janet Evanovich. You want to be rich and famous doing what you love.
And that’s what will make you crazy.
Because–and this will dawn on you later, after you’ve done everything in your feeble power to make it happen–you will soon realize one of those life lessons. Sanity is accepting the lesson and getting back to work.
But in the meantime, you’ll lay awake nights worrying about your next Amazon.com ranking.
Here’s That Big Life Lesson Realization
You had some control over getting published. Not much, really, but at least enough to legitimately throw sincere effort at it. You wrote and wrote and wrote until the book was stellar. You burned your kid’s college fund going to workshops to schmooze agents. You’re on a first packages in the shape of a manuscript. You went for it, put yourself in luck’s path, and it happened.
You’ve sweat blood for this. To a large extent, you made it be.
And now, your book is there on the shelf at Borders, your review ran the local daily, your critique group buddies drop to their knees at your presence… but you want more.
You want the next step. Your name in lights. A guest shot on Leno. A movie deal.
You want it all.
But guess what – you have absolutely no control whatsoever over that potential outcome. Once you turn the book over to a publisher, you become a spec of dust swept up into the wing vortex of a departing airliner.
And it will make you crazy.
You will go to bookstores dozens of miles out of your way to move your book to the top shelf of the kiosk, instead of the third row way back in the fiction section.
You will write your own reviews on Amazon under an assumed name.
You will set up book signings at any store that will have you, and you will experience the angst of nobody showing up. Of selling one copy (in my case, to a priest who felt sorry for me). Of being introduced to an audience of four by the wrong name. Of people telling you they found a typo on page 107.
One shift manager at Barnes & Noble approached to ask for my I.D. as I was signing the stock, something my publisher had arranged. I asked her to repeat the question. Then I plucked a book from the kiosk, opened it to my picture and said, “how’s that for I.D.?” She wasn’t amused. Still wanted to see my I.D. Because, of course, author lookalikes come in all the time to falsely autograph paperbacks. I came back the next day to find that–apparently because I gave this clerk a little attitude–my books, all 24 of them on display, had been taken down. Nobody could find them.
It’ll drive you crazy.
You will watch your book slowly disappear into the abyss of the passage of time. And you will cling to it ferociously, scream for it to come back, and yet there it goes, dwindling off over the horizon of mid-list titles that had their moment in the publishing sun and now join the millions of other dreams in the equivalent of some secret literary elephant burial ground.
It will kill you. You will write another book, but you will rush it because you want that momentum back. You will swap emails with other authors you met on the writing road who didn’t get a second book deal. You will thank the stars that’s not you. Until it is you.
You will reject, at all costs, the notion of publishing your next book yourself.
Until you don’t.
Until you realize that the dream really did come true.
That you were published. And that it was good. Spectacular. It was bliss while it lasted. Getting published is toothpaste that cannot be put back into the tube. It’s forever. Which is why it is all worth it.
And then, there you’ll be, alone once again with that blank screen. And the life lesson will resume.
You are a writer. This is the game you signed up for. This is the fine print. You are playing a lottery game with slim odds. Talent and quality are a factor, but not the primary factor.
This is business masquerading as a crap shoot. It’s a bet you make with your sweat equity and publishers make with their money. You are just a chip in that game, while they are the real players. If your number comes up, you are golden.
If not… at least you got to play. Even just a little.
The real life lesson in it all? That’s easy.
The joy doesn’t reside in the end game. The ecstasy is in the work. The pure bliss of storytelling. Of being a writer, and seeing and then appreciating the world through that lens. Of seeing the poetry around us, of hearing the lyrics.
Sure, enjoy the ride when that publishing moment arrives. Grab it and go. Lose yourself in it, because it may only happen once, and it may not last.
If it doesn’t, give thanks. Then get back to work.
In either case, it won’t be what you think it will be.
You will come back to that blank screen, even if you do become Janet Evanovich. She and her esteemed A-list peers suffer that same moment doubt and fear while alone with a story under development. Which means you are not alone.
You are more like them than you know. You are already one of them.
You are a writer. You pay your dues, you take your chances.
It is up to you to find sanity, and reward, along the way. Getting published isn’t the destination. It’s more like a pit stop, an island of pleasure, an E-ticket ride, maybe a train wreck. And like everything in life, it’s temporary.
Hold on. Anyway you shake it, it’s going to be a bumpy, glorious ride.
Larry Brooks has published five novels with varying degrees of insanity. He is the creator of Storyfix.com, recently named as one of the “Top Ten Blogs for Writers.” His new book, “Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Writing” comes out at the end of February from Writers Digest Books.
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