Be careful what you wish for?

So, I came across this piece in Buzzfeed about the dark side of being a debut author and, man, did it depress me.  Not just me, either.   Sharon tells me she found it to be a total downer, too.  Courtney Maum’s message of isolation and despair is positively Hobbesian.  It makes me feel guilty about all the debut authors I’ve had a hand in throwing into this bottomless pit of misery. 

Which is not to say that Ms. Maum doesn’t make some valid points.  The comedown after years of intense yearning for the pot of gold at the end of the publishing rainbow can be vertiginous.  As with most of the things we covet, success, as represented by a first-time book deal, is not the cure-all for all our problems nor the magic carpet ride to a suddenly fabulous life. 

And, yet, I think that celebrating the validation of oftentimes years of chipping away at one’s craft should be the greater impulse than bemoaning the problems that come with a new state of authorial life.  No, having your novel published isn’t the ticket to nirvana you may have hoped and dreamed it would be as you sat in your roach infested apartment eating ramen noodles at every meal while your parents relentlessly hinted at you to get a real job…with insurance.    But, it’s a pretty great accomplishment and, hopefully, the beginning of a long publishing career.   And, even though (to quote the immortal lyrics of Taylor Swift) haters gonna hate, writers, both published and un- are a lovely community to be a part of.

What’s your take on being a debut author—both from the wishing-that-was-me to the been-there-done-that-and-survived perspective?

7 Responses to Be careful what you wish for?

  1. Will Berkeley says:

    I can\\’t imagine caring what happens post publication. I\\’ve been treated so harshly over a novel in the past year that I am truly sorry that I wrote it. A work of fiction does not warrant the level of hate that has come to me by big names in the business. It makes me wonder though. Publishing is notoriously wrong all the time. Maybe I have something. I am just working with the wrong people. Or I take it to the public. So I wrote another book to stay busy. I will try again. However as a former real estate executive I have concluded there is an epidemic of unprofessional behavior in publishing. Not adequately preparing debut authors of the emotional rigors is the least of it. In my instance though I am all set. My emotions have been fully tested by big names in the business. Hey, thanks. Gotta go, baby. Stay solid.

  2. Susan Adrian says:

    Well. I couldn’t disagree with that piece more, honestly. I’m 13 weeks out from publication, and I’m certainly not mired in some pit of jealousy and loathing! I don’t expect other people to be promoting my book avidly anymore, but I certainly haven’t given up on it myself. Still doing events.

    And despite what she said about debut peers, I’ve found the Fearless Fifteener debut group–and the ones that came before it–has been a source of extraordinary support, information, and simple commiseration. We keep our worries behind closed doors, but share them with each other. I don’t think we’re competing, but celebrating and helping each other.

    So is it exactly what I pictured for 15 years of writing? Nope. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember on down days that I actually did achieve the dream.

  3. Will Berkeley says:

    I’ve thought about this a lot. Good experiences in business we model. Bad experiences we learn from. I recently had a very bad experience in publishing. Actually several. I think one of the reasons is that in publishing people are very afraid to be negative. They cannot say the building is falling to the client. You’d be fired for not saying it in real estate. So one of the ways to fix the problem of the debut novelist is perhaps to send the article along as a sort of checklist. Or build a media packet. Read this. Get ready for some reversals. You are a business now. This is what we want to avoid. The literary agent should flat out say I do not have all the time in the world for you but call me if you crater. A line of communication can make all the world of difference. Here is a helpful article on your book getting rejected. Being ignored (or lied to) is very hard on that might be isolated. I have had huge reversal in business. I just walk out of the meeting. They almost 100% tell me exactly why because they want me to change. Well, call me if you change your mind. We are at a stalemate, pal. But to catch a person off guard? You’re fired for no reason at all. Or just kind of tap them on the back. Now off you go on your debut novel. Good luck. It’s no wonder it goes sideways.

  4. Kim says:

    Many of us writers at all levels have to continually fight off the green-eyed monster of jealousy of other writers and their success. The best thing to do is own it, then set it free whenever it makes an unfortunate appearance. The same with the disappointments of unfulfilled expectations. If the passion for storytelling doesn\\’t win in the end, it\\’s probably best to go do something else.

  5. I’m deep into that quest of finding “the one” agent who sees my ability and likes my story enough to want to help me get there to that other side of troubles in the publishing world. While I query and wait, I continue to publish in magazines and work of that oh-so-desirable platform that everyone says a writer needs.
    Regardless, this is the good stuff. We don’t get to complain. Words-to-paper is our reward. Like Hemingway in his cold upstairs writing room of Paris, these are the days we will romanticize in our twilight years. The struggle. The persistence. The climb. Yeah… this is the good stuff.

  6. Ellen says:

    Huh. I didn’t find the article to be a downer at all. In fact, she comes out the end of it feeling like a better person because she survived the emotional roller coaster of her own making. She’s a very emotional person who’s extremely honest about deeply felt envy (and can feel happy for people’s successes, as well).

    And…. her initial support network was writers whose primary reason for hanging out together was sharing angst about successful writers. Setting yourself up for failure much?

    Those of us who don’t feel that intensely, or who have enough life experience to know in our hearts that the world is *never* going to revolve around us, might not have such intense feelings. Having said that, a book is an author’s brain-baby, mind-child, and one’s sense of self-worth can easily be wrapped around its success in inappropriate ways.

    Bottom line: Putting a book out is emotionally risky. Spending some time intelligently preparing for that emotional risk is an excellent idea.

  7. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Good points.Seems to me that publishing is like anything else: if you\’ve lived long enough to not take everything to heart, it\’s no big deal.Personally, I write because I like to write and am pleased when the result is as good as I expected of myself. Anything beyond that is gravy.

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