Adventures of the Newly Published
By Lyn Randal
This blog entry is meant as a “heads-up” for writers on the cusp of publication. You know who you are. Your writing is scoring more and more of those “good” rejection letters. Maybe you’ve managed to snag an agent’s attention, and you’re winning contests, complete with editor requests. All in all, things are looking very promising.
You’re close and you know you are, just like I was close before I finally got “the call” in May of 2006 telling me that Harlequin Mills and Boon wanted my Roman-empire set historical, Warrior or Wife. I thought I was ready. I had busily gleaned all I could about the “real world” of being published. I was expectant and prepared. I don’t like surprises.
Those surprises came anyway.
Maybe I can help you be more ready than I was.
Surprise # 1: (good surprise)
One of the first things that came out of hearing the news of my sale was relief and a profound sense of validation. Sure, I wrote because I loved to write. But I also believed I could write well enough to sell. The call made me feel that I hadn’t been wrong to believe.
The same thing happened to Harlequin author Joanne Rock. She says “I didn’t realize how stressed I was about selling until the sell call came. I sold a few books quickly and literally wept with joy at a multiple book contract because it was such an incredible relief to have finally gained affirmation. I guess I knew a sale would make me happy, but I didn’t appreciate how deeply, personally, and emotionally invested I was in making it happen. I guess I’d gotten pretty good at telling myself it didn’t matter if I didn’t sell—I was writing because I liked it. Well sure… but the flood of tears over the sales told me the gold stamp of approval in the form of a contract meant a whole lot more than I’d admitted.”
Surprise # 2: (good surprise)
Another related surprise for me was that the sale also changed the perceptions of my non-writing friends and family toward my writing. Before, some of my family had been outwardly supportive, but inwardly skeptical. I remember walking in on a conversation one day in which my son and my in-laws were actually laughing about my attempts to write for publication, as if “Linda’s little hobby” couldn’t possibly come to anything. Oh, I was hurt and angry and resolved to make them eat every little ha-ha and hee-hee if I could.
The sale, when it came, surprised nearly everybody except me. To their credit, they were all truly thrilled for me. To my credit, I was gracious enough not to rub their noses in their lack of faith. But it felt great, let me tell you.
I’m not alone in this experience. Even writers with supportive spouses and friends said that their family was pleasantly surprised when the call came. Margaret Moore said that one of her best surprises was calling her “somewhat conservative husband at work and his first reaction was ‘Holy Expletive!’” Kathryn Albright, who recently sold a historical to Harlequin Mills and Boon says “So far, one of my surprises has been how my husband is suddenly quite supportive and proud of me. He was verbally supportive before, but now he actually does things like the dishes and cooking so that I can get back to my writing. I hope this is a phase that lasts.”
Surprise # 3: (bad surprise)
Some author friends have told me that they suddenly became the “odd man out” among their unpublished peers when they sold. Critique partners and friends who were wonderfully supportive when you were all struggling together may suddenly turn an uncomfortable shade of green when you talk about revisions or contract deadlines. Some will even say or do surprising things to make you feel guilty about your success. Unfortunately, you might be surprised to find out who your true friends really are –and aren’t.
This also leads to another unpleasant reality faced by many of the newly-published: negative reviews. As veteran author Margaret Moore told me, ”Some reviewers really feel the need to prove they’re clever or more intelligent or just all ‘round superior to you . . . When you’ve been in this business a long time… those things can really do a number on your head unless you take the time to patch the holes.”
Surprise # 4, 5, 6, 7 (bad surprises)
Along the lines of the changed perception of you now that you’ve sold and become an author,a few other surprizes pop up.
First, many friends and family members thought I’d be given a truckload of free books and that I’d happily give them all a free, autographed copy.
They also thought I was now incredibly wealthy. I was startled by how many of them asked outright, “So, uh… How much are you gonna make from that book?” They would have NEVER asked about the salary I make at my day job, but thought nothing of asking how much I’d made on the book advance.
To their curiosity I can say, quite honestly “I haven’t got a clue.” Because here’s another surprise: The advance may come with relative speed, but that’s probably all the money you’ll see for a looooooong time.
I sold in May of 2006. I got my first advance shortly afterward. But I won’t receive my first royalty check until December of 2007 (about 19 months later) and even then, I’m told to be prepared for the significant shock of having a large portion of my money withheld by the publisher against returned books. So much for the perception that I’m now a wealthy writer, huh?
A few of my acquaintances were also shocked to discover that I’d written romances with sex scenes. Quite a few people made the comment that they just couldn’t believe I’d written that stuff. One of my male friends actually wanted to know if I lived the scenes I write. I told him “ Oh, sure. I’m a married woman and I adore my husband. We research all the time.”
Well . . . he caught me off guard. And asking an ignorant question like that should have gotten him a ridiculous answer, right?
But now I’m telling you in advance that these goofy things will happen, so you won’t be caught off guard. Be prepared.
Surprise # 8: (Bad surprise)
When I got the call in May of 2006, I was halfway through my fifth manuscript, which I’d been enjoying tremendously. I had to set it aside for a while to do revisions for the story “my” editor wanted to buy. And then I had to do a website. And then I had to do some marketing tasks. And then…
About two months later, it suddenly hit me that I wasn’t doing any writing. I mean, zero, zip, nada. So I sat down and tried to write . . . and couldn’t. I was frozen with fear. Literally.
They tell you to be careful what you pray for, right? Well, I’d wanted to be sold almost more than I wanted to breathe. I would never have believed that achieving that goal could put me into a total tailspin, but that’s what happened.
Something about knowing my writing was now “for real” and no longer just an enjoyable hobby shut me down completely. I kept telling myself it was just the new-ness of the situation, that it would pass. That I was just too excited to concentrate, and that I’d soon settle down.
But as weeks passed into months, I began to suspect the truth – that this writer who’d never even believed in writer’s block was, indeed, experiencing it. Others have since told me that the same thing happened to them. All of them had to do what I did – face down the demon, admit to the fear, and decide to keep writing anyway, in spite of the anxiety. Two things seemed to have helped many in this situation:
- Focus on the love of writing, the creative spark that drew you to it in the first place. Don’t write for the editor, write for yourself and your readers.
- Remember that “Skill is something you build, out of work and study and experience. It can’t vanish in a puff of smoke” (Dwight Swain).
Surprise # 9 (bad surprise)
Once you’re published, you’ll have to learn new skills that have not come into play before, things like marketing/promotion. Many writers find this a negative. Not only do we not enjoy it, it’s also a serious drain on limited time and money. Most publishers encourage your efforts but aren’t actively supportive of them – and information about the business trickles down in dribs and drabs, often coming from editors who aren’t much more knowledgeable than you are.
As a published author, you will have more opportunities for blogging and speaking on a variety of topics. While this will give your name increased exposure, it will also require an investment of time, so you need to consider in advance how much of this you can and will do.
Surprise # 10 (good surprise)
Almost every published author I spoke to told me the best part of being newly published was getting those first reader letters – and that even today, that’s their biggest source of encouragement for the dark days.
I find reader letters to be a mixed blessing. They’re usually very short. “I loved your story. Thanks for a wonderful story. Please write some more.” They’re not often detailed, so if you’re wanting to know WHAT that reader particularly liked – characters? plot? setting? -- the letter probably won’t say. This is frustrating but understandable. They’re readers, after all, not writers like us. They don’t analyze, they simply enjoy.
But still… wow. To know that some total stranger plunked down hard earned cash, took your book home and devoted a few hours of her life to reading something from YOUR imagination… what an AWESOME, mind-blowing thought! All of us writers should take time out to savor that moment.
And this brings us back full circle.
Everything you’ll face as a newly-published author won’t be fun. Much of it is confusing and distracting. But given the alternative of quitting… well… most of us can’t give it up. Prepare yourself to take the good with the bad and the ugly, because somewhere out there there’ll be a reader waiting, watching the shelves for that next book with your name on it. And THAT’s what it’s really all about.
To learn more about Lyn and her books, check out her website and her road to publication story here on PHS. Make sure to read her Day In The Life post at the Coffee Time Romance blog.