The publishing business will break your heart, if you let it.
Prior to publication, many authors believe that everything becomes sparkling rainbows and gold-bridled unicorns after the author signs with an agent/signs a contract/has a debut release/has more releases or meets another major publishing goal.
That isn’t true.
Fear is an artist’s traveling companion, the black dog resting on your shoulder that never quite goes away. It takes a hiatus from time to time — most often when those major victories happen, but also in the quiet days when writing goes well or a reader’s compliment fills the author’s heart with joy.
But the fear returns.
No author, published or otherwise, has learned to banish fear completely. Anyone who says (s)he has is lying. Some feel it more, and some have less–but in the pre-dawn darkness, with a deadline looming, when the words won’t flow the way you wanted, fear is right there with us in the foxholes.
Like the old story about G. Gordon Liddy holding his hand above a candle flame … the trick is not banishing the fear, or somehow learning not to feel it. The trick–with fear as with pain–is not to mind it.
The black dog can be put on a leash, and forced to sit in the corner when it decides to misbehave. It isn’t always easy, but with focus, it can be done.
Many authors fall into despair at various points in their publishing lives, mainly because they feel so alone. Nobody else seems to have any fear, and everyone else appears to be living that perfect, sparkly-unicorn life.
Allow me to pull the curtain back for a moment: you’re not alone.
Every author worries that this book might be the last one anyone ever wants to read. New York Times Bestselling authors get up in the night and step on the hairball the cat hacked up as a midnight surprise. Milk will curdle even in the hallowed halls of Edgar and Agatha-winning authors’ homes.
The difference between that sparkling unicorn they’re riding and the black dog drooling terror on your shoulder is perspective.
Don’t compare your inner life with everyone else’s outer one. Instead, take a closer look at the things you have to be grateful for.
— If you’re writing a novel, be glad that you have the health and imagination to write.
— If you’ve signed with an agent, be glad that someone loves your work enough to represent you.
— If you’re out on submission, appreciate the fact that 99% of people who write a novel won’t get that far. Which means you’re doing it right.
— And if you have a book in print, consider the person on midnight vigil in a hospital somewhere who used your words to pass those frightened hours. (Unless you write horror, in which case consider the person who might not sleep a wink tonight…or any night this week.)
It’s true that this business can break your heart, but also true that publishing can fill an author’s heart and soul to bursting-full with joy. Few other businesses give a person’s lifelong dream a physical form.
Publishing is filled with joyful moments, if you look for them. The day you finished a difficult page…or chapter…or manuscript. The day the plot lines fell into place like beautifully oiled gears. The day your friends raised glasses to toast your success, or drank to your failure–either way, you have good friends, and they were there for you.
Celebrate every victory, every day, and every page. Pay attention to the blessings. Let the curses fall away. Some days will be difficult. Some will be simple. But all will be what you make them.
Yes, publishing can break your heart, but only if you let it.
If you give it the chance, it will fill your heart up, too.