Lisa Burstein

This Be Where I Blog

What happens when you get to the dance? Measuring success in writing.

on August 12, 2012

What happens when you get to the winter formal but the cute, popular quarterback (or whoever your dream guy/girl is) doesn’t ask you to dance?

There are a lot of different levels of this in writing.

You have an agent who requests a partial off a query, but doesn’t request the full manuscript.

You have an agent who requests the full manuscript, but says, “it isn’t for them.”

You finally get an agent, and publishers tell you your manuscript “isn’t for them”.

But what happens when you get to the dance (publication) and you still feel rejected?

All I have wanted my whole life was to be a published author. Sure, I wanted other things, but this dream was the main dream. The one I saw as proof that I had “made” it. Well, being on the other side has changed that thinking a bit. I don’t want you to think I’m one of those ungrateful authors that is going to say, be careful what you wish for, because I am grateful, so grateful that my work found a place where someone said yes you. That my amazing agent and editor helped shape my book into something special and beautiful. That my publisher designed an amazing cover and printed truly striking copies of my book. That my publicist worked tirelessly to make sure that my book got the pre-launch and launch it deserved.

But, this post is about the things that happen after that. The insecurities and doubt that become a part of your daily life once your book is out.

I have always been an anxious person, I worry, but that anxiety is nothing compared to the high-voltage anxiety I feel now, every day, all day long. Will my book sell enough? Am I doing enough to make it sell? And the worst question of all; were all those agents and editors who rejected me for all those years right? Was I not good enough?

I don’t think every author assumes they will be a best-seller out of the gate, but I think any author would be lying if they said it wasn’t something they considered *could* happen. What I think debut authors don’t think about is the other side, that once the hoopla of release-month dies down, that it’s just your book waiting on a shelf, or online for someone to say, yes you.

That the rejection you felt when you were querying for an agent and on submission with editors comes back every day when someone decides not to pick up your book. When you sit on the bleachers with all the other books that are out and are not asked to dance.

Of course, sales are nothing you can control. Nothing I can control, and as someone filled with anxiety, this has been the hardest part. Not that I even know my sales yet. (I haven’t even received my first royalty statement.) I am basing my view of sales off this magical number called sales rank, that I attempt to read like tea leaves and according to everyone and their mother means even less than that.

But still I watch it. It goes up and feel sick, it goes down and I feel giddy, it goes up again and I feel sick again. The lower it is the better I feel and I hate the control it now has over my mood.

What I am clinging to in all of this, what I am learning is the only thing that can keep you sane, or at least is keeping me sane, are the people who read your book and love it. And, I’ve had some, more than some. I’ve had a major publication call my book a must-read. I’ve had several literary agents who purchased my book say the same thing. I’ve had the New York Journal of books recommend my book to schools. The San Francisco book review give my book 4-stars. I’ve had more than one teenage girl tell me I “get it”.

I’ve had reviewers compare me to John Green, Sara Zarr, Sara Dessen and HOLY CRAP(!) Judy Blume and double HOLY CRAP(!!) compare my book to Catcher in the Rye and the movie Juno. Have had readers tell me my book made them laugh out loud, cry, think, feel.

Why aren’t these things enough for me? Because I crave acceptance just like everyone else- and unfortunately in publishing true acceptance equates to sales. These intangible things should be enough to keep me going and help me write the next book and the next one. But there are some days, when I think about the writer I used to be before I was published. When I found true joy in the turn of a phrase and a funny line one of my characters said. When just writing on a legal pad and not thinking about who would like it or buy it was all I needed and all I wanted. Some days, I do wish I could go back there.

Just like I learned to write, I am learning to be an author. It is a completely different experience. I have told my husband it feels like I am naked on the internet waiting for people to like me. Before I was just sitting in my office writing furiously hoping maybe someday one person would like me enough to give me a chance. This is where that chance has brought me, now its my book’s turn to fly or fall on it’s own.

I am at the dance and my insecurties are no different. I am not sure what I am trying to say in this post other than to let writers published or not know that the bar for success is always moving and to remember that believing in yourself and your work is the only thing you can control.

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Read the first chapter here

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One response to “What happens when you get to the dance? Measuring success in writing.

  1. So true. I worry about that on my own writing journey: how to balance validation with internal chatter that says, simply, “not good enough”, no matter how many things point to the contrary. Thanks for sharing such an honest post!

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