Dear Pre-Author Laurie,
I see you there, pouring over writer message boards and commiserating with writer friends about how LONG response times drag out, keeping you glued to your inbox. You are deep in the trenches that only the pre-published can understand. You read through weekly deal announcements like they’re horoscopes and ah, yes, now I see you there crying over yet another rejection. (Those ones that come closest are the ones that sting the most, huh?) There you are in your favorite position, writing away, taking occasional breaks to gaze off into the middle-distance, dreaming about the day your goal will be realized. The day you will hold a book with your name emblazoned across the cover. A book that you wrote. The day you will become a Published Author.
Well, that day has come and gone and I’m here to tell you what the future holds. Firstly, you will be delirious with excitement that day you watch the FedEx truck pull up to your house to deliver copies of your very first book. (You *might* hug the driver.) You will squeal every time you see your book face-out on bookstore shelves and you will want to hug every person in the line that will wrap around your publisher’s booth at BEA waiting for you to sign copies of your book. You will have reading events in libraries and in NYC and in your very favorite bookstores and it will all be more nerve-wracking and fun than you can even imagine. You will get reviews and be continually amazed by the fact that people are reading your words and discussing them thoughtfully. You are going to make it. So many wonderful authorly experiences await, but first you will endure more rejection than you can imagine. More than you think is even possible.
I am currently working on our fourth contracted novel. How cool is that? Book number three is out in the world (our first hardcover!) and I am so proud of the ways our writing has grown. (You will be shocked over how much you still need to learn. How much I still need to learn.) You think your books are ready now, but you will see how much more they can be. You will find the right agent and she will find you the right editors and they will all teach you new ways of seeing your words that you are incapable of seeing right now. You will be grateful for all these ‘No’s pushing you to go deeper with your writing. This painful waiting is more important than you can know.
You imagine even one book contract will give you that vote of confidence you need. That badge of honor that will allow you to introduce yourself as a writer without blushing and staring at your shoes. I’m sorry to break this news, but being published will do less for your confidence than you hope. In fact, at times you will feel much less talented than you did when you first started stringing words together in high school. You will feel even less secure than you do right now. You will worry that you are a hopeless hack. It feels sucky, but it will keep you working harder to compensate for the lack of natural talent that you always used to imagine you had.
Another bit of bad news is the fact that writing novels doesn’t get any easier. There are no shortcuts and each book will require every bit as much from you as the one before. Actually more. Writing with the sense that readers are looking over your shoulder is going to freak you out. I know it sounds crazy when I tell you to enjoy the freedom that comes from writing in obscurity, but once you’ve released your first book and experienced the literary equivalent of standing naked in front of the world you will miss that sensation of tossing words freely into the abyss. People will judge you based on those words you’re writing. From your father’s friend who gives a helpful run-down of your mental state based on your character’s choices, to readers who don’t always get your (admittedly off-center) sense of humor, you will feel exposed in ways you can’t even imagine. Which brings us to:
Not everyone will love your books. I know this is a hard one to take and certainly there are readers who will connect with your characters and genuinely love your books. Sometimes they will even be moved to write you letters saying so and these things, these ‘fan letters’ are marvelous things. You will have readers who write good reviews and tweet good things that warm your heart and make you smile. But theirs are not the words that will run through your mind while you lie in bed at night. No, the words written in a bigger font in your head will always be from the folks who plod through the apparent dreck that you have shoveled onto the page and publicly warn their friends to stay away. Write anyway.
The worst editorial rejection you ever get will not hurt as much as that first critical review. While an editorial rejection implies you’re not quite there yet and things can be improved, a critical review, no matter who it’s from, means that your best is still unworthy. And the worst reviews of all? Not the ranty Gif-laden tirades on Goodreads. No, those are sometimes funny. It’s the well thought-out evaluations that point out some plot or character or reasoning flaw that was situated perfectly in your blind spot. It’s those criticisms that are dead on right that will shake your faith the hardest. But here's the thing.
That desire deep in your gut to write words that will touch others, that faith that being an author is a worthy life goal? That remains. That drive to get better and the longing to write more will not be lessened even a small amount. In fact, you will become more determined, not less. And most of all, that feeling of sitting down and creating worlds and characters and stringing together words in a meaningful way will continue to be a source of great joy. In fact, the writing itself is the only constant here. It is still as difficult and heartbreaking and as cool as ever, and that awesome sensation of being in flow is every bit as intoxicating as you find it now.
So keep going. Keep writing and believing in yourself. Don’t ever stop dreaming because although having those dreams fulfilled won’t feel the way you imagine it will, I can tell you the pain of dreaming is absolutely worth it. You will be an author one day, but you are already a writer. And that’s the very best part.
Now go and get back to work so I can exist!
All my love, Published Author Laurie