Thursday, May 27, 2010

How to Cope

Let's be honest.

This game can suck your soul dry.

There have been times when I've tried to pull myself out of it, just for a little while, when everything gets to be too overwhelming. When you meet someone who just tapped out the first draft of their novel five days ago, and now they have four agents clamoring to represent them. When a book you think yours could run circles around sells at auction two days after it goes out, and you're still waiting in the dugout. When you're starting your second draft and realizing half the stuff you've written will need to be cut and you're really not sure about the love interest's motivations. When you don't have the time or the money to go to writer's conferences, and the agents you tweet don't tweet you back, and nobody likes your query in Query Letter Hell, and every agent who reads a full "couldn't connect."

Times like these, I try to get away from everything. I stop reading the blogs, I take a break from whatever I'm writing, I try to remind myself that there's a world outside my computer screen.

It never really works. Love it or not--and most of the time I do--I'm entrenched in this world. There's no going back. And that isn't because I'm published. It's because--like, I'm guessing, a lot of you--I care too fucking much.

I read Pub Lunch every day because I have to know what's going out. I read Jacket Whys because I need to know what the cover trends are. And this part of the process, actually, has nothing to do with jealousy. It's driven completely by this hunger to know everything that's going on in publishing, because, when you get right down to the point, I love publishing. I spent last weekend in NYC meeting with my fabulous agent and editor and as many other people as I could get my dirty D.C. hands on, and it was undeniably one of the best weekends of my life. It's amazing to talk about something you know about and care about with people who know about it and care about it too.

But.

It can wear you down if you don't feel like you're as good as everyone else. And let me say it, loud and clear--everyone feels like they're not as good as everyone else.

It doesn't matter where you are in the process. You will always think that someone is writing faster or better or getting more attention from their agent or going out to better editors or selling faster or getting a better cover or selling more copies.

Here's what I've found keeps you from getting gnawed down to nothing with the jealousy, fear, and guilt that seems to go hand in hand with writing.

Tell someone who isn't a writer.

When I was querying in high school, I had a few people ask me why the fuck I kept running to the computers like an addict between every class. So I explained querying to them, with a flow-chart. All paths lead to rejection--query, partial, full--except this one skinny path over here that leads to acceptance.

One kid said, "So any step of the way, someone can just hit the YOU SUCK button on you?"

Yeah.

So after that, we called it the "YOU SUCK" button. Every once in a while he'd asked me if anyone had hit the "YOU SUCK" button on me lately.

Usually they had, and he'd grumble and say "Those bastards! They must be crazy to reject you! You're amazing!"

Keep in mind, this kid had never read a thing that I'd written. For all he knew, I could have been horrible. But just the fact that I was out there writing and sending letters made me fantastic to him.

So go tell someone about the industry. Teach them about the process. Sit down with your husband or your girlfriend or your best friend or your mom or anyone who gives a shit about you but doesn't know anything about this and tell them what you're going through and listening to and praying for every day.

You will be shocked at how much they don't know about how publishing works.

And they will be shocked at how incredible you are for getting through this day after day.

My boyfriend and my roommate know very little about the books I'm actually writing, but they know a shitload about the publishing industry, thanks to me.

And thanks to that, they know I'm a star.

66 comments:

Robby said...

You are a star, and I am in love with you.

Susan Adrian said...

A resounding YES.

Sandy Shin said...

That's the perfect advice. I've tried explaining the publishing industry to roommate & friends, and the wonderful thing is, THEY think it is awesome that I am even writing when it isn't for school. Just attempting this is enough for them to call me "amazing." And, honest or not, it makes me feel better. :)

*huggles*

Scott said...

So. Great.

This was exactly the pick me up I needed today.

Victoria said...

Thank you for this, Hannah. Seriously.

Kate Hart said...

I'm kind of alarmed at how much of my internal monologue you just plopped down on the page.

Great post, Hannah.

hannah said...

Thanks, everyone. You are all so fabulous.

Lisa Desrochers said...

Wow! All the stuff everyone thinks, but nobody says. Leave it to the Hannahtron. Well said.

Jennifer Walkup said...

Truly, truly great post. Every single word of it is true. Sigh, ugh and we're all gluttons for punishment.:)

Kirsten Hubbard said...

such a great post.

Christopher Ing said...

We all need "civilians" in our lives to remind us how special we really are. Not everyone can pile up that many words, and that alone even if it's not "sellable" or "publish worthy" is something that should be celebrated.

Great post.

hannah said...

Christopher--that's a fantastic way of putting it, and I love the word "civilian." I usually use "layperson," which is less effective and more offensive, hahahaha.

J.S. Wood said...

Awesome post, Hannah! It's so hard for people to understand that at every acceptance there's still a next step and more chance of rejection. It's a bitch of a business but ultimately fascinating.

Corinne O'Flynn said...

"...everyone feels like they're not as good as everyone else."

Thanks for that, Hannah. Great post.

This whole game does get overwhelming- from all angles.

hannah said...

Thanks, Corinne!

I'm not sure anyone ever gets to the point where they think people who compliment them aren't either lying or delusional. I still feel like I've pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, but sooner or later they're going to figure out that I'm not a real writer and I don't actually know what the fuck I'm doing.

But I'm beginning to understand that a lot of people feel that way.

sue laybourn said...

Brilliant. I'm not all that far down the road yet, but I read enough tweets, blogs, AW threads, posts, etc. to know exactly what it's like.

It's a horribly addicting business and I just can't keep myself from trying over and over and over again, like a moth beating itself against the porch light.

Tahereh said...

you are a rockstar. this is SO SO necessary. thanks for tapping into my heart.

HWPetty said...

Thanks for this. Something about the month of May, right? It's been the nemesis to my self-belief.

You're more awesome than is strictly necessary.

hannah said...

May is when everything in publishing starts to slow down, and, as writers, we always think that's our fault. The agent is sitting on the manuscript because she hates it. You haven't gone to editorial meeting because the editor isn't sure about you. The interns are laughing over your query. Really, it has nothing at all to do with us--it's all the crazy shit that's going on in the industry right now, with BEA and Backspace and vacation time. But it's hard to keep that in mind.

Kristin Miller said...

Haha - May sucks! Every morning I rush to my e-mail before remembering that I'm not going to hear anything right now. Then I punch my screen. XD

This is a great post. It takes an insane amount of something/confidence/gumption/tequila to handle publishing, but posts like this make it a bit more bearable.

Cheyanne Young said...

Hannah I love you. This post was everything I feel, right down to the boyfriend part. My boyfriend doesn't know what my book is about but he knows everything about agents and publishing, and he is that non writing friend who always tells me I'm awesome no matter what. We need these people in our lives.

Also, if you have time, can you pop over to my blog and read my query? People have told me to have you check it out as you are the guru. Just a yes this is good or a no it sucks would suffice.

Oh, and every time I feel like the writing world is full of soul-crushing rejection, I'm thankful that I didn't choose something worse to be passionate about.. like modeling. :)

hannah said...

Hey Cheyanne--

I'm SO backed up on queries but I'll try to be over as soon as I can!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post. My friends don't know anything about the publishing industry so, at times, it feels like I'm alone at sea.
Think it's time to teach them :)

Jess said...

This is so great. I am so bad about feeling like the worst writer in the world, so I am going to do this! Great advice, and thanks for the pick-me-up!

Bronwyn Scott-McCharen said...

Thank you so much for this post, Hannah (and for reaffirming my own thoughts sometimes about the publishing industry).

I do love explaining to all of my friends the ins and outs of the industry and what exactly all those crazy terms mean. They're usually shocked that so much work goes into making a book. But they think its cool...haha.

Once again, a fabulous post :D

Becca C. said...

I love that you're exactly like me :) Gives me hope.

hannah said...

:)

Nicola Marsh said...

Brilliant.

elissa said...

haha nice. I tell my students. this week when I told them book is out on sub, they applauded spontaneously...it was so awkward and so awesome. and then they asked all the questions (though it's possible they just hoped it would keep me from adhering to the lesson plan...), and I told them so much about the process, and they were so impressed--it feels good to have people cheering for you, even as you feel like you probably don't deserve it. :)

Liz Czukas said...

hannah, dammit, you actually brought tears to my eyes.

I know I must love this work/life/industry/SNAFU, because I have never worked so hard at something so fruitless up to this point before. Seriously, I am a notorious quitter of all things hard. But I'm still here.

It's good to know I'm not delusional. Just the normal amount of crazy.

Thanks,
Liz

Vee said...

Yes, yes, yes. You're a rockstar for posting this :D

Robin Mellom said...

Wow. That rocked my day.
Thank you!!!!!!

Christina Lee said...

This kind of made me tear up a little because you knocked all the key points out of the park!

Dorothy Dreyer said...

If I could reach out through the computer to hug you, I so would! At the risk of sounding like a cheesy heroin from an even cheesier book or movie, I don't feel so alone anymore! Thank you so much for posting this!

LTM said...

Awesomeness. Thanks for the affirmation~

Anonymous said...

Wow you're my age but you sound so old and wise. Esp about the jealousy that goes with the industry. Well done for getting published so young. And I hope the career goes well.

hannah said...

Thank you, everyone.

elle-blessing said...

This is great. I definitely struggle (just like any other writer) with thinking everyone around me is better, but there's some people on my flist (friends list) that would probably like to hear your take on this too - I'll be linking you :D

Thanks!

Tawna Fenske said...

Love this. Best thing I've read all week about the biz.

Having survived tons of rejections and stuck it out to end up with a three-book deal, I still feel this way even now. There are good days and bad days, and I've learned to recognize the signs of my own downward spiral into "you suck."

Thanks for posting this!

Tawna

Kristan said...

Like everyone else said: Fantastic.

It'd be easier to swallow if it weren't coming from a teenage published writer... but still: Awesome. ;P

(And I suppose it's testament to why you ARE a teenage published writer.)

(Well, maybe you've crossed the threshold in your 20s now -- I'm not sure -- but either way you know what I mean.)

(I SO wanted to be you. Sigh.)

hannah said...

YOU CAN BE ME.

EVERYONE CAN BE ME.

If it helps, I have Steph Bowe, etc., to be jealous of. They're nipping at my heels all the time.

February Grace said...

Whoa.

Dude.

I'm nodding at the computer with tears in my eyes here.

Thank you so, so, so much.

That was absolutely amazing.

I am totally going to buy your book, too. Right now.

I have a Kindle.

I'll have it before you even see this comment :)

Thank you so much for reminding us we're not alone in all this especially Query Hell.

hannah said...

The thought of an instantaneous BREAK sale gets me a little hard, ngl. Whoa, am I allowed to say that on the interent?

hannah said...

uh, internet.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I'm in awe of how many young writers have all this sorted. I think the world's in good hands. It's a good industry to love. The blogging community of writers, editors, and agents is a good family to be in. Happy writing, Simon.

Richard Levangie said...

I followed the link from Bransford, and when I read your commentary, I thought: "Right on, sister!" And then I read your age, and my jaw dropped. (It hit my desk. It actually hurt. You'll be hearing from my lawyer. You should post a warning about that).

I couldn't write my way out of a wet paper bag at your age, let alone find a strategy that would help me roll with the industry's punches. Thanks for the wonderful advice.

I have confidence in my abilities after a thousand bylines writing features for magazines and newspapers. But now that my attention is focused in a young adult novel, I have to work really hard to keep the butterflies out of my stomach. It seems like such a long shot, and I'm pinning so many hopes on it.

Time to step back. Release the pressure. Thanks, Hannah!

Rachele Alpine said...

I needed this post right...about...now! Thanks! The road to publishing is so crazy; it's full of ups and then I feel like I'm falling back down. I think my heart is becoming weaker with all the highs and lows from publishing! I need to remember the good times when it beats fast and strong! That's what keeps me going and writing!

hannah said...

Thanks for all the comments! I'm so glad this post was useful, and that I'm not alone in the craziness!

Tabitha said...

You're so right about the road to publication. It's a roller coaster of a wild ride, and not always in a good way. :)

When I first sought to publish my work, I told a family member what I was doing and how the industry worked. He said something to the effect of 'why don't you just self-publish and be done with it? You'll never make it the traditional way.'

Um...no. :) Since then, I've been careful *who* I tell about the publishing industry, and all that it involves. :)

p.s. As one who has read your work, rest assured that it's awesome. :)

Rachele Alpine said...

Uhm....how much did my comment scare you with all those exclamation marks? Yikes.

Nadine said...

I LOVE this post!! Thank you!! That whole first paragraph was my journey. Exactly.

You rock.

hannah said...

I'm an exclamation mark ho. They roll right off my back.

Sajidah said...

wow.
you read our souls with this post.

hannah said...

:) I'm so glad everyone's liked it so much. I pretty much expected people to tell me I was crazy.

February Grace said...

Your reply made me laugh and hey, you can say what you want it's your blog and yes I really did buy the book instantaneously if you want proof just for your own amusement I'd be happy to send a webcam shot of it on my Kindle and email it to you.

An aside- the concept of Break just leapt into my chest and I think just about pulled out my heart. Wow. Stunning.

I hope to start reading it today (five eye surgeries last year to regain partial sight after losing it means I have to read much slower than I used to). But this sounds like a story that's worth the eye-time for sure and believe me I have to pick and choose.

Keep that great head on your shoulders- and when all else fails remember what Stuart Smalley said (and you're probably going to have to look that up you're too young to remember *sigh*) "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!"

~bru

Nicole MacDonald said...

So with you on the 'you suck' button. Am making sure i shake it off and let it go so I can continue on the 'onwards and upwards' path :)

India Drummond said...

I love it. You've so clearly defined what all of us go through, and found the perfect antidote.

Susan Woodring said...

I love the post, plus I love reading all these comments: proof I'm not alone.

Thank you for this!

suzie townsend said...

Fabulous post!

hannah said...

Thank you, Suzie!

Nick Earls said...

We can never hear this message enough, I think. I'm 46 years old and 13 books in (13 published ones anyway - there were a few before then that we don't talk about now). There is always an urge to benchmark ourselves unproductively. So far my adult novels haven't sold like The Da Vinci Code and my YA stuff hasn't sold like Twilight, and I have to keep reminding myself that was never the point. They sell enough to pay like a good job, and this is a great job. I'm glad every day that I get to do it.

The good side of self-doubt, and the reason we should never give it up entirely, is that it drives us to be better. I'm writing my 14th book and still striving to be better.

Complacent authors don't write good books. Authors paralysed by self-doubt don't write at all. Somewhere in between is a normal human level of insecurity that can serve us well, keep us learning, keep us going back into that manuscript and making it better.

In the meantime, we just need to make sure that all the messages the industry puts out there that say how good other people are don't lead to us talking ourselves down.

We do our best work when we live with this neurosis and manage it effectively.

By which I mean: great post Hannah. Thanks for saying it.

hannah said...

Nick--Thanks so much, and thanks for stopping by.

Eva said...

I know this is an old post so I don't know if you'll get this comment. But I'm on the query-go-round at the moment and I have to say I'm so discouraged. This was inspiring, thanks.

Now to my e-mail to see if anyone hit the 'YOU SUCK' button

hannah said...

I moderate comments on old posts just to make sure I won't miss them :) Thank you so much, Eva. Glad to hear I could help in some way.

Anonymous said...

This is great! But the only problem is... you're already published and I'm not. How am I supposed to cope when I've have 50 million rejections and no one loves my book, and NO ONE besides my mother says that it is good?

hannah said...

You keep writing until you get better. You keep writing once you are better. You don't ever stop writing.

And if you don't keep writing and keep submitting, you're never going to get published. I wasn't born published, you know? I've had my share of rejections. Everyone goes through that. It's the only way to get past that.