Friday, August 24, 2012

Avoiding The Crazy

Believe it or not, I've actually put together a useful post for you guys today, (or TRIED to anyway) instead of my usual whining about deadlines or apologizing for not blogging or general ramblings and shenanigans. (wow, why do you guys put up with me?) And I decided to cover a topic that ALWAYS comes up when I'm at shows/conferences/conventions talking with other writers:

How hard publishing is, and how to avoid The Crazy*

*The Crazy being that angsty, tearing out your hair whilst shaking your fist at the sky and shouting, "why, WHY did I decide to be a writer????????"

I mean, let's face it--whether you're drafting, revising, querying, on submission, launching your debut, a NYT Bestseller, or anything in between, this business is tough, and littered with discouragement and frustration. That's not to say it's not also completely awesome in many, many ways. But yeah, this dream? Not easy. And pretty much everyone is struggling in some way--even the people who seem like they have it all together (sometimes especially them). Queries get rejected. Drafts don't sell. Editors switch houses. Deadlines overlap. Editorial letters arrive--and they're long. Mid-list titles get less support than they need. Major chain stores pass on stocking certain books. Sales numbers drop. And reviews. Ohhhhhhhh, reviews.

And now that I've thoroughly stressed you all out and you're all scrounging for emergency relief cupcakes (I know I am) I wanted to share five pieces of advice that have helped me get through all the ups and downs of this journey without giving into The Crazy (well... most of the time. Nothing helps copyedits...).

(and since I'm being useful here I've even arranged it into a shiny list with numbered headings. But I wouldn't get too used to this kinda organization. Odds are I'll be back to my rambling ways next week)

1. Let go of expectations.
There's a big difference between HOPE and EXPECTATION. Hope is the spark of faith that keeps you going, keeps you believing that things will turn around and go your way. Expectation is the root of every bitter feeling, telling you that you didn't get something you deserved. And maybe you DID deserve it. But in this crazy, unreliable business there WILL be times when you'll get overlooked by someone or passed over for something, and if you'd been expecting to get it ... well, your disappointment will be exponentially more painful. It's an incredibly fine line, I know, because we do need to stay positive. But trust me, the slight attitude adjustment will save your sanity time and again. Not to mention it's so much better to be pleasantly surprised when you get something you didn't expect. Makes the joy that much sweeter.

2. Don't compare.
I've talked about the importance of "eyes on your own test paper" before (HERE) but I can't emphasize it enough. No two writers EVER have the same path and no two books EVER get the same treatment, and if you try to compare them all you're going to do is find things that upset you. Seriously, no good can come from comparison. It will only make you feel bad about yourself or frustrated with what you're getting. I know it's not easy, especially since we have friends who tell us about what's going on for them--and they should. We need to be able to celebrate when good things happen to other people. But for your own sanity TRY not to let your mind take that next step and start comparing their book to your book or what they have to what you have or their journey to your journey. You will only hurt yourself.

3. Be Realistic.
We all hear the same crazy success stories about authors who have agents fighting over them, who sell their book for huge money after a massive auction, who debut on the NYT List, win a billion awards, etc., etc. It DOES happen sometimes--and it may happen to you. But generally the reason we all know those stories is because they are ridiculously rare, and therefore got a lot of attention. And they are NOT the only definition of success in this business--by any means. An author friend of mine once told me to never treat a book like THIS IS THE BIG ONE because it's impossible to predict that. Just write the best book you can and put it out there to do what it will. Some will get agents/sell to publishers/take the world by storm. Others won't. Don't put any more pressure on yourself--you have enough already. 

4. Write what you love.
Every single conference I've been to there's talk about trends. There's worrying about what's selling and what isn't. There's panicking about word count and POV and which age ranges are more popular than others. And the answer is always: write what you love. If people knew how to predict the next trend we'd all know what it is. Not to mention, if you're writing something just because you think it's what you're supposed to write, it will never have a soul. Sure, don't be oblivious when it comes to the market. But make sure you pick a story you love, that you need to tell, that tugs at your heart and your mind and won't let go until you bleed those words onto paper. Because it's just too darn much work and frustration to spend on anything lesser.

5. Avoid the noise. 
Querying authors: TRY not to stalk the blogs or twitter feeds of the agents you're querying. Authors on submission: TRY to avoid the same thing with editors who have your draft. And authors with a book out (or coming out): Stay far, far away from goodreads and other review sites. Trust me, these things will only mess with your head. I know it's hard--believe me, I know. And this doesn't mean you shouldn't also work very hard on cultivating a thick skin, because you're going to need it. But seriously there is enough to stress and worry over--don't go looking for more. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

What I love most about all of these is that they're all things that I can control. In a business where so much is out of my hands, it's nice to have a concrete list of things that I personally have power over  and that directly affect my happiness. 

I hope they'll help any of you that are struggling, too.

And since I want to make sure this post is as useful as possible, I'll end by including one of my favorite pieces of writing advice, from the amazing (and much smarter than me) Shannon Hale. She has a wealth of wisdom on her blog, but the one I love most is titled "What I wish I'd known" and it has 9 points, my favorite of which is #7:
The more books you read and love, and the happier you are for other authors’ successes, the happier you’ll be, too. Apparently, it’s not a competition! All writers are on the same side – the side of the books, of reading, of literacy, of art, of every reader who wants to fall into a story. And if you’re really lucky, some of those writers will become your friends.

We really are all on the same side here. It's not one type of publishing vs another, nor is it agented vs un-agented or big authors vs small. ALL writers are working together, championing books and stories and loving words and characters and keeping kids and teens reading. That's what makes this business worth all the hassle and headaches.

Well, that and the fact that truly the main difference between an unpublished writer and a published author is time and perserverence. Keep at it and you WILL get there. Really. It may not happen the way you want or when you want, but it WILL happen. You just have to hang in there in the meantime and avoid The Crazy.

Oh, and eat a few cupcakes. Cupcakes make EVERYTHING better. ;)


  1. Thanks Shannon for the advice. I ask myself a lot "Why am I doing this?" But I always come back to: I love writing. Your tips are great on how to handle the craziness of it. And you're right, it and the lack of control doesn't end when you get an agent or book deal. Loved Shannon Hale's advice too.

  2. Maybe I should take up gardening.... Kidding! Thanks for the tips - it sounds like it only gets crazier and crazier as you move along in this journey. Something we all have to steal ourselves for! Thanks :)

  3. I'll echo Shelley (storyqueen), and simply say, this is lovely. Every word is appreciated.

  4. Great post today, Shannon!
    Practical. Useful. Helpful.

  5. What awesome advice! Thank you. Very helpful and appreciated it. And you are so right. This industry is everything BUT easy.

  6. I’ll take your cupcake, er, word for it.

  7. I needed this. Especially this: "Querying authors: TRY not to stalk the blogs or twitter feeds of the agents you're querying." Thanks for bringing the sanity!

  8. This is great, Shannon! Just super! Some I'd heard/figured out and others I hadn't (but make so much sense). I can see myself stalking agents...Eek! Thanks for nipping that before the idea had an opportunity to form. ;)
    And I love Shannon Hale (and her words). It isn't a competition. And just this last week I happened to order one of her books and pre-order one of yours in the same shot. See! More books, more authors, more happiness!

  9. You crawled into my head and saw what's happening, didn't you ... DIDN'T YOU. Number 2. Couldn't be any more timely. THANK YOU for this. You've just saved my agent another handful of emails from me in which I say, I CAN DO THIS, RIGHT???? :o) I will print and re-read to reassure myself I'm not losing the few pretty blue marbles that remain. SQUIRREL!

  10. Great post, Shannon! *Snags a cupcake* And yes, cupcakes, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, ice all helps. Control what you can control and let the rest go.

  11. I read on someone's blog that you are supposed to "stalk" agents and publishers via their Facebook pages, Tweets, and their blogs, so you would be able to add something witty and relevant to your query letter and stand a better chance of being noticed. I haven't been able to work the up energy to track these people down and to do that. THANK YOU! You have taken my guilty conscience and stuffed it behind the bookcase where it will be forgotten.

    I've lived the difference between hope and expectation, and you're exactly right. I've learned over the past few months to keep the expectations out of the equation and enjoy the wonderful feelings that come when sweet hope becomes reality.

    Eat a cupcake for me. I'm on a diet.

  12. This post should be required reading! You've really struck at the heart of what's hard about this business, with some great ideas on how to deal with it.

  13. Great advice all around.
    I would also like to take the opportunity to share a link to a great contest for MG writers:

    Thanks, Rosie

  14. Loved this whole entire post, Shannon. Thanks so much :)

  15. Great post, Shannon! I just ordered your book that's due out in 2013...Can't wait to read it.

  16. My only objection to this is that I wish more authors concentrated on writing what their demographic wants to read, and not what they want to write. Not that everyone should start writing dystopias because that is the hot thing, but there is always a need for funny books, murder/ghost mysteries, sports books, and series for boys, and so few people write them. On the other hand, there is far more fantasy out there than I can ever purchase or convince students to read. Just my thought from the trenches.

    1. I do agree with what you're saying--and like I said, you can't be oblivious to the market. But I do also think you have to stay true to who you are, and what I mean is, if you're not a naturally funny writer, you'll never be able to write a good funny book. And if the story isn't something you have any passion for, the kids won't want to read it no matter what subject/genre it is, because they'll be able to tell it was forced. The ideal of course is if you can hold off starting a project until you find one that you're passionate about AND that has a good place in the market, but if not, I still think a better book will result from picking the one you have some love for, rather than the one you "should" write.

  17. Great reminders as I enter another week of writing! Thanks!


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