Thursday, June 11, 2015

Some Hard Lessons

I'm into my third year after getting published. Just under three years ago, I was on top of the moon as I obtained my first publishing contract with Astraea Press (now called Clean Reads). After years of rejection letters and learning how to improve my writing, I had reached my goal. My dream from childhood had come true. Aware that I had challenges ahead, I still didn't suspect that, at times, I would go through those same painful waiting periods and feelings of failure that I have the last year.

I think there are always seasons of change in our lives, and although they may be painful, I believe everything we go through has a purpose. I'm not saying that God somehow plonks a whole lot of hardship on us, but I do believe there's a lesson to be learned in each challenge that we face.

These are some of the lessons I've learned the last few years since entering the publishing arena:

1. That because a book gets bad reviews, doesn't mean it's a bad book and you must stop promoting it. The reason for your poor sales on that book is probably more how you see the book and your lack of interest in promoting it. Yes, it may be less popular, but you can't just assume that it always is. I know several of my books have done worse than others. With some of those, I've decided to not even bother promoting because I now don't believe in them. Those books have repeatedly done worse than the others I've believed in despite any negativity against them. Which leads on to the next point.

2. Take criticism less to heart. I'm a pretty sensitive person and I have a tendency to focus on the negative more than the positive - part and parcel of the melancholic personality (creative, deep thinker, emotional.) When I get a bad review, I ponder it with a sick feeling in my gut for days. The words play about in my head and start taunting me - see, you really aren't as good at this as everyone else, you're a fake, you're wasting your time writing every day. Give it up and take up a career you're good at. Yet, if I get a good review, I tend to think - oh well, that person's just being nice. Or if it's from a stranger - oh, they must be one of those rare people who like my book. I probably won't get many of those. Brace yourself for disappointment. Ha, it's not that bad, but it can get close. I'm discovering that bad reviews don't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Everyone enjoys different types of books, different styles of writing, are in a different mood when they read a book. I've hated some top selling books before and adored some unknown indie books. It all really depends. But yes, I'm now learning to believe in myself, to see my own work in the proper perspective. I do have something to give to the world and I can't give it up.

3. Doing what you love isn't always fun. Those first five years after I started writing seriously, or even longer, were amazing. When I received my first contract, I was flying. The words flowed off the page; nothing could stop me. I didn't edit everything I wrote. I was innocent, new, fresh, hadn't suffered disappointments from editors and publishers. I believed the world lay at my feet and things would probably flow with much less difficulty than before. Boy, was I wrong. In trying to find the right places for my books the last year or so, I've hit the rejection letter joy ride again. It's been hard. My patience has been tested. My inspiration has been choked. It's tested my commitment to my job. I somehow see writing more as a job now than a passion. It's something I stick to every day because that's my lot in life. Not that I always find it difficult, but it's hard to keep going when you don't see the results that you used to in the beginning.

4. Everyone's journey is different and there is no set formula on how to do it. In the beginning, I aimed to get published. That was my ultimate dream - for a publisher to take my baby and release it to the world. Even though I dabbled in self-publishing, I only did that because I couldn't get the beloved contract I'd longed for. I tried it prematurely and didn't have success. After obtaining contracts, I looked to the future. I saw I needed to work on possibly finding a more mainstream publisher where I'd make more sales on my books. That was my next goal. I've worked on that for the last few years with little success. For those who have achieved that, I think it's wonderful for them, but from talking with some of them, I don't think all of them want to remain just there - they want to progress further and make more sales. Lately, after hearing stories from other authors, I've considered the self-publishing route again. This time, armed with a lot more knowledge and experience. I can see how it works like a charm for some people and not so much for others. I think we all need to find our niche. Everyone has success in their own path, whether it's a multi-faceted one or not. Maybe for some the path is very straightforward and never deviates. For others, it twists and turns and changes and has many routes.

5. One of the greatest and happiest lessons I've learned and which hasn't disappointed me is that fellow authors are still our biggest cheerleaders. It's a great industry to be in with very supportive people who are always willing to lend a hand in promoting, sharing, chatting, answering questions, editing, etc.

6. Be willing to try out a new genre, but don't be disappointed in yourself if you keep on gravitating back to your original genre. And don't set it in stone - you never know what inspiration will strike in the future.

7. Keep a notebook and write your ideas down.  Not on your computer but on paper. It does something.

8. Staring at a blank screen is not equal to words flowing and inspiration. NO!!! Get up, take a walk, lie in a hot bath, wash the dishes, cook supper, run on the beach, play with your dog. The inspiration WILL come. Yes, at the time, you think you'll never get it and that you're screwed for life - that you've lost all your creativity. It's scary, but it ALWAYS passes. Strangely enough, that well of creativity doesn't run dry - it's all inside you waiting to come out. A creative career is very hard. It's not like going to work every day and typing up documents that are placed in your in-tray or balancing figures that are presented to you. When you create, you have to come up with something from the well inside of you. It takes an immense amount of energy and resolve. So, don't be hard on yourself when you struggle, but also know, you do have it in you no matter how you are feeling on a bad day. That said, sometimes you just need to write something, even if it's junk. Fill up that blank screen with something and then the flow will come.

9. Take breaks and spend time with your family or yourself or friends. I admit that I was a bit obsessed at one stage, but I think my family's happier now that I do stop most nights and weekends to do things with them. It took a conscious decision sometimes to put them before my own ambitions or deadlines. It still does sometimes. And taking a break refreshes the mind too. I've noticed that people in the writing industry don't take weekends. It can be most frustrating. Emails stream in on Saturdays and Sundays requiring action and information. You sometimes can't switch off, but you can choose to put off the less urgent for later. But also I see it this way - sometimes, I do have to work long hours and in not-so-convenient times. I had to post a blog post on my vacation one evening. I see writing as a business. Any person who runs their own business has to work during all sorts of hours. It's a sacrifice and a commitment and you have to keep at it even in the beginning years when the reward is small.

10. Stay humble and stay teachable but believe in yourself. That's all I can say.

Have you learned any hard lessons in your writing journey the last few years?

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