The F-Word

I’ve been a published author for just a little over seven months. In that short time I’ve had four books release and sold two more. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Considering so many people are working so hard and so long to get a book finished, let alone acquired, I should feel pretty successful, right?

Not so much.PostSecret3

Turns out that, if you’re a Type-A overachiever like I’ve always been, getting The Call (or The E-mail in my case) is less the long-fought victory than the first shot across the bow in a whole new battle. Rather than devoting 99% of my energy to writing and 1% to vaguely wondering whether that manuscript I’d submitted a few weeks ago would garner a response, I suddenly had a vast catalog of fresh anxieties.

How was my pipeline? Would readers forget about me before I got the next book out? I had to write faster, had to get the next manuscript submitted. And then what if my publisher rejected it? What if that first (or second or third) sale was a fluke? What about promotion? Was I doing too much? Too little? The wrong kind? What if I was sacrificing writing time for the wrong kind of promo? Why aren’t I getting more reviews? Why aren’t I getting more sales? Are the critical and commercial responses to this book good or bad? How do I quantify these things? And I haven’t written more than 700 words in three days and what if and what if and what if…

Rather than enjoying the ride, I spent the first six months as a published author haunted by the f-word: failure. Then the what-ifs started to become realities.

Earlier this year my editor was one of a large group that was laid off from one of my publishers, spiking my anxiety about both the timeline for a submission I had pending and its potential to attract a new editorial advocate. Then I got a one-star rating from a reviewer I really respected. And then, after a ten-week wait, a manuscript I was so proud of and believed was my best writing to date was rejected by my publisher. Rejected. No revisions, no second chances. The premise was too far over the line, it would alienate readers, and the book wasn’t commercially viable.

I picked up that e-mail in the morning as I got ready for work, and I burst into tears. I cried the whole way through my twenty-minute drive to the office. I sobbed at stoplights. At my desk I wrote an e-mail to my husband to tell him the news, and I broke down again halfway through typing the word “devastated.”

The f-word had swung out of my anxious fantasies to slap me hard in the face. I failed.

PostSecret1I slogged through the rest of that day. I went home. I drank. The world didn’t end.

I thought a lot about writing, what I want out of it, and what I’m willing to put into it. The hard truth is, as much as every writer dreams about being able to write full-time, I would have to sell literally hundreds of thousands of copies to justify giving up my current salary. Full disclosure y’all: I am not selling that many books. But I do love writing romance, and if I’d never gotten The E-mail I’d keep writing anyway, pumping out manuscripts and filing rejections.

It was time to come to Jesus with the h-word. Writing is not my career. It’s my hobby.

And you know what? That little acceptance made all the difference. I have a hobby I love that makes me a little money on the side – awesome! If my sales flag or my reviews are terrible or I have a year in between releases, who cares? It’s just a hobby.

Hobbies are supposed to be that other f-word: fun. I haven’t been having much of it lately, but I’m determined to turn that around. From now on, I can slack off if I want PostSecret2to. If promo makes me uncomfortable, I don’t have to do it. And if the story nagging me to be written is wholly unsellable, eff it, I’m going to write it anyway. Because it’s fun.

I guess I’ve taken this month’s topic literally and decided to be pretty damn open. Sometimes this journey sucks. Sometimes authors get bad reviews, sluggish sales, and flat-out rejections and it hurts. Sometimes I feel powerless, misunderstood, inferior. But that’s my own doing, and it’s a doing I’m undoing. Henceforth I’m trading f-words, ditching failure and embracing fun. And if you don’t like it, you can eff right off. 😉


The F-Word — 11 Comments

  1. I really, REALLY like this post, even though I’m not a fan of the word “hobby” (lessens my credibility, don’tcha know). I had a similar epiphany when I realized I was never going to make a living as a writer, so now I like earning a vacation or two a year instead.

    • Thanks Liz! I’d always hated “hobby” for exactly the same reason, then one day it became a refuge. It’s hard to feel guilty or anxious about one’s success or failure at a hobby. :-)

  2. I love how open and honest your posts always are, Rebecca. Like Liz, I hate the term “hobby” but I can’t disagree with you assessment. Besides, with all of the doubts, insecurities and fear of failure that this business engenders, it’s important to do what works for you. Thanks for sharing your freak-out, Rebecca. It’s a feeling to which I can relate. I’m glad you took this month’s topic, “Open,” so literally. :-)

  3. Maybe what we really need is new terminology. Why do we have to restrict ourselves to a single designation when it comes to our careers? Instead of being a hobby, why can’t writing be a second job? “I moonlight as a writer,” or maybe even “I moonlight at my day job.” We are some of the hardest-working people around, after all – maybe we should take the credit we’re due!

  4. I love, love, love this post because trying to meet the demands of what I feel my publisher expects from me and what I expect from myself has literally driven me to drink in order to stave off the panic attacks. Not healthy! I’m trying to get back to the joy of writing. I’m not there yet, but I’m gonna print this, frame it and stick it on my desk. Maybe that will help!

  5. Love this post, Rebecca. Thank you for saying it’s okay to fail. If you don’t try you can’t fail. I’m not crazy about the word ‘hobby’ either (I much prefer ‘sideline’ or ‘moonlighting’), but in truth, for a lot of us, writing is what we do on the side, and we’re not likely to get rich on it. And that’s okay, if it’s what we love and we’re having fun. Thank you for reminding me to have fun!

  6. Boy, do I know where you’re coming from. My fourth book is about to come out, I just received a short story rejection, and last month a manuscript was rejected *after* they asked for and received revisions. I’ll bet all working writers know where you’re coming from!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing such an honest post – one I think many of us identify with. Using the *H* word feels like an admittance of failure, but you’re right that putting writing into that perspective both time-wise and money-wise sure takes the performance pressure off!

  8. What an honest post! I can identify with that dogging fear of failure after getting that first contract!! And yes, we all have our struggles with the publishing and writing business. Some very painful. Appreciate you sharing so we don’t feel alone!!

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