Something I see a lot in aspiring authors is an incredible, deeply rendered frustration. I guess I notice it because I’m only one book into my (published) writerly career, and I remember what it felt like.
There’s plenty to be frustrated about as an unpublished author. That dream of getting the phone call, signing the contract, walking into the hallowed halls of your traditional publisher’s brightly lit offices and being greeted like a star is very familiar – because when it happens it happens just like that. It’s magical. It’s miraculous. It was certainly the highest point of my life thus far. When it happens to traditionally published authors for the first time, they tell everyone about it. I sure did. I’m still doing it.
So for aspiring authors they can imagine that for themselves pretty easily. They also know how to get there. They’ve read all the books. They’ve attended all the seminars. They’ve spoken to all their idols and heard the same set of steps. Write something brilliant. Edit the shit out of it. Submit it everywhere you can. Don’t take no for an answer. Keep on truckin’, baby. Just keep on truckin’.
The problem is, that you can do that a hundred times and still not make it. And there’s no logical reason you can grasp onto. None.
A few times before, people I’ve known and loved have tried to teach me to drive a manual car. The instruction I was being given was painfully simple. Take your foot off one pedal as slowly as you can, and simultaneously, gently, press down on another pedal. Easy, in principle. One up, at the same time as one down, slowly. I tried it. The engine clunked and failed. I started up and tried it again. Clunk. Fail. Again. Again. Again. Again.
Why isn’t this working? What the hell am I doing wrong? It’s so simple. Jesus. Everybody can do this but me. Children can do this. How is it that I can do (list life achievements) but I can’t do this. I am such a loser for not being able to do this. I am the ultimate non-manual-driving loser.
At about my hundred and fiftieth rejection letter, which was around the time I was finishing up my fourth unpublished novel, I’d managed to cultivate a pretty dark and devastating aspiring author frustration. A lot of crying and swearing was involved. I hated publishers. I loathed published authors. The good ones, and murderously, the bad ones. How do these people make it? How? Who are they related to? Who are they sleeping with? What did they study that I didn’t study? There must have been something going on here that I didn’t understand, some secret that everybody knew except me.
The truth is, there is no secret. There is no conspiracy against you. You’re not personally being targeted and shut out of the party. Publishers aren’t gathering around your manuscript laughing at your work. They’re not throwing darts at a picture of your face. They’re lovely people. They work unspeakably hard. It’s the same with agents. They’re not money-hungry fiends. They care about good work and the big dreams of the writers at heart out there as much as you do. The problem is time. And money. And manpower. You know this. You’ve heard it plenty of times before. Most of the big publishing houses in this country handle upwards of three thousand submissions per year. They have room for ten to twenty new authors in their stable. This falls every years with the rise of digital self-publishing. That’s the situation. That’s how it is.
It’s good to be a bit frustrated, so I’m not telling you to calm down completely. It’s only through the unshakable, stubborn, fuck-you determinedness that you’ve developed that you will succeed in squeezing into that tiny gap, that crack in the wall that allows new authors in. It may (probably will) take you years to get there. It will probably take you multiple books. What I want to discourage, however, is that self-hating, publisher-hating, author-hating frustration that can arise out of the good frustration.
There is some joy in being locked outside the party. You’re not alone. In fact, there are so many of you out there that you’re kind of like your own party. You’re all experiencing the same thing. You’re all fighting the same fight. You are a part of a journey that tens of thousands of successful traditionally published authors have made. There’s no reason to hate or doubt anyone, particularly yourself, for not making it when book one fails. The same for book ten. It’s not you. It’s not them. This is just the nature of the journey.
And let’s face it. You’ve never been the type for easy journeys. You wouldn’t want this so bad if you were.
Don’t give too much to your frustration, because it will crush your work first, and your spirit next. Channel it, use it, thrive off it.
Don’t get mad. Get writing.