Friday, April 24, 2015

Writing, Publishing, & Solitaire

I've been playing a lot of Solitaire lately. Which probably sounds a little weird, but with my Mac devices not having the program it just hadn't occurred to me to get the app or whatever. But my mom recently visited and I saw it on her phone and was like "Oh, I should download that."

Like most people, I used to play Solitaire back on my family's old Dell when I was a kid. It came with the computer and was one of the few games we had, so it got played by all of us at one point or another.  There was something addicting about it, like Tetris.

We all know the game—basically you're organizing cards over and over in the hopes that you can organize the whole deck. You alternate between black and red. You play it all on your own. It is at once boring and somehow entertaining and also a bit challenging.

Because, even though it's a game for one, you can lose.

Who are you even losing to? Yourself? Fate? Chance?

Funnily enough, as I've been playing I've realized that Solitaire is a lot like writing and publishing.

Though it doesn't feel like it sometimes, being an author is really a game you're playing all on your own. Just like Solitaire. Sure, other people are playing the game, too, but they aren't playing your game of Solitaire. They've been dealt a different order of the same cards, which may or may not end in a win for them. And you've been dealt your own cards—it's up to you to follow the rules and see if you can organize them just right.

Writing and Publishing have rules, too, vague ones, at least. But how you get to that end goal is different for everyone…and sometimes a certain deck just isn't going to get you a win no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you just have to shuffle the cards and start over. Hope you get lucky this next time. Maybe all the cards will line up just right next round, or it'll be challenging but ultimately you'll work them into the right order and win.

Most people have accepted this fact in Solitaire. When I hit that point where I know I can't win—the freaking ace of hearts is buried under cards I can't move—I accept defeat and start over without much thought. It's just how the game is. I can't change it.

Well, writing and publishing are the same. Sometimes no matter what you do, a story isn't going to work and you have to shuffle the deck and start over. Sometimes, you get really, really close to publishing a novel but then that one card is buried and you can't move it. And it doesn't feel fair but that's the game and you have to start over whether you got blocked on card twenty or card fifty. Except it hurts a lot more when we are playing Writing Solitaire, and reshuffling that deck can discourage us. It feels, after we've tried and failed many times to get our publishing cards to line up just right, that it might never happen.

But anyone who has played Solitaire knows that eventually your luck will change. Just like you lose against the chances in the deck, sometimes you can win, too. And it's those wins that keep you playing, that keep you thinking, "Okay, just one more game."

You just need the courage and determination to keep shuffling the deck.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When It Feels Like Everyone Is Getting What You Want

It surprises me that people still find my post from 2010 when I talked about being on sub for the first time and how crushing it was to fail. When I wrote that, all I wanted to do was get everything off my chest that I had to keep secret for those long 15 months. I had no idea it would not only go "viral" in the writing community that day, but still have a lasting impact on people. I actually got a sweet email from a writer on sub just today that is triggering this post, because I had so much to say I figured I should say it on the blog instead.

So, to that aspiring author and all the rest, I'm grateful that I could provide any comfort. It's hard. I haven't forgotten how hard it is because it's still hard for me.

When it comes to being on sub, I wish I could provide some kind of positive quip about how if you never give up it'll happen! But, well, I'm more realistic than that. And I know it's not true. I have only sold my original work ONCE in America. In 2011. Yes, I'm published, traditionally and indie, and I'm still on sub and failing on sub consistently. 

Truth be told, I tried to sell four different books to my own US editor and they all got turned down. Then I went wide with FISH OUT OF WATER, and while it sold in the UK it was on sub in the US for a year and a half. Longer than my first failed sub. And it did not sell. I've been on sub with another project for…7 months? I'm losing track. Hardly a word from anyone. And of course all rejections. So sub pretty much always sucks, unless you are one of the few who makes it big and can sell almost anything. (But even they can't sell everything, I have bestselling friends and know this to be true.)

In the email I got this morning, this heartbroken writer talked about how hard it is to see other people selling in the blink of an eye. How they felt like there was something wrong with them because it hasn't been that way for them. Oh, how this tugged at my heart, because I know those feelings. I've bathed in those feelings for years, feeling insufficient and sometimes an utter failure even now.

I remember watching the success stories when I was on sub for those 15 months, how difficult it was, how conflicting. I was at once happy for those authors and hopeful that I, too, could sell—but at the same time viciously jealous and frustrated that I couldn't sell and had no way to make it happen.

Because it feels like you should be able to make it happen. If you're brilliant enough, if your book is perfect enough, or whatever…and yet really none of that matters when you get to sub. All that matters is the whim of a publisher and a lot of luck. Both are things you have absolute zero power over. And you feel helpless and annoyed that all your work, your whole life basically, every hope and dream, are resting on something as shifting and unstable as the book market. It's enough to drive anyone insane.

Beth Revis. That was the story that killed me when I was on sub, actually. Which is hilarious if you know her full story, but we all have those authors we attach our icky feelings to when we're on sub. Jodi Meadows was also on my list to some extent. (I'm mentioning these people because I know they'll understand and won't be mad at me—I think all published authors get these feelings more than aspiring authors think.) They both got agents around the same time as me. Both sold pretty fast. They seemed like such big deals to me, and on top of that their books were agented and published within the time I was just on sub. All that time I spent waiting…that was all the time it took for them to get what I wanted. And it was hard for me to watch, even though rationally I knew I was being stupid and ridiculous and just plain jealous.

Why am I going over all this? Well, I guess to tell you that in someways is does get better.

Not in a "you will become a rich and famous published author" way, but more of a "it won't hurt so much after awhile" way. The first time I was on sub, I thought about it a lot. I waited and imagined and hoped. The second time—the time I sold—it was really hard but I knew what to expect and I was prepared to distract myself. It worked a little better. Each time…it's gotten a little easier to accept the unknown, to accept the possibility of failure, to be more at peace. This sub? Sometimes I forget it's even happening. I'm not over here crying at the prospect of it not happening like I used to do. It sucks, but it's not anything I haven't been through before. And I'm still alive. Sub hasn't killed me yet despite its best efforts.

I've filled my life with other things. After my first failure on sub, I realized how out of whack my life was, how solely focused on writing I was. I started stepping back, putting other things at a higher priority than my writing dreams. I realized it wasn't the end of my world if it never happened. I still wanted it, but in a lot of ways I made like Elsa and let it go. I didn't have to stop enjoying writing just because I couldn't publish.

It hasn't been a walk in the park. I think that's evidence by all my recent blog posts in which I've vaguely referred to my trying to decide if I really want to keep trying when it seems so futile. But looking back at 2010…that was my rock bottom in a lot of ways. And I'm not that far gone currently and I'm glad for that.

So when you feel like everyone else is getting everything YOU have wanted forever, I know it hurts but don't forget those feelings don't have to rule your life. I won't tell you not to feel that way, because we all go there now and then, but pay attention to how often you go there. If it's more often than not, try to look deep and figure out why. For me, it was a feeling that "all the spots were getting taken." Sometimes it felt like if I didn't sell NOW, that publishing wouldn't be around long enough for my writing to become a book. Which was silly. Publishing is tumultuous, but it's not going anywhere.

And, who knows? It could happen. You could eventually sell a book, or a few. And then suddenly you've only been published for 2 years but you have 7 books out in the world. Maybe I'm not a huge bestseller, but that's what happened to me.

If someone told me in 2010 that I'd have 7 books published by 2015, I'd have laughed in their face and maybe called them insulting things for being such a sunny positive person raining sunbeams on my negative parade.

You just never know. That's the hardest thing. We can't see the future, and we hate waiting. But we have to wait. For who knows how long. I'm sorry for that. Truly. It sucks.

But at the same time, you don't just have to sit on your hands and watch your email until it happens. You can do other things. You can keep growing as a person (which I've found has made me a better writer). I've found solace in exercise (yoga, running, biking), in my family, in cooking, in drawing and playing video games and gardening and Kdrama and anime and traveling and hanging out with good friends. I've filled my life with all sorts of things I enjoy that have become just as important to me as writing, and some more so. You might be waiting for one thing, but you don't have to pause the rest of your life or withhold your own happiness until that one thing happens that you think will make everything better.

Spoiler: It doesn't make it better. It won't fill that hole you're carving out in your heart as you want and want and want. Publishing is great, but it comes with its own bucket of crap.

So, if you can, find the joy now. Find ways to laugh and accept and relax. It might be hard, but try anyway (just like with writing!). You'll need those skills in the future, if and when you do publish. Hang in there.