Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dealing With Discouragement

It happens to the best of us.

We start out wide-eyed and optimistic, hoping for the best. We work hard, we do everything we believe we're supposed to do, and even go above and beyond the call of duty.

But no matter how good your book, how supportive your publisher, how enthusiastic everyone is---bad things still happen.

Publishing is a tough business. Staying idealistic is impossible. Sooner or later, something is going to disappoint you.

Perhaps your agent, thrilled to work with you when you signed on, doesn't seem to be answering your email with the same energy or frequency.

Perhaps your publisher cuts promotional dollars, or print runs.

Perhaps your numbers are getting smaller, or aren't where everyone hoped they'd be.

Perhaps you didn't get nominated for that award like you'd hoped, or get reviewed in a certain publication.

Perhaps your book(s) go out of print, or your contract doesn't get renewed.

Perhaps you agent can't sell your latest.

Perhaps your career is in a slump.

The list goes on. Success in this business takes a staggering amount of luck, and no matter how much you do, it still may not be enough.

Here are some tricks to dealing with the discouragement inherent in this profession.

Act Successful. This may sound like "put on a happy face" but the fact is, if your career is taking a downswing only a few people know about it. Your fans, your peers, and most of the publishing world has no idea your last book didn't do as well as expected, or that your agent isn't taking your calls.

Projecting confidence, showing the public you're a winner, goes a very long way.

Get Busy. Worry, regret, and guilt are useless emotions. They do nothing to help you. If you're discouraged about something, the best remedy is to act. Write. Promote. Write. Promote. Keep repeating this.

Depression can derail you. The only way to combat that is to get back on the horse and ride even harder.

Plan. Like chess, you should always be thinking several moves ahead. What you did in the past may not have worked out. Learn from it, and figure out what to do next. Maybe you need to change agents, or publishers, or genres. Do some soul searching, pinpoint what the problem is, and brainstorm solutions.

Vent. Talking about problems not only makes them feel better, it helps you deal with them. But you should limit this kind of talk to a few close, discreet friends. Keep your dirty laundry private.

Forgive. Both yourself, and those you believe have wronged you. Keeping all that venom stored up can poison you. Let it go, and move on. Blaming people for your problems won't change the situation.

Remember. You became a writer for a reason. It's easy to lose sight of that when something discouraging happens. Remember why you chose this path, because chances are good those reasons are still valid.

Of course, the most important thing to remember is:

Time Heals All Wounds.

We all have setbacks, and when they occur they may seem insurmountable. But you'll get through them. You always do. And you become stronger, smarter, and better because of them. Today's tragedy is next year's fond memory.

The scariest thing about this profession--the uncertainty--is also one of the coolest. You never know what will happen.

Some of what will happen will be good. Guaranteed. And the bad things that have happened will make for a terrific story to tell newbies some day...


Kalynne Pudner said...

This is very helpful; thank you!

Although I couldn't resist mentally adding one more sentence:

"And if none of those agents reading your ms ever offers representation, you can congratulate yourself on escaping all the disappointments listed here."

Anonymous said...

You know, much of what you say applies to many other areas as well, not just writing. Good to see someone out there touting the same things I've heard and said for years. Great books by the way, really enjoying them.


Sherri said...

I needed this kick in the pants. Kick harder next time. I like it.

Back to work1

Robin Bayne said...

Great post, and so very true. And as many wonderful things can happen as can the bad!

Anonymous said...

These are great tips, and I think they apply to so many situations beyond writing, too. I think that the first one, projecting confidence, is especially important. Few people want to bet on someone who's not winning; they wonder what they're missing.

Jim said...

Joe, I'd be tempted to add one more thing to you list, namely "Listen." What I do, when someone has a comment on my work, even if it's not negative, is to listen to it very carefully. Almost everything that happens to an author is feedback of one nature or another. All of that feedback can be used for benefit if the author puts his/her feelings aside, be those feelings discouragement or job. Take note of what works, what doesn't, and adjust accordingly.

Aimlesswriter said...

Good things to remember.
Thanks Joe!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Your suggestions were very timely for me. Today is the one year anniversary of my mother-in-law's death. I've sent the link to this post to my husband. Work and life stress are sometimes overwhelming and your suggestions are helpful.


PJ Parrish said...

Where were you when I needed you, Joe?

During my first stab at publishing back in the 80s, I got dropped by my publisher after four books. I did the exact opposite of everything you described. In short, I curled up and died. Oh woe is me, boo-hoo, wah wah...
Spent about 18 months like that before I tried again. What a waste of valuable time.

Joe is so right on this one.

Anonymous said...

Excellent sanity post, Joe.

Publishing is a lot like surfing. Not every wave works out as well as it looks from shore.

The Doubt Demons will always try to eat you, but if you can keep perspective, a sense of humor, and some good friends around, you can defeat them.

Kristi Holl said...

One of my favorite books to read at times like this is Ralph Keyes' book, THE WRITER'S BOOK OF HOPE. Every writer should have this book on his/her bookshelf.

JD Rhoades said...

This hits at a good time, Joe. Thanks.

Bobby Mangahas said...

This post had great timing, Joe. I just got back a couple of rejection letters, but I sucked it up and sent more things out there. Very encouraging post.

Anonymous said...

This is a terrific article except for the last point. Time on its own doesn't heal wounds, only effort will heal them. If you sit and stew over your setbacks, how unfair it all is, how other people let you down, blah blah blah, you won't get anywhere.

Only constructive, consistent action over time will heal those wounds and your article outlines some great strategies to achieve this outcome.


Conda Douglas said...

Excellent post, Joe. The part about forgiveness really resonated with me. I believe that us writers struggle to forgive ourselves--and it gets in the way of our writing.

Trish Ryan said...

Great points. Discouragement isn't the most fun part of this profession, but it happens. But you're right...something great could happen at any time :)

Anonymous said...

Such a realistic and inspiring look at dealing with the down side. Thanks so much,

Steve MC said...

Great post. And it’s so easy for writers to get to that point.

I’d second Ralph Keyes’ books, and about forgiveness, it took me a long time to realize that forgiveness is something you actually give yourself. The person you’re mad at usually doesn’t care one way or the other. But when you forgive, you cut yourself away from all the ropes that were dragging you through a vale of bitterness. Suddenly you have much more focus and energy ‘cause you’re not spending all day stomping on some old wound.

Here’s some quotes I’ve found useful.

You never quit. You can’t be discouraged. But, at the same time, a person should not fault himself for becoming discouraged. It’s going to happen. It’s natural. But you still have to commit yourself. You have to do something every day for your art, or you’ll never be a success at it.
- James Lee Burke

I sulked. Sulking is a big effort. So is not writing. I only realized that when I did start writing. When I started getting real work done, I realized how much easier it is to write than not to write. Not writing is probably the most exhausting profession I’ve ever encountered. It takes it out of you.
- Fran Lebowitz

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.
- Fitzgerald

I was prepared for a couple of years of rejections. In the first three months, fifteen agents and fifteen publishers said no to me. Most writers go through that. It’s good for you, though, because when success does come, it’s all the sweeter.
- John Grisham

Character is founded on the ability to learn more from failure than other people do.
- Norman Mailer

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know I am in a great class of writers on the rejection front. I started querying for my first novel in January. To date, I have had a partial and a full read (both passed) and a mountain of rejections on the letters alone.

For about a month and a half, I quit. I didn't write one query letter or even think about agents. Finally, I got back up on the horse and started again. This time around is no different, except I am getting same-day rejections versus the week, two-week or the never-hear-back type.

Last week, I got my latest and didn't even bat an eye. I simply don't care anymore. If my book isn't right for them, then neither am I. An agent relationship is like a marriage, it should last a lifetime. So finding the right one is going to take a while. But somehow, I am finding the strength to push forward.

Your advice was great, as were the many comments. I derive comfort from this little saying I got from a movie I saw once but can't recall the name:

"Time wounds all heels."

Now, that's comforting!