Deb Joanne’s Embarrassing Moments (The Writing Edition)

This week’s theme is life’s embarrassing moments. Wow, what a goldmine of material I have for that! But in the interest of keeping this writing related (and not embarrassing myself too much in front of my mom) I’m going to talk about what it’s like to not yet be published, even though everyone knows you’re trying. What it’s like to have to answer the question, “When does your book come out?” which inevitably gets asked by friends and family the second they hear you’re writing. And the embarrassment of having to explain that you haven’t sold your book. Yet.

Ugh. Have we all been here? I bet most of us have. And it sucks—there are no two ways around it.

I didn’t let on that I was seriously writing with the hope of getting published until I had a few books under my belt. But then, when it started to look like things were starting to happen for me, I let a few people know. Then a few more. Then it was no secret that I WOULD BE PUBLISHED. I mean, I was well on my way—I had an agent in New York City who loved my work! I had polished manuscripts! A publishing contract was IMMINENT. I would PUBLISH ALL THE THINGS! Right? Er. Not so much.

When the first book that went on submission died, a little piece of me died along with it. My hopes were dashed. I felt humiliated, embarrassed and sure that I would never make it. And the absolute worst part was having to explain to people that it just didn’t sell. Oh sure, I gave them reasons, like chick lit was dead and my timing was bad and I just hadn’t found THE editor to champion my story. But even though those might have been very valid reasons, they still felt like hollow excuses to me, because in the end, I really thought it was going to happen for me, and I still felt like a failure.

But somehow I dusted myself off, finished another book and did it again. THIS ONE WILL SELL! I told myself. Because I’d never heard of an author going on submission TWICE and not getting at least one sale.

Yeah, this is probably what I felt like, most of that time. Sad, huh? *sniff*

Nope. Back to the reasons: timing, dead market, publishers not buying. Etc. But secretly, I went back to the same end: I was a failure.

And then a third submission, and a fourth. You see where I’m going with this. The heartache, embarrassment and humiliation when someone would say, “Wow, you’ve been at this a long time. Still no sale?” was just about unbearable. The well-meaning people just about killed me with their pitying looks and assurances of “Don’t worry, it will happen.”

Deep down, I guess I must have believed them, or I’m just some sort of masochist, because really, who would set themselves up for failure after failure? It got to where I became so stubborn about it, that I refused to accept I would not be published. I lost sight of what I really wanted at the beginning, which was to write stories and have people read them and it became more that I would NOT be denied publication. But perhaps it was that humiliation that kept me moving forward. Because if I stopped, I would officially be a failure, because you won’t ever find success if you stop trying.

But I almost quit. Just before I got the offer on SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, I was right on the cusp of quitting. I hadn’t written anything new in over a year and I was just waiting for the last rejections on a couple of submissions to come in and then I was going to pack it all in and give up the dream.

I was that close to quitting. I was that close to failing. But the heartache of rejection after rejection had become worse than the humiliation of having to say, “I won’t be published; It just wasn’t meant to be.”

But then I got the call.

And it was one of those pivotal moments in my life. It wasn’t just a call to say “someone wants to buy your book”. It was so much more than that. It was a call to say, “you’re not a failure” and “it was all worth it” and “you are a real writer” and “Joanne, you did it.”

And in looking back, maybe the embarrassment and humiliation that I felt over the years was me being my worst enemy.  Maybe the failure wasn’t as personal or as defining as I thought it was. Maybe people didn’t see me as a huge failure that whole time.

This was illustrated to me just this past Saturday when I was at a big family event (Braelyn’s Bat Mitzvah – you did awesome, Braelyn! WOOT!) and a cousin came up to me and told me how excited she was for me and my book and how much she appreciated how I’ve stuck it out all these years. She worked many years to get where she is today and she knew what it was like to work hard for something and not give up, and she said that’s what impresses her about me (I’m paraphrasing, but I think I got the gist right).

It turns out my determination over the years has not gone unnoticed.  I have impressed people with my journey that, despite all the failure along the way, ended with success that was no fluke nor accident. I worked for it and got what I wanted. And three months from tomorrow, my book will hit the shelves.

And that’s nothing embarrassing at all about that.

Now I want to hear from you-have you ever had any embarrassing moments in telling people about your writing? Any weird questions from well-meaning family members?

15 Replies to “Deb Joanne’s Embarrassing Moments (The Writing Edition)”

  1. As soon as I told friends and family I had an agent, the “When will you be in bookstores?” questions started. I had to explain over and over that getting an agent didn’t necessarily mean my book would sell. THAT certainly got embarrassing after a while.

    But I have to say, I’m rather disappointed you’re not sharing some of the things you’d be embarrassed to have your mother read. Seriously, I’m sure she’d be just as entertained as the rest of us. 😉

    1. And even when you do sell, the timelines seem crazy-long to non-writer types, too. I find I have to explain that a lot. And yeah, I’m not putting anything really juicy in writing. I’ll tell you over cocktails someday. 😉

  2. Oh Linda you are so right, (where are they Joanne, I need a laugh cause I just had to wipe the tears away).
    I am not a writer and will never be a writer but yes we all have those embarrassing stories (nope not going to go into them)but I have to say to you my daughter from the time you were born the determination in your soul was there and still is (in your quiet way).

    YOU ARE THERE AND THAT’S ALL THAT COUNTS, and we always new you would be. Life gives us many many challenges and for writers I think it is the ultimate challenge (not humiliation and embarrassment) just sheer DETERMINATION, to write and yes the ULTIMATE publication and satisfaction that comes with it,to all of you just keep doing it.

    We are the proudest FAMILY IN THE WORLD. YOU DID IT.

    1. Aw, Mom. I didn’t mean to make you cry (and so early in the morning, too!). It should go without saying that I have a pretty amazing support network, which makes things a lot easier. And with you as my head cheerleader, how could I ever go wrong?
      (and you’re never getting my most embarrassing stories. EVER!)

    2. Your love for, and pride in, Joanne shines through all your comments. She’s one lucky woman to have a mother like you. 🙂

  3. Oh, I’m loving the love!

    Joanne, you nailed it, dear. The word is DETERMINATION. It takes that more than all else, I truly believe that.

    But my second favorite to the line you listed is when you say, no, that one didn’t sell, and often family and friends will say: “Well, that’s too bad–oh well, you tried writing. What’s next?” Um, another manuscript??!!!

    Indeed, you did it, lady. And soon the world at large (oh yeah, i went there) will get to savor SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE!

    1. Someone had to go there. Thanks, Erika. And that’s funny about the “What’s next?” question. Like writing is a transient thing. I guess it might be for some, like macrame was for me… But macrame was never really a dream of mine. That said, I can knot the hell out of some friendship bracelets.

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