It starts at the beginning. You sit down with your computer (or typewriter if you’re, like, super cool). Maybe you have an idea of where the story will go, but you can never be certain what those final pages will look like. I’m not an outliner, so even though I had some idea of what I was going to put in each chapter of MWF Seeking BFF, I often went off-course, finding myself reading a totally different final product than I’d expected.
Then, after you’ve poured your heart and soul into a proposal or a full-fledged manuscript, you introduce it to the publishing gatekeepers. You’ve dedicated hours upon hours—passing on brunches with friends, family dinners—to put your ideas on paper, without ever knowing if someone will agree to publish it. To me, that’s insane. Honestly, I don’t know if I could ever tackle fiction for the sole reason that I don’t think I could write an entire manuscript without knowing if it will ever see the light of day. I’m in awe of novelists.
And once you do sell your book? There’s the equal-parts-exciting-and-frustrating uncertainty of what will happen once it hits shelves. Will people read it? Will they—ohmygosh—like it? How will they find out about it? What if the local bookstore doesn’t even carry it?
Perhaps you can tell that, at least when it comes to my writing career, I like to be in control. Other aspects of my life? Not so much. To me, the best part of a vacation is leaving the planning to someone else. But when it comes to work, I like to know that if I do A, B and C, then D will come as a result. That’s not how it is with writing. Whether a book sells is largely about putting together a good manuscript or proposal, but it’s also about finding an agent who “gets” your work, and then an editor/publisher/marketing/sales team who similarly love your book and, more importantly (this is a business after all), thinks they can sell it.
And the aftermath of a book’s release isn’t just about the author, either. It’s about the publisher, the sales force, the publicity team. And so so so much is straight-up chance. Maybe the right person will notice it. Maybe book clubs will flock to it. Or maybe nothing will happen at all. You can’t know.
Not to sound all cheesy middle school soccer coach, but all you can do is your best and hope that others appreciate your work. That’s scary, but it’s how it is, so you can either accept it or tear your hair out.
And honestly, I just got my haircut on Monday so I don’t want to mess with it.
Do you find the uncertainty of publishing terrifying or exciting?