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.
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?