Friday, May 25, 2012

On Goals & Starting Over

Um…wow. I am gobsmacked by the positive response you guys gave me from yesterday’s post. I have to admit, I’m a little ashamed every time I have to confess that the book of my heart never sold (and probably never will), but it’s something I feel needs to be said, especially for people who aren’t published and think that’s the end. Because, obviously, it’s not.

If you haven’t, please also read the comments to that post—especially Jo’s comment. She had a different experience from mine, but one equally important. And also, Nova did her own blog post on the topic, and I encourage you to read it as well.

Two questions that I got in the comments a couple of times and then again several times in private emails yesterday was “when did you know to stop trying to get the book of your heart published,” and “why didn’t you just self-publish the book of your heart?”

I knew when to stop submitting that book when two things happened: I was able to look at it objectively and identify the reasons why it was a hard sale, and I began writing the new thing. This is one reason why I am such a supporter of people writing the next book—because once you write the next book, you realize that life can go on, that this isn’t the end. It gives you perspective. It helps you see where you went wrong, and it helps you to correct your mistakes before you make them. Once I finish a book—totally finished it, even the rewriting and editing—I start the next one. Always. And there is—always—a moment of panic when I think “there is no way I can write another book.”

When you’re staring at a blank page, it seems impossible to fill. And, for me, it’s harder every time, because I remember the work that goes into making a book. Since publication, it’s become harder to write, not easier, because the editing process is so much more rigid than my own self-editing process I went through before being published.

But I force myself to do it. And the first words aren’t easy…but they get easier. And eventually, I forget about what’s hard about writing because I’m so caught up in what’s good.

The other question I got so often yesterday—why didn’t I just self-published—is easier to answer, but I want to be careful about what I say, because I don’t want to accidentally make anyone mad.

When I started writing, I did it for fun. It was a hobby; it’s what I did instead of watch TV (especially those college years when I couldn’t afford TV). And the first couple of (terrible, unpublished) novels I wrote, I half-heartedly attempted to sell, but there was no real direction in what I was doing.

After I wrote the book of my heart, I thought to myself: this is it. This was the best thing I’d written to date, and I felt that it deserved publication (at the time). And I asked myself what I wanted out of it.

People go into publication for different reasons. Maybe they want to make their story available to a wider audience, or see their names on a book, or walk into a bookstore and find a copy of their book. There is no right reason to want publication—and that’s why there are so many paths to publication.

But when I forced myself to think about what I really wanted, it was simple. I wanted to be published by one of the Big Six publishers, and I wanted a traditional career in publishing.

That was my goal from the start of when I really started seeking publication. It honestly never occurred to me to self-publish, because that was not a part of my goal. And while I eventually did come close to an offer from an indie publisher with another title, I ultimately decided to pull the submission, because that was not a part of my goal.

Other people have different goals, different definitions of success. And that’s fine. But I encourage you to do two things, particularly when you’re starting out. Think about what success means to you. Is it more important to you for one specific book (i.e. the book of your heart) to be published, or is it more important to you to create a traditional career path with publication? Is it more important to you to get published quickly, or do you not care about the timeline? None of these have a right or wrong answer—but they define what you want, what your goal is. Analyze what’s important to you, and then don’t go back on your principles. It’s fine to change a goal later if you feel it would be better, but never change a goal because you’ve just given up on it. 

I guess, in the end, the only thing I can really say is this: the book of my heart didn't sell, but that doesn't mean my dreams didn't come true. 


Hannah said...

See, this is why I like you. You've failed so many times before, but when you failed you just picked yourself up again and continued. You're a role model to me as an aspiring author.

I think I'm writing the book of my heart right now, and I feel as though it has a chance of getting published. But if it doesn't, I'm just going to have to write something better (and I have no doubts that I can't).

Can't wait for SOE!

Lissa Price said...

Beth is an incredible gift not only because of the example she sets for "never give up," but also because she's an amazing writer and a very giving human being. These last two blog posts are gold. I'm sending my followers here to read both of them.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

These two posts have been wonderful, Beth. I'm planning on linking at my place soon.

Just wanted to tell you a fellow writer found out about SCBWI through your blog and was able to connect with our local chapter. You are a generous soul. Thank you for all you do for all of us. xo

Author Lindsay Mead said...

For me my goal was always just to be read. I feel like it's my job to tell the story the best way that I can and then have as many people experience it as I can. I've always said that I would still write even if it meant that I had to sell the stories on the street for pennies. I would do it. There are many things that I want to accomplish with my writing (Buying a house, quitting my job, holding the finished copy in my hands, ect...), but ultimately I would be happy as long as people were reading it.

Great post Beth. Really enjoyed both articles.

Anonymous said...

This is EXACTLY what I needed to see today. I've been writing the book of my heart and it's clear that it's only in my heart and not my brain. It's going nowhere really fast. Thank you for stating that it's okay to move on to the next book. Being a published author is my dream of all dreams and I didn't know how to move on from my heart-book failure.

Thank you.

Jenny said...

Thank you so much for this post. It came at exactly the right time, as I was just debating whether or not to put my current WIP on hold and start another one. I've been going through different scenarios in my mind, and I think you've been the final piece in the decision to stop and try again.

Jemi Fraser said...

I love your honesty and your approach Beth. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

Emily the Little Fish said...

It's so funny, because I am just NOW catching up with all of this in the midst of the craziness, and I almost started crying here in the middle of my boyfriend's apartment, because I know that heart book you're talking about. Yeah, I've been writing before, but it's so weird to have that book smack you right in the face (for me it was on interstate 70 driving cross country on my favorite religious holiday) and to stand up and say "This is the book!"

I get a giddy joy out of bindings and interior formatting, and while I know I will self-publish most of my other books (because I have that giddy joy) I will try for publication for my heart novel first, and if that doesn't work, I will self-publish. I will make it beautiful. And I will always keep it close to my heart.

Oh, for crying out loud, Beth. I feel another song coming on. This is bad. This is really bad. The crazy things you do to all of us! :D