6 Prescriptions to Cure the Heartbreak of Being Published

This is a post for every author who’s been in rejection hell—hoping, praying, and bribing assorted deities—living for that day when you finally land the book contract that will make all your dreams come true.

You know who you are: you’ve spent forever learning to craft a perfect query, sent it off to carefully chosen agents, and now you’re checking your email hourly, only to find one-line rejections or worse: that existential nothingness that is the trendy new rejection.

I feel your pain. I’ve been there. Like, for years.

But guess what? It could be worse. You could actually get that book contract! According to Ruth Harris, living your dream can sometimes become a nightmare.

Being published in real life is awfully different from what you see on Castle. (BTW, I love me some Nathan Fillion, but do you ever see that guy actually writing?)

Ruth isn’t telling you to give up your dreams. But reality checks are good. They help silence that demon that whispers in your ear that you can't be happy until you get published. Turns out: being published--even with a big, splashy corporation--has very little effect on happiness, and it can actually be a big downer. 

Ruth has worked as an editor at a number of Big Six houses, including Bantam and Dell, as well as making it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list many times—so she knows what she’s talking about here.

Please note: We’re not telling everybody to self publish. Self-pubbing works for some writers but not others. Choosing the small, independent publisher route is a better path for some of us, and others do reach Big Six Nirvana and actually enjoy the process. But it’s good to keep in mind there are going to be major hassles no matter what your level of success.

Also remember that most authors can use a good agent—one who’s keeping up with this ever-morphing industry—so don’t stop sending out those queries. But what you can do is tell that little despair demon to shut the #%*& up: things are tough all over. 

And if you want a little silliness from me this week, jump over to Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog and read the story about How the Trafalmadorians Saved My Writing Career


Rx:  6 PRESCRIPTIONS TO CURE THE HEARTBREAK OF BEING PUBLISHED (or at least dial it down to mere heartburn)

by Ruth Harris

We’re in answered prayers territory here: You signed your contract, the editor just loves your book, it’s set in the schedule, you’re on your way! So what could go wrong?

Let me count the ways.

1. Strikes One, Two & Three: Your Cover, Publicity, and/or Distribution Stinks

You hate the cover. Your agent hates the cover, everyone who sees the cover hates it. You point out that your book is romantic suspense but the cover shouts supernatural horror. You ask for a change but you’re told it’s “too late” — even though we indies know how quickly a cover can be created.

What goes wrong with the cover can go wrong in all sorts of other ways:

Or, as once happened to me, a new publisher who was intent on proving that her predecessor (the publisher who bought and loved my book and was going to make me a star) didn’t know what he was doing. Guess whose ad budget got slashed? Guess who the publicity department didn’t give beans about? Guess whose option wasn’t picked up?

Rx: grow an armadillo hide. Publishing is a hazardous business with lots of pitfalls along the way. Anyone who’s ever been published can tell you that—with war stories and bruises to prove it.

2.  Johnnie Superstar rains on your parade

You’ve passed the cover hurdle. Your book looks great and your agent even got you a decent publicity and promotion budget. So far, so good. BUT, turns out, Johnnie Superstar’s drugs-rehab-and-kinky-sex-with-celebrities memoir is going to be published the same week as the book you’ve poured your heart into for three years is about to be published.

Where does that leave you? In a word: Nowhere. JS’s books are stacked to the rafters. Yours has two or three copies placed spine-out in the back. If you’re lucky.

Plus, you can forget about radio, TV, newspapers, magazines. Celebs grab attention. You’re a talented writer with a debut book or maybe even a decent track record but you’re no celeb and no one except your Mom is interested.

Rx:  Hire your own PR rep. Your publisher might—or might not—like it but you own PR rep can be effective self-defense. Still, you’re  dependent on what else is happening at the time your book launches: a breaking news story, someone important gets married, divorced or dies, financial markets take a nose dive, a politician’s homosexual affair/corrupt business arrangements/”love child” is revealed.  Make a calculation based on dollars and cents, come up with a budget and stick to it. Maybe luck will break your way—or maybe not—but at least you’ve invested in yourself.

3. Speaking of money—don’t count on it

Your book isn’t going to do very much to help pay your bills. Seriously. Publishing Money comes in VERY slowly and is doled out in teaspoon-sized amounts.  Let’s assume you sign a contract for $15,000 (actually pretty good these days).  Payments are due 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on acceptance, 1/3 on publication.

That means you get three checks for $5000 less the agent’s fee: $4,250. Those checks will probably be spread out over three years. You will pay taxes on that money and will probably never see another dime unless, miracle of miracle, your book earns out. But don’t hold your breath. “Earning out” happens about as often as Gwyneth Paltrow flies Coach.

Rx: Keep your day job.

4.  Upward mobility bites you on the butt

Susie Q is a talented writer, she signs a 3-book deal with a small but flourishing publisher. Her books sell well, she decides to dump her agent and hire a more powerful agent. SQ and new, more powerful agent decide she’s outgrown the small publisher and is ready for the Big 6. Agent holds auction, moves writer to impressive Big 6 house. Susie Q loves her agent, she loves her editor, she thinks her books are getting better and better. And maybe they are but, for whatever reason, they don’t sell.

When Susie’s option comes up, her Big 6 publisher passes. Still, the agent has clout and Publisher X would like to butter up agent-with-clout so Susie gets another deal. Two books, this time, less money, but still Susie will be published by one of the Big 6. Problem is, her new editor leaves, the replacement has no interest in Susie and doesn’t return Susie’s calls. Pretty soon, agent-with-clout doesn’t either.

Basically, SQ will have to start all over again. With a new, less impressive agent and, to “erase” the downward trend of her sales numbers, she will write under a pseudonym.

Rx:  Beware the grass-is-greener syndrome. If your publisher is doing a decent job for you, think carefully before jumping to the next level. Upgrading can turn out well—but not always.

5: Being published isn’t very exciting

 In fact, except for the moment your agent calls to say s/he made the sale, the writer is treated mostly as an irrelevant PITA. Multi-published author ConsueloSaah Baer explains:

“Simon and Schuster bought and published the book [her first] and sold paperback rights to Avon. Publication of three subsequent novels followed with equally renowned publishers and foreign rights sales. Galleys arrived, book jackets arrived, bound books arrived but I couldn’t figure out why there wasn’t much joy in it. I was lucky, wasn’t I? One day I stopped writing completely and could not galvanize the will to return. It was only in Spring of 2011 that I figured out why I, like many writers, went silent after initial success.

“Imagine my surprise when I realized that traditional publishing was total bleakness interrupted by ten minutes of happiness when your agent called to say she had sold your book. Next came a year of silence while the book was “produced”. Once the book was edited, the writer was uncoupled from the project and advised to ‘forget about the book and go write the next one.’ Publication was brief and uneventful. The salesmen (you heard right) decided the print run and if it was in the low five digits, the book was DOA.

“Two years of your life had been eaten up. The Prozac months followed.”

Rx: Go indie. The book is yours and now the control is yours, too.

6.  Your wildest dreams come true--the downside

 You make a ton of money, your books are everywhere, the movies come calling and the movie actually gets made. With Brad Pitt starring as you! So now you’re a millionaire, you’re invited to the best parties, if you’re a guy, beautiful women will come on to you. You’ve got it made, right? Champagne and caviar every day, right?

Wrong. You now have to deal with tax attorneys, accountants and whether or not to move to a state—one you might not like all that much—for tax considerations. You also have to deal with dollar-drunkenness—think of the stars and athletes who end up dead broke and you’ll understand what I mean.

Even so, you’re confident you can handle all that but, as a mega bestselling author once told me: “You don’t drop your friends. Your friends drop you.”

What he meant was that his friends couldn’t handle their jealousy and envy and so they stopped hanging out with him. Sad, but true.

Rx:  Grow your armadillo hide even thicker. There’s a dark lining to every silver cloud. People you love—even including your own family—might not necessarily love you back, not after you’re a lot richer and more famous than they are. 

So, tell me, writers, if you’ve been published, was the experience all that and a bag of chips—or something else? If you haven’t been published yet, what are your dreams/hopes/fantasies and do you think you’ll be able to cope with success?

Coming up in the blog: We’ve got two fabulous blog guests coming in November—

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