I really did think I was past the worst. Years of writing my book at night after the kids were in bed, wondering if I was deluding myself that anyone else would ever want to read it. More than a year trying to land an agent, then another year after that trying to convince a publisher to buy it. By the time the book finally sold and had been through four complete rewrites, I thought the hardest work was behind me. I had my foot in the door at a major publishing house; I was no longer an unknown, unproven nobody. With my next book, things would be easier.
Are you laughing yet? (Go ahead—it’s fine.)
Even though I knew selling one book doesn’t guarantee you’ll sell the next, I pretty much assumed I would. I went to New York (on my own dime, of course), to meet my editor and her publicity team. I was charming; they were charming. I pictured my editor and I having a years-long, mutually inspiring relationship. She’d only bought the one book, but with an option for my next. Great! I could submit a synopsis and three sample chapters and be paid to write the rest of it! Ah—the writer’s life I’d always dreamed of.
My agent submitted my proposal for the next book, and my editor said she’d get to it after she was back from vacation. Then a few months passed when she was thinking about, and thinking some more… and then she announced she was leaving the company. My champion at that particular publishing house was gone. I’d become an author orphan, feeling just as lost and insecure as ever.
[This is the point where I was going to insert a really awesome .gif that totally summed up my point visually, but my computer froze a bunch of times and now I can't be bothered. Sigh.]
Not long ago, I met another writer who had gotten one of those multiple-book contracts I’d always dreamed of. And yes, I was both happy for her and jealous, all at once. But guess what? Being paid to write her second book—on a tight deadline—made her miserable. Every day, she felt the clock ticking. Here I was, stressing out about having no contract, while she was stressing out about having one.
You can’t win, can you?
What I’m slowly learning is that anxiety is simply part of the writer’s life. If a publisher doesn’t buy your book, you doubt your talent. If a publisher does buy it, you start to worry about your sales numbers, or the cover you weren’t consulted about, or the fact that you have no idea what to work on next. If your book gets so-so reviews you go back to doubting your talent, and if it gets great reviews you worry that you’ll never write anything that good again.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution to any of this. (I told you, I’m too busy stressing about my next book!) But it does help to know that we all struggle with these feelings of not measuring up, no matter where we stand on the “success” ladder. The only thing that helps is to do the very thing that got me into this mess in the first place: to write what I feel driven to write. To lose myself in the words that allow an escape from real life.
My agent will be submitting my next book to new editors after the holidays. Until then, I’ll just keep working—second-guessing my talent, maybe, but not my ability to get it finished. Once you’ve finished one book, you know you can do it again. Right?