Despite all of my real talk about publishing here, I can get caught up in The Publishing Dream just as easily as anyone. I still see my peers getting the six and seven figure advances. I see breakout books happen to folks who were previously midlist. I still get excited when one of my books drops and the buzz wagon starts and people get super excited.
And I still feel the big letdown when I realize I still have a long way to go to get Dreamy. And I look at the work, and the numbers, and I gnash my teeth and whine and cry about it, and then I get back to work.
In this business, you must have a lot of hope. It’s the hope that the next book, or the next, will breakout or build steam or lead to a great deal that keeps you going. But the moment you expect a breakout, the minute you feel entitled to it, is the moment you will crumble under the weight of all your expectations when the real world comes knocking.
This industry is built on hope, on possibility, on the long game, on the gamble. I’ve had Hollywood come knocking about various projects, too. As with publishing, I have learned how to temper my expectations there, as well. I am entitled to nothing. I expect nothing.
As I’ve had more interest in my work, and more opportunities have come my way, I’ve also learned how to say no to things that aren’t furthering my ultimate goal of building my work into its own powerhouse. This is another reason I still hold onto the day job, because it means I don’t have to take every deal or every opportunity. Still, it’s hard to say no. You’re always concerned about opportunities drying up. What if this is the best it ever gets? What if I don’t get an opportunity again?
And then I look at my career and I go, “We are just getting started.”
And it is this, this hope, this rally from the depths of doubt and despair, that keeps me going. You must believe in the future. You must believe you can create it. You must believe that endurance, and hard work, and persistence, will carry you through.
Like all beliefs, of course, it doesn’t make what you believe any truer that something you don’t believe in. But it does help you get up again. It does help you move on. It helps you write again, and complete the next project, and pursue your next goal.
I’ve built a life on the back of shattered expectations. I may not be thrilled, as a Left Coast Liberal ending up in the Midwest, but in looking around at the shattered economy and soaring housing prices, it’s currently one of the few places in the U.S. where I can live as well as I do on the money I make. We are carving out a little, affordable piece of something out here. But it’s certainly not what I expected.
My novel career, too, is not what I expected. I figured I’d be writing novels for a living by the time I was in my mid-twenties. I didn’t realize I was both writing ahead of the market and trying to get published just before it imploded. Luck plays a part in success, and I have scrambled through a lot of rough patches of poor timing and awful luck.
And not a single minute of that scramble entitles me to anything. It’s this knowledge that I have to struggle with time and time again, though I know better. My parents raised me with that good old white working class promise “Work hard and you’ll succeed.” The truth is that how hard one works doesn’t entitle one to anything at all. There are no guarantees in life. A truer statement might be, “Put in the work and hope for the best.”
This is where I’m at now as I work on the next book. Here I am, one book released just two weeks ago, another heading out to reviewers, and a third that I’m currently drafting, all at the same time. When you work, all you should expect is more work.
Hope exists for the rest.