Home » Romance, Royalties, The Business of Writing » 2013: A Learning Year: Managing Expectations

2013: A Learning Year: Managing Expectations

14 February 2014

From author Jessica Spotswood:

I saw Rachel Hawkins tweet earlier today about how 2012 was a Learning Year for her, but 2013 has been awesome, and I decided to adopt the term. It sounds better than saying that even though some good stuff happened and some really hard stuff happened to me and The Playwright in 2013, in my heart of hearts, this year feels like it sucked and I can’t wait for it to be over.

But then I thought – if I’m calling it a Learning Year, what exactly did I learn? What am I taking away from this?

For the last three years I have been able to write for a living, to support my family with my words. That’s not what I set out to do. When BORN WICKED went out on submission, after my first manuscript had to be shelved, I just wanted someone to buy it. I wanted to see it on bookstore shelves, all book-shaped. I hoped that, maybe, after a few books, I’d be able to work part-time at my admin assistant job at the university where I’d been working for almost 10 years.

Then it sold in less than a week, in a pre-empt, in a major deal. I got to quit my day job entirely. There were a bunch of foreign sales and Penguin rushed bound galleys for reps at BEA and sent out a fancy ARC mailing. It got published 11 months after it sold. There was a pre-publication bookseller dinner tour and a 12-day Breathless Reads tour. It was in Walmart and grocery stores and airports. I’ve blogged a little about the weight of all that expectation. I haven’t written about what happens when the expectations come crashing down.

What happens when you get all those things for a first book….and then the book doesn’t perform to expectations, and that stuff stops? I suspect this happens more often than I think, because publishing is often a total gamble, and people understandably don’t talk about their failures as much as their successes. Possibly I shouldn’t, either. But I’m tired of feeling sad and embarrassed about it, so here we go…

What happens when you get a big book deal, and then your sales are good – really good for a debut, totally solid, with a starred review and good reviews overall – but they are not good enough? They are not bestseller numbers?

. . . .

You begin the hard work of adjusting your expectations, which got wildly inflated by all that lovely optimistic talk at the beginning. But once you get certain things – even if they aren’t even things you wanted at first! – you want to keep having them. It hurts your feelings when they stop happening, even though you tell yourself that this is a business and feelings should not matter. There isn’t really anyone to be angry with – you do not feel entitled to these things, exactly – but it is hard not to conflate your books’ sales with your own self worth. It’s easy to go from your sales are not good enough (What would be good enough? You do not actually know) to your writing is not good enough to you are not good enough.

. . . .

When you don’t get reviewed, or get the marketing that you took for granted on the first book, or sent anywhere, or end up on end-of-year lists – you feel like a disappointment. A failure. Your family and non-writing friends only know about publishing from your experience, and they ask you all the time when you’re going on tour for your next book and where you are doing events and how are your sales and why the new book isn’t in Walmart. You try to explain that most authors don’t do that and most books don’t get that and you were really lucky that first time.

. . . .

The craft – the writing itself – is the only part that is still all mine. The finished product belongs to my readers. The business worries belong to my publisher. But when you’re happy with the writing, no one can take that away from you.

Link to the rest at Jessica Spotswood and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Romance, Royalties, The Business of Writing

7 Comments to “2013: A Learning Year: Managing Expectations”

  1. I found this very sad. Expectation, disappointment, questioning self worth. Am I cut out for this – am I a writer?

    For years, trad publishing said close, oh so close, but no. Then I tried indie. WOW! In the first two months I was ranking it in. Then everything fell down and went boom. Reviews were solid, but what was going like a house on fire suddenly stopped.

    Thats when sites like this one and Gaughran’s Let’s Get Visible book are sooo needed. Even though this author had a trad publisher, the knowledge of the industry and the market would have helped.

    The author talks about craft so and working hard. So let’s look at the marketing.

    I can’t say how much sales might have changes if the author tried some marketing and promotions of her own. I can say, in my own experience that I watch the sales rankings on Amazon, they go in spurts as my book comes off certain lists.

    I experimented with some online FB campaigns when those numbers dropped. I saw the sales and stay. There’s different things you can do that don’t cost anything.

    And then there’s the new releases. The more consistently and frequently I release new books, the better everything goes (have you seen Konrath’s book list – my God, the man is Mr. Productivity!

    So I stopped worry about the part time crappy job that stopped my writing, and came up with a plan and a schedule.

    And for me it’s working.

    And it’s all about staying VISIBLE.

    Don’t let the failure of the publisher to promote effect your perception as a writer. Try instead to take the initiative on your own and plan up some ideas. It can’t hurt that’s for sure!

  2. after my first manuscript had to be shelved

    She should take that one and try it indie. See what happens.

  3. Join us, Spotswood. Jooooiiiin uuuusss.

    No, seriously. I both love and hate stuff like this. It’s a net gain when authors share their true experiences with publishing, because it helps other authors make wise decisions and have realistic expectations. But it kills me to know that any writer goes through this, too. It’s just sad.

    So glad there’s a viable alternative now. We’re lucky.

    • Yes. And I think the viable alternative part is key. I suspect a lot of writers in the past would see her story and think, “Well, it won’t happen to me. Maybe I’ll get lucky.” They wouldn’t have had a choice but to take that risk in the past.

      Now they can look at Jessica’s story without needing to gloss over details. They can afford to risk seeing the truth and weighing the facts for themselves. They now afford to admit that her situation could happen to them, and decide accordingly.

  4. Your efforts belong to you.
    Your results belong to God.
    –from the Song of the Bhagavan 2.47

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