Five Years, Five Lessons

Hello, PubCrawlers! I’ve managed to thaw out my frozen little fingers enough on this absolutely freezing holiday weekend to bring you some news: today is my last post as a regular member of PubCrawl. I have loved my time here beyond words, and it feels wrong to say goodbye–it’s not goodbye at all! You’ll always find me in the comments, and (hopefully!) my friends here will have me back for guest posts every now and then. Before I launch into today’s post, I just want to thank all of YOU for your wonderful comments and thoughts you’ve shared from the beginning!

So much has changed for me over the past year, I’ve been a little more reflective than usual about my life as a writer and thought it was time to solidify five publishing truths for the five years I’ve been around the block. Many people assume that The Darkest Minds was my debut novel, but that’s not the case at all—my first novel, Brightly Woven, was published in 2010 by EgmontUSA. Which brings me to my first point:

1. You will survive set-backs. It’s so much easier to reflect back on this in retrospect, when you have distance between that initial panic and pain and the steadier ground you find, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to remind yourself of this. Setbacks come in all sizes, and usually when you least expect it. One of my biggest was when my first agent, the one who signed me after reading Brightly Woven, left the business right when I was really floundering in that post-debut what-do-I-do-next? state of mind. I’d just moved to New York, and (no joke) the only place I could get reception was leaning out of my bedroom window nine floors up, which added an extra layer of anguish to that particular conversation.

I was reassigned to a new agent within the agency and then spent the next six months wallowing that my new agent didn’t really want me and was too busy for me and we would never have the same relationship I did with my first agent. Well of course we wouldn’t have the same relationship—they’re two different people! I had to take the time to go back to the start and figure out how to rebuild that foundation. I so admire all of my fellow EgmontUSA authors, especially those on the verge of debuting, who are now being asked to do this very same thing in a much, much bigger way. Once the shock of the hit wears off, you will find it in yourself to figure out a way to heal and carry on.

2. This is a very small industry. Everyone has human moments where stress or frustration finally gets them in a stranglehold and sparks a reaction. My editor still teases me about a very emotional email I sent her trying to argue against certain edits she suggested. She understood that it was prompted by a mountain of stress and sleepless nights… and, well, in the grand scheme of authors acting up, it’s not something that’s all that noteworthy. But what I want to say here, as a gentle reminder, is that kidlit publishing is so, so, so small, and despite houses competing over projects and for sales, everyone is pretty friendly with one another. It’s so rare for anyone to stay at one house their whole career, and when they do move, they bring stories with them… and those stories can reach important ears. And, well, this is very true on the author side, too. It’s okay to have an off moment, but people will remember the way you made them feel, both good and bad.

3. Find friends at the same stage of the journey as you. This is so crucial and it relates to what I was saying above—everyone gets frustrated, everyone feels ignored, everyone has questions they’re too scared to ask anyone for fear of looking stupid. Your agent is a great resource for you on this front, but if you’ve decided to go a different route, finding other writers and creating a circle of trust is a great way to blow off some steam. This is such a strange little business that most people outside of it will have no idea what you’re talking about half of the time, even if they are a patient listener and willing to lend an ear. I was really, really lucky to meet Sarah before either of us ever sold a project–in addition to critiquing projects, we could bounce Is this normal? and Am I being a crazy person? questions off each other.

4. Are you having fun yet? There are certainly parts of the publication and drafting process that are NOT fun and leave you wanting to tear your hair out… but if no part of it is feeling fun to you—drafting, daydreaming new projects, what have you—then it might be time to take a breather, just for a little while, and reassess. It’s easy to get tunnel-vision about publication. You start thinking in terms of doing X, to get to Y, to get to Z—you convince yourself that the reward is the end (publication) rather than the process itself… but—I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times—it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to make a career out of this, then you have to enjoy the work itself. Publication is one day. The rest of it takes months, sometimes even years.

5. Find YOUR balance. Here’s one thing I’ve struggled with a lot over the past five years: accepting that what works for others won’t necessarily work for me. I feel envious of other writers who can churn out book after book, seemingly without ever needing to take a break. I wish all the time I was funny enough to rock social media and be a real presence there. I’ve tried copying other people’s work schedules to see if they’ll work for me. And, well, they don’t. I have to take a break between projects, sometimes weeks, otherwise I’m too tapped-out to write anything worth reading. Social media is fun for me, but it’s also a source of anxiety that sucks up a lot of my time, energy, and emotional well-being. It is so much better to be honest with yourself/agent/editor about what you can handle rather than put yourself through the gauntlet of trying, and maybe failing, to get it done. To jack a sentiment from Thoreau: Be not simply good. Be good for something.

8 Responses to Five Years, Five Lessons

  1. Pat Feb 16 2015 at 10:53 am #

    This is such a great post. I see a lot of similarities to what has and is going on in my life. Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your emotional journey. Wish you best of luck, Alex.

  2. Rowenna Feb 16 2015 at 11:18 am #

    The last point is so vital–and it’s not just avoiding burnout, but also about producing *good* work that keeps you moving forward. Trying other people’s tricks and schedules can be a good way to experiment, but there’s no one right way–there’s the way that’s right for you.

  3. Kim Graff Feb 16 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    This is a really amazing post—thank you for sharing it! It always makes me feel better to read about authors who have overcome challenges and go through the same Am I crazy/is this normal panic.

  4. Amie
    Amie Feb 16 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    Amazing advice, as always — we’ll miss you so much, Alex!

  5. Ronald L Smith Feb 16 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    Thanks so much for writing this. It is very timely, indeed.

  6. Holly Feb 16 2015 at 10:39 pm #

    So sorry to be losing you on Pub Crawl! But this is a fantastic recap of your journey so far and I look forward to any guest posts you have in the future. I think everyone can relate, in some form or another, to everything you touched on here. Thank you for the post and best of luck!

  7. Reg Feb 21 2015 at 5:01 am #

    Late comment here, but I’m sad to see you go, Alex. I’ve enjoyed your posts and your insights into publishing. They’ve really informed my perspective on writing and the path to publication. I wish you the best of luck and hope to see you back in the not too distant future.

  8. Alexa S. Mar 3 2015 at 11:18 am #

    Aww, it’s so sad to hear you won’t be a regular poster on Pub Crawl anymore, Alex! But I totally understand that it probably is part of your #5 truth up there, and that’s admirable. Thank you for being so candid with us in this post! It’s so interesting to get a little more insight into what your writing and publishing journey has been like.

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