Friday, October 11, 2013

What's the Difference Between Being Published and NOT Being Published? (Also, a Brief Digression about Fleas)

It's been roughly one month since my first book Thin Space was released and lately I've been thinking about the differences between the Before I Was an Officially Published Writer ME and the After Me.

Before I was published I ruminated over the question too. I'd been writing and pursuing publication for years and truly believed I was on the verge of publishing almost as long, but somehow the ever elusive finish line kept moving out of reach.

When it finally happened--the book deal--it almost seemed anti-climactic.

The Pre-published Me struggled to sit down every day and write. That Me set goals and the majority of the time accomplished those goals. I'd figured out over the years that it's hard to write the first draft of a novel, and that the "finished" draft will need to be revised multiple times, and all of that will take a long time.

I was plagued by self doubt. There were days when I hated what I was writing. There were days when I thought my work was brilliant, but then I was plagued by the fact that no one would ever read this brilliant work because I couldn't seem to snag an agent--and later, when I had snagged an agent, she couldn't seem to catch the attention of an editor.

I kept writing.

I wrote ten books. I wrote multiple versions of these ten. The despair of finding readers for any of these grew exponentially. I kept writing anyway. I vacillated daily, sometimes hourly, between hope and despair.

So that was the Me then.

The me now is the same.

I still struggle to sit down each day and write. I still have terrible days when I think that what I am writing is horrible, that I will never be able to pull strands together, and that if/when I do, I won't be able to sell the damn thing.

I have been through the angsty painful process so many times that I know I will finish the project eventually. I also have an agent now who will read it. But there is no guarantee that she will like it and want to sell it. And there is no guarantee that an editor will want to buy it.

The differences:

One is promotion. I might want to spend all my time hunkered down with my WIP but I have to promote Thin Space (a book I finished writing five years ago). I am not complaining about that, just stating the reality. I am traveling around to schools and bookstores. Which is fun and gratifying and cool but also tiring. (see: I am an anxious traveler).

The biggest difference has more to do with perception and response from other people--and it's why being published had always been so important to me. I had made my peace with being a writer who wrote for the sake of writing itself. I love writing (even when I HATE IT) and know that if I never published another word, I would continue to write. But I will be the first person to admit that it is very nice to know that people are reading what I write.

I visited Middle Tennessee State University last week when I was in Nashville to sign at Parnassus Books and I talked to a lot of the students. The first question I asked was "Are you a writer?" Each one gave a hesitant reply.

Yeah, um, sort of...
Well, I hope to be but...
Um, I'm working on that...

I totally understand that hesitation--it's amazingly difficult to say out loud what your dream is--to say unequivocally Yes, I am a writer because the usual response from the questioner is something like, "Oh, what have you written?" (which really means, Is your book published/Can I find it at a bookstore?) and then the writer will have to hesitate again. Um, well, I'm working on something but, um, no, not yet.

It took me ten years to answer simply: "Yes."

It took another ten years to write something worthy of publication.

I told the students: Just save time, skip ahead ten years, and say I am a writer. If you write, you are a writer and in the end the only difference between being published and not being published is ... being published.

For years I had imagined the big release day of my first book. I'd be chatting on the phone or on social media with well-wishers. Maybe I'd visit a few bookstores and bask in the glow of my beautiful book faced out on the shelves.

Here's how I actually spent the long awaited for day:

Locked out of my house.

A couple of days before I'd discovered that my dog and cat were infested with fleas. Not sure how I'd missed this because the $*^&# fleas were all over the place. The morning of the Big Day I carted stuff out onto my back porch--open food containers and tooth brushes and pet food and the litter box. I corralled my anxious old cat and my skittish puppy (who even after a year of co-habitating still loathe each other) out there too. My neighbor and I ran around my house setting off flea bombs and screaming as the poisonous stuff spewed into the air.

We raced out the back door to find the cat hissing and the dog crying. My neighbor, no dummy, went home. I sat out on the porch picking fleas off my pets as they whined to me about their proximity to each other.

Did I mention it was the hottest day of the year?

While my house was being poisoned, I combed out fleas. I sweated like a pig. The animals finally settled down and in exhaustion and possibly under threat of heat stroke, they flopped out at my feet and fell asleep. I worked on my latest manuscript. My phone dinged every once in a while.

"Congrats on your book!!" said the well-wishers. "Enjoy your day!"

Ah, just as I had always dreamed.

I swiped the perspiration from my eyes and whacked dead a hopping flea, then I wrote back to each one: "Thanks!"

Just out of curiosity, why in God's name would there ever have been a child's game called "My Dog Has Fleas"? 


  1. Ah, the glamour of publishing! ;-D

    Our vet gives us a product we put on the back of our cat's neck once a month to repel fleas and ticks. Seems to work OK (knock wood!)

    1. Oh Jenn--you better be knocking on wood hard... we have been using the flea meds (cough* Frontline *cough cough) for years. Not sure why it suddenly STOPPED WORKING!!!

  2. I LOVE this post. I'm still on the other side of the Great Divide, and still plugging away, but thank God I'm not in it for the glamor!! Thank you for such a candid snapshot of your life, before and after. And by the way - you're kidding about Frontline losing its effectiveness eventually, right? Please say you're kidding....

    1. Um. Well, I am sure the Frontline you are using is very effective... (Just checked out your blog, by the way. It's awesome.)

    2. Wow, thanks! I think you're pretty awesome yourself.

  3. Love it. Great posts. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Found you via the Booksellers at Laurelwood newsletter. You probably don't remember me, but I was one of your 11th grade Honors English students at Kirby back in the 90s. Congrats on your publishing success and I'm looking forward to reading more of your writerly thoughts!! :)

    1. Oh my gosh, Brenda! How nice to hear from you. I am going to take a wild guess here: you were in my second period class...

    2. I think it might have been third period, but I'm not sure!

  5. Gotta say, Frontline worked for us when we were dumb enough not notice WHY our dog was seemingly going insane one summer. So, we're all plugging Frontline.

    I can really relate to this post. I have all the same symptoms of the unpublished You (even including the flea-ridden pet) - hope to try out your alter ego some day. Thanks for sharing this!