by S. L. Duncan
I’m not here to name names. But if you ask any recently published debut author, perhaps plying them with an adult beverage, they might fess up. So far, everyone I’ve talked to has admitted to feeling the same way, or has experienced some level of the darkness that creeps in. To borrow from the medical world (and a fellow YA author), it’s simple postpartum depression.
Yeah, I’m working through some stuff right now.
My book, THE REVELATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, released August 12th of this year. It’s been a whirlwind of all the things you’d expect from a book release. Interviews, industry reviews, book signings, release parties, giveaways, and even a book festival. The gauntlet. For me, it was a good two or three weeks of newborn book-related excitement.
And then, well, nothing really. Nothing after years of building up to a moment. After hitting the highs of getting the agent, getting the publisher, and getting the book onto a shelf, the drop-off of perceived excitement for your work after your book birthday is sudden and steep.
I shouldn’t say there’s nothing to do. There are reader reviews and the struggle to get reader reviews. If you’re not big five (and sometimes even if you are), a lot of grabbing the world’s attention will fall on your shoulders. Learning to sell a book is like learning a foreign language. It’s daunting and unless you’ve got a guide or someone to teach you, it’s a series of mumbling, inarticulate gestures.
It’s a wonderful time for doubt to seep in. I’ve found myself to be surprisingly sensitive to this sort of thing. I once thought of myself as a rock, able to brush off criticism. I’m now second-guessing everyone and everybody. Mostly, though, I’m second-guessing myself and my ability. This came in tandem with the first bad review.
Worse than doubt, reality sets in. I’m saying reality, but what I mean is jealousy. Because the reality is, other authors that I consider peers are doing fantastic out there and they are doing it faster than I am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited and thrilled for them. But a question keeps popping up in the back of my mind that calls into question my ability to tell a good story: Why not me? I'm fully and totally embarrassed to be admitting this.
Very few authors hit escape velocity with their book and break into a place where public awareness and interest has an expanding upward trajectory. Movie deals. New York Times attention. Keynote appearances at book festivals. This is super, crazy rare. But starting out, in the back of our minds, even if we understand the near impossibility of hitting this mark, the potential of doing so is still on the board.
Until it isn’t.
For a good two weeks after my book release, I found myself in a dark place, creatively, consumed with how my book was doing. Hourly check-ins at Amazon’s Author Central. Looking at other debut's bestseller rank and comparing it to my own. Google searches. Constantly checking my Goodreads page. That's obsessive behavior. My reviews have been very good, but those readers that didn’t connect resonated louder than the ones that did. Having a mood that swings in direct relation to how the public embraces my work is not a healthy way to live.
Looming over all of this is a book deadline for the third book in the REVELATION SAGA. So, add to all of this, one heaping scoop of anxiety.
What’s weird is that all of this is happening during what, outside-looking-in, was joyous time. I got Published. Don’t think for one second that I’m not thankful for that, or that I take it for granted. Trust me, I don’t.
In the past few days, I’ve had – if you’ll excuse me – a bit of a revelation. (Mumbling, inarticulate marketing gesture – check!) I remembered why I ultimately write: for myself. I tell the stories I want to see told. All these other things? These doubts and distractions? They are on the peripheral of the art itself. Do I appreciate when someone likes my work? Sure. But I’ve realized that appreciation does not validate me as an author. Nor does criticism make my work less worthy.
To borrow a legal term, those things are not relevant.
Lawyers call their profession the practice of law. I like that. You’ve come to FTWA looking for advice and counsel on how to get published or how to better your writing. But all we can offer is what we’ve learned from our own victories and defeats.
In truth, we’re all still trying to figure it out. We’re practicing authors. My freshly squeezed advice is this: remember why you write and stay true to that.
Unless you are writing to get famous. In that case, you may be in for some disappointment.