I never would’ve had the guts to write this if I hadn’t just sold a book. I would’ve kept my shame and embarrassment to myself, figuring if I kept quiet maybe nobody would notice me and I wouldn’t have to feel like an utter failure.
But telling this to a friend who said “Gee, this is helpful to know” made me think that probably other writers could benefit from hearing what I discovered last week.
Back in February, after thirty months without a sale, I posted a message on the AOL romance writers board asking if anyone else had gone through “Rejections After First Sale.” Some friendly people responded. The unpublished writers pointed out that I was still a success because at least I’d sold a book. The published ones observed that rejection is hell and yes, they’d all been through it too.
Which was nice to know. But I still had visions of “What It’s Like To Be A Successful Published Author” — and even though some of them said they’d gone for long periods without a sale in the past, I figured that was all behind them now. Obviously, anybody who’d sold more than ONE book was A Success.
Then I sold another book. And still didn’t feel like A Success. What was wrong here?
After wondering about that online, I started getting e-mail from authors whom I regard as Huge Successes. Every last one of them said the same thing. They STILL don’t feel like they’ve got it made. They still worry about every single manuscript they send out. They still (gasp) get rejections.
They still get rejections?
This floored me. All these years I’ve carried around the idea that once you’re successful, the editors buy every single thing you send them. Why? Because I keep seeing the same famous names in the RWR, selling book after book after book. And yet these same famous people are telling me THEY get rejections, they feel like failures, they find themselves thinking “everyone ELSE is a success but not me.”
Which makes me realize that there probably IS no magic threshold. If authors who’ve sold ten, twenty, fifty books are still feeling as unskilled and uncertain and unsuccessful as authors who’ve sold none or one or two, maybe I’ve been holding onto a false image all these years.
Maybe selling a book isn’t the key to eternal success.
(Now, this isn’t to say that every famous author feels unsuccessful! Only that a lot of the ones I’ve admired do.)
But, boy, I wish I’d known when I first started writing that authors whose work I cherish have their own doubts and rejections. That selling a ton of books doesn’t automatically make you self-assured. That it’s very likely we all go through the same misery…which we never talk about in public.
Because it’s embarrassing. Because we don’t want to brand ourselves as failures. Because it looks like everybody else out there is doing so much better — since all we talk about (which means all we hear about!) are the successes.
I wish I’d known sooner that it’s okay to say “I feel like a failure.” That writers whose books I idolize know exactly what it’s like. And that for all of us who’ve ever felt like failures…we can take heart.
We are not alone.