Tuesday, May 3, 2016

12 Delusions of a Published Author

Once your book is published, it's all downhill and easy, right? The hard work is done, and you've learned how to achieve that success that you've spent years or decades working toward. All you have to do is collect your royalty checks, answer fan mail, and crank out a book now and then between glitzy book events.

Um. No.

The first published book is simply the first published book. It may be no better than an unpublished book that resides in a corner of your laptop hard drive collecting virtual dust, and there are likely a hundred or more unpublished books by other writers that are better written, more exciting, or more engaging. The truth is, once a book reaches a certain level of professionalism in terms of writing, plotting, characterization, etc., its fate comes down to the giant claw of luck that controls finding the right agent, the right editor, the right acquisition panel, and the right mix of other books in the publisher's pipeline. At least to a certain degree.

To a Point

One of the most illustrative stories that I've ever heard is one that Veronica Rossi told at a workshop I attended shortly after her UNDER THE NEVER SKY hit the New York Times bestseller list. She had spent seven years working on a high fantasy, and she took it to a workshop with uber-agent Donald Maass. Don read the first fifty pages, told her it was great, and then told her it would never sell because it was too much like every other high fantasy out there.

In effect, what Veronica had done was what so many of us do, she had rewritten the books that she loved with her own stamp. There's nothing wrong with that--as writers, that's our version of putting training wheels on a bicycle. But it isn't ever going to result in the breakout book that we all long for.

Veronica, being brilliant, went home, thought about Don's advice, suffered through a lot of angst and heartbreak, and wrote UNDER THE NEVER SKY. She succeeded with that book because it combined the things she loved in high fantasy with something completely new, something that only she could have conceived. Three months after finishing that book, she had an agent, an editor, international deals, and a movie deal, but she'd spent eight years of dedicated writing getting to those three months.

So is that the key? Is a truly unique idea always enough? Does something original guarantee a sale?

Um. No.

The risk that we run when we climb out on that limb of creativity is that it will break from underneath us. Hollywood has an expression: they want something the same but different. Readers (and publishers) all have a comfort zone, and if we stray too far beyond that, it becomes difficult to sell our work. A book needs to be easily explained and easily shelved.

Those are the hard truths of publishing. Successful authors understand them.

Sanity and Creativity Don't Always Coincide

But as writers, we are artists, and that's one of the hardest truths to face. Even when we are writing commercial fiction, we are subject to the vagaries of our creative obsessions and delusions. We are drawn to what we love, and we write what excites us. What excites us may not, always, excite everyone else quite as much, though. Bestselling author Sarah Dessen has twelve published books under her belt, and thirteen more that she's written in between those twelve that didn't make it. Thirteen books that, as she put it, were written out of fear and panic.

As writers, we plunge naked into the ocean of ideas. We create, and we fail. We suffer for that failure--or for the perception of failure. We suffer for that creativity. Writers have 121% more likelihood of depression and almost 50% higher rates of suicide than the general population. Libba Bray calls this Miles and Miles of No Man's Land. If we're lucky enough to finish a book, and sell it, we have to manage our expectations, because expectations are demon spawn.

I am musing on all of this as I wait for my agent to give me her verdict on the first book I have fully written since the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy. I love this book, love it, but did I go too far out on that limb? I tried to start it in more familiar territory to ease the reader in--was that a mistake? I simply do not know. Time will tell.

I know I was scared to finish this book. Even knowing that I was heading out to a book festival in Kentucky and was going to drive myself crazy if I still had those last two chapters hanging over my head, I found myself answering fan mail that could have waited a few more days instead. I updated the project's Pinterest board. I Tweeted like a demon. I bought a couple dresses online that I really didn't need. Suddenly everything but writing became more critical.

Fear Affects Us All in Strange and Ugly Ways 

I did manage to finish the book, obviously, and then I got through the edits my critique partners suggestion. I forced myself through, giving myself deadlines, and promising myself rewards when I finished. We play the games we have to play. But the truth is that this writing thing never gets easier. Not really.

I remember meeting Libba Bray for the first time and practically crying buckets on her because I was so grateful for the blog post she had written in which she--yes, even Libba Bray--confessed she had the same panic I fears we all have.

What if I’m just not good enough/smart enough/fast enough/clever enough? Dumb. Messy. Wrong. Slow. Fraud. Hack.

Even Libba Bray has to relearn to write every book for the first time. That's another truth. Every book is different. Every writer is different. Every truth of mine may be nothing more than delusion. I can't compare myself to other writers because I am only myself.

A song can be written in a few hours. If it fails, it's a few hours of the songwriter's life. Writing book length fiction, we devote a year or more to a single work, and it has just as much or little chance as that song. But our long form of creativity is the music to which we dance, and that's the risk we take for the chance to do what we love.

In the end? I get paid to make stuff up. I get to share my worlds with others. That's pretty much the greatest job in the world, and I pinch myself all the time, knowing how fortunate I am.

What About You? 

What do you fear? What do you hope for?


I've still got the giveaway going on for both current books of the trilogy along with some things that relate to it. Enter by 5/17. : )

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About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse about three plantations, two wishes, and an ancient curse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.


  1. Thanks for being so honest! I would love to think that getting published is the end of the heartache, even if it's not the end of the work. Thank goodness we have the internet to help each other stay sane(ish). :)

    1. This is true! The common denominators in all of the stories within this story, all the things that helped me, are the wonderful authors who take the time to share their own journeys, insecurities, and lessons. One of the most inspirational things about authors, at least for me, is that unlike the glamour shots of actors in full makeup, what we put on the page as actors is us without our makeup. Our own fears and dreams and hopes go into the pages, and that makes us so very vulnerable. Bottling all that fear up inside would make us very lonely if we didn't have this wonderful community to connect to!

  2. I love this post! So true. It's frightening and yet exhilarating at the same time to "reinvent the wheel" so to speak when we begin each new novel. Fresh territory! New plot holes! Challenges and thrills alike. But if we keep writing, we'll hit the magic combination. Great illustration with Veronica Rossi's story. :)

    1. Well said, Carol! We hope we hit the magic combination. : ) Sometimes we miss. But we keep hoping!

  3. Great post, as usual, Martina. thanks for unveiling your soul for us!

  4. I'm coming at this from the indie pub side, and the fear is the same. You slave over formatting, covers, editing, revisions, begging for reviews--then you launch your book, and it sinks like a stone. Despite everything you had going for it--despite all your hard work and research--bloop. Hello, ranking 1.5 million on Amazon.

    So yeah, I feel you. No matter how you publish, it's the same.

    1. Great perspective! And it comes down to the same thing. Story is king, timing is everything, and there's a giant claw of luck no matter how good everything else is. We can stack the deck, but it's hard to let go of that love affair with story enough to step back and cut those cards the right way!

  5. After a quarter century making a living as an author, I learned one thing. Any time an author thinks they have it made; their career is over.

  6. My heart goes out to all those brave souls who choose the creative life in whatever form. It can be scary and soul-sucking, but oh, the bliss at making a piece of art, theatre, writing... There's nothing better for those of us who answer the call.

    1. Isn't that the truth! For me, it's the aha moments in the midst of the process. That and typing "The End" :D


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