A Publishing Pick-Me-Up

A couple of weeks ago, during a phone call, I suffered a big disappointment regarding my career and it’s taken me a while to be able to write this post.

 

At first the usual thoughts went through my head:

It’s not fair.

Poor me.

What’s the point?

I may as well stop writing.

Everyone else is having an easier time.

The world is against me.

 

Ridiculous really. I’m in a great place at the moment, with a fantastic agent and brilliant publisher, writing two genres that I absolutely love – and with Knowing You recently out, a book I’m very proud of, receiving wonderful reviews. But oh yes, I had a full-on pity party. Despite all the mindfulness and Buddhism I’ve learnt about over the last couple of years, I still have meltdowns now and again – I’m only human. The difference is I pull myself out of them quicker. NetFlix and chocolate help.

And another aid to recovery is to look back on previous disappointments and see how I’ve got over them and this acts as a huge pick-me-up.

In fact I’ve listed a few here – to show those of you currently in the doldrums that things do change and move forwards. The troughs don’t last forever, even thought they feel interminable at the time.

Years of rejections.

It took me six years to get my first agent. I’ve got a folder of 80 rejections. During those years I swore I’d give up writing, it wasn’t worth the tears. In fact my young kids offered to publish me when they grew up. I’m still holding them to that, even though they are now at uni, in case my career nosedives! But yes, tough times – but I just kept going, writing and sending my work out there and eventually got to sign on a dotted line.

Up and down sales

My debut, Doubting Abbey, was a bestselling Christmas book December 2013. I even had interest from a Hollywood film producer! I thought that was it. I’d made it. All my books would continue with this success. But then the sequel From Paris with Love came out. The reviews were great and it did reach #600 in the AmazonUK charts, but it didn’t reach the dizzy heights of its predecessor. With a sharp shock I realised complacency was not going to be allowed to feature in my career.

In 2015 Game of Scones, got to #5 in the kindle chart, won the 2015 Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook category and has sold 100,000 copies. The following two books didn’t sell as well. But then my summer 2016 book Breakfast Under a Cornish Sun got to #5 as well.

So for many authors there will be ups and downs along the way and after having 11 books published I realise that, and it helps me now if there are sales disappointments – who knows what is around the corner. I always say an author is only as good as their next book and this excites me and pushes me forwards. And I imagine that is the same excitement felt by agents and publishers when going through their submission pile. There are always endless possibilities. Who knows what your writing brain will come up with next?

Lack of understanding of the industry from bystanders

And it isn’t their fault. I don’t know much about any other sort of career so why should I assume bystanders understand how mine works? Indeed, before I started writing I linked a successful author career with red carpets and mansions with swimming pools. However once you’re in the thick of it, you realise what a tough career it is and the photo below reveals how unglamorous the day to day can be! It can be frustrating when yet another person asks if your life is like J K Rowling’s (I had that just last week). Or they question whether an ebook is a “real” book, or they dismiss your success if you aren’t currently in every single bookstore in the land.

Over time I’ve learned to distance myself from this and accept that the general view of what it’s like to be an author isn’t likely to change – and I’ve been lucky, most people who know about my job have been nothing but supportive. I’ve also found that joining online author groups helps immensely as you quickly realise most writers, at whatever stage, whatever their deal, to one extent or another, are going through the same problems and one of those is facing this very issue.

Rating yourself

It’s a tough one, not comparing yourself to other authors, and it’s hard to remember that us writers are not pitted against each other (even though rankings might make it seem as if we are). Over the last couple of years I’ve had counselling for eating disorder issues that have raised their head again, after 30 years. My counsellor said it was ironic that I’d chosen a career where I am being rated the whole time – Amazon rankings, reviews – as anorexics/bulimics are continually rating themselves too. And yes, it is something I struggle with. But mindfulness and Buddhism remind me to focus on my own journey. That’s what Olympian coaches do. They tell their athletes the only person they are competing against is themselves and their last personal best.

 

So you aren’t alone. Stop being hard on yourself. Be a little kinder to self. Sounds naff, doesn’t it? But it’s so important. Look back at your positives – an encouraging rejection, a lovely review. You are all amazing just for putting your hearts on the line and getting your words out into the public arena.

It is hard. I feel as if I am soldiering on at the moment. It’s not a 9 – 5 job that you can leave at the office. It’s can be in your thoughts 24/7. And for that reason it can sometimes feel as if you’ve been in the industry for a life-time.

So you must also take a time-check. For example I’ve had 11 books published but that has happened within only 5 1/2 years. I’m still in the early stages of my career, from many points of view. I need to remember that and remind myself of how long it takes, in other professions, to become fully trained and reach your goals.

The ups are followed by downs and the downs are always followed by ups – this is true of any personal or professional life. So to keep sane, try not to attach to either as both will pass.

I also try to remind myself that many women of my mother’s generation didn’t have a chance to follow a career. The problems I am having would have been problems they’d have love to have had. So I remind myself to be grateful

 

Come and say hello to me on Twitter @SamTongeWriter if you’re having a challenging time.

We’re all in this together 🙂

 

 

 

 

14 comments

  1. Linn B. Halton says:

    It’s so hard for an author not to be thinking ‘work’ 24/7 because a) it’s our passion b) it’s always in our heads! Even if it’s just the current story we’re writing, simmering away.

    Ironically, I’ve just had a really tough month myself, with decisions to be made that I really struggled with. So many of us are writers first and foremost, finding the hard business side is just that, hard. But bills have to be paid because this is our job of work.

    My coping mechanism is when things aren’t going along smoothly, I just work harder and I don’t focus on the results. When I took some time recently to de-stress, I spent the time reconnecting with the inner me. So I totally get where you are coming from, lovely lady, as that’s an essential to surviving.

    You guide and inspire so many people, Sam, so know that those people are also here for you when you need it! Virtual hug. xxx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Aw thanks, Linn 🙂 And thanks for your honesty – sorry to hear you have had a tough time too. And yes, that sounds like a good idea, just to get on with the writing when the other parts of being an author are proving challenging or disappointing. That’s our main purpose, after all. I hope you’ve come to term with your decisions. I’ve finally accepted what happened to me a couple of weeks ago and am moving forwards. No point doing otherwise as I can’t change it! Big hugs. Sam xx

  2. Kathleen McGurl says:

    Great post, thank you Sam. As I’ve recently taken the big step of giving up the day job in order to write, I’m in a period of adjustment, and hoping that I’ll be able to ride the peaks and troughs as easily as I could when I had a secure income!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences and wisdom – very generous and helpful.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much Kath. Yes, I think writing does take on a different perspective if it becomes your main source of income and you need it for bills to be paid. Especially if you make that decision to write full-time based on good sales and then things change. But as I said in my post, in my experience, highs are followed by lows are followed by highs, so it probably all evens itself out. We just have to try to keep our emotions on an even keel! Good luck 🙂 Sam

  3. Sue Blackburn says:

    Another generous inspirational post Sam. I’m sorry you’ve had a knock recently but in your wise words you emphasise the lows are followed by the highs, which they usually are especially with one as talented as you. Writing is such a roller coaster – so much a case of fastening yourself in and giving yourself up to the highs and the lows of the profession we are all hooked on and somehow, no matter what, have to do! Be kind to yourself lovely lady. You are indeed there for others so know that others are always there for you Luvnhugs xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks lovely Sue, your support means a lot as always.
      And I love that idea of strapping yourself in and giving in to the highs and lows, that’s a great attitude. Hugs back xx

  4. Helen Phifer says:

    Ah, Sam. This is me at the moment and I want to give you the hugest of hugs. You’re doing amazing and all of this is so true. However look how far we’ve come from our first books and there’s so much more to look forward to. We have to keep writing because it’s in our blood and who knows where the next idea will take us.

    Love Helen xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, lovely – it would be an even harder journey without writing friends like you. And you are right. We just have to follow our hearts and keep going. Sam xx

  5. Kate Hewitt says:

    Thanks for your post, Sam, honest and inspirational as always! I find it’s hard not to let writing, and particularly my success or failure in it, define me. I have to keep reminding myself that my identity is not writer first–it’s wife, mum, daughter, sister, friend. And being a successful writer does not equal a successful person. Life is so much more than that.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      You are so right, Kate, and I talked a lot about this when I was having counselling a couple of years ago. My self-esteem was on the floor because if a book didn’t do as well as a previous one I felt I, Sam Tonge, was failing. I now try to keep Samantha Tonge Author and myself separate and remember that none of it is failing anyway – it’s just part of the journey all us authors go through xx

  6. Lindsay Bamfield says:

    To me, with only a handful of short stories/flash fictions published, your career is stellar! But I understand there are still disappointments and let downs. Like so many authors, you had rejections but you kept going and I always take inspiration from that when I receive yet another rejection. Still haven’t reached 80 yet so I will keep going!. Please know that your life story as well as your books cheer people on everywhere. .

    • Sam Tonge says:

      What an uplifting thing to say, thanks so much Lindsay, that means a lot 🙂
      Yes, I try to look backwards at what I have achieved when the going gets tough – as I hope you do. It’s amazing to get even just a handful of stories published and I have fond memories of my time doing that, before I moved to novels. Well done for keeping going. I’ve never known a writer who didn’t give up, to not eventually achieve their goals.
      Thanks again 🙂 x

  7. Ashwin Dave says:

    Pretty much par for the course! I have had to self-publish my debut book (The Ivory Towers & Other Stories) after rejections and shoddy contracts from unscrupulous ‘predators’! At age 67 I do not have the patience to wait for an agent/publisher so decided to go for it. The book has had some wonderful reviews so am now writing a sequel. Wow – if you can have ‘doubts’ after 11 novels then you can imagine my state of mind! Never mind and well done!! He who dares wins. I played competitive cricket in my uni years – sometimes trying to analyze your technique is counterproductive – best to sit down and just write! See ball, hit ball is sound advice – not always. Another saying in cricket – when in trouble, hit out. Thank you for your thoughts – made my day!!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Aw, thanks Ashwin – and go you!
      Yes, I’ve decided when the going gets tough just to keep on writing is very important!
      I don’t think writers ever stop having self-doubt. One book’s success doesn’t guarantee another’s.
      Love your attitude, thanks for sharing and good luck! 🙂

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