The Secret to Being a Happy Author

It’s a tough business, publishing. I recall, years ago, a successful author warning a group of aspiring writers (me amongst them) to be careful what they wished for – that getting published didn’t solve all your problems. In fact, it brings a different set. And I can certainly confirm this. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and consider myself very lucky to be doing it –  but signing that deal means that instead of suffering submission rejections you are faced with a whole new gamut of challenges, such as tight deadlines, bad reviews, disappointing sales…these things happen to all authors and can come as a shock after finally achieving your dream.

It pays to bear in mind that most dreams are unrealistic – the getting published bit isn’t, but it’s what we subconsciously attach to that aspiration. Your view of “getting published” might be that… you earn loads of money. Buy a big house and fancy car. Gain respect from everyone you meet. Suddenly become irresistible to the object of your affection. Never feel depressed again. End up on the Booker List. Stand on the red carpet next to George Clooney. Fit into that size ten dress. Prove to everyone who ever doubted you that their view of you was incorrect.

IT IS UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT ANY OF THESE THINGS TO HAPPEN AS A DIRECT RESULT OF FINALLY GETTING YOUR BOOK OUT THERE!

So how can us writers hold onto our happiness during such a roller coaster career?

 

 

Over the last year I’ve learn a lot from Buddhism. One of its tenets is that unhappiness comes from being attached to either good or bad things. What helps is realising that nothing is permanent. If we can do that, our life will achieve a sense of balance.

Take my 2015 bestseller Game of Scones. It reached #5 in the Kindle chart and stayed in the Top Ten for a good length of time. It won an award. Many readers loved the story. I was finally on my way to “making it” I whooped! I attached myself to that success and expected it to continue.

That was my  mistake. The next book didn’t do badly, but didn’t do as well. I felt I’d failed. I attached myself to those feelings of disappointment and wondered if I’d ever have a bestseller again.

As it turned out I did and last year Breakfast Under a Cornish Sun got to #8. However, these days I have a different perspective. I don’t become attached to the peaks or the troughs. And I have zero expectations when a book is released. I write it the best I can, with love and heart, and I promote it at the outset… but then I let it go and get on with my next project. What will be will be. There are SO MANY reasons why a book does or doesn’t do well: the publisher’s strategy, the cover, title, price, the timing of its release, the other books around at that moment… I find that if I distance myself from my successes and see them for what they are – transitory events – it gives me a much more balanced view of my career.

Remember, the path to misery is littered with expectations and senses of entitlement!

And all of this can be applied to life. Physical looks, our own and loved ones’ personalities, domestic circumstances, financial earnings, our state of health … be aware that everything is impermanent and in a constant state of flux. This makes it easier to accept your situation when the status quo changes – which it will.

By all means enjoy your highs. You have worked hard. You deserve them. And lick your wounds during the lows. But remember – neither is permanent. Work hard and keep submitting manuscripts and you will get a deal. Keep writing and learning more about your craft and those good reviews and sales rankings will once again appear. Finding working with your current publisher/editor/agent difficult? One way or another that situation won’t last forever.

In my experience, keeping detached and enjoying the good moments simply for what they are (without further expectations), and realising the bad moments will eventually pass… THAT – in writing and in life – is the secret to happiness.

54 comments

  1. Audrey Davis says:

    Great post! I know I’m obsessing too much about my current book sales when I should be enjoying writing the next one. I have a lovely life and should be embracing that, instead of dwelling on the small stuff.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks Audrey! Yes, I think it’s really easy for us to sometimes forget what we actually have and we can become overwhelmed by focusing on what we think we need/deserve.

  2. Natalie Meg Evans says:

    All true, in part because writing because you have to produce another selling book is so different from writing because you love the craft. in a way, it’s like the gulf between a new romance and the realities of marriage. Being published means you are responsible for your ‘out there’ work, the reaction of the market, of readers, you publisher whereas as an unpublished author, you were protected from all that. I wouldn’t swap the job for anything but dancing through the daisies it isn’

    • Sam Tonge says:

      I love your marriage analogy, Natalie! And yes, there are moments of dancing, but sometimes the daisies can feel as if they’ve been made into daisy chains 🙂 But like you, I still love my job and am grateful to be able to do it.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks for visiting, Fiona, and my pleasure – I always find it fascinating to hear other writers’ experiences and if they share tough times it really helps.

  3. Linn B Halton says:

    I can agree with every single word here, Sam – life is a rollercoaster because after every high comes an inevitable low. After lovely sunny days at some point the rain will come … I’ve always believe in working hard and not worrying about the results because you are right, eventually they will come. Reading this make me smile and nod in agreement. It was also a nice little reminder! Thank you! X

  4. Joy Lennick says:

    I totally agree. Thank you! I too ‘go with the flow’ – it seems to be my nature. I’ve had woolly dreams about being a successful writer (and was for a while…) but having worked in the business know only too well it’s a lot to do with LUCK. Enjoy the process of writing – the good and the bad – it’s very fulfilling and if you don’t expect TOO much from life, it will often surprise you. Be lucky.

  5. Giulietta Spudich says:

    Thanks for this eloquent and heartening post. I would like to add from my own experience that working with creative and inspiring people makes a big difference to me. Sharing the journey with others (who are positive) has made me enjoy publishing even if the concrete ‘wins’ aren’t there (like sales!). I really like what you say about not getting attached to the wins or losses, but enjoying the highs when they are there.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks very much, Giulietta. Yes, I agree, connecting with like-minded people definitely does enrich the whole experience which can, at times, feel isolating. Thanks for popping by 🙂

  6. Mehreen Ahmed says:

    Thanks for the tip. My book, The Pacifist got up to #7 in kindle literary historical fiction and stayed there for sometime. When this was happening, I realised how easily people can get drawn towards these numbers and be controlled by them. While marketing is important, we also need to bear in mind that art is even more important. Numbers are changeable art is not. Art is here to stay with you for as long as you allow it to be.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Congratulations on your success, Mehreen – and yes, imo I think it is too easy to become obsessed with, and attached to, rankings and sales figures, when the going is good or bad. Best to step back and just enjoy the work…

  7. Angela Noel says:

    Such a good point! When I started to think seriously about a writing career I had this vision of what being a published author would look and feel like. Finally! I thought, legitimacy. But a few years in, and lots of work later, I realized I’m already legitimate as a writer. I work on my craft, I care about a quality project, I support others, and love the conversations that begin around a good book. Publishing is only a part of that, and not, I don’t think, the most important part. So someday, when a book I wrote is published, I hope it’s like any other day: An opportunity to do good work, to have conversations, and support others.
    I appreciate reading how you addressed the ups and downs of publishing and success. I know I’ll need a reminder when the time comes. Thank you!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks Angela, and I think you have a great attitude ahead of the game – hopefully you won’t have to learn the hard way, like I have! Good luck with your writing!

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