Monday, August 3, 2009

Counting Blessings

By Libby Malin

When I first started writing novels, I used to look at published authors with a combination of awe and envy. A member of various RWA email loops, I hung on the words of published authors who doled out advice, offering cautions as well as encouragement.

The one discussion that turned my admiring smiles to disapproving frowns was when published authors complained about how being published wasn't Nirvana, that published authors faced a whole new set of problems once their manuscripts were accepted and put into print.

Oh really? To the unpublished writer dealing with rejection and little reward, any problems associated with being published were ones I wanted to embrace! Give me those problems! Fellow writers felt the same way.

Eventually, I did make it into the published authors club. And lo and behold, I realized firsthand that yes, published authors face challenges, too, that getting published didn't mean the journey was over or even smooth ever after. I ended up dealing with virtually every problem I'd heard published authors complain about -- a mismatch with an agent, a change in editors, a dropped line, and a heartbreaking negotiation that sent me scurrying to the Authors Guild legal services asking for advice. (None of these incidents involved Sourcebooks, by the way!)

Fast forward years later. I'm sitting eating breakfast at the Marriott in DC during the RWA conference weekend. A woman sits at the table next to me. It's early and we're among only a handful of folks in the restaurant, so we strike up a conversation. She's unpublished, getting lots of rejection letters, but she's still trying, still hopeful. She asks about me and I tell her I am published in YA and women's fiction, that I'd come to DC primarily to meet with my agent and editor....and I offer her encouragement, urging her to contact me because I'd be happy to tell her what I know, limited though it might be, about the business.

When I left the restaurant, I realized that years ago I was that woman. And I would have viewed the published author sitting next to me as being blessed with success, being in precisely the spot I yearned to occupy--meeting with her agent to discuss future direction, seeing her editor and fellow authors. What bliss!

And you know what? It is bliss. In spite of all the problems, the headaches, the heartbreaks, the petty annoyances and big challenges, I'm danged lucky to be doing something I love. I might not be a bestselling author (yet!), but I'm paid to write, and my writing reaches thousands of people. That's a great feeling.

My brush with my "former self" made me realize how important it is to stop and count blessings from time to time. I know the road ahead will still have speed bumps and outright obstacles, but at least I'm on the road and not sitting on the sidelines.

Being a part of a supportive writing community helps a lot -- not just to get through the rough patches, but to celebrate with joy the successes of every author.

I hope that unpublished author does contact me for help. I'd be happy to share what I know (and zip my mouth if complaints bubble to the surface!) and wish her the best, just as many published authors did for me when I first put my toe on the writing path.


  1. sounds like you are well grounded...and your head is on straight.

  2. Great post, Libby~

    I agree, writing is bliss. Not all the time, but then what is? Every time I start feeling the strain that comes along with being a working writer, I remind myself that there are over 8,000 people who would gladly take my place.

    One of the best things about RWA is the way published authors mentor pre-published authors. It's the only organization I've ever seen do this and do it well. Talking to pre-pubs is always wonderful for me. It reminds me of everything I love about writing!

    I talk to these men and women who are blessed with the time to write for just the love of writing and I remember how it was to wake up early to get an extra hour of writing in simply because I couldn't wait to hang with my characters. Thankfully, it still happens. I woke up early today because I'm excited to hang with my characters before the kids get up.

  3. All so true, right down to the fact that we all need to remind ourselves how lucky we are! I do this frequently. My one big fear in writing has always been that it will all go away!

    Not that I would LET that happen!

  4. It's only been a year that I've been a published author and no way have I forgotten what it's like to be unpublished and looking at those with contracts and books and wanting it. Yes, we now have deadlines and crazy time management, but it goes with the territory and what I signed on to do.

    That'd be so great if she did contact you - I'd love to opportunity to some day do for someone else what others have done for me along my journey.

  5. Great post, Libby, and good of you to offer your help. I try to help out as many unpublished people as I can. I do a lot of critiquing, mentoring, judging, etc. and it's always such a thrill when one of them says, ahhhh, I get it now. That's what I need to do.

  6. I remember some contests I entered in the pre-pubbed days where some judges really wrote helpful things, all in a cheerful "attagirl" spirit. These more than made up for the occasional snarky judge and provided the "wind beneath my wings" during low moments.

  7. Hi Libby,

    My first novel is out on submission, and a couple of months ago I had that "I'm not sure I can pull this off again" paralysis.

    I attended Connecticut's RWA chapter conference in May, and found myself spilling my guts to a published author there (NY Times bestseller, no less). She really listened, shared a story about her own doubts, and encouraged me to write what's in my heart.

    She was lovely, and it had an unintended effect for her--I bought her book!

  8. I enjoyed your post, Libby. It was like looking in a mirror! I guess there are times most of us sigh and say, "The grass is greener over in my neighbor's yard."


  9. That is so true, Amelia. It's easy to get caught up in that envy game. It keeps you from appreciating the success you are enjoying.

  10. I wish I'd realized that the community was out there before I became published. I had no idea it existed and, therefore, faced all of the challenges of the unpublished (and many of the published!) alone. The conference in DC was only my second meeting with writers of any kind, and though I'd met many of you online, it was still pretty amazing.

    Still, I don't think it's fair to new writers to have them believe that it is a perfect world here among the published. It's not. Many wannabe authors will be disillusioned when they reach this point, if, indeed, they ever do.

    Mentoring is great, and focusing on the positive is a great way to view the world, but I also believe that understanding the ins and outs in advance would do more to help a new author shoulder the responsibilities that come with the job--the good, as well as the not so good.

  11. Super post, Libby! I love to create stories. I can't imagine a more rewarding job then writing and entertaining!

  12. GREAT POST, Libby!

    I too remember being so star-struck with published authors back when I first joined RWA. And yes, I never imagined that being published would bring a whole NEW set of worries and challenges. But as Robin says, I just remind myself that there are at least 8,000 people who would JUMP at the chance to take my place. Kinda puts it in a better perspective. :-)


  13. Very true, Libby! Paying it forward is always good karma.


  14. I love giving talks to aspiring authors. And I do tell them about the challenges you face as a published author -- it feels good to be able to do that, though. To have some of those learning-by-doing experiences in the rear view mirror.

  15. It is tough on both sides of the fence. Like Cheryl, I was alone before and had no idea. A bit of knowledge for what lay ahead would have been nice, I suppose, but then I doubt if anyone can really understand how tough it is until they get there. Still, even with all the hassles, I am SO happy to be published. And so very thankful. The conference was very enlightening for me too. It felt wonderful to be aiding "newbies" in any way possible. But it was also marvelous to meet and talk with those who have been around for a long time. We all have our bits of experience to share. RWA rocks for that reason, as well as many others. Great post Libby! And it was fabulous to meet you. :)

  16. Libby, I'm unpublished and have been encouraged and helped out by published authors (two of them are Casababes-thanks a mil!)and it feels good. I'd love to see more mentor programs. It'd be nice for a published author to mentor an unpubbed. There are a lot of great story lines out there and fresh voices, but we aren't being told the whys of our rejections. It's like we're 'almost there' but almost doesn't quite get us.

    I know, I know I'm speaking near impossibilities for Lord knows how busy I am and I'm not published. I can't imagine how busy the published are.