A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Fame…

When I started down the road to being a published author, there were times I wanted it so bad it was a physical ache. I would carefully calculate exactly how long before I could expect to hear back from the publisher/agent I had sent a manuscript to, and then wait by the letter box. Back in those days, all I wanted was to be published. That was all. That would be the pinnacle. After that, everything would be a sparkle in my eye.

Ha. Then I got published. And I found out it wasn’t all I wanted. I wanted to be other things as well: a commercial success, to be sought after. I wanted to be receiving paeans of praise from my peers. I wanted loads of wonderful reviews. I wanted the moon…

Photo: Giving a reading at Worldcon Glasgow 2005

I was lucky; for a while there, it seemed that I might actually get it. Reviews of Havenstar (my first book) were excellent. STARBURST magazine gave it a 10/10 rating. It got on to bestseller lists. And then it vanished from sight and the bubble popped.

And here’s the uncomfortable truth: getting published is the world’s greatest rush, but things often go downhill from there, not up! It was another five years before I had another book published and I never have got back into the UK market. I’ve sold to Australia, USA, Germany and Russia, but not to the UK. And that’s another lesson the naïve writer learns : there’s not much that is logical in the business of publishing.

After that first heady publication, after you have recovered from the choked-up joy of holding that shiny new book with your name on the cover, you start to worry yourself sick (or at least I do) about things like: will people like the book? Will it sell? Will it earn out? Will it get reviewed? Will I get another contract? Am I going to get writer’s block? Will I finish that next book in time to meet the deadline? Will the next book be as good? What about the one after that? Will it get nominated for the Aurealis shortlist? And if it does, then you start worrying: will it win?

(At this stage, any unpublished writer reading this is going to be thinking: what an ungrateful prat!)

Possibly it’s all part of the human condition to never be content. Or maybe it’s just megalomanic me.

Some of what we worry about has validity. Writers do get dropped. Or publishing imprints do fold (see what happened to my Havenstar just when it started to fly). Books do fail to sell – even the good ones.

And maybe, just maybe – because I will never be content, my writing will get better and better as time goes by. That’s the theory, anyway.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Fame… — 7 Comments

  1. This is the sucky downside to the game, and kudos to you for being brave enough to talk about it. I echo all your emotions, with bells on. Writers, like actors and other creative artists, wear their hearts on their sleeves. They peel up a little corner of the psyche and invite the world to have a looksee. And when the world doesn’t take any notice … it hurts. When it goes ewwwwww … we want to slash our wrists. The creative impulse may be strong but I’m not altogether convinced its always sane. The trouble is, denying it is a sure way to go *in*sane. I guess the only thing we can do is take a deep breath, hold on tight, and ride the rollercoaster as hard and as fast as we can.

    If we’re lucky, there are fantastic people sharing the ride with us. You’re one of them. And that’s what makes the scary bits bearable.

    As to being thought an ungrateful prat … well, perhaps some people do think that. But they should think again. There’s a big difference between whining and acknowledging the truth of a situation. Many dreams attained prove to have a dark underbelly. It’s possible to still be grateful for the dream while recognising the darkness. You know the saying: Take what you want, says God. Take it, and pay. There is always a downside. No matter how fantastic things look on the outside, there is always a shadow. And I think it would be remiss not to warn those folk still dreaming that sometimes it’s not all beer and skittles. Which isn’t to say you don’t still go for the dream. You do. But go for it with your eyes open.

    Karen (who still hadn’t organised her blog id!!)

  2. This is a wonderful post, Karen. I just jumped over here from Kristin Nelson’s site, and as a newly-agented literary novelist I take your words to heart.

  3. Yes, all the best nikki b! I hope it is not quite as long a road for you as for me…I was agented in Jan 1991, by a very experienced, savvy lady (also the wife of a successful published author), whom I am immensely grateful to and would never leave in a million years, but even she couldn’t make miracles happen overnight.

    My first book was published in 1999. And it wasn’t the one the agent started with! That one was finally published in 2003 -yep, 13 years after it was written – and was apparently good enough to be shortlisted for the best Australian fantasy novel of the year.

    As I said, there is little that is logical in this business. You just pick yourself up off the floor and try again.

  4. Glenda, anyone who thinks of you as an ungrateful prat for admitting the truth, deserves to have their heads caved in =) You’re an excellent writer, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with expanding your horizons, and desiring more! Dreams, just like relationships or anything, grow! So if you want more out of being a writer, then being ‘just’ published, then you go for it! Your fans, like I, will always support you! *super hugs*

  5. No prats on your blog, that’s for sure. Yes, the first goal is to get published, but after that you’re not supposed to sit back and declare yourself done with the writing game.
    Once published you just face a new set challenges, and while they might seem like unjustified moaning to some of those seeking publication, they’ll have exactly the same issues to deal with if/when THEY become published, and hearing how others overcame them is helpful.
    By the way Glenda, you might like to check out http://www.sfnovelists.com/ It’s a forum for published authors run by Tobias Buckell (Karen and I are both on there). You can discuss writer business (publishers, publicity, agents) without sounding like a bunch of whingers. I think there are over 50 people on there now, mostly from the US but including several aussies.
    If you do email Tobias to join the group you can mention my name – although mentioning you’re published by HC will be more than enough 😉

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