Monday, November 26, 2012

On Winnning Publishing

I'm a type-A personality.

"Whoa, I'm totally shocked," said no one who has ever met me.

Although techinically I think I'm more of an A-minus personality in that I only like to compete at things I know I can win. This has led to many problems and unfortunate events in my life. In my twisted little mind, it was better to make a joke out of tennis than it was to take it super seriously and lose. And math. No matter how hard I worked at math, I knew I'd never win so I ended up slacking my way through trig and calculus. (Sidenote: This is actually a really bad example because I've come to the conclusion that math is stupid. I mean honestly, this is the 21st century. We have calculators on our iPhones!) English Lit was a different story because I knew I could win. I loved reading and writing and debating and discussing books. I was always the first one to raise my hand. The nerd in the front row waxing poetic on my hatered for Daisy Buchanan.

When I work hard and take something seriously, I like to know that my efforts will be rewarded. It's easy for me to take my day job seriously because I'm good at it. When I work hard I'm almost always rewarded. It's a game I know I can win.

And publishing kills me because no matter how hard I work, how much I learn, or read or market, I will never win publishing. It might be a zero sum game. Or maybe not. Honestly, I didn't really pay much attention in Econ 101 because after I saw A Beautiful Mind I was pretty confident I'd never be able to beat John Nash. And every time we lose I try to convince myself that I don't really care. I try to convince Laura that we should just give up. I pretend that our writing career was just a long drawn out joke.

But the thing about publishing is that we keep changing the game. At first I thought getting an agent = WINNING.

And then we got an agent and it was really hard for her to sell our book to publishers.

And then I thought that getting our book published = WINNING.

And then our book was published and it didn't get a starred review or get nominated for any awards or really do much of anything aside from hang out on bookshelves occasionally getting purchased by bored 11-year-old girls who subsequently wrote us emails about how The Liar Society was their third favorite book.

Third favorite book? Funny? Not. Winning.

Oh, but I wasn't worried because we had The Lies That Bind and our amazing publisher was sending us out on a huge tour and surely this time around we'd WIN PUBLISHING.

But you know what? It's slow going. If anything, the second book feels harder than the first book. We only have one Amazon review and no professional reviews and sometimes I feel like instead of just NOT WINNING we're actually LOSING.

And the type-A-minus in me wants to just give up altogether. To pretend that I didn't really work hard on our books at all. To pretend that I don't care about Kate and Seth and Pemberly Brown. That we never really expected anyone to buy them in the first place.

But I can't ever convince myself, because it's simply not true.

I love Kate. I love Pemberly Brown and I especially love Seth. When we wrote these books I was sure that EVERYONE would want to read them. I thought they'd be international best sellers. I was positive that Kate would be this generation's Nancy Drew.

Yeah, I realize now that that's probably not in the cards for us. Not for this series. Not for these books. But lately I've been starting to think that my definition of winning is all wrong.

Maybe winning isn't about sales and awards, maybe it's about following our dreams and seeing our books on shelves. Maybe it's about finally overcoming my stupid A-minus personality disorder and growing up enough to realize that I'm not always going to win everything. That I'll never be the best. Maybe it's finally time to feel good, no GREAT, about being one 11-year-old girl's third favorite book.


Laura Pauling said...

The biggest lesson that reading lots of self published books has taught me is that even a great story gets lost. It's about what readers are looking for and what they want. We can't control what books will take off and which ones won't. I've read some terrific books that should be selling better than they are.

You guys are total winners. You books are funny, cool, with a terrific premise.

Steph Campbell said...

One thing I've learned through my own crazy journey, is that sometimes, we have to let our dreams evolve into different dreams, and that doesn't mean that we've failed, it just means that the path changed, and that's okay.

I've also realized that there is zero rhyme or reason to what sells 1,000,000 copies and what sells 100. I've read gorgeous books that are lost on Amazon, and I've read best sellers that have left me scratching my head and trying to figure out what's wrong with me, because I just didn't get it!

I've seen people who have never sent a query in their lives, get a 7 figure deal, and some that have been querying for five years and are STILL at it, waiting for 'the call.' And none of it makes sense, and it's sometimes frustrating as hell.

But I've also learned that I'm okay with it. Because at the end of the day, I write books that I'm proud to put my name on, and I wouldn't change that just to sell more books or have more hype behind me.

And I'm okay with being less The Notebook or Titanic, and more Garden State or 500 Days of Summer, because that's who I am. :) Also, I know one 12 year old girl who sorta worships you both, and has that "#1" spot saved for your books.


Stina said...

Oh. I didn't know your book was out. I haven't seen it mentioned on any book blogs I follow. *goes off to order it*

storyqueen said...

I wish I had something wise to say, but you've already said everything--and said it so well. THIS is why I started reading blogs in the first place. I love the honesty and bravery of people who are strong enough to tell the truth, even if it is hard. Even if it crushes their own soul just a little. You ARE winners, life winners. Writing itself doesn't have "winning". Its reward is the courage you feel when no matter what, you don't give up. Writing is not a sprint, it's a marathon, except that after 26 miles, you just keep going.

I love you two so much. I am proud to be in a writing community with you!


Sara B. Larson said...

I'm sure this was a difficult post to write, but thank you for doing it. I'm a lot like you - definitely an A- personality. And I've desperately wanted to "win" at publishing, too. (And obviously, that hasn't happened by any definition yet, not even your revised one.)

But I am trying to find satisfaction in my bull-headedness--I mean, determination--not to quit. And sometimes I realize that even if i don't have a book deal yet, I may have already won in this business in the only way that REALLY counts because of the people I've met, because of the friendships I've been lucky enough to create. Would I love to have my book sell big and be an intl. bestseller and all that? Of course. But it's not the most important thing in the world. PEOPLE are. Amazing, lovely, inspiring people such as you and Laura. You are both winners in my book because of the wonderful people you are--for being kind to me even though I'm a "nobody" and for being funny and honest and real and talented. Because yes, you are both so talented. I love your books. Keep on keeping on. *hugs*


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Yours is the third post I've read this morning about the shift we go through once published. Thank you for your honesty here. I definitely relate, but I also want to champion your last idea: you've lived your dream! Rest in that a bit. Celebrate. And keep creating what speaks to you most (because I guarantee there are first-book favorite readers out there who've never contacted you). xo

Melissa Sarno said...

This is a really great post. I wonder, a lot, what winning in publishing really looks like. It sounds to me like you've won : )

Matthew MacNish said...

FWIW, both of you, and your book, are winners as far as I'm concerned. *cheesy-grin*

Marsha Sigman said...

Damn it. Matt took my line. You'll always be winners to me.

And your books are awesome. For every 11 yr old that emails you about being the 3rd fav., there is probably a dozen who don't know how to email that think you are number 1.

I'm not even sure that made sense but you get what I mean. You define what it means to win.

Jill Hathaway said...


Steph Campbell said...

I re-read this today because I needed it myself. Thanks for writing it, and for the honesty. xx

HelenL said...

I can so relate to this. And yes, I think that we just have to shift our ideas of what getting a book published is going to mean for us.

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