This morning, I’m up at the buttcrack of dawn thanks to heavy rains keeping me up all night long. I got onto Twitter and found someone I follow, @WendySparrow, asking some familiar questions about writing, like when does this feel rewarding, and would publication finally bring with it any sense of “having arrived”?
I think where she is now is where I was at the start of my months-long phase as a disillusioned artist. Where I am now, I see writing as the journey itself, and there is no actual destination except The End. And once we reach The End, we need to not dwell on it for too long. Writers have to keep changing their goals and reorient themselves to new ideas. Maybe some new ideas are for characters we’ve already created, and we’re able to continue a previous journey to a new destination. Maybe sometimes that new idea is a choice about whether to submit this new story with a publisher or send it to Lulu. But every idea always comes back to The End, and once we hit that point, it’s time to move on. The alternative is becoming stuck on our past failures and successes.
People who read our stuff never will see our work the way that we do. We’re so emotionally invested in each project, and we will spend months polishing each project to get rid of anything that doesn’t fit what we mean to say. But no matter how concise or verbose we choose to be, the written language is not able to convey what we mean clearly to readers, and their interpretations of our words can be so vastly different from what we mean to say that reading reviews can sometimes be a little depressing when we see how often people miss the points we wanted to make.
Because of my many, many past failures, I have not submitted anything to a publisher or an editor in a long time. Really, who wants to submit to people who care so little that they won’t even acknowledge the submission was received? I get so sick of published writers saying it’s a learning process, as if the editors and agents were sending us all personalized explanations for what we did wrong. But 99% of all submissions I’ve sent never even got a form letter rejection. I don’t learn a damn thing from being ignored, except possibly that there’s no point submitting my stories.
And yet, I recently had an editor express interest in the WIP I’m working on right now. It’s not an offer to publish. It’s an offer to read the completed story and then consider if it might be a good fit for one of the publishers they work for. This could very well pan out to a rejection, but it stands to be a personal rejection with some advice attached. And in this way, yes, there is a chance that I could learn something about the submission process. So I consider that as being worth a shot.
On the same day that this offer was made, I found a new publishing imprint looking for stories with trans characters, and I inquired about the possibility of sending something self-published, Sandy Morrison’s book. They said that if it had been published and then sank from view, they might look at it. And that is a pretty good description of what happened to my book. So this is something else I’m looking at and debating. Do I want to invest myself again in another submission process?
And again, on the same day that I talked to this new publisher, I saw another editor say, “When we look at your submission, we also Google you to see if you’ve had any crazy behavior.” And I debated saying anything before replying, “Then I’m screwed, because I can’t hide the fact that I’m crazy.”
And I really don’t mean to say publishers discriminate against the mentally ill, even though they kind of do. They put incredible pressure on us to market our own stuff and be likeable and easy to present to the public. But I don’t know many writers who don’t have bad days, even those who have no mental illness. I know a lot more who have some kind of problems, be it a bi-polar disorder, chemical depression, multiple personality disorder, or schizophrenia. And the thing that doesn’t seem to get across to the publishers and editors judging us is, there isn’t a way to just shut off a mental illness. There isn’t a way to just push through a bad day, and sometimes, we say or do crazy things that we’ll later regret.
And no, we do not “know better.” We suffer from brain problems that cause us to blow problems out of proportion, and we overreact to little shit. We can’t help that, because WE’RE CRAZY. Even the folks taking medication can forget to take a dose, or they can have their medication suddenly stop working. So while I’m not trying to make excuses, I am pointing out that some people practice zero tolerance for mental illness and judge us as if we should be able to fake sanity all day, every day. They have unrealistic expectations, to say the least. And yeah, that is a little bit discriminatory.
Everybody has bad days. EVERYBODY has bad days. If you work for a cool boss, you get to keep your job even after you blew up over a little problem and turned it into a major issue. If you work in a cool job, your co-workers will say, “Everyone needs to vent sometimes.”
But if you’re a full-time writer, you don’t have a boss in the traditional sense, and you don’t have co-workers. When you blow up, people don’t say “Everyone needs to vent.” They say “Oh look, another entitled writer had a meltdown. Let’s all point and shake our heads at their inability to keep themselves under control. Don’t they realize that we will judge them for every little thing they put online?”
This angers me because I want to ask, don’t they realize that most writers make slave wages while juggling the roles of writer, editor, and promoter? Don’t they know already how lonely and depressing this job is? Haven’t enough writers talked about their feelings of isolation that readers could develop even a smattering of empathy?
A while back, I got published for real. Got the contracts signed, got books out on the market, and got some lovely reviews, including an amazing analysis from someone who tore apart every line in the book and then chose to read between the lines too. It was the closest I ever came to validation. And then, in asking if I could pay for the entry fee to a book award using my sales, I got back a letter from my publisher that said the company was losing people because of me. I learned how few of my “co-workers” wanted to deal with me, and I learned that my publisher had so little confidence in my work that I couldn’t even pay my way into the award nomination by giving my publisher the money to make up the cost difference between my sales and the entry fee.
What little sense of validation I had was lost, and I struggled for a long time to define what it is that I want out of my art. I will rarely get any sense of connection to my readers, because they only see my writing as a way to pass the time. They do not see it the same way I do, and they won’t spend much time dissecting the work to glean what I was really trying to say between the lines. Very few will write to me to tell me what they felt as they read it. Of those that do, some will completely miss the point, leading to depressions worse than the continued silence generates.
This is why I feel so conflicted now about sending out work to publishers. It’s got nothing to do with the waiting, or with the editing and revising process. When I did get published, I went through the whole routine of edits, proofing, and waiting. I went through the review requests, and I tried to do my part to promote the work before and after it came out. So I can honestly say this is not about me being impatient with the slow publishing process.
No, I’m scared of making it all the way through again, only to have the publisher say “We changed our mind because we don’t care for what you said on your blog today,” or “We’re pulling your book because of your last twitter rant.” I’m scared that I can have my only form of validation ripped away from me not on the merits of my writing, but based on my inability to always say nice things.
I’ve got no problems thanking people for reading my stuff. I’ve tried to make it a monthly habit to mention that I got more sales, and then thank people for those new sales. When people reach me on Twitter to say, “I read your book,” I’m quick to thank them for giving me a chance. I can be personable and grateful to my readers at the drop of a compliment.
But I can’t not be crazy. I can’t hide what I am for the sake of my would-be employers. Knowing this, it’s even harder to consider going through the submission process because I don’t want to be accepted only to have my contract pulled because of my latest blog post or Twitter rant. Again, as it were.
But this is what writing is, besides being my attempt to make sense of the world around me. It’s a never-ending process of putting creations out in the public, always with the understanding that they will be judged harshly and misinterpreted a dozen different ways. Part of that process is having people look at me as a person and judging me based on what little information they choose to look up. There are people who will walk away from me just reading my sidebar bio and discovering I’m trans and bi. Others may read a review of a story and judge me based on some other person’s opinion of one of my many books.
But you know what? Those are sad people. They’re shallow and quick to make snap decisions without knowing anything about anyone. I really don’t want those people reading my books if they’re going to make shallow snap decisions like “I don’t like this book because the main character is too gay.” These are the people who I can’t reach no matter what I say, and I can’t devote energy or thought to them. That way lies deep depressions and week long drinking binges, and I prefer saving my rum for the weekends.
So, I don’t know if I’ll submit Sandy’s book to that new publisher or not. But I will send this new WIP to the editor who asked to look at it. There’s no harm in soliciting their opinion, and even if my story doesn’t work for them, I have a chance to get a pro editor’s opinions. It’s a learning opportunity that I can’t afford to pass up.
I can’t ever claim I’ve got this writing gig sorted out, and I’m never going to start dishing out advice about whether to pro-publish or self-publish. But I am coming to terms with the lonely nature of selling myself and my art. It may not be success or even progress, but it is helping me keep things in perspective. And for a crazy person, sometimes that’s the best I can hope for.