How To Manage Your Expectations as a Debut Author
Updated: 2 days ago
You got published but it’s not quite the fairytale success story that you envisioned. You might need to manage your expectations.
Recently someone in one of my Facebook groups posted an article from The Independent titled “Debut authors find being published ‘disappointing’ — sorry, what do they expect?” and asked us our opinion on it.
The article has a very unempathetic tone and the overall message is that writers need to ‘toughen up’ and stop expecting so much. You only spent two years slaving over a novel, what do you want a medal?
No… not exactly.
While I agree that we need to be pragmatic about the reality of being a working writer. That for every J.K. Rowling there are fifty Herman Melvilles. We also need to have a discussion about the culture that surrounds writing.
You see we’re all told how difficult it is to become published or to build an audience for your creative work. But that’s the thing… they talk about it like it’s a finish line. If you beat all these hurdles, and actually get your work published, you will be inducted into the success club.
There’s barely any stories about what it actually happens once you’re published. Nobody wants to admit that for the vast majority of people… nothing happens. They don’t make that much money, they don’t get optioned for a movie, their book is forgotten.
There is no quick fix in the publishing world. One book will not make you famous or a Man Booker Prize winner. It might… but probably not. Publishing, like all creative endeavours, is just one step in the greater tapestry of your writing career.
So, if this is the case, why do so many people talk about being published like it’s the Final Boss?
The dream sells
Let’s be honest. If people really knew what an anti-climactic wet fart being published can be they might think twice about committing the effort. They also might reconsider buying the course or book or subscription or retreat that will supposedly help them reach that goal.
Unfortunately, there are ‘gurus’ who like to pray on the hopes and dreams of naive people. Why would they want to spoil the illusion and admit that being published isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be?
If they sell you the dream that all you need to do is get published once and your life can finally start!!! You’ll be more willing to hand them your cash and your time.
Okay, but then why do people working in the biz also push this narrative?
Because nobody wants to read a story about the guy who worked hard for fifteen years, and published twelve great novels, before he finally broke through with lucky number thirteen.
People want to read the story about the 20-year old wunderkind who got a 6-figure advance from a top 4 publisher on a book they spent three weeks writing.
Why? Because we all wants a cheat code to amazing. We want the biggest bang for our buck with the least amount of effort.
We all want the dream that getting published will make us a bona fide working author with a guaranteed amazing career. However, for most people getting a second novel published is no easier than getting the first one published.
You might write the next game-changing spy novel, but word on the street says spy novels are no longer selling, and no publisher wants to touch it.
Say you decide to write something different, now your agent doesn’t know how to sell this novel, and they drop you like a mouldy apple.
Even if you’re a hot commodity and publishers are chomping at the bit to acquire your next project, it’s still the same amount of work. Almost nothing gets easier about publishing after your first, second, third or even forth book.
For most intents and purposes you’re still a nobody. The world continues to turn and all you did was publish this stupid novel (sorry, I bet it’s great!).
So how can we, as writers, become immune to the fanfare and manage our expectations about what it means to publish a book?
How to manage your expectations
To manage your expectations as a debut author you need to see being published as a milestone, not a destination. And hear this –
Being published is an amazing achievement.
Even if you never get published again, you can go to your grave knowing that you did something that so many other people couldn’t. You need to celebrate it for what it is.
You need to understand that your debut novel will most likely not be the one that launches your career as a writer.
As medium author Jas Takhar says in his article “It Takes Years To Be An Overnight Success”, the idea that you can wake up one morning and suddenly be successful is nonsense. It takes hard-work, consistency and grit to get anywhere in life. Stop believing the hype.
If you’re going to make it as a writer you need to be okay with the idea that you may never reach the goals you set yourself. You will probably never be as prolific as Stephen King but you get to carve out your own successes.
That’s why it is so important to take a step back and be proud of every one of your achievements.
Accept that your writing may never make you rich, famous or noteworthy.
If you still want to write after all that… congratulations. You have successfully managed your expectations.
The wonderful thing about life is that you get to decide what success looks like. For me, being able to support myself through writing is my marker for success.
I don’t care if I’m rich, I don’t care if I’m famous. All I care about is that I can put food on my table and keep a roof over my head while doing what I love.
If you see being published for what it is, an achievement that you can build upon rather than a lottery ticket, then you will never be disappointed.
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