Susan Henderson started LitPark in 2006 with the goal of building a supportive community for writers. She asked monthly questions intended to bond and inspire writers with storytelling. She interviewed writers from the unknown to the debut to Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket. But what she didn’t realize she was doing was chronicling the ups and downs of writing and submitting her novel, THE RUBY CUP, now re-titled UP FROM THE BLUE, which will be published by Harper Collins in September 2010. Follow the peaks and valleys of that process—the writer’s block, the false hope, the face-on-the-floor depression, and the hard work of creating a novel. She hopes this is helpful, especially to those of you in the face-on-the-floor stage. You may be closer than you think!
So here is The Evolution of the Book, beginning with a post from 2006 about professional jealousy.
WE WANT A TURN
When you start out as a writer, one of the best experiences is finding a community of other writers who understand why you wake up in the middle of the night to write or why you jot down story notes on the backs of receipts. They understand why you’d write for no money and why you dream of being a bestselling author, or better yet, part of the future literary canon, even though you’ve yet to be published.
Say you form a writers’ critique group with some of these folks, and you meet weekly to exchange and discuss each others’ manuscripts. Most of these people you will hate immediately when they discuss your work or apply their red pen to passages you know are already perfect. But over the years, you will collect a core group of writer friends who understand the heart of your work, who push you to be a better writer while being careful not to overstep with their edits. You will encourage each other to send stories to magazines, and you will share the frustration of rejection letters, unsupportive family members, and successes that only seem like successes to other writers (ink on a rejection letter, agents asking for partial reads, obscure poets coming to the local bookstore).
Before you know it, ten years go by, and while most of you have a number of publication credits by now, no one from the group has made money with their writing. Five or ten more years pass, and the group has shifted some—one has hung himself in a bathroom wallpapered with rejections; another has become an editor who encourages your submissions but has yet to accept a story for publication; another has quit her job to write full-time, hoping it will lead to pay; another has self-published, and through coersion, has managed to sell 150 copies of his books to family and used-to-be friends. But the rest of you are writing and critiquing and submitting in between real, paying jobs and families who are not quite sure what to make of your all-consuming hobby.
More years pass, and the publications come more frequently. The prestige of the publications has improved as well, though you’ve still never been paid with more than contributor’s copies. Most in the group have finished a full-length manuscript, and more than half of you have agents and are somewhere in the process of submitting your manuscripts to publishing houses. And some in your group have already seen one or more of their manuscripts die in the submission process. Those remaining are focused, committed to the game, and know they won’t stop until they sell a manuscript. Though it’s been years and years, and perhaps decades and decades, of work with no payoff, you know in your gut that you and at least a quarter of the group will make it if you keep pushing.
And then, finally, a publishing contract comes through. But not for you. For one of your writer friends. There is no question but this is a good thing and that you are happy for your friend. There is also a small, unidentifiable feeling beneath that happiness but you ignore it. When several others from your group land book deals, the emotion you couldn’t place becomes easier to see and harder to ignore. It’s a complicated emotion that has something to do with the thought, Will it ever happen for me?
Are we jealous of our friends? Sometimes. But mostly not, I think. We prefer when success happens to people we like, people with talent, people who work hard, and people who continue to treat us well after they’re successful.
From a purely business perspective, our friends’ success ought to give us hope, make the road seem possible, show us a bit of the road map, let us know our workshop has merit, give us a connection to someone who can put in a good word or maybe blurb a future book. Sometimes this is inspiring and makes us push harder.
The tough thing about our friends’ success is the self-doubt. When our friends succeed and we don’t, we question whether we’ll ever make it, if we’re good enough to make it, if the manuscript we edited and edited and edited is really something small and awful. It reminds us how seldom we feel validated, and how much we’ve needed it. And sometimes, we feel despair because we are confident about our manuscript—we know it’s ready—but we also know there’s a factor besides hard work and talent (luck? timing? karma? the x-factor?) that happens to some and doesn’t happen to others.
So talk to me about being on one side or the other of professional jealousy. How did it feel when your friend got the book deal you wanted? And how did it feel to be the one who finally, after years of work, got a book deal, and no one even bought or blogged about your book. Let’s hear your stories…