Friday, January 7, 2011

Why "oh well" should become an author's favorite words

On the eve of the 3rd anniversary of my debut novel, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME (I know. Three years? Really? Wow!) I've been thinking about the realities of being a published author. So, lucky you, you get to hear some of my rambling thoughts today.

Many writers pursue publication for years.

Years and years and years.

And when it finally happens, when a hard working writer finally gets the deal, he is ecstatic. Like, over-the-moon happy.

It's going to be a BOOK! A real, live, honest-to-goodness book that people can pull off of shelf, open the cover with his name on the *front cover*, and read. Yes, people will read the words he sweated and slaved over, trying to create a story that would move a reader, amaze a reader, and stay with a reader for a long, long time.

Cartwheels are done. Champagne is popped. Gratitude is expressed right and left, up and down for the opportunity to be published. It feels SO good!

But often, after weeks or months of dreaming about the book out in the world, the vision starts to shift. It's not just an imaginary shelf somewhere, it's a shelf in Barnes and Noble, and every single one of the independents across the country. The author may start to imagine the book face out on the "New Releases" shelf. Or, even better, "The Best of..." shelf.

The author starts to wonder about reviews. Will they be good? Will there be *stars* involved? If it's starred, lots and lots of libraries will pick it up. Awesome. Maybe it will make special lists, or maybe, even better, it will win awards! Awards? Oh my word, it could win awards!!!

Hope is abundant in those months leading up to the release. And it makes sense, doesn't it? Hope kept that hard-working writer going, year after year, despite the rejections that piled up. Hard-working writers live and *breathe* hope.

And then, the day comes. The book is out. And here is where, for too many authors, it all goes to hell. One or both of the chains pass, so when the author goes to find it in a bookstore, he can't. Furthermore, it only gets one or two reviews, and they are so-so. One of those might even be bad. Buzz around the internet is for other books who have a big publisher push behind them. And the author wonders, why? Not just one why, but a hundred whys. Why didn't the bookstores want to carry it? Why didn't my publisher want to market it better? Why didn't I get a book tour like other authors I've seen at my book store? Why, why, why?

The elation the writer felt when the champagne was popped has vanished, and in its place, the writer finds disappointment and feelings of failure.

The big question then becomes - what next.

In the months leading up to the release of I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, I wrote like a crazy person. I had one novel ready to go and another novel started. The completed novel was rejected. That's the way it goes sometimes. But the other novel, what eventually became FAR FROM YOU, became the novel I worked on in those months immediately following the release of I HEART YOU.

Now, yes, I HEART YOU made it into bookstores. It got pretty good reviews (no stars though). It sold well, and in fact, much better than I think anyone expected. And sure, I was happy about that, of course. How could I not be? But I had let it go a long time ago, in case none of those things happened. I had mostly released it from my mind and my heart, wished it well, and moved on.

Now some will say, No, no way Lisa, you don't know what it's like. You can't relate. You haven't really been there.

But I can relate because none of my books have sold as well as that first book. FAR FROM YOU, my second novel, came out in December 2008, when it felt like the world was about to fall out from underneath us. When people were getting laid off right and left and it felt like a second Great Depression was imminent. Expectations were high for that book based on how well I HEART YOU did, and guess what? Books were returned to the warehouse in droves. And not because it was a bad book, but because that's just how it goes sometimes. Things happen, books don't sell, expectations aren't met.

Oh well.

Yes, you read that right - oh well! It's NOT the end of the world!! And it doesn't have to be the end of your career either. Really and truly, it doesn't.

Remember when you'd query agents and you'd get rejected and sure, you might take a couple of days to be sad over a particularly hard rejection, but eventually you'd say, "oh well," and you'd submit again? So why can't you use those words now, when your book isn't selling the way you'd hoped it would?

I think writers should celebrate the sale. Then, work damn hard on revisions and make it the absolute best book you can make it. And when you send those final pages back, and you've done everything you're going to do on it, you need to open Scrivener or Word, and start in on a new project. Or if you don't know what to write next, brainstorm ideas for a week until you have one.

You have to let the sold book go, and let it become what it's going to become. Release it, like a kite. It'll fly or it will fall, but it's out of your hands. And we *must* remember, every book is completely separate from the ones that became before it and the ones that will come after it. Even if you're writing a series, the success of one book doesn't guarantee the success of another one. AND, perhaps even more importantly, the failure of one book does NOT guarantee the failure of another one.

I have seen too many writers crushed after the first book didn't do well, and they're done. They walk away. And these are good writers! I suppose it's the flight or fight response. So you fought all of those years for publication and now, when factors completely out of your control affect the sales of the book, you're going to run away? Someone might argue, but isn't my career over at that point?

WHAT!? Says who?? If you write a book editors can't say no to, your career is not over! It's as simple as that. So if you want to be an author, sit down and write a book editors can't say no to!

Maybe, after the whole rotten experience, some people decide they don't want to be an author. And that's fine, if it's a conscious decision. Believe me, I understand, it's a tough business. But, if you love writing, if this IS what you want to be doing, shut out the noise of the publishing world, open up a document, and write.

You might say, but what about promotion? I have to be out there, promoting my book, I can't shut out the publishing world. Look, let's get real. I have seen authors promote 24/7 for months and months, and their books still didn't do well. You *sold* your book to a publisher. When you've finished writing the thing, your job is DONE. There is nothing else you *have* to do (unless your house sends you on tour or requires appearances of you, I suppose). And I'm sorry, but the promotion we do on our own isn't going to make a whole lot of difference anyway. If you're out there doing school visits and events like that, yes, it will probably make a difference. But skipping out on twitter because you need to write? Don't feel guilty about that.

Writers write. After each book, I kept writing. I kept moving forward. By the time the book was ready to be released, I had something else ready to go out, maybe even already sold.

I guess I want to close by saying - if you've published a novel, regardless of how well it did, be proud of yourself! You have accomplished something that about 97% of the US population dreams of doing. It's no small thing!

And remember how you dreamed of someone pulling it off the shelf, with your name on the cover, and reading it, and just *that* image made you incredibly happy? Well, that happened. Some people read your book. Maybe not as many people as you had hoped, but it's a BOOK, and you've been read! *You* are an author. And everything else that didn't happen?


And I bet at least a hundred people reading this post will think to themselves, I would be SO happy if that happened to me. (And then I ask, really? You really think so? Are you sure, if only *that* happened?). Ha!


  1. I found this post very interesting. I think you're right, all writers can do is keep writing. Publishing is a business, we only hope that the book is read, that's the most important.

    No surrender! There will come a day when everyone will know of your books!



  2. I knew this would be a good post. I love it. Oh well. We can't let our disappointments carry us too far down - as hard as that is! I haven't in those places you've talked about, but I do think long and hard when I write a book - is this what I want my debut to be - with no regrets? Then it's easier to say oh well.

  3. I am not a writer, only a blogger that loves to read and all I can say is thank goodness I found you and you continued to write.

    Just your posts are inspiring. I think you will be an amazing speaker to hear.

    Keep on writing Lisa, we love your work :-)

  4. You're so wise, Lisa. Thanks for putting this all in perspective.

  5. Lisa - this is a fabulous post. I will print it out and tape it to my wall because I will need these words when my debut comes out. Thanks for perspective!

  6. Beautiful post Lisa!

    I think I will write "Oh Well" on a post-it and stick it to my computer.

    I am in the query process now and I will use "oh well" as my mantra for every pass and rejection, and after it sells (see positive imagery here), I will keep it in mind for every time my overactive-imagination-inspired expectations aren't met. I will enjoy the journey and pray for serenity to accept the things I cannot change and simply say "Oh Well." :-)
    Have a great weekend!

  7. So true...And, I think the "oh well" approach applies to many more careers/ opportunities/ etc than just writing. Like, "oh well--I didn't get into my first choice for college." Or "oh well--I thought I'd be married with two kids by thirty but I'm not." I think people have a tough time in not getting stuck when it comes to rejection and/or uncontrollable life events.

    And BTW, I loved Far From You. I haven't even read your first (most successful) book. I guess I should!

  8. Thanks for the inspiration, Lisa! Just keep moving forward, or as I tell my CPs, "just keep swimming."

  9. I am really moved by what you've written here. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

  10. Thank you for this. As you know, these last few months have held a lot of heartache, surprise, and thankfulness in my neck of the woods.

    I think going in knowing I've written a literary title has helped me realize I probably won't show up in the chains (need starred reviews for that) and I won't get the big push titles with commercial appeal get. And that's okay.

    All the best to you today, Lisa.

  11. Oh we needed to read this TODAY. Thank you so much for all of this, Lisa. Beautifully said.

  12. This is the best post I've read in a very long time. Because it REEKS with TRUTH.

    Thank you for saying it.

  13. Amazing and true, and put in such a lovely, encouraging way.

    Thank you, Lisa.

  14. This is fabulous--I think it's so important to have the right mindset, and sometimes, being able to let things go and relinquish control (that's really an illusion anyway) is the key to staying healthy--and continuing to write. I love this post!!

  15. Ah, Lisa. So true! And, I heard bits and pieces of everything you've said here echoed at SCBWI-LA last summer. So, hard as it was and as much as I wanted to just promote, promote, promote up to release day... I did manage to keep writing.
    Thanks for the reinforcing words of wisdom!
    And, I love your books!

  16. Really great post! I think a lot of people should read it, not just writers. It's an important lesson for people to know, so that they can let go and use their past mistakes to improve.

  17. Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. You are so wise, it kills me! Oh well!

  18. Perfect for today when ALA may or may not say okay... Thank you for posting this. It's full of wisdom and there are so many of us who empathize. I'll add to it my favorite recently discovered quotation, now emblazoned in my writing notebook right here at my elbow: "For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." -- T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

  19. Perfect for today when ALA may or may not say okay... Thank you for posting this. It's full of wisdom and there are so many of us who empathize. I'll add to it my favorite recently discovered quotation, now emblazoned in my writing notebook right here at my elbow: "For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." -- T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

  20. Thank you thank you thank you for this post, Lisa! My first book came out two weeks ago, and lots of obsessive googling of the title(and very little writing) has been taking place ever since. This is a great wake up call to let the book go do its thing (even if that thing ends up being less spectacular than I'd hoped for) and get on with it. It's exactly what I needed to hear today. :)

  21. Well said! And for the record, I loved FAR FROM YOU.

  22. This is a great post! I'm an aspiring author and I give myself anxiety over this stuff without actually having published a book (yet). Thank you so much for this!

  23. Thanks for posting that, Lisa. You have a great perspective and a great way of talking about perspective, too.

  24. Great post! 'Oh well' it is! It's unfortunate that people's expectations get so high; although the process is exciting - I can't wait to see the end results first-hand.

    To go along with your view, I also like to think that writing is much like leadership (or teaching) - if you can touch even one person, you are a success.

  25. Thank you, Lisa. For your honesty, for your inspirational words and for the beautiful way you say them. I wrote a blog post about keeping perspective yesterday and how hard it was for me - little did I know that you were about to give me the means with which to get it.
    Oh, well done!

  26. Thanks so much everyone, for reading and for all of your comments. Really and truly! Keep writing, all.

    Brandon, I LOVE what you said.

    I want to say it again for everyone to see:

    Brandon said, "If you touch even one person, you are a success."

    Yes, yes, yes! I think we need to redefine what success really means.

  27. I found "oh well" when I began to have my children. And isn't what you're describing very like that? :)

  28. Lisa, thank you. Just... thank you for this post.

  29. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have had this conversation with people. And I remember feeling that "G-d, if I were published, I would be so happy." And I appreciate you expressing what I and other have been feeling and reminding me about what I used to think and that also it's ok to feel otherwise and that I'm not alone in this. Terrific post!

  30. I'm there right now. All of what you describe... yep, I'm there. Big time. But I don't think it's possible for me to give up. I lost my mind a long time ago in the getting-published game. I'm used to banging my head against a wall and working my butt off on manuscripts, so hey, what's really new? Oh freaking well!

    Thanks for this post, Lisa!

  31. Very insightful. Very interesting and, I'm sure, very true.

  32. I love this post. It's exactly what I needed to hear right now. <3

  33. Found this again and it still resonates. I'm linking up to my blog soon... xo

  34. And thanks to Caroline's blog, I found the post. Good to read, especially this:
    "But skipping out on twitter because you need to write? Don't feel guilty about that."


  35. Thanks to Caroline's blog, I found this today too. Great post, so helpful. :)