You’re Gonna Have a Bad Time

You're Gonna Have a Bad TimeBeing a writer—or an artist of any sort, really—is hard.

Sometimes it’s awesome, but a lot of the time it sucks.

We writerly folk (at least a lot of us) are often incredibly insecure about our work and our abilities. I certainly fall into this category. I will admit that 90% of the time I think I’m a terrible writer. I believe I’m a phony and a hack. I’m partially convinced that any success I have had in the past is pure luck, and that any day now all of my fans are going to wake up and realize what utter garbage my books really are. I’m also far more likely to believe one negative review than ten positive ones.

And, for the record, I’m not fishing for compliments here. Seriously. If you’re one of my fans (mom, I’m looking at you), I’m not looking for your validation. I’m just telling you the way it is. Besides your compliments won’t work anyway; my inner critic will simply convince me that you’re only saying those things to be polite (because my inner critic is a complete A-hole and likes to see me suffer).

I often feel like a fraud—a grifter pulling off a giant con who hasn’t been found out yet. Most days, I feel like my author license (not a real thing, btw) is going to expire and I won’t be able to renew it. Or that the art cops are going to pull me over, check my writing credentials, then beat the holy-living hell out of me with review-batons cobbled together from my nightmares and unicorn tears.

Usually I just ignore these ugly feelings.

I push ’em down, refuse to give those nasty, cantankerous jerk emotions any leeway to push me around, and keep right on working.

Today they got the better of me so I’m venting. I’m venting because A) sometimes a guy needs to vent and B) because there are likely lots of other authors and artists who can relate to how I’m feeling.

If you read my blog, then you probably know I’m working on a new project, MUDMAN, which is the first book in a possibly new series (though it still takes place in the Lazarus universe). I’m a self-published author, and proud of that fact, but since this is a new, first-in-series book, I thought I’d give the traditional route a whirl, particularly because I know traditional publishing can open a lot of doors for me that are currently closed. Doors closed to almost all indie authors.

Now, I’m doing just fine as an indie author, but I also value traditional/commercial publishing and the advantages that path can offer. So, with that in mind, I submitted MUDMAN to a bunch of agents, hoping one of them might bite. I thought if any of my books would have a chance, it would be this book. MUDMAN is different from the Lazarus novels in some important ways, but I think this book is great. It’s maybe my best piece of writing and, though I’ve struggled with it, I’m also proud of it. This was a story I wanted to tell for a while and it turned out as well as I could’ve hoped for.

The agents I queried don’t seem to agree.

It’s nothing personal—most of those agents didn’t read MUDMAN and probably will never read it. I sent out the blurb (called a query letter) and have waited patiently to hear back. This waiting is an agonizing process, which isn’t quick. It can take weeks or even months to hear back one way or the other. Or you might not hear back at all; most writers are familiar with the phrase, no response is a no. Today, I was lucky enough to receive three rejections from three different agents, at three different agencies, all at once. One right after another, a handful of minutes apart.

A trio of nice, polite, prefabricated rejection letters.

I have nothing against those agents: they have hundreds of queries cross their desks each week and they can only invest in a book they really believe in.

Still, those rejections reinforce that nattering inner critic who insists I don’t deserve to do art alongside all the other real artists out there. And the fact that these are industry professionals, responsible for assessing the salability of a book, makes it that much more painful. Today I feel like a boxer getting pummeled on the ropes.

Left jab: This project isn’t quite for me …

Right cross: After carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time …

Uppercut:  I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped.  What with my reservations, I’d better bow out …

Still, I’m going to self-publish this book because—despite what my inner critic says—I sincerely believe it is worth reading. This also serves as a reminder of why now is the greatest time to be a writer. Ten years ago, those rejections might well have been the final word on MUDMAN, but now thousands of readers will get a chance to discover Levi Adams, the Mudman, crafted from the muck and mire of a World War Two concentration camp. For that I’m thankful. If you’re a writer out there suffering through this, I’m right there with you. Hang in there fellow inkslingers.

If you have your own stories or coping strategies, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.