Being a writer on the brink of publication, in pursuit of the dream, is so exciting. It’s fueled by the hope and desire of sharing your work with the world, and hopefully earning some money for our hard work.
But amidst the pricelessness of pursuing our dreams, there are serious difficulties on the way. The extraordinary achievement of succeeding makes every one of them worth it, and there are serious positives to being an unpublished writer. But it’s worth talking about all the hard stuff we have to sort through on the the road to our dreams of being published. And also knowing, some of the hard stuff won’t go away–even after we achieve our dreams–it just changes.
1) The Self-Doubt
This one never completely goes away once you’re published. Even after writing twelve books and publishing five, I still doubt my skills somewhere in the process of each book I write. Once I got an agent, though, it changed. I now have contracts to prove and editors waiting for my work whenever I doubt myself. I have physical contractual proof that people believe in my writing. Before being published, not knowing if your work is at a professional level, wondering if it ever will be, and the inability to know how to tell the difference, can add to the self-doubt and create a blind struggle.
2) The Blind Struggle
When you’re new to any business, the dearth of knowledge is so thick, even knowing what sources to go to for help is a challenge. The worst part about being new wasn’t what I didn’t know, but more not knowing where to go to learn more. With some questions, we don’t know which things we need to ask, and which things every writer has to figure out for themselves in their own process. This gets easier once your published, but there’s so much to learn about being published once you are there, the hunger to learn everything you haven’t learned yet doesn’t stop.
3) The Struggle to Get Professional Feedback
Truth: published writers are busy and finding one to read your work is rare. That’s why contests like Pitch Wars are so cutthroat. Once you find a professional who’s willing to give you feedback, nurture that relationship with care. Don’t be pushy, be receptive, accept the advice rather than fighting against it. Also, know at all times, just because something’s worked for one author’s career or writing, doesn’t mean it will work for yours. That’s why eventually getting an agent or editor that is focused on your work is such a relief and so precious.
4) The Lack of Information From The Inside
Published writers talk a talk that’s often really hard to follow or empathize with until you’re in it. From the outside it looks like, damn, why can’t they just be grateful for their contracts? That’s because when you’re in it, you forget to remember how hard it was to be unpublished or how hard you worked to get those contracts. It can also be hard to get straight answers to publishing’s hard truths since there’s so much pubbed authors can’t say without fear of upsetting a publisher or someone in the business. If you really want the truth, try asking questions of a writer in person or on a private chat, rather than publicly on social media.
5) Feeling Left Out
When I was watching published authors from the outside and wishing I could get in, I definitely felt in some way that my work was lesser, or not worthy, or less significant somehow. Which wasn’t true. Whether your writing is published or unpublished, it still has the same intrinsic value. But when you want in on something that has a gauntlet or security gate as thick as traditional publishing, it’s a hard toil. It doesn’t completely go away once you’re published. There are always the people whose books are selling better than yours or who have the better book contracts and longing to be one of those.
6) The Query Slog
Many writers send dozens if not hundreds of queries to agents. All the emails, the researching agents, questioning if you’ll ever get an offer… Then there’s the possibility of giving up on one project that’s not succeeding and deciding to move on to the next one…then querying the second book…
There are lessons in the query slog that will help once you get an agent, like the experiences with waiting and rejections, which continue once your book is on submission with editors. Which is the other reason it’s also worth it! Once you have an agent, you’ll never have to be the one dealing with the submissions again. Because it’ll be their job to submit your work to publishers for you.
7) The Struggle For Motivation
In the face of no agent for support, no pressure to create a book for a contract, when you’re unpublished, it’s easy to slip into a place of, does this really matter? Is this all a waste of time? Is my work just garbage? Once you’re published, this gets easier because there’s someone waiting and depending on your work. The absence of pressure as an unpublished writer can feel like no one cares. The motivation has to come completely from you. Once you’re published, you have a team behind you pressuring you to produce more–which is great, but also a whole other host of troubles.
There are things that stay the same from being unpublished to published. Rejection doesn’t stop once you get an agent or a contract or a published book. Amidst the books deals, published authors have to create more ideas which are often shot down again by publishing professionals. Rejection is real all the way up and down the ladder of a writer’s success.
Keep chugging is the moto. Your work is worth it. Hang on tight to your writer friends and always seek to make more. Find groups of people going through your similar struggle. You’ll need them just as much once you’re published as you do now. There’s never such a thing as too much support in this business. You’ve found DIY MFA, so you’re in a good place.
Also know, once you do sign with the agent or get that contract, it doesn’t stop being hard. It gets hard in a different way, and you’ll learn there were actually a lot of benefits to being an unpublished writer.
Robin Lovett is a romance writer of erotic sci-fi and dark thrillers. She’s published with Entangled Publishing and SMP Swerve. She loves to chat on Twitter @LovettRomance and every Sunday evening you can find her with other romance writers at #RWChat. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of BookEnds Literary Agency.