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But last week, when I was having one of these conversations with a well-intentioned non-book person, I casually mentioned “my book” and not thirty seconds later came something along the lines of: “Oh wow, you wrote a book? Where is it published?”
Kinda funny (and almost cute?) how non-publishing people think "I wrote a book" means "I have been published."
— Ava Jae (@Ava_Jae) April 16, 2015
I hesitated when I answered, because now I can say that my book is going to be published, which is awesome. And I did say that. But I couldn’t help but think that if I’d had this conversation seven months ago, that question would’ve really stung. Again.
But this post is not about the well-intentioned nice non-book person. It’s about societal assumptions and how we, as writers, handle them.
Part of the so-called overnight success phenomenon is the idea outside the publishing word that writers always publish the first book they write and basically start calling editors the day after they finished their first draft (because that’s how writers get published, right? Riiiiight?)
If you are here reading this blog there is a 99% chance you know that’s not how it works. Not even close. (And for the 1%—that’s not how it works. Not even close.) But when all we ever hear about are writers debuting on the NYT Bestseller’s list and becoming mega-superstars, the true backstory gets overlooked. No one wants to hear how they spent years and years writing, and getting rejected, and putting away books, and trying again and again. It’s not exciting to talk about the books they wrote and put away because they couldn’t get them published.
So, instead, there’s this image of writers publishing their first book ever and getting rich off it. And while, rarely, it can happen, it is such an outlier. Most writers, even writers who write full-time, did not start off that way.
So you wrote a book, and you mention to someone that you wrote a book, and now you’re staring that question in the face. And it sucks, it really sucks to have to say, “It’s not published yet” and watch the other person smile politely and immediately lose interest. It sucks to watch them go from excited (wow! you’re a real live author!) to condescending (so what’s your backup job?) in the space of a few words.
Unfortunately, it’s just the reality of being a writer, particularly during those long years before you get a publishing contract. And if you self-publish, unfortunately it doesn’t really go away ever, unless you hit it really really big (which, again, outlier).
The thing is, you can’t change the way other people think. And you often can’t avoid that ugly conversation if you’re open about being a writer. This is, unfortunately, part of the writer life. But while non-book people often don’t understand—and probably won’t understand unless someone talks to them about what it’s really like—other writers do.
So when you encounter conversations like this, acknowledge that it sucks. Acknowledge that it hurts and it’s not fair. But know that there are others like you who completely understand, and know that you are not a failure or a disappointment in any way, shape, or form.
This is just another reality of being a writer. And it’s okay.
Has this conversation happened to you?
On the "overnight success" story and societal assumptions about writers. (Click to tweet)