This is a post that really hits home on what this series is all about. Initially, I considered writing this as a letter to myself and sharing it with you in that form. Instead, I’ll write it as though I am addressing the new or soon to be author. That’s the version of me I would have tried to send that letter back to, had I written it. He was not at all familiar with humility. For a long time I thought I was the only one that suffered from this problem; now that I’ve met more aspiring authors in the last couple years than in my whole life till then, I recognize that the problem is actually quite common.
I thought my first book would turn my whole life around, that it would get sales right away without me even trying, and that it would thrust me all by itself from one career to another. Even when I sent it off to a couple of traditional publishers back then, I was totally arrogant about it. I wrote cover letters that violated every rule, and only hit up publishing houses that clearly stated on their websites that they did not publish first-time authors. It didn’t matter what the rules were; I knew my book was brilliant, and worth breaking them all.
Of course, my incompetence and inadequacy of yesterday results in a big sigh of relief when I think about it today. My first book would be languishing in a back catalog at this point, rather than enjoying new life and finding new readers. Even if it did sell, then or now, I would be picking at the scraps left over when the publishing company was finished feasting; those are lessons I’m glad to have learned from the outside. It’s not why I didn’t try harder, back then; that was all me still being arrogant. If I could go back, I’d tell ‘Yesterday Jay’ to keep writing and learn to type sooner, and to put his stuff away until right about now; it is, after all, the best time ever to be today’s writer.
We’ve talked to people at festivals and conventions, live and online, and this arrogance seems to be a common attitude. Some people want to require that others sign non-disclosure agreements before considering their book for publication, or want to discuss an advance check right away. I want to tell them that they’re lucky if I make it through the first read before rejecting it, and that I have too many ideas of my own to consider stealing an amateur’s first effort. I’m not putting my dreams on hold to work on your idea unless you value my part in this, and can be a little more realistic about your own.
The good news is that today anyone can self-publish or find a reasonable publishing company to work with. An unpublished author is only unpublished due to their own lack of effort in today’s world; that has never been more true than it is now. Part of the point of all this is making sure that folks know that Sudden Insight Publishing is positioned perfectly to help writers become authors. I like to think that I would have self-published back in the day, if a company like ours had existed; I know for sure that it would have been a good move, and a good match. That’s why we started the company, after all.
The other good news is that humility is more valued than ever. Check out how successful authors behave in interviews, and listen to how many things they wish they had done differently. More important than that, listen to how humble they are about their success. It’s the real people that make it to the top, usually, not the arrogant blowhards that think their idea is so great they are somehow both unwilling to talk about it and unable to shut up about it.
Having studied success as a phenomenon, I saw a long time ago that all of the successful people I admire share some commonalities no matter what field they pursued said success in. They’re all quick to stress three things. First: if there’s something you want and don’t have, the only thing standing between you and it is your ignorance about something. Second: be grateful for what you have; it’s the greatest key to having more. And third: the next thing you want and don’t have will also require more learning about something that you don’t even know you’re ignorant about right now.
Humbling, isn’t it? Of course some arrogant blowhards do make it to the top in some ways, and people like that counsel things like vengeance and deception in their books about how great they are. But reading between the lines is not hard with them, and the unhappiness that drives them forward will still be with them when they arrive at their next destination. If personal growth is not a part of a person’s success, to me they are not truly successful. Luckily, there are plenty of good people doing their best and sharing their wisdom out there who consider happiness as much an essential ingredient to success as I do. And no matter how awesome of a person these folks build themselves into, they stay humble and grateful and fully aware that there is a bunch of stuff that they are still completely ignorant about. Again…humbling, isn’t it?
I am glad to be out there and talking to people about writing, and publishing. It’s a special thing to have a relationship begin on. The other thing that relationship is building on is my broadening view of writing and publishing. Everything I learn about both reminds me of a hundred things I don’t know and reminds me that there are a hundred more things that I don’t yet know that I don’t know. It doesn’t even really matter whether I truly master these things eventually; what matters is that my life is now dedicated to that mastery, and my humility is finally beginning to sprout from the rotting corpse of my arrogance.
Sounds like a good reason to write a bunch of books about zombies that are steeped in metaphor to me. In a few years, I hope I’m looking back at this part of my life as deliberately as I’m looking at the past now. Do I hope to see that I finally got it all figured out, and am standing at the summit bathing my face in virgin sunlight? Nope, not at all. I hope I’m still learning, and not content to call any plateau the top. The only way we fail is when we stop trying, and the biggest reason folks stop trying is because they think the journey should be an easy one. A dream worth dreaming is a dream worth dedicating your life to; but we can’t enjoy the fruits of our labor without the labor, and it’s hard to see how much of that labor is on the dreamer when the dreamer thinks they’re brilliant just for dreaming.
I wasn’t ready to stand behind my own ideas a few years ago, and that’s part of what took me so long to get published. Also, I didn’t have to face the fact that I had failed if I didn’t ever try. These are two paralyzing concepts that only fall away when you are finally in motion. It’s like riding a bike: if you read a hundred books on it, you still haven’t done it. Even if you straddle the frame with your feet on the ground beside the wheels and watch others ride, you’re still not even a beginner yet. When you finally push off, and maybe fall down, that’s not failing! That’s you taking the first step toward actual learning, and putting that arrogance aside to learn something new. You only fail if your pride stops you from trying again, and the only person who will never make a dream come true is the person afraid to look the fool for going after it.
Well, then; that’s a bonus post if I ever saw one.
Thanks for reading!