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Marissa Lingen

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The Laws of Thermodynamics [Apr. 29th, 2015|10:09 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Last year one of the Fourth Street seminar participants approached me after the seminar. They had a lot on their mind and were feeling pretty strongly, though, I hasten to add, they didn’t seem angry with me or to blame me. The general gist seemed to be: I have had a lot of short stories published, so things are easy for me; this person is completely unpublished and has also struggled with issues in their job, their romantic life, and their health, and they were just not up for submitting themselves to more rejection; and therefore, they told me, they were going to self-publish, because that way they would dodge the possibility of rejection.


And that was where they lost me.


There are good reasons to self-publish, and there are good reasons to seek a traditional publisher. There are good reasons to make one’s career a hybrid of the two.


But if you are really, truly not able to deal with rejection, none of those three possible paths will work for that.


I’m sorry. I don’t mean this to be discouraging, which is why I didn’t blurt it out to the person from the seminar. Publishing can be awesome in whatever form, and the feeling of your work connecting with someone you don’t know, some stranger whose only connection is that you wrote a thing and they read it–that’s amazing.


But self-publishing moves the rejection from editor, agent, or publisher, to readers. Very directly to readers, since the self-published author really needs word of mouth and reviews. There will be thousands or millions of people who can reject your work instead of just dozens.


I don’t want to be dismissive or uncompassionate here–quite the opposite. Some people are going through such a stack of stuff at a given time that one more rejection is legitimately just too much, and that’s a thing to respect, a thing to know about oneself. I just…would really like for people who are in that situation not to go into a particular form of publishing thinking that it is the emotionally safe way to share their work with the world. There is no emotionally safe way to share meaningful art with the world. It all involves at least a small emotional risk.


Things that you create can sometimes wait. If you’re in a particular kind of really horrible place in your life, it’s okay to make awesome things and keep them to yourself for awhile. I’m not saying that’s the situation universally, or for you in particular. I’m just saying that self-care is all right and is sometimes part of making this whole thing work in the longer-term.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2015-04-30 10:22 am (UTC)
Here are a few points on the other side.

Being rejected by million-selling publishers is not being rejected by millions of readers, who never get the chance to judge you.

If a publisher accepts you, you might expect a million readers; if all publishers reject you, you will get none at all. If you self publish, you wlll at least get a few readers (and may get quite a lot). The readers you do get may appreciate you very much, if you're offering stuff the traditional publishers won't offer (as Hogarth is).

A self-publisher who gets no word of mouth or good reviews, isn't being rejected by the thousands or millions who never hear of zim.

It used to be feasible for a self-published book to kind of float around out there, not losing options, til its right readers show up -- rather than the author having to gauge the right time to submit it for traditional publishing. Dunno if that's still possible, with so much of the ebook market depending on Kindle and such.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 11:58 am (UTC)
No, being rejected by publishers is not the same as getting rejected by readers. But both are forms of rejection. If you can deal with one but not the other, self-publishing may be the right choice because it dodges one, while publishing through traditional publishers allows for both, consecutively. But that's still not the situation of the fragile person who could not deal with any more rejection in their life. You say that the readers you do get may appreciate you very much. Indeed they may! But this is by no means a certainty, and if you are not up for dealing with uncertainty on this front, self-publishing will not help you. It can't. There's a reason "publish" and "public" come from the same root word.

Just this week, I saw two new novels by two people I like personally, one self-published and one traditionally published, and I said, "OH HELL NO," to both of them. I did, in fact, reject them. And there was nothing in the author's power that could have prevented me from doing so--well, except for writing a book that was to my specific taste, but that only solves the me problem, it doesn't solve for any other readers.

You seem to be taking this as an anti-self-publishing post despite the fact that I explicitly say that there are good reasons to self-publish. GO AHEAD AND SELF-PUBLISH. There are plenty of good reasons to. Or don't; there are plenty of good reasons to go traditional too. But nothing you've said convinces me that dodging rejection is a good reason to publish in any form, ever. If you publish, you risk rejection. Every time.
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[User Picture]From: p_j_cleary
2015-04-30 12:54 pm (UTC)
Something must be in the air. I just talked about rejection and not being able to deal with it by playwrights. I think you're absolutely on the nose with the fact that you just push the rejection from the editor/publisher to your readers with self-publishing. It's an amazing world we live in, where anyone can create and distribute content, but that means the amount of competition is heightened considerably. I'll take chances on self-published works, but only once, and if it's a 99 cent Kindle teaser and I don't like you, you probably lose me forever.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 01:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, lord, playwrights, you people are really brave. You can hear the audience coughing, shuffling their feet, and not laughing at your jokes right there in person.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2015-04-30 01:24 pm (UTC)
Yep. I've been having a similar talk with some folks. I try to shift the focus from rejection to "What is the best way for you to find your audience" which sometimes works and sometimes sounds like garble garble.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 01:37 pm (UTC)
Finding your audience is a much healthier mindset to be in if you can get there. I know that external factors make it hard for some people to get there, but if they can, it's a positive focus, which: hurrah.
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[User Picture]From: blairmacg
2015-04-30 01:26 pm (UTC)
Two points, in different directions:

Point the First--
I've been in the "I can't take another rejection" place. After a series of numerous and wonderful "I love the story and your writing BUT [insert rejection]," followed by the implosion of finances, marriage, and illness of friends, I was in no emotional shape to hear another better-luck-next-time-don't-give-up line.

And truly, getting off the query-go-round was the best thing I could have done for my writing as well as my emotional state. Developing writers would be much better off emotionally if they permitted themselves guilt-free and shame-free time to back off from submissions now and then.

And I wish more established writers would balance Never Give Up with Sometimes You Should Rest.

Point the Second--
You're correct that self-publishing doesn't remove the rejection factor. In the early days of popularized ebooks (which, really, are only three or four years in the past), I read a comment dismissing self-publishing as where failed writers went when they couldn't take rejection. Even then I thought that was funny. Heck, I can be rejected multiple times every hour! All I have to do is refresh my sales page, or look at the click-through rate on an ad, or or or...

Then there is the rejection of indifference. That's the one I've seen take longer to catch up with some self-publishers because, just as a query-submitting writer will grow more hopeful the longer a submission goes unanswered, the self-published writer can go a long time hoping the big sales are just around the corner.

On the other hand, there are a ton of folks self-publishing who are thrilled to have a few happy readers. That is their ambition, and it has been fulfilled. For them, low sales and indifference don't enter in to the picture of rejection.

Okay, I have a third point:
Nothing was "easy" for you. Those short story sales didn't fall out of the sky. You weren't born with them. You earned them.

I get very frustrated when folks treat the success of others as unearned luck, and use that falsehood to explain their own struggles. Hurrumph.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 01:36 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I tried to be kind about the "it's easy for you, you've sold a bunch of short stories" narrative, because this person's life sounded like it's way, way worse than mine. But it did kind of make me want to go off in a corner and laugh until people looked at me funny. Which at Fourth Street would take quite a lot of laughing.
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[User Picture]From: blairmacg
2015-04-30 02:38 pm (UTC)
I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to 4th Street.

Well, I could tell you, but it would take an awfully long time.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 03:50 pm (UTC)
The only down side to leading the seminar is that my "eeeeee FOURTH STREET" bounce is likely to be at least somewhat dissipated by the time most people get there.
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[User Picture]From: blairmacg
2015-04-30 05:24 pm (UTC)
I shall endeavor to promote post-seminar bouncing. :)
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[User Picture]From: vcmw
2015-04-30 06:18 pm (UTC)
I really appreciate your bit in point the first, as I've kind of given myself that permission quite a lot. I'm still at a point in my writing where when I have stories out on submission I'm a noticeable x% less productive in writing than when I don't. So at least in the last 2-3 years I do plan out periods where after the last lagging rejection comes in, I give myself permission not to submit anything for 2-3 months until my writing gets back up to a place that feels comfortable. I sort of think (no data) that the x% less productive is getting to be a smaller x, and the recovery times a bit faster. I'm treating it kinda like... sports training? Intervals.

Oddly, I remember submitting stuff as a teenager and it was totally different - out of sight, out of mind. The envelope went off in the mail and I basically never thought about it again until/unless something showed up in the mail in reply. I'm hoping I'll get back to that mindset eventually, but I do think the digital tools and feedback can make it harder for me to maintain/achieve that perspective.
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[User Picture]From: blairmacg
2015-04-30 07:55 pm (UTC)
I really appreciate your bit in point the first, as I've kind of given myself that permission quite a lot.

Permission is good. :) Truly, any artistic endeavor should be undertaken because it makes us feel better, not worse!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 09:27 pm (UTC)
It's really, really important to work with the brain you actually have. Writer brains are not actually pink gears that you can see work [/Baum], and I think a lot of advice for writers starts from a presumed definition of success and tries to calculate backwards what is necessary for that to happen, rather than looking at what this actual writer brain will respond well to and going from there.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2015-04-30 03:44 pm (UTC)
This might be an emotional makeup where "I wish I wasn't home alone tonight" hurts less than "$specific_person turned me down for a date, and I'm home alone with a frozen dinner." If I apply for a specific job, ask a specific person for a date, or submit a story to a specific market, there's a chance of someone whose name I know saying no, directly. I suspect that the person you were talking to may build up the idea of "published by X" more than the idea of "people will follow this link and read my story."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 03:49 pm (UTC)
I wonder how much of this is hurting our social relationships (general-our; as far as I know, your-and-my social relationship is fine, though we don't get to see each other much). I see a lot of people throwing open general questions ("Who wants to go to x event?") and putting everyone they know locally on their party invite list, and a lot less of trying to arrange specific things with specific people, and I think this is a pretty strong element: that if someone says, "Hey, redbird, we should go to this concert," instead of, "Who wants to go to this concert?", there is a pretty good chance you will say no. I think a certain amount of this is fine, but when it becomes the general way that people conduct their social lives, all sorts of stuff goes missing. I'm gravitating right now to people who will make an effort for me and notice/appreciate that I make an effort for them.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2015-04-30 04:27 pm (UTC)
And here I thought it was all just me, because of moving so much. (That's certainly a major factor in my life, of course.) I'm definitely experiencing that as a lack right now - my social life such as it is, is all about going to general events and not so much about, as you say "specific things with specific people". I miss it. (And it's true that I got tired of trying, when a couple we went out to dinner with a few times never seemed to be able to arrange a free time even though I don't think it was meant as personal rejection.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 04:47 pm (UTC)
I think that it's sometimes important for one's own sanity to distinguish between "this person never makes time for this kind of event with me personally" and "this person is not good at making time for this kind of event ever." Functionally, though, they can work out to be about the same.

One thing here is, I think if you do some of the arranging, people can start thinking that it's somehow not work for you the way it is for them. It is always work. It's work some people like doing more than others, and, orthogonally to that, it's work that some people are better at than others. But making social arrangements is someone's labor. I'm pretty sure there are several people who think, oh, Mris used to arrange stuff with us, and now she doesn't, and they never have it enter their minds that they could arrange stuff with me. They could do the work. Maybe I'm wrong and there are great herds of people who don't like me as much as they act like they do. But I kind of think maybe not great herds.

One of the things that has worked well for me is arranging something regular with people. A monthly lunch, a biweekly dinner, whatever. I only have room for so many of those, but knowing that on the fourth Thursday of every month I will turn up at my brother greykev's place at noon and we will take an hour for lunch somewhere in his area is both inherently nice and takes the calendar comparisons off both of our plates. Then if one of us has something else going on (as next month!), we can compare notes about rescheduling--but that's a somewhat different energy use than if we were starting from scratch. This doesn't solve the problem for everybody, but it establishes a minimum that no one has to work for, and I'm finding that really helpful right now.
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[User Picture]From: ckd
2015-04-30 07:11 pm (UTC)
One of the things that has worked well for me is arranging something regular with people.

This, oh so very much this.

My weekly chat with my parents over Facetime. My every month or so lunch with my old officemate. These are things, and they happen, and sometimes they get rescheduled because travel or busy or whatever...but they do get rescheduled.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2015-04-30 07:44 pm (UTC)
I think you're onto something.

It makes sense, I think, to make something of a broadcast announcement for things like "I'm going to be in Madison for Wiscon, who else is going to be around?" and then to make specific efforts to connect with people who either answer that, or who live there and are likely to be around even if they don't answer. But, observationally, "I'm going to be visiting Adrian in this chunk of time, do people want to get together?" doesn't seem to work well. I suspect that's because it's not generally a con weekend or other special event, so people aren't keeping mental or actual space open for out-of-town visitors.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 09:33 pm (UTC)
So I think there are a couple of things possibly going on here. One is that people, as you suggest, may not have mental or actual space open for out-of-town visitors. That's entirely possible. Another is that they are evaluating what energy they have and what they would like to do based on the idea that this is a broadcast invitation--do they have energy to get together with 15 or 20 of your friends? Maybe not, maybe next time. (And then if everyone says that, the number is not 15 or 20 but 0.) It's also possible that everyone is assuming someone else is stepping up, so their one no is not crucial.

Finally, it could be that your "do people want to get together?" question is not reading as particularly committed interest in seeing any individual person, so they are not evaluating their reciprocal interest accordingly. If you're not actually all that interested in seeing A, B, C, ...or Z, then it's a reasonable way to do things--someone will turn up to hang out with, or else not. But if you really do want to see A, B, K, and Q, maybe it would work better to try spreading individual invitations out over multiple visits. Lunch with A&B this time--or if A&B are really booked, you can ask K instead--and then next time dinner with Q. But they will probably get a little more of the message that you are interested in seeing them specifically. Or not, who knows.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2015-04-30 07:06 pm (UTC)
haikujaguar has talked about this phenomenon: people who assume that other people's success is due to special characteristics (or luck) of the other person, which they don't have access to--and therefore, they say, they can't do what these other people do.

Everybody has personal circumstances, and many people's circumstances look better from the outside than they actually are (not everyone's, but many people's). I like the Anne Lamott quote that was floating around a bit ago: "Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides."

I'm all for people doing whatever they're most comfortable doing--and people have different goals and desires, so there's that, too--but yeah, self-publishing is definitely not a way to avoid rejection. (Thinking about all the nos I got from reviewers who weren't interested in reviewing self-published work.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-04-30 09:35 pm (UTC)
I like "don't compare your insides to other people's outsides" a lot better than the not-quite-equivalent phrasing, "You're seeing your outtakes and everyone else's highlight clips." I read that and thought, "Actually I am seeing a lot of certain other people's outtakes! Stop showing me your outtakes, people!"
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[User Picture]From: therck
2015-05-01 10:31 pm (UTC)
Also, there's nothing wrong with writing for fun. If someone wants to write but isn't in a place to deal with rejection, writing as an unpaid hobby isn't really different from painting or playing an instrument or crocheting shawls for the pleasure of it.

Though there does seem to be an attitude that I've encountered (mostly from people who don't write) that writing without trying to publish is somehow sinful. As if spending time on writing can only be justified if the writing is chasing money. I've never seen these folks take the same attitude toward other hobbies. (No, that's not true. My mother's hobby is fixing up her house, and her father always used to give her a hard time about it, telling her she was putting more money into the house than she'd get back out of it.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-01 10:34 pm (UTC)
Seriously. SERIOUSLY.
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[User Picture]From: therck
2015-05-01 11:11 pm (UTC)
I remember my mother saying, with some exasperation, that her father wouldn't say a word if she were spending all that money on boats (his hobby). At that point in time, she lived in an old arts and crafts house that had been stripped of most of its original fittings. She spent about ten years searching flea markets, junk shops, and antique stores for the parts she needed. She enjoyed every moment of it.

That same grandfather used to give me a hard time for not having written a best seller yet. Never mind that I don't actually want to write a best seller. (I'm pretty sure that, even if I were trying, I wouldn't. The vast majority of writers don't, after all.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-02 03:21 am (UTC)
My all-time least-favorite writing-related questions are, "Are you going to write the Great American Novel?" and, "Are you going to write the next Harry Potter?" WOW I HOPE NOT.
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[User Picture]From: rubel
2015-05-02 06:46 am (UTC)
Well said, and definitely true. In my experience with the whole thing, you get to see first-hand just how fickle and inattentive people are. The harder you try to get noticed, they more you are ignored, until you learn the subtle art of marketing--and even somewhat then.

No, you go into self-publishing because you're tired of being rejected out-of-hand based on factors that have nothing to do with how well you grab readers. Because quality and profit-to-risk ratios are different things, and publishers are businesses first and foremost, not just quality filters. If you can't handle rejection at all, as sympathetic as we all can be with that, you're better off seeking coaching or counseling than publishing.
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[User Picture]From: jenfullmoon
2015-05-05 09:53 pm (UTC)
I'm reminded of someone I know who, in all honesty, could use an editor. There is one trait of their writing that I wish to god they'd listen to, because I'd be so much more into their work if they just weren't doing....that one overall stylistic thing. Like I'll say one tic as an example: run-on sentences that run 3/4 of the entire page and make me keel over reading them.

However: they get very upset at being edited or corrected, and are thus self-publishing. I want to cheer them on and recommend them, except I can't help but think "god, I wish you'd listen to a nice editor and break up your damn sentences." Sometimes you just genuinely need someone else to edit you, even if you're paying them to, and bypassing judging eyes by self-publishing...is just passing the judging buck.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-06 02:55 am (UTC)
It really is. Yes.

And rightfully so, because none of us is perfect. Nobody writes perfect prose. Not one among us. We might not get the right editor for our particular foibles, but we need to at least make a stab at it. (Through hiring someone sharp and competent, if need be!)
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