After years of working on a book, I’m finally shopping around a proposal.
And while I’m only a few weeks into this first leg of the publishing journey, I can tell you already it is not for the faint of heart.
Of course, I went into this expecting an even blend of rejection and radio silence; you’d be crazy not to. Plus, I can’t think of a single successful writer who can’t paper the walls with “no thank yous.” That’s not the problem; it’s part of the game.
Now, as you know, when pursuing a traditional publishing route, you send your proposal to an agent who decides whether it’s something she a) likes and b) can sell it to a publisher. That’s the job.
But what I’ve been hearing from very thoughtful, bright, and responsive agents isn’t just “no thanks.” What they’re telling me, is that, well, the marketplace for this kind of book (a non-fiction collection of essays), is competitive.
They tell me that what I’m trying to do is…hard.
They say writing is hard. Publishing is hard. That particular genre I want to write in? Is hard.
Of course, I know this. It also doesn’t change my mind one iota. Why? Because this isn’t helpful advice.
It’s one thing to pass on a project, to reject a person or opportunity. That’s life.
But telling someone that xyz is “hard,” is insidious: It disempowers the other person by passing the buck and blaming the world/market/industry. (“It’s not me! It’s just, the world is hard.”)
There’s also no good response. When someone tells me that what I want to write is going to be “hard,” what am I supposed to say? “Oh! Ok. Then I guess instead I’ll pitch my other book on the mating habits of the helmeted water toad.” (Which I do not have.)
Fact is, everything worth doing is hard. Building a business is hard. Ending a relationship is hard. Raising kids is hard. Getting out of bed is pretty damn hard.
Here we are, in the most joyful, fun, festive season of the year. And yet, I think we can agree, that Christmas is really, really goddamn hard.
If you listened to people every time they told you things were hard, you wouldn’t be anywhere. And neither would I.
Also because no one would have invented a damn thing and we’d all be in our homes without electricity or internet or washable fabrics.
When you look back over your life, the things that were hard to do were also worth it. And you did them for a reason.
What we have to be careful of, myself included, is falling into the trap of telling ourselves that things are hard, even too hard, and use that as a reason not to do them.
For my part, you can assume I’ll continue working on what I’m working on, regardless of how hard someone else thinks it is.
Because calling something hard is actually really easy. It’s doing the work that requires worthwhile effort.
Let’s stop talking about how things are hard, and instead, talk about why they’re worth it.