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Putting the "Suck" in Success

My novel won first place at the East of Eden Writer's Conference.

I was really gratified because I was there in part to pitch my novel to some agents, and being able to say "my novel won first place" made it easy to stand out. Complete strangers were offering me their congratulations. I didn't know what to say to them. Luckily, smiling and saying "thank you" seemed to suffice. But now everyone wants to hear the "story," and I just don't know what to say. I won. I don't really have a good anecdote.

The Good. I got a lot of interest from the agents I talked to, and walked out of there feeling as though all of the time and work I had put into it had really paid off. The degree to which I had beat myself up had paid off. My family and friends are proud of me. There were lots of pats on the back and kudos (differing from pats on the back by being in a different language), and that's always nice.

The Bad. Just like turning 30 (so freakin' long ago), being graduated from college and losing my virginity, after the initial flush of "wow! it's happened!", I don't feel any different. Yes, I'm now an Award-Winning Novelist, but I still really need a haircut and my butt's still too big. I don't know how I expected things to change, but I guess I expected some problem to be solved. There were a few very tiny problems that it did solve. How do I introduce myself to agents? What are we doing for dinner? Any problem larger than that will never be solved by any single thing.

Everyone keeps telling me that I'm either very lucky or very talented, and that I should be trumpeting my win from the rooftops. This runs entirely counter to my personality. True, I have worked extremely hard for two years on this novel. I didn't let it see the light of day until I thought it was perfect. Also true, I was very lucky. The judges were in a mythological mood or something. I fully appreciate the subjectiveness this kind of judging entails. But I know of no way to publicize my win without sounding like I'm obnoxiously full of myself.

The Ugly. Won the contest. Made the contacts. Shook the hands. Now what? I'm feeling very overwhelmed.

Now I have to put it all together into packages and send it off to the agents to whom I spoke. What if they hate it? This puts me up to 11 total possibilities for agents and this is just the beginning. I have to get one of them to like it enough to buy the whole book. Once I sell it to an agent, there will be another round of edits. And then selling it to a publisher, which may or may not happen. And then there are more edits, and contracts, and promotion and I'm very worried about taking that on because it essentially involves quitting my day job.

We just bought a house. I can't afford to quit and leave my family without an income on such a flimsy thing. What if they do buy this novel and everyone loves it? What about the next one? What if the next one sucks? I have a talent and a voice for this story, but what if I suck everywhere else?

Being mediocre is easy and safe. Being a wannabe is comfortable. The possibility of being successful terrifies me.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
mortaine
Aug. 30th, 2004 04:51 pm (UTC)
Now I have to put it all together into packages and send it off to the agents to whom I spoke. What if they hate it?

Really, Lise, that's just not a possibility. You need to worry about what you're going to do when two of them want to buy it at the same time. Or, more likely, when all of them love it, but need you to tell them who to sell it to, because they're not sure which genre/market/readership it belongs with.

kr8vkat
Aug. 30th, 2004 08:32 pm (UTC)
These all seem like reasonable reactions to me. Yes, there is the possibility that one of the agents you send it to will hate it. But that only means they aren't the right agent for you or the book, not that you or the book are awful. Every writer racks up rejection letters - it's part of the process, and not even a bad one, I have found. (OK, for the first five minutes after you open that letter, it sucks).

You don't have to trumpet your win from the rooftops, just don't forget to mention it in EACH AND EVERY letter you write to an agent. And I know the judge(s) of the contest (no, not me) and I know how much they liked it. I believe the quote was something like "It's really good."

Anyway, I have a feeling you're going to have to face that fear of success. I hope you do, and I hope you have to face it - and conquer it - soon :-)
recursive
Aug. 30th, 2004 10:29 pm (UTC)
advice which I pulled out of my ass but which might make good fertilizer anyway
Well, take a few breaths (days?) and attend to your introvert.

Okay. Clearly you've won due to a combination of effort and luck. What some random judge or agent thinks has a lot to do with their own tastes in something like that.

Even if rejects it in a most cruel manner, don't let it consume you. As an artist, feel free to keep in mind that they're probably some mouthbreather with no culture. As a person in the business of getting your work agented/published, realize that it does in some part reflect on various real market forces. What I mean to say is that I think the creation of art and the selling of it may require slightly different 'hats' to be worn.

Also what mortaine said. Think positive!

Oh, and finally, congratulations!
junglemonkee
Aug. 31st, 2004 11:44 am (UTC)
Re: advice which I pulled out of my ass but which might make good fertilizer anyway
Did this advice that you pulled out of your ass have a tail attached to it?

;)
recursive
Aug. 31st, 2004 01:22 pm (UTC)
Re: advice which I pulled out of my ass but which might make good fertilizer anyway
That's an evil pun.

But, no, it's mostly just based on my own opinions and infrequent observation of other people.
disastrid
Aug. 31st, 2004 05:59 am (UTC)
woooo, congratulations on winning first place!

Being mediocre is easy and safe. Being a wannabe is comfortable. The possibility of being successful terrifies me.

there are no truer words. i've been trying to put my finger on that for awhile now, thanks for pointing to it for me.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )