Thankful…But Not Finished
One of my favorite quotes, and one I use as a tagline on my blog, is attributed to the late Bette Davis, one of the multitude of actors who’ve also written books.
“I am destined to an eternity of compulsive work. No set goal achieved satisfied—success only breeds a new goal. The golden apple devoured has seeds. It is endless.”
Note: funny how it rarely occurs to writers to try their hand at acting. But that’s a subject better saved for a later date. J
How often have you heard someone say “One of these days I’m going to write a book”? I’m guessing 1 out of 100 people who say this actually sit down and try to write one, and maybe 1% of these writers ever finish a manuscript. Out of this 1% only a tiny fraction will find an agent, and only a handful of these authors will ultimately see the finished product on a shelf.
With odds like these, wouldn’t you think an author would be satisfied with reaching this monumental goal? To be “thankful” for what he or she achieved without obsessing over everything else that may or may not come with the territory?
Things like literary contests, for example. Award nominations. Bestseller lists, school and library lists—any list for that matter, as long as your book gets on it. Invitations to sign books at book fairs, or even at local book stores. Or to be asked to participate on a panel at a major (or minor) conference.
These are all things many authors assume they’ll part of once they publish a book, and they’re taken aback when these perks don’t automatically fall into their laps. For every Big Author who’s swept off on a whirlwind, multi-city tour, courtesy of a publisher who’s invested a great deal of money, there are hundreds of Not-So-Big Authors who sit back and stare at their rapidly climbing Amazon numbers, wondering what went wrong, and how can they make things better?
So the N-S-B Authors get out there and try to push their books themselves. They sign up for blog tours. They send ARCs to reviewers, to bloggers, to magazines and newspapers. When they run out of ARCs (which they always do) they start sending their own copies, with no guarantee it’ll ever be reviewed. Without help from a professional publicist, they try to secure book signings themselves, tables at book fairs, appearances at libraries and schools. They hit those same conferences as attendees rather than presenters, and try like to hell to squelch their resentment while the Big Authors—often personal, and very good friends—speak to rapt audiences.
Don’t think for a moment these N-S-B Authors aren’t happy for their friends’ successes. Of course they are, and they prove it with endless support and encouragement, promoting their friends’ books at every opportunity. Yet it’s impossible for them not to wonder: why them, and not me?
Then the guilt hits. After all, they’re p-u-b-l-i-s-h-e-d. They’ve beaten seemingly insurmountable odds. They didn’t give up and burn manuscript on the stove. They didn’t shell out the big bucks for someone else to print their book. They were paid by a publisher. Their books are physically in book stores. Their friends and family think they ROCK! Their non-published writing buddies, in various stages of the struggle of trying those same odds, view them as magical beings who likely walk on water—while, in truth, the N-S-B Authors feel they’re barely treading the surface, and sinking rapidly.
“But you’re published,” their friends insist. “You did it! Isn’t that enough?”
For some Not-So-Big Authors, it may well be enough to be able to walk into a book store or library and see their novels on the shelf, as if this is proof enough they’ve accomplished their lifelong goal to be published.
For most authors, however, nothing will ever “be enough.” Each success, no matter how big or how small, convinces us that it’s worthwhile, if not mandatory, to pursue another, bigger goal. Every loss we suffer—whether in the form of a missed opportunity, a rejection, an unfavorable review, a perceived snub, an overlooked nomination, or less-than-favorable feedback on our current projects—compels us to devise another plan. In that same vein, even before we reach each coveted milestone, there’s always a new goal brewing in the backs of our minds.
Whether Big or Not-So-Big, some of us may reach the point where we’ll say “I’m exactly where I want to be right now.” Perhaps we’ll be satisfied with the goals already achieved and make no plans to go any further. We’re content with what we have. We’re certainly “thankful.” And we’d seriously enjoy having our lives back again.
But for the most of us, regardless of where we are in our professional journeys, each success, as Bette Davis said, only breeds a new goal. “The golden apple devoured has seeds.” For us, it’s endless.
Yes, we’re thankful. But we will never be satisfied.