2013: A Learning Year: Managing Expectations

2013 has been a Learning Year.

I saw Rachel Hawkins tweet earlier today about how 2012 was a Learning Year for her, but 2013 has been awesome, and I decided to adopt the term. It sounds better than saying that even though some good stuff happened and some really hard stuff happened to me and The Playwright in 2013, in my heart of hearts, this year feels like it sucked and I can’t wait for it to be over.

But then I thought – if I’m calling it a Learning Year, what exactly did I learn? What am I taking away from this?

For the last three years I have been able to write for a living, to support my family with my words. That’s not what I set out to do. When BORN WICKED went out on submission, after my first manuscript had to be shelved, I just wanted someone to buy it. I wanted to see it on bookstore shelves, all book-shaped. I hoped that, maybe, after a few books, I’d be able to work part-time at my admin assistant job at the university where I’d been working for almost 10 years.

Then it sold in less than a week, in a pre-empt, in a major deal. I got to quit my day job entirely. There were a bunch of foreign sales and Penguin rushed bound galleys for reps at BEA and sent out a fancy ARC mailing. It got published 11 months after it sold. There was a pre-publication bookseller dinner tour and a 12-day Breathless Reads tour. It was in Walmart and grocery stores and airports. I’ve blogged a little about the weight of all that expectation. I haven’t written about what happens when the expectations come crashing down.

What happens when you get all those things for a first book….and then the book doesn’t perform to expectations, and that stuff stops? I suspect this happens more often than I think, because publishing is often a total gamble, and people understandably don’t talk about their failures as much as their successes. Possibly I shouldn’t, either. But I’m tired of feeling sad and embarrassed about it, so here we go…

What happens when you get a big book deal, and then your sales are good – really good for a debut, totally solid, with a starred review and good reviews overall – but they are not good enough? They are not bestseller numbers? Maybe you get a new paperback cover and another tour and another chance. But maybe the numbers still aren’t good enough.  And then things change.

You begin the hard work of adjusting your expectations, which got wildly inflated by all that lovely optimistic talk at the beginning. But once you get certain things – even if they aren’t even things you wanted at first! – you want to keep having them. It hurts your feelings when they stop happening, even though you tell yourself that this is a business and feelings should not matter. There isn’t really anyone to be angry with – you do not feel entitled to these things, exactly – but it is hard not to conflate your books’ sales with your own self worth. It’s easy to go from your sales are not good enough (What would be good enough? You do not actually know) to your writing is not good enough to you are not good enough.  Like, as a person. Even though you have no control over these numbers. This is what you’ve always wanted to do, after all, and the thought that you are not good enough at your dream is like all your worst fears crawling out from under your bed and chewing on you in the dark.

When you don’t get reviewed, or get the marketing that you took for granted on the first book, or sent anywhere, or end up on end-of-year lists – you feel like a disappointment. A failure. Your family and non-writing friends only know about publishing from your experience, and they ask you all the time when you’re going on tour for your next book and where you are doing events and how are your sales and why the new book isn’t in Walmart. You try to explain that most authors don’t do that and most books don’t get that and you were really lucky that first time. You try to adjust their expectations. They mean very well. But you feel like a disappointment again. And you can’t complain about being sad or hurt, because it’s true – most books don’t get that in the first place.

That is where I’ve been for most of 2013. Feeling like a failure. Like a disappointment. Like people bet big on me and I let them down.

Maybe a week or two ago, something changed. I was trying to work on the synopsis for my new book, which is hard enough without my brain telling me that there was no point because I was a failure. (For what it’s worth, my agent and my critique partners are really excited about the new book, and so am I, when I’m in the right headspace.) I got an email from a reader who said that my Cahill Witch books helped her through some rough times lately. And I remembered another email from earlier this summer, from a reader who said that my books made her love reading.  I recalled several more emails from people who cried, or screamed so loud their parents or spouses were alarmed, or threw the book across the room at the end of STAR CURSED because they felt so invested in my characters.

That’s not failure.

That is the scale that matters.

I want to write books that give readers an escape when life feels hard. That make readers cry or cheer or reread a swoony passage or throw the book across the room. I forgot for a little while – and probably I will again. Social media makes it so easy to see what everyone else is doing or getting and to compare. I’ll try to remind myself.

Still – I can’t control how readers will react to a book. That can’t be what I think of when I start to write. So, what is it I’m chasing? I want to feel I am challenging myself. I want to try things I see other writers doing well and think I could learn to do better.  I want to wake up thinking about my characters in the middle of the night, as I’m falling asleep for an afternoon nap, in the shower, in the middle of sentence in the middle of lunch with a friend. I want that feeling that I’m pushing a boulder slowly and painstakingly up a mountain and then chasing it down. I want to be in the zone, when I lose time because I’m so caught up in the words. I want to lose myself in the process.

The craft – the writing itself – is the only part that is still all mine. The finished product belongs to my readers. The business worries belong to my publisher. But when you’re happy with the writing, no one can take that away from you. When I was eight or ten or twelve, writing stories about horses at the barn where I took riding lessons, or later writing stories about girls who rode horses and bantered and kissed boys, I didn’t think about being a published author. I didn’t know any real live published authors. I wrote because I couldn’t not write, because my brain gets restless and dissatisfied when I don’t. I am saner and happier and more me when I write. In my heart of hearts, it might be as selfish as that.

That’s what I’ve learned during my Learning Year.

221 Responses

  1. Curse you Jessica Spotswood for making me get all sniffly 😉 Your books are amazing. I've seen more than one reviewer compare your writing to that of Jane Austen. Jane-freaking-Austen! She was so good that her books managed to penetrate the all-white, all-male curriculum at so many schools. You have everything in the world to be proud of.

    Your honesty, your grace in dealing with the changes to your life, your unfailing kindness toward other writers…never forget that although these things may not pay the bills, they make you rare and special and amazing <333

    1. Thank you so much, Paula! <3 That Jane Austen comparison is cuckoo but it does make me happy. Honestly, though, being called kind to other writers & gracious in dealing with change is more important to me. Really, thank you!

  2. Thank you for sharing this Jessica! I think you’re right when you said it probably happens a lot. But the fact that you’ve learned to let go of things you can’t control shows that you’ve learned what most people can’t.

    You’re brave and brilliant and I’m excited for your next book 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Dawn! I think perspective is huge. I'm sure I'll have to remind myself of all of this again and again – I think it's something we learn and then have to relearn.

  3. This is gorgeous, and heartbreaking too. Because we all feel it. We've all got such weight on our shoulders, and in an industry that can be so cutthroat behind the scenes, it feels like you're the only one… because no one else is talking about it. Keeping the love and the got-to-do-it of writing is, I think, one of the absolute hardest things to do as a new author. I think you have to work for it. (At least, I know I do.) *hugs* I love you for being brave!

    1. Thank you so much for this comment (and for your email – I'll write back soon! I've been deluged!). The response to this post has been HUGE, from writers at every level, and made me even more determined to be honest about the ups AND downs, the successes AND struggles. Like you said – if no one talks about the struggles, we all feel alone in them, and that's just unnecessary!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing these brave and valuable thoughts. As I head towards my own release date, and feel the pull and scary potential of TotalSelfEvaluation by CriticalResponsetoBook, I'm very grateful to be reminded about the essential practice of writing that is always within our control and always available to us no matter how published books are doing or not doing.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Jen! I'm so glad the post was helpful to you.The thing to remember about reviews is that they are SO SO subjective. It's taken me awhile – those first few critical ones do sting! – but now I'm able to take what is useful to me from the critical ones, and smile at the happy-making ones, and leave the rest behind. Good luck with your book release! THE NINJA LIBRARIANS sounds so fun!

  5. anniecardi

    "The craft – the writing itself – is the only part that is still all mine. The finished product belongs to my readers. The business worries belong to my publisher."

    Love this. And this whole post. Thanks for being so open and honest about the hard stuff and the inspiring stuff. Going to keep this in mind for a long time.

  6. I love this post so much, Jess! Thank you for your honesty. Just my two cents, but I've always thought that you are incredibly gifted at writing and I wish I could craft such lovely prose and realistic characters as you do. I'll always be one of your biggest fans! 🙂

  7. Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

    As an author who never got any of those things – stars or big reviews or a big advance or a tour – I can assure you that the not-getting of those things is still a disappointment. But that emails about toddlers memorizing parts of my books or needing to buy a second copy when the first got lost help a lot.

    I wish you much joy in the process, and lots of future success!!

    1. Thanks so much, Kelly! I wish you lots of success too. Toddlers memorizing your book! Original copies getting lost bc they're so well-loved they're taken everywhere! That is AWESOME. You should be super proud of yourself!

  8. Caroline

    This is a fantastic, honest post–and really timely, since just yesterday, my mom and I were chatting about our favorite books of the year. We both decided independently that STAR CURSED was at the top. You've written two books that make me so, so happy to be a reader, and that's not something most people can do. Thank you!

  9. Thank you for writing this post. The pressure of publishing is intense, and I'm only at the beginning of the journey. I feel exactly the same way about writing that you do–pushing the boulder up the hill and then chasing it down again. There's no high quite like it. Thank you for sharing what you learned with us so we can learn from your experience. <3

  10. "Still – I can’t control how readers will react to a book. That can’t be what I think of when I start to write." And yet, this is still one of the scariest things for me.

    What a great post – thanks so much for sharing.

  11. *hugs* Jess! I think calling 2013 'A Learning Year' is the perfect way to capture it. It's hurt, a lot, but it's also forced you to become such a stronger person (don't you wish we could earn our battle stripes in less painful ways?). Here's to 2014, may it be a year heaped full of awesomeness and gentleness. And here's to a new step in your long and successful author journey <3

  12. It's so hard to hear "promote this one, don't write another just yet" when my heart is in the writing. I appreciate your post so much because it gives me words with which to have a conversation or two with people in my book life. I'm on the cusp of publishing and I've never been so scared of how it will all look on the other side, especially since your books are so good and readers have yet to decide if mine might be. 🙂

    1. Hi, Robyn! I don't know your situation, but it seems to me a conversation might be warranted with your publishing peeps. The advice I've heard over and over from seasoned writers is that the best way to promote any book is to write the next one – so I think your instincts are dead on! Some promotion is a necessary evil, probably, but never to the exclusion of writing. Good luck!

  13. I could have written this post about Prophecy of the Sisters. After three different covers, a promised rebranding campaign that never happened, and the move of my editor to another publishing house just as the second book was about to hit shelves, everything seemed to unravel very quickly. And while the books have done extremely well by nearly every standard, even landing on several important lists (Booklist's Top Ten Debuts, Lonestar, NYPL, Chicago Public Library, etc.), the fact that the series didn't meet the publishers very high expectations means it's a failure in their eyes. I know exactly where you are right now, but nearly two-and-a-half years after the Circle of Fire, I HAVE been able to rebuild. The process has been slow and sometimes painful, but it's taught me a lot about who I am as a writer and a person. Most of all is this; I AM a writer. So I keep writing, and somehow, someway, I keep getting my books into the hands of readers. You're so very talented. I know you will, too. <3

    1. I'm so sorry what happened with Prophecy of the Sisters, Michelle! It's awesome that it hit those lists, and I hope you're still proud of that – and that you're still writing, still reaching readers, which is a huge testament to how strong you are. Thank you for the kind words, and for always reaching out to other writers! <3

  14. This is a crazy, crazy business that can crush our souls if we let it. I hope you don't let it, Jess. You are so talented!

    I've come to believe that managing expectations is one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, parts of the job. What I try to do is to remember that if this were a job in corporate america, I would do the work, get paid, let others higher up worry about that work when my part is done, and move on to the next piece of work. It's not easy, I know, but we really do have to try and let go and move on to the next thing and let the publisher worry (or not) about selling the thing once they buy it. I've always believed luck plays a bigger factor than we realize in this business. Right book, right time vs. not is so, so huge, I think, and completely out of anyone's control.

    I really hope you feel better about things in 2014 and that you enjoy writing, since that's what it's really all about, right? 🙂

    1. Lisa! Thank you so much for all the kind words & wisdom. You inspire me. TEN BOOKS. That is SO COOL. And I know you've had your ups & downs too, but you have persevered and I think you are incredible. I am really hoping to focus on the writing, and not all the other stuff, this coming year.

  15. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and being honest. That's the kind of courage that will keep you writing and growing and learning–and inspiring others. I, too, have had disappointments in my writing career. It's natural to have high expectations for your work when you put your heart and soul into it, not to mention time and effort. It can be a steep learning curve–learning to ride the waves of the publishing business…but as I like to say to myself…nobody has a gun to my head. 🙂 I can stop anytime. Best of luck in 2014!

    1. Thanks so much, Mary! I suspect the longer anyone keeps writing, the more likely we are to experience these disappointments as well as successes. But I can't imagine quitting. There's nothing else I want to do this much, or love this much – and remembering that is pretty motivational! 🙂

  16. Alexis

    This made me want to read your books! I hadn't heard of them before, but I'm psyched to pick one up now. Love seeing honesty from authors. Here's to a great 2014 for you!

  17. Thank you so much for sharing this. I could have written it, it's so familiar and so close to my 2013 (and a lot of 2012, to be honest). Remembering that the words, the writing, is my first job, the only job I can do *the way I do it* is so important.

    1. Hugs, Amy! It's hard, but judging from the overwhelming response to this post – tweets, FB messages, comments, private emails – from writers at all stages of their careers, we are totally not alone. And I think that helps, too. Good luck with your writing in 2014!

  18. Oh, yes. Everything you said – yes. I went through all of this when my 3-book contract with a Big Six got cancelled at the end of 2011. So 2012 was my Learning Year (one of many I've had throughout my life). It took the Artist's Way and starting a new book to make me fall in love with the process again and remind me of why I write in the first place. That book is coming out in 2015…sold for a fraction of what the Big Six paid me…and I couldn't be happier. It's all about the writing…everything else is just cream in the coffee. 🙂 Happy happy 2014 to you!

    1. I'm so sorry about your original book deal, Nicole. I think it's an awesome testament to your strength & your love of writing that you've picked yourself up & written a new book. Yay for new ideas and helpful writing-craft books! I've been reading Still Writing by Dani Shapiro this week & finding it very inspirational.

      1. Ooh, I haven't read Still Writing so I'll have to check that one out. I'm such a whore for writing books. And I did eventually resell that original series. It launches from Medallion Press in December 2014! But that other book I wrote was what really saved me. 🙂

        1. I think sometimes books come into our lives right when we need them – both those we need to read and those we need to write. 🙂 I'm so happy you have TWO series coming out soon! Congrats!

  19. Lena Marsteller

    Jessica, you are a wonderful brave person for sharing your honest reflections on publishing. It has given me a great perspective on being published and the different processes that authors go through. I love your books, and I hope next year brings much happiness to you and your family 😀

  20. Thanks you so much for sharing this Jessica. Reading your journey (so far because it isn't over but maybe just beginning) has left a deep impact on me. I love the line where you say: "But once you get certain things – even if they aren’t even things you wanted at first! – you want to keep having them." It's so true. You're awesome!

  21. While my journey hasn't been exactly the same as yours, 2012 was filled with success I never expected and 2013 left me feeling exactly the things you described. Like a failure. Like my self worth was wrapped around my success as a writer.

    1. Oh, Steph! *hugs* It's so hard not to let ourselves get entirely swallowed up by the success or lack thereof of the writing. I guess that's the hazard to loving something so much – but I wouldn't trade it for anything, either. Here's wishing you a more joyful 2014!

  22. You are definitely not a failure. You are the first author that I actually emailed after I read their book BECAUSE I NEEDED SOMEONE TO DISCUSS MY FEELS WITH.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I cannot wait for Sisters Fate [be on the lookout for another email] and any other book that you’re going to share with us. I will forever read your words.

    <3 stacee


    1. Thank you so much for this comment & for all your suport, Stacee! That email has earned a permanent spot in my happy-making email folder. 🙂 I can't wait to share Sisters' Fate with you! 🙂

  23. I know I haven't really met you, and you probably don't know who I am, but I have many friends who have told me how incredibly kind you are and what a wonderful person you. I think that speaks volumns about you. And now, having read this post, I couldn't agree more. Thank you for sharing this. I can't put into words what your post means to me, as my book is just hitting shelves and I'm scared to death to see what happens. So much of what you said resonated so deeply with me. I hope that 2014 will be your year of wonderful, just like Rachel's!!

    1. Sara, I do know who you are, bc DEFY is on my to-read list! And oh, thank you for telling me that your friends have said such sweet things about me. That means so much. It is really important to me to try to pay forward all the kindnesses that authors who debuted before me have shown me! I'm so glad you found the post helpful. Here's wishing you and DEFY and your new writing a happy 2014!

  24. Kristen Wixted

    It is so refreshing to read about a published writer's tough times. It seems like everyone only wants to share the good stuff, which makes those of us who aren't published feel like that failure you mention above…
    Bravo to you. These learning years make us all so much smarter.

    1. Thanks so much, Kristen! I'm so glad you found the post helpful. I do think there's a culture of silence around the writing struggles and disappointments, especially where sales or rejections are concerned. But it is SO SO common. And judging from the overwhelming response to this post, it's something we all need to be more open about, bc lots of writers at every stage of the game need to hear it.

  25. Kristina

    Ditto. At least you know there are many, many authors who have been in the exact same spot you are. I also went through the big hubbub of book one to the "with your low sales" song of following books. It's tough but gotta keep moving. Hope 2014 is a good one for you!

  26. malenalott

    ah, Amen to all that and wishing you the very best with your new book. Brava to understanding it is the writing that matters most and it's okay to be disappointed – especially when you did get the star treatment. It's tough to separate ourselves from our work but if we see it as a brand it can be easier to keep your sanity and move on to the next idea that sparks within you.

    1. I think for me it's all about the next idea and the writing itself. Thinking of myself or my writing as a brand makes me feel a little too constricted, bc I don't want to write just one type of books. And the lovely thing about YA is that one book can contain a mix of genres. But I think different strategies work for different people. Good luck to you with your writing!

  27. This post made me tear up a little, Jess. Thank you for your beautiful bravery in your willingness to share this heartfelt, honest, gracious post. <3

    When I first started reading this it reminded me of the quote by Zora Neale Hurston: "There are years that ask questions and years that answer." (I suppose, in reality, every year is a bit of both both)
    Anyway, I'm old, and thus I've learned a thing or two (a lot of Learning Years), and one of them is I think "Learning Years" are maybe the best years when we look back on them. They often change us for the better. It's obvious from this lovely post that you've put careful, meaningful thought into the takeaways, the kind that puts your life and career in perspective and gives you peace. I wish and hope with all my <3 that 2014 will be a year of magic and joy and sparkly cocktails and many many smiles.
    Jess, you've always been so kind to me on Twitter, you radiate warmth. I hope you know that your kindness towards other writers truly means something.
    And I think this post is yet another kindness you are sharing with your fellow writers, because many MANY authors have felt this way, or soon will, and you've helped them Learn, so perhaps their Learning Year won't be quite so painful and doubt-ridden.

    So much of this profession is out of our control, but our dignity, our writing, and our kindness is always within our control. Thank you for being you. <3

    Here's to a fabulous 2014! *raises glass of bubbly* Cheers!

    1. Lola, I love that ZNH quote. I guess this year has been a bit of both for me, like you said – but oh, it felt like it took ages for my heart to get to the answers. Thank you so much for your kind words. More than anything else in my writing career, it is important to me to reach out and help aspiring writers in any way I can. I am so grateful for those ahead of me on the debut path who did the same for me. So your comment means a lot. *toasts* Happy 2014 to you, too!

  28. I know these feelings so well. I wish you much luck and success in 2014. The fact you impacted at least one person (and obviously more) should show you how IMPORTANT you are. You haven't failed; the bar was just set incredibly high. You will leap over it with flying colors, I'm sure, but all the shit that comes before isn't always pleasant and wonderful. Writing is still work. It's your job. And now that 2013 is almost over, your Learning Year will be what brings you even more success in 2014. We're cheering you on!

    1. Thanks so much, Laura! I was really nervous to post this, but now I'm so glad I did. I feel much lighter, and the response has been so tremendous – it's obvious that there are lots of us who feel this way, at every stage – and I think being open about it so we know we're not alone really helps. I'll be cheering you on, too!

  29. I can't "like" this post enough! Thank you for being brave enough to write it. I think most authors feel this way at some point in their career.

    You're a great author. You're bound to hit it big whether it's this series or the fourth one you write. I believe you have a long career ahead of you. 🙂

  30. As usual, your writing here is very honest and brave, and made me both smiley and teary. I'm sorry that the process forces such a whirlwind of emotions on you, but I hope it helps to know that the people around you are so incredibly proud of what you've done. I love that you've created characters who are smart, strong, funny young women who don't NEED boys around but do enjoy flirting with them when the opportunity arises. We all benefit from having your words out in the world. Keep 'em coming! <3

  31. Jessica – thank you for putting into words and saying out loud something I know I personally feel and fear. I got the big deal and am in between my first and second books publishing, and I never anticipated how intense the pressure would be to perform…when the sales performance is not something I can easily (or maybe at all?) influence. Thank you for reminding me where I should try to stay focused. <3

    1. The expectations are so so hard. But there will be readers who love your books, and if you've written the very best book that you could at the time – that's truly all you can do. I'm so glad you found the post helpful. Good luck with your second book, and whatever you're writing now! <3

  32. sarahappifanie

    It must be such an insane roller coaster ride, I can't even imagine. Right now I'm at that beginning point – the very beginning – I just want to finish writing what I'm writing and then hope that someone likes it enough to publish it. All that other stuff after that? Insane. I'm glad that you learned what's really important, and I hope you can hang onto that 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I think once you get published, you often spend a lot of time trying to recover that sense of being unpublished, writing for the joy of it, without worrying so much about what specifically will happen and what readers/editors/agents will think and sales and reviews and such! Good luck with your writing.

  33. Jessica, thank you for sharing this fantastic, brave post. I've had so many of these same feelings this past year and have struggled to remember what is most important, and within my control. Best of luck with your new book, I hope it helps restore your belief in yourself and your exceptional abilities. xo

    1. Thanks so much, Lea! I'm sorry you've been having a hard time too. I suspect we'll all probably struggle to learn and relearn this, and regain faith in ourselves, throughout our careers. Such is the nature of the beast. But I'm wishing you lots of joyful writing in 2014!

  34. Oh wow. Yes. This. So very this. I've gone through my first year in publishing always feeling like I was "second best", doing okay but never not good enough. I've been putting so much pressure on myself, my last manuscript was complete crap and I knew it when I turned it in to my editor but there was nothing I could do about it because my headspace has been a place of massive doubt.

    So thank you for posting this. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  35. Thank you, Jessica. You reminded us of why we started this journey in the first place—the love of writing our own stories our own way. Happy New Year. May 2013 bring the words to your fingertips and even more emails like those you described to your in box. That is the measurement of success. Cheers!

  36. Amy Fellner Dominy

    Thanks for sharing this! As authors, I think we often strive for honesty in our writing–except when it comes to our writing lives. 🙂 I started at the opposite end of the spectrum with no bells and whistles. It was easy to complain about that, to think "if only." But I decided that all the energy wasted on that thinking is energy I could be using to improve my craft, to write a new story, to control that which I can control–the words I write on the page. Someday, maybe I'll have bells and whistles or maybe I won't. But I'll remember your post and keep those things in perspective. It seems like Learning Years are going to be part of the writing life. I hope yours leads to a soul-satisfying 2014.

    1. Amy, I love that – a soul-satisfying 2014. That is a great wish! Thank you. I suspect we'll all have to remind ourselves sometimes that it comes back to the words on the page, the practice of writing. It's something to learn and relearn. Such is the nature of writing and publishing – it's so easy to get caught up in everything else! But I hope you have a joyful 2014 too. Happy writing!

  37. Thank you thank you thank you. My second book pubs in Feb. My first pubbed in 2011 and fizzled out with sales so low there never was a paperback. Friends/family still ask why Oprah hasn't been in touch. I tell them I'm pretty much grateful that I ever got book 2 into the pipeline at all. What I've come to realize is that writing, for me, is intellectually challenging, emotionally humbling and inexplicably necessary. Beyond those bits of knowledge, all I am certain of is how much I need to let go.

    1. Stasia! I'm so glad you have another book coming out, bc I read AUDITION in 2011 and really enjoyed it. And this – "intellectually challenging, emotionally humbling, and inexplicably necessary" – describes my relationship with writing to. I can't imagine giving it up, so it must be worth it – but that doesn't mean there aren't hard moments. *hugs*

    1. Thanks so much for reading & sharing this, Sarah! I'm so glad you connected with it (though, you know, sorry that you have been in the same place, bc that place is hard). I was really nervous to publish this, but the response has been tremendous. I've gotten so many comments, tweets, FB messages, and private emails from writers at every stage. It has really indicated to me that we need more openness about the ups AND downs, the successes AND struggles, of writing/pubishing. This place we're in is terribly common, but almost no one speaks of it publicly, and that makes it so much harder and lonelier than it needs to be.

  38. Oh, Jessica, my friend and fellow Apocalypsie. I thank you for your honesty and vulnerability and bravery in this post. I feel these feels. A similar thing happened to me, which is why I did Double Life on my own, very similar trajectory. Everything you said struck a nerve and a truth. And even before my recent series, I was with a house that folded and owes me thousands I’ll never see, so my learning years in publishing have been rough across the board with every series I’ve published, but through persistence and staying in the game, those first books, I am lucky enough to say, are getting another chance. Though I had to fight back a thousand moments of ‘screw this I quit’. That feeling of deep personal failure – so few of us talk about it but nearly all of us who are writers have lived in in one book or another or countless and only those of us who aren’t too discouraged to carry on can look at all we’ve accomplished from the top of an oft eviscerating mountain of self-doubt and say “I am still here and my work does matter”. It matters for all those reasons you said. For the lives we change or even just touch down in and move, even momentarily. It isn’t as much about what is done to us as what we can do for others, if I focus on readers and not on the business – screw the numbers, if we insist we are vital and our stories reflect that insistence, then we transcend. Learning years are every year, and let us be honest and caring for one another along the way, and let us always write even to just reach one reader. Because affecting even just one life is the only number that matters.

    1. Leanna, thank you for your beautiful, thoughtful comment! I'm glad that my post resonated with you – but also sorry, bc I know it's a hard thing to go through. I hope you are super proud of yourself for your perseverance, that you haven't let those disappointments stop you from writing or figuring out how to get your work into readers' hands. "I am still here and my work does matter" – I love that mantra. And you're right – it's all about the special connection between reader and writer, and between fellow writers – that's what's most important. <3

  39. Suzanne

    This post is awesome. Pretty much covers all my anxieties–and then how to conquer them and get back to work. Thank you for sharing the truth.

  40. Wow. Thank you for reminding me why I love doing this. Thank you for your honesty. I'm new to the deep end of the pool, and I've been feeling churned and pulled in a million different directions while struggling to find my feet. I'm printing this out and posting it near my desk. Have I said thank you? Thank you!

    1. Annie, I love that poem! Especially this bit: "Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken/ And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools" (feels a bit dramatic, perhaps, but it still resonates with me). Thanks for sharing it! Also, have I told you lately how much I can't wait to read LADY THIEF? The e-galley is burning a hole in my Kindle.

  41. Michelle

    I hope many, many authors read this post, as it is an honest representation of the publishing "process." May you continue to bless us readers with your words and receive blessings, in return. Happy New Year!

  42. maccrowne

    Oh my. Though I've not experienced the 'big" rollout all the rest is so painfully familiar. Reading the thoughts of my heart, I found myself sniffling and wishing I could give you a hug. Please know you're not alone and though your friends and family can't possibly understand, there are many of us who can and do. Thanks for sharing.

    1. *hugs back* Thank you so much for the good wishes. I am lucky to have a husband who's also a writer, so he gets it – though it's a bit different with playwriting, where the aim is production, not publication. In any case, I do feel very lucky for my kindred spirit writing friends, who sympathize with all the ups AND downs of this creative life!

  43. mvfreeman

    Thank you.

    I needed to read this. Had to read this. Made me cry and also cheer–because you are writing.

    Keep writing–because I'm printing this out and I'm going to keep writing.

    again, thank you.

  44. I wrote a book during NaNoWriMo this month and I have been sitting on it, not starting revisions because I just don't know if I really want to make that jump, you know?

    Publishing is so hard. As a writer you have to open yourself up to all of these emotions so you can channel them into a story, but when you are dealing with the cold, hard business side of things, it's better not to have any feelings, at all.

    What you said in the last paragraph is so true. I think that I will go ahead and revise that book, and I'll probably never do anything with it after that, but maybe it will be something that I love and enjoy, and there is value in that. Thanks for the reminder.

    For what it's worth, you are an amazing writer. I read 234 books this year and Star Cursed still floats to the top of my memory when I think of the books that stayed with me, and I know I'm not the only one who feels that way! xoxo

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words about SC, Kate. That makes me really happy. I appreciate you and all your support so much. <3

      You know, I actually enjoy revision more than drafting. If you're willing to really do the (often brain-breaking) work of it, it can be incredibly satisfying to see a better story emerge, to feel like you're a little closer to that lovely original spark of an idea. Regardless of what you decide to do with it, if you find that you enjoy it, there is DEFINITELY value in that. Good luck!

  45. Wonderful, Jessica. You said aloud what so many of us have thought! I've been struggling with even continuing to write because of my husband who has decided it's a waste of my time even though I am beginning to get things published and have worked hard at this for a long time!

    1. Oh, I'm sorry to hear that your husband isn't more supportive. I hope you will continue writing, and not let his lack of faith get you down. Even if you weren't beginning to get published, doing something you love is NEVER a waste of time!

  46. Lyn M

    Thank you for sharing your experience with such honesty, Jessica. I had a Learning Year too–after experiencing unexpected success (more in recognition than in sales, but it was a niche historical novel) with a small press, I ended up at the bottom of the midlist of a Big Five publisher. I didn't get the "bells and whistles" rollout, reviews were disappointing, and the publisher turned down my next book. I've decided that in 2014 I'm going to pick up the pieces of my writing career by devoting myself to my blog and developing non-traditional ways to get my creative work out there. Since I have to go back to work, I've also decided to look for a low-level job that I won't have to think about when I walk out the door, so I can keep developing my craft and mine my experience of failure and lessons learned for my next book.

  47. Loved this because I KNOW this…maybe one day out of every month. The rest of them are spent feeling like I’m failing. Part of the process? 🙂 Thanks for expressing it eloquently, so I could flip my demons the bird today!

    1. Amanda, thanks for making me smile with your comment! I'm so glad my post helped you flip off your demons. 😉 I suspect this is something we all have to do, to learn and relearn, throughout our careers!

  48. This is one of the most incredible things I've read in a long time! Thank you for finding the courage to strip yourself bare and share with the world. As someone that is still in the editing process I love the reminder of why I started writing in the first place. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for reading, Niko! I was nervous about posting it, but the response has been incredible. I think we all need to be reminded, over and over again, at every stage of the game. Good luck!

  49. Thank you for your honesty and candor. "It’s easy to go from your sales are not good enough (What would be good enough? You do not actually know) to your writing is not good enough to you are not good enough." Yes, yes, yes. Been there, time and time again. Keep writing!! No matter what happens with your books and your sales, you are always good enough.

    1. Thanks for reading, Pam, and for your kind reassurances! I suspect these moments of disappointment and self-doubt will happen again over our careers – such is the nature of the beast – but I am going to keep telling myself that. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Christine! I think it IS more common than we think – people just don't talk openly about their struggles as often as their successes, which can give everyone a skewed perspective!

  50. Thank you for your honesty and bravery. Your post and all the comments and discussion help me to feel less alone on my writing journey. No one should ever feel that their words don’t matter.

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  53. Oh, gosh, Jessica, I truly needed this today! THANK YOU, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for sharing this. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for being an inspiration. My YA book with Harper isn't even out for 10 more months, but my head has totally NOT been in the right place lately for writing Book 2 & 3 of the trilogy. Book 2 due in three months and I have NO WORDS yet. The business and social media burn-out has taken over my life and I've lost the joy of the WRITING and the love of my characters and story. Blessings and Love to you! xoxo

    1. Kimberley, I'm so glad the post resonated with you! The business & social media stuff can be like a creeping plague, can't it? We think we're fine until we're really really not. I'm wishing you lots of joyful writing in 2014!

      1. Thank you so much, sweet Jessica! Recently downloaded your books to my Kindle – yay! Been reading more on my Kindle because I have books all OVER the place, on the floors, spilling out of everywhere. I want a room just for a personal library . . . still dreaming that dream. 🙂 Good luck to you, too. I'm learning after decades of writing and trying to get a grip on how this whole business works (which just keeps changing so good luck with that!) that despite the ups and down we just have to keep writing and producing books and getting a body of work for readers to find us. It can be really slow though, huh? One of my goals for 2014 is to have more FUN with my writing.

        1. Kimberley, I think having more FUN with your writing is an awesome goal. I've been thinking of putting up a little bulletin board with various inspiring pictures & quotes, and I think one of them would just be the word PLAY.

          Thanks for buying my books! I hope you enjoy!

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  59. Sarvenaz Tash

    This, Jessica: "The thought that you are not good enough at your dream is like all your worst fears crawling out from under your bed and chewing on you in the dark." It's perfectly said and beautiful and it means the world to me to read it and feel not alone. XO

  60. lovingrob

    <3 Hugs. You are amazing Jessica. Thank you so so much for sharing your thoughts about this. I will very soon be reading your books, and when I do, I will be sure to talk about my love for them. <3 (Which I always do when I love books, hih)
    Love, Carina Olsen

  61. This is such a wonderful and brave and real post. This was definitely how I was feeling a little in 2012. This past year I had to do a lot of reminding myself to focus on the things that I can control.

    I love your books so much and I can't wait for the end of the trilogy and anything you write after that. Here's to a wonderful 2014!

    1. Thanks so much, Liz! For the kind words about my books – that means a lot! – and about the post. I was really nervous to write it, but I'm so glad I did. I feel much lighter now that I've shared my innards with the internets, and I think it helped a lot of people feel less alone. It's hard, bc you never want to seem ungrateful, but this has definitely made me want to be more open about the challenges of the writing life.

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  63. Lili


    I've been trying to figure out a way to put my thoughts into words in regards to this post. You KNOW that you are my favorite witchy author ever and I'm in a never-ending war with your publisher because they refuse to send me ARCs of your books and I always have to stalk your giveaways for one. I got SUPER lucky with STAR CURSED and then immediately pushed it on four friends when I was done. But that's beside the point. The point is that in my mind, you're one of my number one favorites. I just think you need to hear that, though I hope you know that by now.

    I love you and your characters. I'm your facebook friend and fan and I will forever be invested in your work. Again, just want you to know that.

    Like you, this year has been a learning year for me. My expectations weren't for sales, but for college. And, like you, I find myself being disappointed. I'm convinced my roommate may have some witchy powers she secretly uses to ruin my life and send my emotions into a whirlwind, but I'm going in 2014 with hope, like you. Though our struggles are not the same, know you're not alone. And know that as silly as it seems, this loyal reader will always be there for you. (And silently dreaming about FINALLY convincing the pub to get an ARC of book 3 😉 )

    – Lili

    P.S. Get back to NYC! I want to see you again! <3

    1. Lili! You are so amazingly sweet. Thank you for taking the time to write this comment, and for all the kind thoughts. I am so happy that you loved BW and SC.

      I'm sorry this year has been hard for you. I hope you and your roommate work things out – or that you can find a way not to let her ruin your spring, and then you can escape her!

      I'm definitely going to be in NYC in mid-March for the NYC Teen Author Fest! I hope I'll get to see you then!

  64. I've been published since 1999. I've had successes, but I've also had three times where I worried my career in publishing was over. I was on tour for my third book when I was told my second hadn't sold enough, that they had expected it to have double the sales of the first (which was the first I had heard of this) and while it had sold 40% more, that wasn't enough. It was so hard to go to events and have people ask me "What's next?" and for me to not feel ashamed.

    Still, you can rise up over and over. I have done it. (It usually takes a new publisher.) You have to start with the joy. of writing.

    I wrote this blog post in 2006:

  65. Beautiful post. One night in October, about two weeks after my book (a debut YA) came out, I had a dream that I can't remember, but I do know I woke up with one very clear, urgent thought in my head: Numbers don't matter, people do. I was pretty certain it had to do with my obsessive checking of my Amazon rankings. I can't say I don't still check them (a lot) but I do try to keep in mind that it is the individual reader–that person who reads your book and loves it so much she can't put it down–that matters. Screw the numbers.

  66. lynnematson


    THIS POST. Thank you for your honesty, Jessica. <333333333 *clings to it*

    FWIW, BORN WICKED was one of my favorite books of last year. The series is SO GOOD, and I can't wait to see what wonderful characters you share with us next! 🙂 hugs

  67. You're so brave and honest and endearing! I loved this post because as an aspiring author I ride the roller coaster of confidence daily. But you're right. We need to remind ourselves that it's about the process and enjoying the ride. Thanks for sharing.

  68. Jessica, I am a published author who had a "learning year" as well. My disappointment in a recent project is fresh and this has brought me comfort. For that, I thank you. It is also insight to our sometimes crazed moods and overall lifestyle, making this something that I want to share with others who don't quite understand. Thank you. Pen on!

    1. I'm sorry about your recent disappointment – but I hope the number of comments here shows you that you are in excellent company. Ups and downs are part of the business, even when they feel heartbreaking. *hugs* I'm glad the post helped. It is hard for non-writers to understand, I think. I didn't realize how alone I felt in this until all the support came swooping in from this post!

  69. Thank you so much for putting into (eloquent) words what I’ve been dealing with for most of this year. I’m in the same boat… My YA debut earned me a significant advance and the publisher was just SO excited and had very high hopes for my book. My agent sent me updates on the possible sale of film rights. Then came publication day, and I went from bookstore to bookstore, visiting my baby on the shelves. So exciting. And then… Zzzzzzz

    The reviews were good, the response from readers was good, yet the sales numbers were (and still are) very low. The paperback comes out in a few months, but I’m not really expecting a big spike in sales or anything.

    It’s hard to have much confidence in anything I write now, but as you said in your post (sort of) writers write because we can’t NOT write, so off I go to my pile of notebooks and my laptop to type away, and hopefully I’ll remember your post when I forget who I’m really writing these books for…

    1. Oh, *hugs*, Shandy! I'm sorry you've been struggling with this too. It is HARD. But yes – if you can't quit, then the only thing to do is go onwards, right? That's how I feel. I can't imagine doing anything else, so I've got to figure out how to do THIS in a way that isn't so hard on my spirit. I suspect it's something I'll have to remind myself of too, learn and relearn, over the course of my career. But that's what I'm telling myself now – I'm in this for a long career, and that will necessarily have ups and downs. Good luck – I hope 2014 brings you a lot of joyful writing!

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  71. raodum

    Great post! I am so glad I found your blog! I'm a new author myself–indie author–and recently released my first book. I loved how open and honest you are. It's hard to look at social media and not think about the fact that my book isn't number one on amazon. But I write because I can't not write, like you said. If I sell ten copies, great, if I sell a thousand, great. I don't look at it as sales and money, I look at it as how many people will be inspired by my book. I write to inspire and that's it! I don't write for money or fame. Anyway, very good post!

    1. I'm so glad the post helped, Rebecca! I think you're right – it's so easy to look at social media and compare. But remember – only one person gets to be #1, you know? And the rest of us are still writing and still reaching readers who are entertained by our books and that is okay. 🙂

  72. Oh, Jessica, thank you for your honesty. This is something we forget as aspiring authors, maybe because no one really talks about it. But you should know that you're a fantastic writer, regardless of sales. I love your books and would be so sad if you stopped writing. I hope in 2014 you find a way to kick those self-hate thoughts from your mind and really enjoy the act of writing. ((hugs))

    1. Thanks so much, Tracey! I really appreciate that. I'm so glad you've enjoyed the books. And don't worry – I have no intention of quitting! I don't know what I'd do with myself. 🙂

      I do think it's important to be honest about the ups and downs. I'm going to try to continue doing that. 🙂

  73. I really appreciate you sharing this. I am working on a new novel, but my first novel got published by a publisher so small there is barely a catalog, let alone marketing. My first book was a mid-sized publisher where I at least had a publicist. It was nothing like the support you received for BORN WICKED, but it was something. Then when even that went away — 2013 was a hard year for me, too, expectation-wise. My husband keeps telling me writing the book was my job and I can't control the exposure it gets after that, and I know that is true — whether or not it is able to break out of the echo chamber of who knows about me is really luck or chance considering I have no money to market it. But it's so hard when people ask. I never know what to say. So I talk about my next book, and I am focusing on my next book and the writing of that book.

    All we can do, I think, is keep writing better sentences for ourselves.

    1. Rita! *hugs* It is hard to know your book isn't reaching as many readers as you want and feel kind of powerless to fix it. I feel that way too. But you (and your husband) are right: our job is to write the words — and do whatever we can manage promotion-wise without taking away from the writing, I guess. But the next book should always be the focus. Good luck!

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