When I sold my first book, I thought my future as a writer was made. Then, six months before pub date, my editor changed houses. There was no one to champion my book in-house. And when my release date rolled around, the publisher was also releasing a book by O.J.'s girlfriend, for which it had paid a million dollars. Guess which book got the advertising budget? I was a nervous wreck. If only I'd known how to handle this turn of events.
Now I've written a book on happiness, and have some tips for other authors about staying sane while you're going through the publishing process. As a therapist, I've had several editors and even a publisher as clients and picked up a lot of useful gossip about the trade. That's why I know that selling a book proposal is only the start of the roller-coaster ride. One day you'll hear that the rights in Serbia have been sold for $1,500, and you'll feel great all day. The next day you'll learn your editor has resigned, and your heart will sink.
It's a challenge for anyone, not just authors, to maintain happiness. Humans are wired to be able to feel good when good things happen, but the feeling never lasts. Your brain doesn't care if you're happy or not; its goal is to put you at a reproductive advantage. So it will have you chasing material success and attractive partners—leading to immediate but not lasting pleasure. If you want lasting happiness as an author, you have to outsmart your brain.
Stay in Control
If you want to be happy, it helps to feel like you have some control over your life. That's one of the lessons of POW camps. The prisoners who survived were those who focused on what they could control: keeping themselves clean, nourished and fit, and helping others. Authors have a lot in common with those men and women. Once you've turned the final revisions in, there's a long period when things are happening that will affect the future of your book, but you're not in control. Anything can happen. Your editor is fired. Your publisher gets bought. The marketing director is feuding with your editor. You hate the cover. You go through three publicists. You're at the mercy of the fates, so you'd better focus on what you can control. Write well, and be proud of that, no matter what. Chances are your book won't sell as much as you want it to, but don't let that ruin your life.
Don't Be Money Hungry
I confess I've often fallen into the trap so many authors do, of judging achievement in materialistic terms. You want those big royalties and you forget that initial joy you felt at knowing you'll be in the Library of Congress. We believe we'll be happy if we get what we want. In fact, behavioral economists have shown that when we get what we want, we'll just want something else. We have a constant “I want” down deep in our souls, but in today's world, with our basic needs taken care of, we don't know what else we want. Enter materialism, a shiny, attractive dead end. You need to find more substantial goals, like getting to work on the next book.
Know How to Handle Too Much Information
It used to be that authors were in the dark about sales figures, except for occasional statements from publishers. Now we have instant feedback, thanks to Amazon, and too many of us check too often to see how we're doing. And then there are those reader comments. Can you imagine Edgar Allan Poe reacting to what some guy in Keokuk, Iowa, had to say about “The Raven”? He would have flamed out in rage way before his time. And Fitzgerald would never have survived to write The Great Gatsby.
Here's my favorite tip: When you go to bed at night, think of three good things that happened during the day. Little things, like a good grilled cheese sandwich, or bigger things, like how you love someone. Maybe you wrote a great paragraph or learned an interesting fact. Research shows that if you do this, not only will you be in a better mood the next day, but the more often you do this, the happier you'll be. Remember that we have to work at happiness, but the work itself can be a joy.
|St. Martin's will publish Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy in November.|