Monday, August 22, 2011

The screwy evolution of author fears

It wasn’t long ago I spent an inordinate amount of time hating my mailman.

OK, I didn’t actually hate him. I hated the sight of him.

Those were the days when a lot of agent queries happened via snail. Each time I saw that battered mail truck creeping along my street, I had a sick feeling he was bringing another rejection. While my natural optimism had me picturing sunshine and rainbows and good news most of the time, there were still days I wanted to shoot out the tires of that truck with a dart gun.

Those days passed after I got an agent, but a new set of fears arrived after that. When we began submitting my work to editors, I got nervous each time I saw my agent’s name in my inbox or on my caller ID. It was still a fear of rejection, but a different sort. I fretted that each time an editor said, “no thanks,” it pushed my agent that much closer to wondering what drugs she’d been taking when she signed me, and whether she could acquire enough to endure the misfortune of keeping a dead-weight client around.

After the book deal came through, I began wondering what my next big fear would be. Bad reviews? Poor sales? A disturbing fungus contracted during a book signing at a nudist resort?

I actually hadn’t put words to my current fear until Friday afternoon when I was getting ready for an event at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. I mentioned to my agent that I was nervous, and she asked why.

She probably expected me to express a fear of public speaking or that no one would show up. I probably should have feared those things, given my foot-in-mouth tendencies and the fact that most people have better things to do on a Friday evening than drive to a bookstore to listen to an author yammer.

But what really bothered me was knowing I wouldn’t be able to spend quality time with the people who did show up.

Having survived a similar book signing event before, I already knew the difficulty of trying to connect with everyone. As much as I want to hug all the attendees until their eyes bug out, there just isn’t time (nor does everyone enjoy being mauled by strange authors).

I want to make eye contact with people when I’m reading or answering questions, but I get distracted and end up staring at the weird guy in the back row wearing a fedora and an apron.

I want to chat for hours with everyone who hands me a book to sign, but I can’t seem to pull it off. I’m not saying I’ve got giant lines of people winding halfway down the block, but even a handful of people can get bored and meander away if the author spends too much time gabbing with others about traffic and giant purple vibrators. When I see people leave the line, I panic. Do they hate me? Do they think I’m a snob?

Or more likely, did they mistakenly believe it was the line for free popsicles and now they’re forced to make a hasty exit before things get awkward?

When I was at RWA Nationals, an author pal with a fairly recent book deal was approached by another writer who wanted to go out for drinks. Exhausted and overcommitted, the author politely declined.

“So you think you’re too good to hang out with unpublished authors now?” the other writer snapped.

That story breaks my heart because I know with absolute certainty that’s not how the author was feeling. I know what it’s like to be exhausted to the point of delirium, and I know that’s the state she was in that evening.

But I also know how things can be perceived, and I hate the thought of people perceiving me that way. Am I a snob because I seldom respond to blog comments like I used to? Am I a bitch because I’ve dropped the ball on a handful of interview requests in recent weeks?

Er, don’t answer that. There’s seldom a right answer to a question that begins “am I a bitch?”

I am curious about the subject of fears. What was your biggest fear a few years ago? How has that changed today? How do you expect it to change in the future?

Please share!

I should probably go apologize to the mailman for the dart thing, huh?

17 comments :

Taymalin said...

Time is a precious commodity, spend it wisely. There will always be people who don't get it, and who take it personally (thus the hurt feelings resulting in angry responses). But they'll get over it.

You can't give all of your time to everyone. Don't worry about being a snob, or a bitch. You're not either of those things.

Malin said...

You need my tea mug. It says "You say I'm a bitch like it's a bad thing."

Seriously, I don't think you're a bitch for not answering blog comments etc. I understand why. But at the same time, I no longer leave comments because I've come to realise you no longer have the time to answer them. So I just read and enjoy the blog in silence nowadays. Unless I feel I have something really good to say.

lora96 said...

Honey if anyone calls you a bitch use the line I use during parent teacher conferences:

"You aren't even the first person to call me that SINCE LUNCH."

:D kinda takes the wind out of their sails.

Christi Goddard said...

I'm like Malin, I guess. I rarely leave comments these days since things have become too hectic for you to reply. I do pester you on Twitter on occasion, so that makes up for it. :-)

Maybe if you make an announcement before hand to people waiting. "I love you all. Please don't leave me just 'cause I'm really talkative." :-)

lynnrush said...

Wow, that is a tough one. I hadn't thought of that. The example you gave about the RWA thing...that made my heart hurt.

Thanks for this thoughtful post. It's got me thinking.

Sadie Hart said...

That story about the author/writer at the RWA is such a shame. That poor author. :(

As for fear... at the moment it's dreading seeing that email pop up in my inbox that will either me Yay or Nay. Right now it's hard to picture beyond that, but as you've so wonderfully laid out... the fears just keep changing.

Heck, I think our fears adapt faster than we do sometimes.

Tamara LeBlanc said...

Author fears is a subject I think all of us share. My fear is that I will sit down and write crap (I know alot of authors who swear they feel the same)
I'm also terrified of small spaces.
They don't really have much to do with one another, but they're both enough to keep my from either planting butt in chair or avoiding caves and elevators.
Regardless, they're still true fears. And we have to deal with them so that they won't take over our lives.
I do this by forcing myself to plant butt in chair everyday at 9a.m. and by taking the stairs:)
Your post was very funny! I can see why you're agent picked you up...so don't fear, just keep writing!
Have a great afternoon!!
Tamara

Robena Grant said...

You're juggling ten different hats these days and time is precious. Don't fret about answering emails and tweets and stuff like that, you'll get back to that when things cool off. And your readers and friends will understand that.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips came out to Sth. Cal last year and I noticed how she kept her booksigning, long, long line, to keep moving. She'd announced the signing at the end of her talk and said there would be a photo opp. She exchanged a few words as she signed the book, and then stood and asked if they wanted a photograph. That way when the photo was taken the person moved on SEP sat down and greeted the next person in line. Pretty smooth, huh?

jill said...

I loved your talk at Powells! And getting hugged by an author I'd just met made me feel all welcomed and everything.

My daughter and I were guilty of slinking off during the signing because you'd signed mine before your talk and we were afraid we'd look like the weird stalker fans if we sat to watch you signing everyone else's books.

I hope when I start querying again, I can keep up the "yay, I have another rejection!" response like I used to. Just getting a response was a relief: "time to stop worrying about that one. one to the next".

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

I'm afraid of spending much time outside. Since 2003 I've been living here and I've come to realize I'm allergic to a number of things - agribusiness chemicals, lawn chemicals - and they pretty much hang in the air year round here.
This is a definite change as I used to spend most of my free time outdoors.
I hear what you're saying but I don't feel like you're a bitch. I can pretty much tell that you're very busy doing what you need to do.
And I still admire you for that!

Shain Brown said...

This has come up with friends on multiple occasions and I like to use this comparison.

I started writing only a few years ago and at that time I felt like I was entering elementary school for the first time, petrified of my surroundings and scared I wouldn't know where to go. But with each year I continue to gain more experience, more knowledge, and more confidence. And because I have acquired these new tools and new experiences I am lucky enough to pass it along to others who shares the same goal.

So, yes our desires change, our fears change, and if we are lucky and work hard enough so do our goals.

Steph Schmidt said...

I failed my driving test the first time, so going past any DMV would bring up the nausea, racing heart and sweaty palms. No idea if the fear is gone yet but today (more like three hours ago) I passed my test! No more having to bother with them for three years (hopefully). Some day I hope to drive past a DMV without the sudden windfall of panic and physical discomfort.

Tawna Fenske said...

Taymalin, aww, thanks for the kind words. You're not a snob or a bitch, either. Wanna braid each other's hair?

Malin, I'm hopeful that once life settles down a bit after this nutty book release month, I might be able to get back to answering blog comments again. Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience!

lora96, tattooing that on my forearm now...

Christi, good idea about the announcement, I may try that!

lynnrush and Sadie, it made the author cry. Totally broke my heart.

Tamara, we ALL sit down and write crap. The trick is to eventually make it less crappy :)

Robena, that is a FABULOUS idea. I'm nowhere near Susan Elizabeth Phillips' level, but what a great way to handle things!

Jill, it was soooooooooo fabulous to meet you! Thanks for coming out Friday evening.

Judy, that must suck to have that many allergies. Ugh.

Shain, what a great comparison, thanks for sharing!

Steph, how often do you have to take the driving test? That's interesting.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Lisa Ahn said...

I don't know how you actually manage to do all that you do. (I think you've found a way to sneak extra hours into a day.) You really are remarkable, and you answer more emails, tweets, and blog comments than A LOT of other authors.

As for author fears, my latest is "Will this new puppy ever let me finish anything?". That could be lack of sleep though.

As for the mailman, I think they have tough skins. I wouldn't worry about the darts. Do you have any leftover that I could borrow? I'm about to start querying again . . .

Steph Schmidt said...

The actual driving test is usually once until you reach a certain age. Otherwise every 3-5 years the DMV will summon poor souls back to retake the written and prove they are still "safe" drivers.

Julie Glover said...

I guess we have fears/doubts at every level! My fears had been: Could I actually finish a novel? Would my book club hate my draft? Would my family think I was crazy? Now there are new thoughts, but those fears are past. I finished; book club loved it; my family thinks I'm doing what I should have done all along.

And no, of course you aren't a snob for being less than superhuman. Brilliant Author is a perfectly good title; Supergirl is already taken.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Don't get me started on fears *laughing!*

I do hate it when I have to say "no" now-- for a long time I tried to do it all, all the things I did before and all the new things piling on my head. Then, I noticed my deadline creeping up for the next book and I was running like the cliched chicken with its head - well, you know (and I've seen this horrid site - ungh - in person -ungh -in Tennessee)...not so good for wrting the next book(s).

We just do the best we can and 99.7% of us have the best of intentions and really do want to support others, talk to others, do whatever we can to be Out There, etc.

What's so funny/ironic about it is this: before we were published, some of these requests and "fears" and problems were things we dreamed about receiving/having! Ha! Life is so bizarre and wonderful :-D