Going into the holidays some are worse than others: family dynamics, general stress, you know, the usual. This year seemed relatively low-key but I had this strange lingering sense that something was just a little off, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The day before Christmas I was out doing a last-minute gift run when I saw a friend’s book in the bookstore. It wasn’t officially due out until next month so I was surprised and happy for him. I proceeded to talk the book up with the store owner (who obviously had the good taste to order it in) and someone overheard me talking about the book and added it to their purchases.
That felt awesome.
In the course of small talk we caught up a bit on how my year was winding up and, no, I still haven’t found an agent yet. But I’m still plugging along, writing something new, got myself a critique group. I left feeling a bit unsettled but I didn’t really connect it at first. Then, while sitting around having a family meal today it hit me: I graduated 11 months ago and am as unpublished as the day I was born.
And that felt horrible.
It felt horrible for about an hour until I realized that unless I actually had a newly released book in the stores it would always feel this way; that a writer is only a writer in other people’s eyes when there is a new book out. Otherwise, “when is your next book coming out?” is no different that “when do you think you’ll find a new job?” In Hollywood the old saying is that “You’re only as good as your last film” which means how well your film grossed and how long ago that was. For writers, because their books are perceived as sitting on the shelves forever, you really are only as good as your next book, because without a deal in the works a writer is essentially unemployed.
That line of thinking not only felt horrible but also somewhat liberating, because it meant every writer, no matter how famous, was unemployed. Unless they are working off a multi-book deal or under deadline on a contract, all writers are essentially “at will” in the market. The best any of us can do at the holiday table when asked about our work is speak about our future hopes in publishing.
New year coming, a new basket in which to gently place the eggs of future hopes. Let 2010 end on a note of comfort that at any given time most writers are in the same boat. I’m looking to paddle harder and faster and make 2011 be the year I prove myself employable.
As a writer.