|The apple tree at our old house. It only produced |
fruit every two years, but when it did, it was a
bumper crop. Of course, the tree was about thirty
or so years old, so it had plenty of time to mature.
But today, as I was having coffee with a friend who was discouraged about how her book is doing in terms of sales, I remembered my own discouragement just a few months ago. Like her, I was disappointed in my numbers. I had not yet earned out my advance. And when I had a few friends share their numbers to try to encourage me, I only felt worse, because my numbers weren't as high. I've heard enough numbers over the years to know that it's all relative. Compared to many authors, I have amazing numbers that they'd kill to have. Other authors would look at my numbers and wonder why I'm wasting my time. I checked with both my editor and agent, and they agreed that my numbers were fine. Fast forward a few more months, and there was a royalty check in my mailbox. I DID earn out my advance, and my numbers were starting to look closer to my comparison numbers.
And here's the point I made to my friend today: sometimes you just have to wait it out until the numbers come.I realized, based on talking with friends and hearing my agent speak on this topic for a while, that I was freaking out over numbers when I simply hadn't gone through the process long enough. No one plants a seed for an apple tree and expects it to be producing apples the very next day. But that's often how we view success. The seed is planted, so where is our fruit? Or we see the seed start to sprout, and we're disappointed because it hasn't grown very big. And when it finally starts producing fruit, we're mad because it only bears a few scraggly apples that first year.
If any of us heard a gardener whine about those circumstances with their apple trees, what would we say? Probably something along the lines of, "just give it time." But when people tell us as writers that same thing, we get mad. And yes, I'm guilty of that very thing. Fortunately, I didn't do what a lot of writers do and quit. I dug my heels in and continued working, continued tilling the soil, planting the seeds, and doing all the stuff I'm supposed to do as a writer.
Which led to a really cool thing that happened a couple of weeks ago. I went to the bank and deposited my latest advance check. The teller comes over the drive through speaker and says, "are you an author," in a revered tone. I say yes, and her response kind of knocked me for a loop. She said, "Wow! That's amazing! You must be doing really well for such a big check from a publisher."
To me, it wasn't that big of a check. Add a few more zeroes to that puppy and then I will be in awe of my big check. But you know, a few years ago, I would have done anything for that check. To a lot of my author friends, that IS a lot of money. Then there are the author friends who would never work for so little. It's all relative. And that's why you have to sit where you're at, accepting of your own journey, grateful for where your journey has brought you, and understand the idea of infinite patience. I have no doubt that one day, I will have the kind of income that impresses both me and the bank teller.
Here's the secret, and how you DO end up getting the big checks:Not one of my author friends woke up one morning, banged out a book, and got handed a ginormous check their first time out of the gate. I imagine maybe there might be a few rare folks that's happened to, but for the rest of us, the way it happens is that you get up, you write, then you write some more. And you keep doing that until you have a sale-able book. Some people can do it in months, others take years, and still others (like me) wonder if it's EVER going to happen. Then you get your book out there, and you keep doing the work. You keep believing, and you keep trusting, and you surround yourself with people who believe in you and who can see a little bit farther than you can, and you keep going.
When stuff gets hard, and the numbers don't seem to add up the way you think they're supposed to, keep going. When your friends whine about how bad the industry is, or that things aren't fair, or that it didn't used to be this hard, keep going. (And maybe get new friends!) Because one day, you're going to pull up at the bank, and you're going to deposit a check, and the teller is going to be amazed that a real live writer who makes real money is there. And I don't know the teller's story, but I'd like to think that because she saw what she thought was a really big check from a publisher, that she now believes that something that seems almost impossible can come true. Maybe she's got her own writing dreams but someone told her that she'd never make a dime doing it, so she never pursued them. Or maybe she's trying to write a book and seeing my check gave her hope that she can do it too. Who knows?
What I learned is that in all the time I was frustrated over not being where I needed to be is that I was exactly where I needed to be at the time. Like the apple tree (and I'm still just a seedling, trust me), I needed that time to grow and develop. The apples were coming (and woo hoo, am I looking forward to the day when my branches are overloaded with fruit), I just couldn't see them yet.
I went through some old files today and I found a synopsis written by a friend who is no longer writing. I wanted to cry, because it was SO good. But because her tree didn't get apples fast enough, she quit watering it, quit fertilizing it, and that little tree has gone dormant. She published a book, way before I ever sold, and that's been it. I wonder, if she'd just kept writing, how much fruit would be on her tree today.
Going back to the idea of infinite patience creating immediate results, I've realized that part of the infinite patience is the not giving up. People see the trees bursting with fruit, but the don't realize that those results didn't happen overnight. We think they did, but few of us were watching when that seed was planted, watered, fertilized, and coaxed to life over time.
Even if your dream isn't to be an author, there's something out there that you dream of doing. Granted, it's not going to happen if you just sit around, hoping, but doing nothing to move in that direction, but it you do the work, and just keep moving forward, it will happen. I don't know when, and there isn't a magic formula for how to figure it out. You just have to keep moving, keep believing, keep trying, and it will come.