Friday, June 3, 2016

Why publishing is a lot like dating

I have been wondering how to write this post for nearly six months. In case you're wondering why ye olde blog has been super pathetic lately, that is mainly why.

A long time ago, I wrote a cryptic post that suggested I had good news. April 2013, in fact. And at the time, I thought it really was good news.

We'll circle back to that in a second.

I met my husband, Gentleman Caller as he's known on these here interwebs, when I was thirty years old. That's not too old for life, but it's ancient for Mormonlife. Before I met Gentleman Caller, I went on a lot of dates. Like, a lot. I did the internet dating thing. I did the blind dating thing. I dated guys who were not right for me, and for whom I wasn't right. 

That doesn't make them bad guys. (Well, most of them weren't bad guys. I did accidentally go out with a drug dealer once. Whoops!) It just means that none of them were the right guy for me.

And then one day, I went to a friend's birthday party, and there was Gentleman Caller. And that pretty much was that.

I know some people will tell you, don't hold out for perfection. And that's good advice, because no one is perfect. But I do think you should hold out for perfect for you. Because when I think back to the relationships I tried to make work ... even though they were nice relationships at the time ... the fact was, I was sort of kidding myself.

I just didn't know it at the time.

Back to my aforementioned good news. In April 2013, I got an offer on a book I wrote from a small publisher that I really admired. The book was an LDS-themed romantic comedy--the sort of books I grew up reading from different local publishers here in Utah. I'd always dreamed of contributing to this particular niche market, writing something that Teenage Me would have liked to read. When I sat down to write this book in particular, I just had a few goals. Make it funny. Don't let it get preachy or cheesy. Hope for the best.

So when I got that email saying they had picked my book, I shut my office door and did a literal happy dance.

I called my dad. I called my best friends. I called my sister. I went out for sushi that night to celebrate.

I thought I had made it. After years of writing and trying and failing, one of my dream publishers had said, "Yes, we want you!"

Except, you've probably already figured out, it did not work out.

Here's the thing that I want to make clear. That publisher? They were not right for me. At all. Which was bitterly disappointing, because there are so many things I liked about them. But just like boyfriends of yore, there were too many dealbreakers.

That doesn't mean that publisher wouldn't be a good boyfriend to a different author. In fact, I know people who are currently very happy to be with that publisher! It just meant that they'd be terrible for me. And over the two-and-a-half years I tried to make it work with that publisher, it became increasingly obvious that we wanted very different things. Irreconcilably different things.

Without getting into the gory details, I agonized over that decision.* For over a literal year. I wanted to be published so badly, and even more than that, I wanted to be published by this publisher.

But like in any bad relationship, there came a moment where it was made perfectly clear to me that this was not going to work. And even though it was still sad, after that, it was also a relief to write to them and say that I was pulling my manuscript.

Much like you don't need to find a perfect person to be the perfect partner for you, I don't need a perfect publisher. But I do need one that is perfect for me. 

And when April 2016 came and went, three years from that original acceptance, I thought about my book that I still love, that I've subsequently paid to have professionally edited in case I want to self-publish it. And I thought about disappointment.

I'm sad that I spent so much time and mental energy on that relationship. I'm sad that I won't see that book sitting on shelves in local bookstores in my hometown, waiting for a teenage girl like my former self. I'm sad I have four other ideas for LDS-themed romantic comedies that I'm not even sure if I should start, because even though I want to jump into the self-publishing world, there are a lot of things to consider.

But I haven't had any doubts. Sadness and confidence are not mutually exclusive feelings.

Here's the thing about publishing and dating. If you had asked me, the day before I met Gentleman Caller, if it was better to be alone or in a bad relationship, I would have said "alone" with confidence. And that's true, even if I'd never met Gentleman Caller. I would have been sad, but I would have been right.

Here's the more important thing. Now that I'm married to Gentleman Caller? I can't even really remember the sadness over those other relationships, those disappointing first dates, the guys who didn't call. I mean, I remember that I was sad, but it's sort of, "Oh yeah, that was sad" sort of recollection. Because when you're in the right relationship, when you're pretty much happy every single day, do you even care about the relationships that didn't pan out? Not really.

So even if I never find a publisher who wants a book of mine, the decision to pass on that one opportunity was the right decision. And it will be sad, if I never get published. But it won't change the fact that it's better to not get published, than get published and regret it.

And it definitely won't change the fact that if I do find the right publisher someday, I'll be incandescently happy.

And I'll look back at that other opportunity and think, "Oh yeah. That was sad."

* Edited to add: I really have to give mad props to my agent, Maria Vicente, for helping to clarify a lot of these issues in my mind. She's the best! I can't believe I left her out of the first draft of this post. 

Folks, I'm an attorney, so (again leaving out the gory details) I recognized some problems and tried to offer solutions on my own. Even still, I didn't see everything I should have seen. Seek the advice publishing professionals when making a decision that could affect your entire career!

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