Guest Author Heather Demetrios: Publishing Confessional
Publishing a book and seeing it in a bookstore isn’t enough for me.
If you’re a writer, I doubt it is for you either. Unless, of course, you are a Zen master. Then, maybe publishing a book is enough for you.
I’m no Zen master.
My best friend says I’m a Wall Street hustler wrapped in Brooklyn earth-friendly packaging. And I think she’s right. I’m an artist through and through, but I’m an ambitious artist, so in between communing with my muses and going on vision quests with my characters, I’ve got one eye on the market. Outside: a Cali girl peacefully writing her books. Inside: Alec Baldwin shouting ALWAYS BE CLOSING!
What can I say? World domination has always been the goal. Or something equally sexy. I always said if I couldn’t be a writer, then I’d either want to be a spy or the leader of a small country. Since the writing gig is working out so far, I’ll have to be satisfied with writing a spy novel someday. But I’m still holding out for ruling that small country. Which is to say: I’m a very go-big-or-go-home kinda gal. Your run-of-the-mill Capricorn. I’m Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: “Are you crying?! There’s no crying in baseball!”
I like that this business is tough, but it can certainly wear you down, all that wanting. A lot of writers I talk to are weary of the hustle, myself included. Here’s the thing: I thought — I mean I really really thought — that having my book published would truly be enough. I even remember making bargains with God in which I said, No, but really, if you can let me publish ONE book, I can die happy. Just, you know, hold off on the lightning bolts until then.
But my first book, Something Real, came out and by then, I was already focused on the next book (Exquisite Captive), and the next, I’ll Meet You There. In my debut year, I had two books come out—one a contemporary and one the first in a fantasy trilogy — and I got my MFA.
Did I feel like a boss? Nope. Do you see a shiny gold or silver award sticker on my covers? No? Well, then. Time to roll up my sleeves. Listen: I wanted gold stars in elementary school and I want them just as badly now. To me, anything less than being the very best is a kind of failure. (Yes, I know this is all very subjective and your value can’t be placed in these things, etc. etc. I know. And yet.).
Roll your eyes if you must. I sound entitled and maybe a little ridiculous (Hello?! Children are starving in Africa. Hello?! You quit your day job — you are living the dream, so SHUT.UP.). I get it. I swear, I do. But this is just how I’m made. It’s what gave me the drive and hubris to think I could write something that thousands of people would read. (The little dictator voice in me says, Thousands, but not millions. Get back to work, girlie!).
There may be some authors out there who aren’t ambitious beyond simply having their work in print. Maybe they don’t want to write the great American novel and win the Printz and National Book Award and be on the New York Times Bestseller List and make a gajillion dollars and own a vacation home in Spain. Or maybe they have different, healthy ambitions. Maybe they have perspective and their priorities in order and a life. Or maybe they are wonderfully well-adjusted people and don’t think those things are important. I, for one, haven’t met them, although I’m certain they exist (re: Zen masters). I generally hold the opinion that if a writer tells you awards and reviews and lists and advances don’t matter all that much to them, then they are either a)lying b) feigning modesty (modesty is for the birds, I say!) c) feel guilty or entitled or gross about wanting accolades or d) in that stage where they’ve yet to publish and really, truly think they’ll be happy if they see their book in a bookstore. Or, possibly, they are e) a Zen master.
I think I suspected that I was a girl who would be perpetually dissatisfied despite the fact that I know that no matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished, there’s always gonna be someone smarter, prettier, more talented, richer, etc. And yet, I can’t help by think dissatisfaction has been my best friend. Yes, Dissatisfaction is a total buzz kill. Yes, I really can’t take Dissatisfaction anywhere — she’s miserable at parties, a real Negative Nelly. And yet, Dissatisfaction has done right by me. It’s how I got to this point and how’ll I’ll make it to and over the next hurdle, whatever that is.
This is my publishing confessional, then — it’s never going to be enough. There’s freedom in knowing that and there’s a certain sullied honor in chasing windmills, anyway.