Pub(lishing) Crawl: The Importance of “Letting It Go”

One piece of advice we’re all bound to get at some point or another in goes something like this:

Let it go. Sh** happens.

Typically this line is followed by a sympathetic shoulder pat or a helpless shrug (as if to say, “Sorry, dude, but there’s nothing I can do.”).

For a lot of us, “letting it go” is on the verge of impossible, and I think that writers (and publishing professionals in general) tend to be in that I-cannot-let-it-go group. Certainly there are some of us who can just go with the flow, but almost every writer I know is a complete and total control freak.

But here’s the thing, guys: if there’s one profession where you HAVE to learn to let things go, it’s publishing. Especially when you’re on the writer-end of it all.

The plain truth of it all is that success in writing is almost entirely out of your control. From getting an agent (it’s so, so, so subjective guys. You can have a knock-out query and still garner zero interest) to selling your book (again, it’s so subjective. Even if your book is stellar, if it doesn’t land on the right desk at the right moment, you could be on subs for years. Yes, years.) to getting the “perfect” cover/trailer/fan base/website/etc. to bad reviews to whether or not a bookstore chooses to even stock your book–every one of those things is out of your control.

And there are so many more things that you can’t control in the writing/publishing world. I’m sorry. It pains me to say this (and it pains me even more to admit it), but this is simply the way it is. We have 100% control over our books, but what happens to those books is a totally different story.

Of course, as someone who tends to get her way and adores micromanaging, this whole “it ain’t in my control” thing has been really hard for me to come to accept. I can make my MC do whatever the heck I want, so why can’t I make X-editor or Y-reviewer or Z-bookstore do it?

The truth is, though I haven’t completely learned to let it all go, I have started down the long path of learning how.  Since Something Strange and Deadly sold back in 2010, so many authors have warned me to just move on about things, but sometimes, the only way to hone a skill is to experience the frustration of it firsthand. Fortunately, I’ve had ample situations to do just that. In fact, I’m now far enough down this Let It Go Path to know there are two steps to the process.

To let it go, you must first accept.

Then you must move on.

So for example, let’s say I’ve written a book that I think is AMAZING. I am so thoroughly proud of it. However, my agent can’t sell it. Editors just aren’t interested in a space opera featuring an interstellar carnival. Perhaps they say, “Space operas just aren’t selling now” or “I’ve already got something similar on my list” or even “This simply wasn’t for me”. All these reasons are valid.

And all these reasons are out of my control. If the book is good but not a good fit, then there isn’t a darn thing I can do to change that. But lately, when I’ve had the urge to gnash my teeth and scheme up ways to bring the control back in my court, I have found the following techniques to be helpful:

  1. I take a deep breath. (Breaths = very important)
  2. I tell myself, “There is nothing I can do.”
  3. I convince myself there really is nothing I can do. (Like, if I’ve gotten a bad review, I consider it for a bit…then I think, Oh well! The book is finished and published; there is really nothing I can do to make this reader like it.)
At this point, I have (hopefully) accepted that the situation is out of my control. My next steps are to help me move on.
  1. I get up and literally MOVE ON. I walk my dog or jog up and down the stairs a few times. There’s nothing like a little exercise to work off some frustration.
  2. I work on something else. If the editor rejected CARNIVAL IN SPACE, I’ll go work on a different manuscript until the sting wears off. Or maybe I’ll just write a blog post or tweak my website. There’s plenty of other necessary stuff to do while I wait for my annoyance to wear off.

As I write these steps, I realize they all seem so obvious–as does the entire concept of Letting Go. I mean, of course we all have to learn to move on. Isn’t that a good life lesson in general? And of course there’s a lot in writing/publishing that we can’t micromanage. But as I said above, you don’t always realize just how much you can’t control–or how poorly you’ll deal with powerlessness–until you’re actually in the situation.

And so this leaves me with my final word of advice. When this does ultimately happen to you–your letter doesn’t climb the slush pile, your book doesn’t get stocked in B&N, the reviewers crush you, your book trailer is an embarrassment, whatever–then focus on the one thing you CAN control:

Writing the next book and making it as good as you possibly can.

At the end of the day, we’re in control of characters and our worlds, so that’s where we should invest our time and emotions.

What about you? Have you had to learn to let things go–either in writing or in life?