Miss Snark has a recent blog post about burnout, and I quote:
"There's an interesting article in the recent NewYork about burn out. The theory is burnout doesn't come from over work. It comes from unrealistic expectations and a reduced sense of effectiveness."
Oh, baby, I can relate to the reduced sense of effectiveness! When I was at my lowest ebb, one cause of my wallowing in the Slough of Despond was that I felt nothing I did was going to move me up the ladder in the publishing biz. Nothing. I worked and worked and wrote and wrote, trying a whole host of things, and yet my career seemed stalled. Believe me, this is a depressing and very uncreative place to be.
Were my expectations "unrealistic?" I don't think so, because I've certainly gone up the ladder since those dark days. However, I can certainly say I had unmet expectations, also known as disappointments.
Unfortunately, this is part of the business I'm in, and there's no way around it. For one thing, too much is out of my control -- changing tastes and media, book buyers for stores, the marketing department of my publisher, to name a few.
However, let's look at some my expectations, both met and not.
I want people to love my books. I know there are some people who truly want to appeal only to a small "elite." Sadly, I'm not one of them. I want everybody to love my books -- readers, reviewers, my editor, and I work hard to try to make it so. Okay, this one is unrealistic as well as unmet. But I still try. And getting my work severely criticized, either by rejections or harsh reviews or a nasty reader letter is, therefore, very upsetting. I can rationalize this until the cows come home (and have), but the fact remains, it hurts because I'm disapppointed.
I want a beautiful cover. Sadly, this is almost completely out of my hands. I do have some input in the beginning of the process, but that's it until I see the finished product. It's wonderful when I get a gorgeous one (and I've been most fortunate in that regard), but it's really upsetting when I don't. My expectations have not been met and so I'm disappointed.
I want lots of in-house support. I feel I have this -- there have been plenty of ads for HQN, and my book was used in a promotion. But I can appreciate how upsetting it is to other authors who don't. I call it the ol' "what am I, chopped liver?" syndrome, and yes, I've had that feeling in the past. This, to me, is what's really behind the recent series of blog posts about Anne Stuart's interview where she expressed dissatisfaction with her publisher (you can read about it here and here and here). Her expectations were not met. Disappointment ensued. Was she right to speak about that so openly? I think she perhaps might have been more circumspect, because talking about unmet expectations in public can sound a lot like whining. But it happens. And publishers know it happens. Does it make them work harder for you? Depends on the author and their history with the house, I think, and the language you used.
I want my books to sell like gangbusters. I work hard on the writing, but the rest of the process is out of my hands. If a book sells really well, hooray! If it doesn't, not only have my expectations not been met, neither has my publisher's. Disappointing -- and less money -- for all of us.
I want people who don't read romance to still respect what I do. Is it asking too much to expect people to treat you with common courtesy when they find out what you do and not mock you and your work to your face? Or to expect journalists to do something other than grab the nearest cliche when writing about romance and really try to find out why it's so popular? Although I've been disappointed in this many times, I continue to hope.
Learning how to cope with disappointment is one thing that we all learn on the road to publication. But then, that's also a part of life, isn't it?