Here’s the thing about year over year growth: it doesn’t always happen.
I spent a lot of time working in retail. One of the simplest ways to measure success in a business like that is in comps: comparisons between last year’s numbers and this year’s numbers. It seems simple: your market will get better and you will get better at serving it. You should do as well as last year without struggling, but you could do better if you tried, right?
No. Not always in retail and certainly not in publishing, which is a hideous bitch-goddess of a business that remains opaque and unknowable and really hard to predict.
So last year I sold 14 short stories. I set a goal to match that this year, and I didn’t even come close. I submitted about as often, and almost as many individual things. This year was weird. Well, you were there. You know.
In 2019 I submitted 23 new works to various markets. I got 26 total rejections.
7 short stories
1 play (a staged reading took place in San Francisco)
I taught my first short-term college class on writing. And I performed 31 times at readings, competitions, and shows as an author.
I also had a novella contract cancelled, landing a property back in my lap after a year of being held for no payoff. I was pretty bitter about that when it happened, but now it’s just another item on my spreadsheet of things I’m trying to sell.
This was a tough year. I didn’t match last year’s numbers and I experienced some real letdowns and defeats on a professional front. I had to let my first agent go (though she was great and got me a LOT of good deals) and hire another. I had to seek a lot of advice from authors who have been doing this longer, to figure out how to keep moving forward.
So let’s move forward.
I’ve already sold a story and an essay that will be out next year. I have two books coming out in 2020: a collection in the Outspoken Author series in May, and my first Young Adult novel in August (cover reveal soon!). I don’t know if 2020 will be better than 2019. I know that I can’t really control how often or how much I publish; I can only control how much I produce and how often I submit. I concentrated on novels pretty hard this year (three in the chamber!) and let the short stuff slide. This is what slide numbers look like.
Satisfaction is elusive, and never hangs out for long (I can’t get no). One of the hardest truths I’ve learned is that as I’ve accomplished goals I’ve had for years, I’ve become less satisfied by the outcome. Things that would have thrilled me a few years ago (a book deal, inclusion in a bunch of anthologies, getting to teach, getting to see my work live on stage) don’t feel as grand as they used to. That’s natural I suppose; I’ve seen more of what the world can offer, and I’ve become inured to some of the most basic pleasures of this job.
So here’s another thing I can affect in 2020: I’m going to work hard on cultivating gratitude. This is a practice that served me for a long time, and it makes me happier than finding reasons why my accomplishments are not real and not enough. That’s an easy trap to fall into, and it gets easier as you get more successful. I can get better at that.
From a hard year, here is my advice: celebrate every good thing. Collect your fan mail and your kudos and look back over them when you’re feeling fake and hollow. Remember how much any victory would have meant to you five years ago, ten years ago. Call up your child self and tell them how far you’ve come. You’re gonna blow their mind.