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Monday, August 16, 2010

Expectations and Disappointment

When my husband tells me he'll pick me up at 5 p.m., I can usually be sure I won't see him until approximately 6:30. This used to really annoy me, and I admit, from time to time it still does. But for the most part, I've readjusted my expectations for him. He doesn't have a good sense of time, and that's not likely to change any time soon. It only took me, say, ten years or so to figure out this little nugget of wisdom.

I think this conundrum translates really well to publishing, at least it does for me, and I *think* that I'm figuring things out in this arena a little faster. Part of this is probably because I had such little in the way of expectations before starting on this publishing journey. But being included in several author groups, I've been able to learn a lot about the business along the way. The problem is, this business is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

For example, when I heard from an author friend that she received 30 ARC's for her debut novel, it would have been easy to assume I would too. It would be easy (and exciting!) to think about all the things I would do with my ARC's to promote my precious first book. Or when I heard from another author friend how quickly movie rights sold for her book, it would have been easy to let myself rejoice in the fact that mine surely would too. But unfortunately, these comparisons, while they can be enlightening about what *can* happen or give us a quick high, they can also be a path to waves of disappointment.

Unrealistic expectations can wreak havoc on the emotional system, and I've had my ups and downs like anyone else. I find it's easier to assume the lowest of expectations: i.e. assuming I probably would not be one of those rare people who gets an agent on her first ten queries; or assuming I likely will NOT be the next J.K. Rowling. I think too many times, we base our expectations on our needs and desires, rather than on what is realistic or on the special talents of those around us.

Publishing is filled with people who are passionate about stories and authors. It's probably not uncommon for an agent or editor to promise to read a manuscript this weekend and not get to it until next month, or a publisher to talk about their plans to promote your book in certain ways and then not follow through. Is this because the people who work in publishing are liars? No! It's because they are passionate people, they speak and promise out of their passion for our books, and I don't know about you, but I want passionate people on my side along for this journey. Even if it means being disappointed from time to time.

Another problem I've seen (and experienced) is taking things too personally.

My husband asked me these questions once and they really stuck with me:

What if you were driving along, minding your own business, maybe singing along to the radio, when a car came out of nowhere and cut you off. How would you feel? What if the person driving didn't bother to even acknowledge that they had cut you off? How would you feel then?

I know how I would feel. First shocked, maybe scared they would hit me. Then angry, offended that they didn't even have the decency to look my way with a sorry look on their face.

But now...what if the car stopped at the next traffic light, you hopped out of your car to go give this guy/gal a piece of your mind, and as soon as you approached their car, you saw a child or an animal who was seriously injured in the backseat? Does your attitude change?

For me, this story has been life-changing, as I have tended to take things personally in the past in many areas of my life. But now I'm becoming more prone to thinking that people are generally good-natured, and chances are if they do something that makes me feel less than important or celebratory, they didn't mean it that way, or were possibly just very distracted with something serious in their own lives.

I wonder about your thoughts and journeys with expectations? Do you find positive thinking works better for you? Do you think you tend to have pretty realistic expectations, or do you find, like me, you're always finding areas you can adjust them?

Note: I'm feeling introspective today and my post is based on lots of stories I've heard through author-friends as well as my own. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the people who are on my team for this publishing journey, and I would hope this post in no way reflects badly on them. I honestly could not ask for a better group of people to work with!


  1. Denise,

    This is all beautifully put. It's funny that you mentioned the driving story, because I've been thinking that way, too. You really don't know where someone is coming from and maybe you shouldn't judge them so harshly right away. I'm trying to live like that (though I do think some of the drivers in my town are just selfish and in a rush, but that's another story!).

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Denise,
    The more I get to know you, the more I appreciate your wisdom and maturity.

    I have a favorite proverb: Expectation postponed is making the heart sick, but the thing desired is a tree of life when it does come. (Prov 13:12)

    We writers hope for, desire many things. But to "expect" them can lead to such disappointment.

    I hope you get many trees of life in the coming months!

    (interesting--the word verification below is: likeya. Best one ever!)

  3. This is all so well said! I think you're wonderful and am proud to know you.

    As I've said before, I am so grateful for you blazing the trail. I've learned a lot from you.

  4. I agree with Caroline, I've learn so much by watching you navigate this journey with so much grace.

    Nice heartfelt post. Thanks.