by Anna Sheehan
Success is a strange room to suddenly find
yourself in. Having spent all my life amidst the
crocodile swamps on the front lawn of the
publishing industry mansion Ė or occasionally
huddling, loose leaf papers in hand on the front
porch, waiting for the butler to let me into the
entry foyer Ė I got used to being an outcast.
Itís a well-worn path. The front porch is
littered with the abandoned manuscripts of those
who came before and left unsatisfied. The swamp
is also littered with dire warning signs of
those who never made it to the porch:
"Impossible," "Commercial sellouts," and (my
personal favorite), "A waste of time."
But, those who dodge the crocodiles and the
nay-sayers, who patiently wait out the
interminable time between Query and Acceptance,
doggedly beginning the journey again when the
answer, inevitably, is "no," will eventually
find that front door opened. The inhabitants of
the mansion will peep out the window and see you
patiently waiting. Perhaps, as in my case,
theyíll realize, "Iíve seen her out there
before, havenít I?" Youíll catch an agentís eye,
or an editorís heart, and suddenly there you
will be, in the foyer, awaiting further
And then your path changes. Beginning again isnít such an arduous
journey. You have a friend in that mansion, and your agent or editor
has shown you the back door, where there are no crocodiles, and you
donít have to wait for the butler to let you in.
So where to go now?
The initial excitement after getting that first paycheck makes
perfect sense. Itís a bit like winning the lottery. But after that
thereís a continual potential for more. Your role in the world
changes. In my case, I am no longer the mad eccentric living in my
motherís garage, a drain on the countryís resources and full of pipe
dreams. Suddenly I am an "Author." Everyoneís opinion of me has
changed. Iím no longer, "playing on the computer." Suddenly everyone
says Iím, "working." Discussing characters or plot problems are no
longer "going on and on" but "problem-solving." All those books I
buy year after year are no longer "a waste of space." They become,
"market research." And those writerís conferences? Theyíre not a
self-indulgent waste of time and money. Suddenly theyíre an
important marketing resource, and a vital outreach to my fellow work
But I am still the same. It is not me or my writing that has
changed. It is the world around me.
So now I am writing for a purpose, rather than just indulging in
pipe dreams. Now I have a goal and a place in the mansion, and
wasting my time with something I know isnít commercial is just that
Ė a waste of my valuable time. Before, both the stories that were
commercial and the stories that werenít were on the same page. Now,
they canít be. Granted, I can pass off something silly as a
"writing exercise," or "structure research," but basically, this
isnít a game anymore. Because everyone says it isnít.
Donít get me wrong Ė Iím in heaven. This is where Iíve always wanted
to be, and Iím thrilled to be here. But I didnít realize the
difference between being "inside" and being "outside." The
difference isnít in me. Itís in everyone else.
There are a thousand different rooms in this mansion. Though Iím
well through the front door, I have yet to find my own room in it. I
have a lot of corridors and chambers to explore. But I look out
those windows all the time. I see those still slogging through the
swamp, or waiting patiently on the porch for that final, glorious
acceptance, and invitation inside. I wish I could reach out and tell
them they might as well already be here, and that being in isnít
really so very different from being out.
Itís very strange to find myself standing inside the industry I have
always watched from afar. All the research in the world canít
prepare you for it. But I find I have to remind myself why Iím
writing. Now that Iím "legitimate" everyone else has their own
ideas, and they are trying to impose them on me.
I am not writing for that prestigious title of "Author."
I am not writing for the justification of all my hard work.
I am now an official "author." But that does not mean I am now
writing with a "legitimate excuse."
And I am certainly not writing for the money.
So why am I doing it?
I am writing for the same reason I faced all those crocodiles and
waited on that porch for my next inevitable rejection. I am writing
because I write. It is who I am and what I do. Nothing has changed.
If I was still wasting my time, reading books and playing on the
computer when I should have been being "more productive," Iíd still
So, my agent expects another book in a few months. Iím almost done.
But I think Iíll write something silly for myself, before I finish.
Itís structure research. Itís legitimate. Honest.
Just a little something to feed to those crocodiles.
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Anna Sheehan is the author of A Long Long Sleep
(Candlewick, 2011) You can find her at