No, I'm not doing the A to Z challenge. I missed the boat on that one. While things at home are greatly improved and I'm starting to catch up on things, I think that particular challenge might be too much for me at this point. But I've read so much about it, when I had the idea for this post, the A is for Awkward title immediately came to mind.
So I was at this family party this weekend. It was one of those parties where there were lots of extended family. I love these parties because half the people there I haven't seen in years so there's lots to catch up on and the other half of the people there are relatives of relatives I've never even met before which means I get to meet a whole new bunch of interesting people. In fact, my daughter spent the whole party playing with (try to follow it) my grandfather's (by marriage) sister's great-granddaughter (his great-grandniece?) . . . wait, does that make them cousins? By marriage? I don't know. But anyway, my point is that there were lots of people I had never met before.
Between the catching up and the new people, there was lots of "what do you do?" and "are you still writing?" and "Say, whatever happened with your books?" and "Oh, you write books?"
Now if you've read my blog for any length of time, you'll know the writing thing is not something I go to great lengths to flaunt. If I had a book in hand to sell I might be telling the whole world in a very obnoxious way but I do not so I don't go into it much. (See my To Talk or Not to Talk post.) But this is my family and seventy percent of the people at this party have been aware of my "writing thing" since I was eleven years old, so it comes up.
So there I am standing in a loose semi-circle of relatives, from every part of the relative continuum (i.e. my mom, my aunt and a few people I've never met before) and someone brings it up. (This is a reconstruction of the conversation, obviously.
"What's going on with your writing?"
Before I can answer, one of the two relatives I've never met before, who I will simply refer to as Jane and John, says, "Oh you're an author?"
Me: "Yes, well I'm trying to get published."
Jane: "Oh, so you don't have a publisher."
Me: "Uh, no. But I have an agent and she's shopping my work to publishers."
Jane: "But you don't have a publisher."
Me: "Well, no."
Jane: "John's daughter is an author."
With a heavy inner sigh, I think, "Of course she is." Of course. Because when you are aspiring to publication, no matter what you've accomplished (i.e. finished your book, finished your query, won a contest, gotten requests from agents, gotten an agent, gotten requests from editors), there is always someone out there who has done more and this information is always passed on to you so matter-of-factly that the person telling you makes it sound like it is the easiest thing in the world to have accomplished. All while you've been toiling for years and seemingly getting nowhere.
Me: "Really? That's amazing. It's so hard to get published these days."
I am being sincere. It is extremely, exceedingly, ridiculously hard to get published, especially in today's market and I salute anyone who has put in the time and the hard work to get there whether it is the traditional route or the indie route. I think both paths are equally hard in their own ways.
Jane: "Yeah, she's an author. [Mentions the name of the book]. John, who is the publisher?"
John, turning his attention to our exchange: "I don't remember. So you're an author?"
(By the way, this only confirms my suspicion that the layperson could not name a publisher if their life depended on it--even a Big 6. Published is published.)
Me: "Yeah, well I guess. I've written a couple of books and I have an agent."
Obligatory exchange about what my books are about and how many pages they are (to which I say well I don't know how many pages but I can tell you how many words.)
Then: "But you don't have a publisher."
Me, a little more weakly this time: "Well, no but I have an agent."
John: "Yeah, my daughter is an author. She's on her 2nd or 3rd book now."
Of course she is.
Me: "That's really great! It is such a hard business."
John: "But you're not published?"
Me: "No, I mean not yet. My agent is trying to find a publisher."
My Mom (God bless her heart): "But she's getting close. She's going to find a publisher."
Jane and John, smiling, "Oh that's great."
Conversation moves on to other things.
Okay, so I don't want to denigrate Jane and John because they were a really pleasant, sweet and interesting couple and I enjoyed meeting them and talking to them about many topics that day. They were just making conversation and they were proud of their daughter, as they should be and I was duly impressed because I know how hard it is to get published one time much less multiple times.
What bothered me? Was it the innocent, repeated attention drawn to the fact that no, I do not have a publisher yet? Well, yeah, a little. If you're trying to get published and you don't have a publisher, it's going to bother you and no, you will not particularly enjoy that fact being pointed out over and over, however innocently. But I think what bothered me even more was the implication that because I am not published, I am not dead serious about this. That I somehow don't get "credit" for being a writer because I'm not yet published.
I kept bringing up my agent not because I'm a snooty elitist but because I thought it would at least be an easily grasped indication that I was, in fact, serious about my writing-about seeing it through to publication. I mean one doesn't go to the trouble of looking for an agent (a process I began long before the rise of the Indie ebook--yes, it really did take that long) if they are not serious about getting published.
But your average non-writer person doesn't even know the significance of an agent in the business--who they are, what they do, how hard it is to find one, etc. So while among writers, having landed an agent is considered an accomplishment, it means nothing to the layperson. Thus, if you are not published, you may be easily dismissed.
I find this a little depressing. Some of the best books I've read are by writers who don't even have agents at this point (Carrie, Jeff and Paul, you know who you are!) Just because someone isn't published yet doesn't mean they are not serious about it, doesn't mean they are not in it for the long haul. There is an insane number of talented writers out there who have not yet become published authors but that doesn't mean they aren't real writers.
In closing, I'd like to say thank you to this wonderful online community of writers because we take each other seriously and that goes a long way.
Have you ever had one of these awkward exchanges?