Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Know When to Fold 'Em....

Recently, a friend and fellow author made a comment I found disturbing: "I always get what I want." She made it clear she had no problem with getting in publishers' faces to make her goals attainable. I found it disturbing because her statements made me think of another writer I know quite well: me. 

My friend's determination can be a blessing or it can be a curse. It can take her just about anywhere she wants to go...or it can make her desperately unhappy. I've experienced both. 

When I began my career, I felt like Leonardo diCaprio on the bow of the pre-iceberg Titanic. I was the queen of the world: three books under contract with advances totaling six figures, promises of a prominent position on the publisher's list, advertising, publicity, the works. I had, in my estimation, the best agent and editor in the business. When I went to New York, I got the star treatment. I should have been the happiest person in the world. So why wasn't I?

I'd made an unsettling discovery. How they saw me as an author and how I saw myself were not in sync and never would be. I was viewed as the next Danielle Steel. What did that mean for my future, I wondered--writing sappy romances and having multiple marriages? 

I rebelled. This was not me. I'm a middle-class Midwestern girl who doesn't know Donna Karan from Kmart. Jeans and T-shirts. I make it a rule to never wear jewelry someone would be willing to kill me for. There's a photograph of me out there in a fur coat, for crying out loud! I'm an animal rights activist! I consider Town and Country the most boring publication ever printed.

I grew increasingly unhappy, taking offense at just about everything. It didn't take much to trigger an emotional outburst from me. Fellow authors advised me to "take the money and run," but I'm not made that way. I'm not one to settle for less than what I really want. I don't give up easily, but once I realize it's not working and not going to change, I'll walk away. As Kenny Rogers sang, "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." I should have paid special attention to the line that followed those well-known lyrics: Know when to walk away. Know when to run.

I should have cut and run.

When Maria (my agent) rejected a project I dearly loved because it "wasn't glamorous," I knew it was time to leave the game, but I couldn't quite give up. I wish I had, because my unhappiness with the direction my career was taking, compounded by a personal crisis, soon put me in self-destruct mode. You know that saying about burning bridges? I blew mine up on my way out.

Oh, there were many people in the business who were still willing to work with me--we had a total of four agents representing Chasing the Wind--but I was still dissatisfied. That was when I realized the only option for me was self-publishing. Pride got in the way at first, but once I took the plunge, I found a happiness and contentment I could never have known in New York.

So yes, when I heard my friend say "I always get what I want," I was concerned. The reality, in publishing and in life, is that no one always gets what they want.

Definitely not in publishing.... 


  1. Thank you for this post Norma.
    It provides a perspective on the reality of publishing that is hard to grasp when new to the business. It is difficult to stay grounded when your dreams and fantasies are taking you up high above your old reality.
    Staying true to yourself is our biggest challenge is it not? I recently came to one where I realized I was trying to make myself into a person I wasn't because it was what "the world" expected of a good middle class woman. But your soul will tell you when what your doing is just not right. Though, we tend to stay a little longer than we should, be it from fear, anxiety, or confusion. However,I think this happens so that it is just so obnoxiously painful we have to follow our hearts.
    We can look back and regret, but really, without the experience we may never get back on the right road. I am so glad you have found the way you were supposed to go. Life is such a wild ride!

  2. Erin, it's so hard to walk away from something that's so important to us, no matter what it is.

    Always, always follow your heart!

  3. Very, very good blog, Norma. And a timely one too.

    The industry was trying to fit you into a pre-set slot instead of letting you decide your own direction. You took the course that was right for you. As the saying goes, to yourself be true.

  4. It applies in every aspect of one's life. Career, relationships, family....

  5. I had a professor once tell us that we should never use "absolutes". Such as I "always" get what I want, or I will "never" amount to a hill of beans if I use absolutes. Life is not black and white or yes and no-it's the gray or pink areas that make an artist unique. Congratulations on being who you are and inspiring so many others!

  6. When anyone tells me that they always get what they want, I ask them why they are so miserable then!

  7. You must be so happy you found your own way. I bet you sleep much better for it and write the way you want.

  8. Norma, you are such an inspiration to so many. You've been there, published books with agents and seen that life. I haven't seen that life, and although I won't give up on maybe seeing that life, I've been giving a lot of thought to the self-publishing world. Either way, it's a little scary.

    I thank you so much for your insight and all your advice. You have been extremely helpful to me, and I have told you before how much I appreciate all your help that you've given to me.

    I like what everyone else said about you staying true to yourself...and, now, you've come out on top...Excellent blog!!!

  9. You don't know the difference between Donna Karen and KMart? I SO don't believe that! You look so lovely, and stylish, and vintage, and perfect in your profile photo. I don't care about name brands. When you look good, you look good!

  10. You mean the one on the Jeep? I can explain that. I'm a huge fan of Casablanca.

  11. Thanks for sharing this. What a hard decision that must have been for you. I guess the old saying still holds true: Be careful what you wish for. I believe that we have to stay true to ourselves no matter what and it sounds like you have definitely done just that.

  12. The Stones truly said it best ... Being happy with what you have is one of the most difficult things in the world sometimes. We tend to get in a mode of, "Change = Better" and it certainly isn't always the case.


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