“One of the things I always tell my kids is that it’s OK to head out for wonderful, but on your way to wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through all right,” Withers says. “When you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you’re gonna go.” –from the NPR story on “Still Bill,” a documentary on Bill Withers.

So I’m looking around and I’m thinking, is this it? Is this all right? Cause I expected wonderful, and maybe now I’m thinking I have to accept all right.


I loved writing Gordath Wood. It wasn’t effortless and I made lots of creative changes, and threw out a third of it and started over, and when it sold I couldn’t believe it. And there it was. My book, in my hands. In stores. I  get fan mail and it still blows me away. I wrote something that people loved so much they stayed up all night to read it and then wrote to me about it.

That right there, that was getting to wonderful.

I wrote Red Gold Bridge in a state of stark panic. Again I threw out a third of it, and wrote in utter terror because I had a fast approaching deadline and I wasn’t sure it was any good. My editor and my readers reassured me it was good, but I didn’t believe it until I gained some time and distance, and kind of cracked the book open and acknowledged that yes, I had actually done what I set out to do. And also it is possible to write peering through one’s fingers.

That was another kind of wonderful.

So I have two beautiful books that have entertained and moved people. I get letters from fans. I still think my best work is ahead of me, but these books — these books are wonderful.


But I think I passed through all right without looking closely enough at it.  Because here’s the deal. The books didn’t sell well. They were wonderful, and getting published is wonderful, but the reality is, they just weren’t good enough. I’m trying not to think that means I’m not good enough, but there’s that monster lurking on the edges of my psyche.

This might be it. I might never sell another book again. Oh sure there’s Lulu and all, and nowadays we’re all just a vanity press away from being an author, but to really sell a book, in the old-fashioned, dead tree, terribly inefficient, working with an editor kind of way? The book that I’m currently pouring my heart and soul into will likely not be published that way at all. The sad reality is, if the first two don’t sell, you sure don’t get to sell the next one.

So maybe for some people, you pass through all right on the way to wonderful. I’m thinking I got to wonderful and well, it doesn’t get wonderfuller.


J. Kathleen Cheney · March 7, 2010 at 4:35 pm

This is the most terrifying thing about going into this career. It happens to really good authors. Sometimes things don’t sell to the targets that publishers want, and they withdraw support.

It happens, even to really good authors and really good books.

But I’ve also seen authors reinvent themselves before, and start up again when others think they’re down.

So don’t let it get to you! You’re too good for that ;o)

Patrice Sarath · March 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Thanks. I think I just needed to grieve a bit. But I’m not giving up, just doing some deep thinking and reorienting myself.

J. Kathleen Cheney · March 7, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I suspect in this industry, the way it is now, we’ll constantly be doing that…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.