Shortly after inking my very first book deal, I began to meet them: the dreaded He-Whos (enter demonic, minor-sounding organ chords here).
Yes, the He-Whos. What, exactly, is a He-Who, you might ask? Not to be confused with a yahoo or a nincompoop (although, according to some sources, the definitions overlap somewhat), a He-Who is a very sneaky creature whose natural habitat is a would-be author’s personal life. In most cases, said He-Who has been in a struggling author’s life for quite some time—years, some of them—playing the role of Supportive Confidant. Upon the announcement of an author’s long-awaited book deal, the face of said Supportive Confidant melts into a giant fiery pile of slime, exposing the dreaded, nasty, much-feared He-Who underneath.
A He-Who takes many different forms. The He-Whos I’ve encountered fall into three basic categories:
1). He who shows some initial interest when you announce your book sale, but when you disclose that it’s a YA or MG, he raises his lip off his teeth, lets out an, “Ew,” and explains, “I only read high-quality, serious works of literature. I do not read children’s books.” This statement is expressed rather emphatically, while rolling the “r”s, puffing on an antique scrimshaw pipe, and gesturing wildly to flash the professorly suede elbow patches on his coat. (This He-Who also has the same reaction to any other subcategory of genre fiction: romance, sci-fi, mystery, etc.)
2). He who does not have any interest in your book, but—OMG! He just happens to have a manuscript himself! And it’s awesome! And you should read it—and while you’re at it, rewrite it! And then give it to your publisher! Wouldn’t that rock???
3). He who is just so busy, he does not have the time to read your book—even though the book was released three years ago, and this particular He-Who has also watched every single episode of MY BIG REDNECK WEDDING, sends you emails with links to “hilarious” YouTube vids three times a day, and has repeatedly called to inform you that he has discovered the best way to mow a lawn: with manicure scissors.
Okay, all right, so I’m being a bit flip in my descriptions…But honestly, these people really do exist. These reactions—or some version of them, anyway—really do happen. I can’t say I understand it, two years after my first book hit the shelves, two years after the He-Whos started showing their faces. I might even think I was alone in the whole He-Who thing, had I not run into articles online and in print in which authors described similar experiences. Knowing this is an unfortunate part of the gig, I slowly began to develop a methodology for dealing:
Treat He-Whos the same way you treated early rejections. Okay, so a personal rejection stings worse than a professional one. But the point is, you didn’t let one professional “no”—or, if you’re like me, more than a thousand professional “no”s—derail you. You screamed at times, you shed a few tears, but then you put it away and you went back to work. You didn’t dwell on one response. You also didn’t let it convince you that your pursuits weren’t worthwhile. You didn’t let it convince you that everyone would have the same reaction to your work. You didn’t stop trying, and you didn’t stop sharing. And, most importantly, you didn’t let a few—or hundreds—of rejections dim your own internal gratification. Not the internal gratification you felt for having created a novel you loved. You were proud of yourself then, regardless of the final external response from an editor or agent. You maintained your own internal gratification while letting those rejections push you increasingly closer to your first “yes.”
There’s no predicting how people will react to anything—as authors, we spend so much time with complete control over our characters and our internal worlds, it’s a surprise when our external worlds don’t quite behave like we’d expected or hoped. But the great part is, though, that not everyone is a He-Who. And just as your rejections pushed you closer to finding the right “home” for your work, always allow the He-Whos to push you closer to those who are supportive, are truly happy for you, every step of the way. In my case, unending support and cheering wound up filtering into my life from all sorts of different corners. It came from my mom and brother, who had supported me all along the journey, and it came from some (now infinitely appreciated) old friends, from fellow authors, fantastic local librarians, from bloggers and reviewers—and eventually fans! It even came from some unexpected sources (like old classmates who sent messages through my website to congratulate me).
The ability to maintain your internal gratification is one of the most important skills for any author to master. That internal gratification—that self-pride—will get you through most anything, in your writing career. It will get you through any of the inevitable low points: rejections or less-than-glowing reviews or lower-than-expected sales numbers, etc. That internal gratification will often be your lifeblood, as an author, and is far too precious to ever, ever be handed off to some old He-Who.