Find What You Control, and Take Action

Here are some truths: 

We are in the midst of a pandemic and everything is off kilter. Publishing is going to be affected and no one is quite sure what the future looks like. Even before the pandemic, it has always been challenging for writers to get their books traditionally published. With self-published books now plentiful, there are more books than ever before for readers to choose from.

A few more truths: 

It’s difficult figuring out how to effectively market books, and a book’s potential sales are highly unpredictable. Sometimes books don’t live up to the publisher’s sales expectations, meaning the publisher might not want to renew the author’s contract. Poor sales figures can make it difficult to get another traditional book deal.

And finally: 

Writing can be difficult and frustrating. Sometimes it’s hard to meet deadlines. The publishing journey often doesn’t live up to an author’s expectations.

These things are all true! And most of them have been true, long before the current global health crisis put us all on edge.

In the midst of these truths, I frequently counsel writers who are experiencing moments of disappointment and dejection. They might be anxious that a series of speed-bumps could signal the end of their writing career, sometimes before it has even started. Often they are questioning whether it’s time to give up. Some are sad, thinking their lifelong dream is dying.

Everyone has to deal in their own way with disappointment, and we all have a right to respond to setbacks in our own way. But I want to encourage everyone to avoid getting bogged down in despair. Because here are some other truths:

  • A few bumps in the road doesn’t mean your dream has to end.
  • Publishing setbacks are not “failures” but necessary and expected rites of passage in this business.
  • Just because things didn’t go the way you envisioned doesn’t mean things can’t still go well — possibly after a re-envisioning of your goals.
  • People are reading more than ever, meaning we need writers more than ever.
  • There are more options than ever before for getting your work in front of readers and getting paid for it.
  • You can embrace your identity as a writer, and refuse to let external circumstances change that.
  • The best way to deal with dejection is to stand up and fight. Don’t let yourself settle in to the despair. You’re not a quitter — pull out that fighting spirit and decide to be a writer regardless of the obstacles.

The world is somewhat unrecognizable to us right now. There are endless disappointments and losses to mourn. So here’s how we can keep going:

Figure out what you CAN control, and take action on that.

Really. Sit down and look at all the things that are making life hard right now. Then ask yourself: What can I do? Where’s my control?

Maybe you need to start with ONE THING. Find a single thing you can do to take back control of your life. Once you do that, you may find it easier to exercise some control in other areas.

I’m not trying to be a cheerleader or a Pollyanna. It’s just that I spend a lot of time talking writers off ledges, and I understand what that ledge looks like, and I know you can’t afford to spend much time on the ledge. You can acknowledge your fear and your frustration, then turn it around and make a new plan. You can refuse to spend time worrying about things over which you have no control (the global pandemic, or publishing industry at large) and focus on what you CAN influence.

Don’t let yourself get trapped in despair. Find whatever tiny area of life you CAN control, and take action.

What do you control? What action can you take?


If you should decide to invest in some personalized counsel, I offer coaching for unpublished authors here: My Coaching Services

I also offer online courses here: Author School


Photo by Andrew Sharples on Unsplash

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Nancy Brummett on May 13, 2020 at 2:18 PM

    Good to “hear from you” and see your pretty face, Rachelle. It’s been while!