Two years ago, my second novel, Disengagement, was published.
I had great hopes for this book.
I truly felt it was my best work. The concept is original, the structure is unconventional, the topic is interesting and unexplored, each chapter packs a punch, and the message is powerful and timely. I invested a lot in making the writing shine, and I believe that in literary terms, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written and maybe will ever write.
My publisher also had high hopes for it. They invested a sizeable sum in the services of a publicist who got to work five months ahead of release.
So we sent off the ARCs, sat back, and waited for the rave reviews and accolades to roll in.
To quote a certain someone who is not so great at taking her own advice: “I may as well have imagined using a unicorn as a footrest.”
Now, I’m not saying it was all crickets. We got a lovely review in the Washington Independent Review of Books. I successfully pitched it to a Times of Israel reporter, and she published a nice interview. That interview was read by the chief of the Jerusalem Bureau of The New York Times, and a year later, he interviewed me for a piece about life in Israel and mentioned the book in the resulting article. And to be fair, it was up against some pretty poor timing; the book was released on March 4, 2020.
Still, as if to prove how stubbornly determined the world is to ignore this book, even being featured in the freaking New York Times only gave it a modest bump in sales.
I’m not going to use the word “failure” to describe what happened, because my primary goal–to produce a beautiful book I am proud of–was achieved, and hey, that NYT interview thing wasn’t too shabby. And yet, the response to this book fell very, very short of my expectations.
I felt, in a word, defeated. Here I had worked so hard to hone my skill and prepare the ground to publish a book that wasn’t just something fun for me to write, but that I felt had something powerful and important to give to the world. I had done everything in my power to get it out there in the best shape possible. And all signs were that the world was not interested.
I could only draw one conclusion:
The world doesn’t care what I have to say.
The World Doesn’t Care
It wasn’t a conclusion born of bitterness. It was more of a surrender. It makes sense, too, in the greater context of my life circumstances. My husband had been out of work due to illness for more than 6 months; I was supporting my family with my freelance work, but looking for a full-time, in-house position because I needed the stability; and I was just was couple months into a surprise pregnancy.
Oh yeah, and then there was that global pandemic thing.
But seriously, the pandemic, along with these circumstances, really made me focus inward. I developed a kind of tunnel vision: I was supporting and caring for my family. Nothing else mattered. The world didn’t care what I had to say, and you know what, I didn’t care what the world had to say, either. I dropped the mic and left the auditorium. I had better things to do than try to get people to read my book.
Those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed that I’ve been pretty silent. It’s really been a struggle because every time I feel like sharing a thought or two, that thought presents itself again: the world doesn’t care what I have to say.
Or Does It?
But what am I really saying when I say “the world doesn’t care what I have to say”?
I mean… the world is a very big place. I don’t need 7 billion people to care what I have to say. I don’t even need a thousand, or a hundred people to care what I have to say.
What was it, I asked myself, that I wrote in that blog about rejection, about my ultimate goals for my writing? “I want something I wrote to change the way someone thinks or feels about something important to me.”
“Someone” isn’t “the world.” “Someone” is ONE PERSON.
And I know for a fact that considerably more than one person has been affected by my writing–many of them people I’ve never met.
I know because they tell me. Every now and then I get another email or Facebook message from someone who stumbled across something I wrote and wanted to let me know that it meant something to them.
And for every one person who loved my work and wrote to me to say so, there are likely five, ten, or twenty more who felt the same but didn’t write to tell me about it.
Just because I don’t hear the resonance doesn’t mean it’s not resonating.
I mean, if there was anything to learn from that time I was on the front page of The New York Times… you really never know who is reading.
So… why do I keep telling myself that the world doesn’t care what I have to say?
How Our Voices Are Heard
Maybe what I really mean is that I’m not being heard the way I want to be heard.
I want to feel like my voice makes a difference. I want to be considered a thought leader on the topics I’m passionate about. I want to start a global conversation on those topics. Heck, let’s go for the unicorn footrest: I want to be interviewed on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast about creativity and resilience and coping with rejection.
But here’s the thing: we don’t get to choose how our voices are heard.
We just don’t.
We only get to choose whether to use our voices or not.
Maybe the world doesn’t care what I have to say. But there are a good handful of people who do. And I am doing us all a disservice by not saying what I have to say, just because I think not enough people are listening.
And yet, putting stuff out there and not being heard the way I want to be heard is a lot harder than it sounds.
I have a running metaphor for this (from a poem I wrote about it): sending paper boats out to sea and waiting for them to return. I think part of my silence has been because that lack of response has just been too painful. For a long time now, I’ve been hyper-focused on the parts of myself I’ve needed for my survival: Daniella the Professional Marketing Writer and Daniella the Wife and Mother. Daniella the Author has kind of been left in the dust because I just had no capacity to address her needs or desires.
So why am I turning up now?
A couple weeks ago, someone from the support team of the company I work for contacted me on Slack. She said that she had just shared an article I wrote with a user, and, curious about me, she looked up my books and wanted to purchase a couple of them. I dug out a copy of Disengagement for her from the depths of my storage room, but I was out of copies of Letters to Josep, because I’d been waiting for the new edition to be released to get a new supply. She asked me to let her know when I replenish it.
That new edition has been stuck in editing for literally 3 years. But I had more or less given up on pushing my publisher to get it done already, partly because of that feeling of defeat. What was the point? The world doesn’t care what I have to say.
But you know what?
Lene from Support cares what I have to say.
I wrote to my publisher and said that it was clear that we weren’t moving forward with LtJ and I would like to discuss using the parts that we already worked on to self-publish a new edition. My editor responded that he’d really like to move forward with it, and we agreed on a hard deadline after which I reserve the right to back out and self-publish the manuscript with the edits I want to keep.
I’m excited either way, because I know something is changing. I may not have the time or energy to devote to writing and author-ing the way I used to, but I am finally ready to move past my sense of defeat and on to the next adventure.
Daniella the Author is back, y’all.
And she doesn’t care that the world doesn’t care what she has to say. She’s gonna say it anyway.