Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Expect the unexpected

 In the oral history We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy (Yael Kohen), Anjelah Johnson (now Anjelah Johnson-Reyes) describes how the year 2007 went for her. She'd gotten onto a TV show that was canceled; she had no money. And then a video of one of her jokes went viral, and she got a new manager, a new agent, and a role on a TV show. Eventually she was laid off from that show, but she continued with stand-up comedy.

Reading that, I thought, Wow, what a cycle! And it also reminded me of stories I've heard of some writers' careers, in terms of sudden advances and sudden reversals, and highs and lows, and unpredictability.

There's Neal Pollack's story, and this interview in which he talks about the umpteen times when he thought he had finally hit the big time, only to find it was hard to stay on the summit of any mountain in the publishing world. And how came to conclude this: "I spent a lot of years trying to turn myself into a brand because they told us self-branding is a way to success. And I kind of believed the hype. It’s just not true." 

Fame is fickle, and success in the arts is wildly unpredictable. We've all heard this. We all know this. But in the back of our minds is the idea that there will be a moment when we've "made it," a time when we achieve a sustainable level of success.

And many do, which keeps that dream alive. But I suspect it's far more common to experience waves of gain and loss and near-gain. It's also possible to decide that one has had enough of that--of publishing, if not of writing.

In 2020 I tried to publish an article updating the careers of several authors whose debut novels had appeared 10 years earlier, showing where their paths had taken them in that decade. Some were still writing; some weren't. All were doing interesting things with their lives. I had no takers from the writers' magazines and websites, which I still think is a shame, as this is exactly the kind of information that I, as an aspiring and later a newly-published author, wanted myself. What could I expect, realistically? 

If I were to answer that question now, I would say: Expect to be surprised. Expect change. Allow yourself to change what you want. And as much as possible, enjoy the ride.


  1. Nathan Bransford just wrote about this post in his "this week in books:" "Writing careers are very rarely linear, and I enjoyed this post by Jennifer Hubbard about how nearly everyone goes through a cycle of ups, downs, and near-misses, without ever really feeling like they’ve “made it.”"

    I think this is a fascinating topic. I'm surprised to hear none of the writers' magazines and websites weren't interested. I'd think anyone aspiring for a writing career would be interested. I've published a novel, and been struggling with the second one for years. I have published several short stories, but I'm nowhere near where I'd love to be. To hear others' paths would be awesome. I can't be the only person to think this! I hope you get more comments!

    1. Thanks! I was happy to find that Jessica Spotswood on Twitter compiled this kind of information on the 2012 debut class: