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What Would Buddha Do As An Unpublished Author?

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending an author lunch at San Francisco publisher Berrett-Koehler. In attendance were Christine Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi and author of Campaign Boot Camp; William Bennett Turner, author of Figures of Speech, Sharon Donovan, former publishing director of Counterpoint Press, several other guests, and most of the Berrett-Koehler staff, including Publisher Steve Piersanti.

The authors presenting that day were B.J. Gallagher and Franz Metcalf, authors of What Would Buddha Do At Work: 101 Answers to Workplace Dilemmas and its new edition published by BK, Being Buddha at Work. After writing What Would Buddha Do, Metcalf teamed up with Gallagher, author of A Peacock in the Land of Penguins, in order get her corporate perspective on what Buddha would do at work. Now I’m going to answer your burning question: What Would Buddha Do As An Unpublished Author?

According to Gallagher and Metcalf, in order to communicate effectively with others in the workplace, your speech should be useful, true, and ready to be heard. In other words, don’t write useless blog posts, status updates, and tweets. Don’t write about what you ate for breakfast—unless you have a recipe blog and that information is useful to your readers. Write truthfully, and wait until your message is ready to be heard. If you’re writing about self-publishing to a group of diehard traditionally published writers, your message is not be ready to be heard. If you’re writing about climate change to a conservative audience, your message is not ready to be heard. Wait until it is ready to be heard, and it will spread.

The second secret to Buddha’s success as an unpublished author is that he doesn’t fall for the illusion of separateness. According to Metcalf and Gallagher, most conflicts at work—jealousy, lack of trust, lack of respect, etc. come from the false belief that the workers are separate from each other, and that they are separate from their superiors. The same goes for authors, agents, and publishers. In order to be a successful author, to get your query read and responded to, to get agented, and to get a book deal, you need to stop thinking of agents and publishers as separate from yourselves. As Gallagher puts it, “We’re all in this together, and we’re all united.” We all want to see quality work in bookstores and to read quality books. So as an author, rather than whining that 50 agents sent you form rejection letters, you should focus on what you can do to make your book better, how you can make it the kind of book that YOU would want to spend $14.99 on, the kind of book you would get excited about and want to represent and promote if you were an agent or a publisher.

And if all else fails, remember Buddha’s theory of impermanence. According to Gallagher, many people view Buddhism as a raft to get to the other side of a river where the grass is greener, to nirvana. They get on the raft and start heading over, and halfway across, the raft breaks and they fall flailing into the water. But guess what? THAT’S nirvana. The cold, roiling river. Not the green on the other side. Because there is no green on the other side. It’s just an illusion. Nirvana is the imperfect, impermanent, here and now. To an unpublished author, nirvana may seem like a publishing deal. It may seem like 5000 Facebook followers, 10,000 Twitter followers, or a Klout score like Justin Bieber’s. But you know what? You won’t be any happier when you get that publishing deal. You think you will, but you won’t. Because the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Because all this craziness—the struggle to balance family with writing and blogging and Tweeting and Linked In and Facebook—that’s nirvana. So enjoy it.

20 comments to What Would Buddha Do As An Unpublished Author?

  • Kristan

    LOVE that last section. Yeah, I want the green on the other side, lol, but more and more I think you're right. THIS is the green on the other side. AND it's the ice cold water. AND it's the leaky raft. It's everything. It's all there is. And you can either be happy with it, or not.

    Thanks for the zen wisdom today!

    • meghancward

      Of course, I still want to get published, too, but with the awareness that I won't be any happier once I do, that I'll still have to market like crazy, that I'll have even less time for writing and sleeping and playing with my kids, and that I'll then have to start all over from scratch with book two. And that's why it's so fun!

  • lindseycrittenden

    THis post proves its own advice – to be useful. Amen to all that's said here, especially about the goal being to write the best we can write, not to be published. And, to borrow from another tradition, the kingdom of heaven is here & now. How easily we lose sight of that, and how necessary to be reminded. Again & again

    • meghancward

      Lindsey, thanks for mentioning heaven because I agree with you, heaven is here and now. And I'm glad this post was useful! 🙂

  • meghancward

    Thanks for that link, KLM! I love Kirsten's website, and I'll read her post tonight. And yes, it's so true – what will change? Nothing. Really. Sigh.

  • Lots of wisdom here. Will RT. I'm getting so annoyed with marketing people telling writers to treat potential readers as a kind of prey that needs to be stalked. Annoying people doesn't sell anything. But books especially. How can they miss us if we won't go away?

    • meghancward

      Amen to that, Anne! I know someone who is queen marketer of her goods – books, classes, podcasts, etc. She self-promotes so much that I have had to hide her on Facebook, unsubscribe from her e-mail list etc. It doesn't work. It turns people off.

      • SESchanfield

        At the recent Backspace conference in NYC, there was a lot of talk about the author's on-line platform. I'm kind of a dinosaur WRT tweeting, blogging, etc., usually prefer to be doing yoga or gardening. It was sort of discouraging, until my husband (not a writer, but a reader) made the observation that most people really don't give a s**t about the author's on-line platform, they just want to read a good book. Have to admit that cheered me up.

  • lynmidnight

    Hmm. See, conflicts at work arise from Social Comparison processes. Also, in a company there would be this sense of Social Identity, which if it is strong, it buffers conflict. However, I think that with writers it's exactly this lack of social connectedness and alienation/isolation that works against them. This is what social media is for, after all. 🙂 I love the Buddhist reference. It rings very true and it gives pleasure indeed, to those who are willing to see it. We should always remember to enjoy the process and not just aim for the goal. Thanks for this post. I enjoyed it and it gave me something to think about.

    • meghancward

      Lyn, I know nothing about Social Comparison processes or Social Identity, but thank you for sharing that info with us! I do think the part about the river is very true – that writers think getting a book deal, or getting the next book deal, will solve all their problems and make them happy. But the published writers I know aren't any happier than I am. Maybe less so because at least we unpublished writers still have hope.

  • Paula Reed Nancarrow

    Ummm. How would Buddha define "published"? Does it require Dead Tree Technology? Isn't enlightenment under a live one enough?

    • meghancward

      Well, the Buddha of the 21st century would sure be open to e-book technology, but good question – what does it mean to be published? I'm not sure enlightenment = published book, but one could argue that wordpress = published book.

  • SESchanfield

    Great post, Meghan. I'm an aspiring author and an aspiring Buddha (maybe in a few thousand lifetimes). My under-development blog is entitled "Writing is a yoga," because for me when I sit down to write it is a moment-by-moment thing. I'm guessing that when I find a publisher (or self-publish) that process will become a yoga, too.

  • SESchanfield's comment about readers' interest in writers' platforms is really spot on.

    I love writers' blogs, etc, as a way to meet others in the profession. They fulfil the role of social room, staff canteen or gym, as a place to mingle with fellow workers and curse the bosses.

    But I cannot imagine my readers doing more than pay the occasional visit to see when the next book is due out.

    Readers who aren't themselves writers simply don't care about our work problems, any more than we care about theirs. Unless we are celebrity writers or have some other claim to be stalked, readers read us and move on to the next author until we write another book.

    • meghancward

      I agree, Mark. I think unless a reader is really a fan of the author him/herself, they're not likely to care as much about their blog as other writers/bloggers.

  • Ann Best

    When you get to that other side–i.e. you have a published book, in my case by a traditional publisher–it's nirvana only in the sense that you actually accomplished what you set out to do: write a good book. Now comes the difficult part: promoting it. And there's nothing particularly romantic about that. It's work! But I tell myself if I'm not enjoying it, I'd better figure out how to. So I'm letting myself enjoy the comments from readers who tell me they liked my book, to relax with a Netflix movie, to read a book I've been wanting to read and review. Balance is what I want.

    I'm with you when you point out how pointless it is to Tweet about what you had for breakfast. What a waste of time. I don't spend my time responding to such comments. What's there to say? Do they really want to know what "I" had for breakfast?

    This article, Meghan, is a perfect example of the kind of content we should post. It's interesting. It's informative. It invites dialogue. You're an excellent role model!

    • meghancward

      Ann, I don't doubt that getting published feels like nirvana for a while. But from what I've heard, that feeling wears off and then it's back to the old grind of writing, revising, blogging, promoting, etc. etc. I remember reading this book called "Do It: Let's Get off Our Buts" by Peter McWilliams years ago (the book was originally "cowritten" by his guru, but McWilliams later had a falling out with him and took his name off the book since he hadn't actually done any of the writing). It was an incredibly wonderful and motivating book that really made you want to "Do It," but it had a caveat at the end that once you achieved the goal you set out to achieve, you may be disappointed at how you felt. I thought it was so interesting that he chose to include that zen warning in the book!

  • Rebecca Kiel

    In Buddhism, Right Speech is one of the five precepts or moral guidelines. Among other things, Buddha recommended an abstinence from idle chatter. In this way, Right Speech is a practice of mindfulness. My guess is this is part of the idea around writing, blogging, speaking with intention. Like writing a manuscript, it is about being conscious of what you say or write rather than for the mere purpose of having a post for the day. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really interested in what someone ate for breakfast, nor do I have time to read a post about breakfast. What I am interested in are posts that were written with thought, with a consciousness around providing something, or the intention of sharing an experience for the sake of community or entertainment.

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