Really this isn't a rant, it's more of a reality check. I've been published for two and a half years now (or really close to it--I think I'm off by 3 days), and I've learned a few things along the way.
Prior to selling, my goal was to "get an agent." It was a noble goal to be sure, but in the interim, I've seen more than one author-friend languish while their agent either stuck them in never-ending revision-trenches or even actively tried to sell their books. An agent is not the magical fairy who will get you published. They are just one step on the path to a New York contract, and not a sure one at that. If you notice, I still don't have an agent. I'm no longer worried about it because I took a different path, one I'm very okay with.
Then I thought, if I just sell something, it'll all be okay! Truth is, it's "okay" to be an aspiring author. It's okay to toil away on manuscripts that don't sell. It's all O-fucking-kay because signing with a publisher doesn't mean your book will fly off the shelves. Reviews don't necessarily make that happen either, no matter how good they are. What does selling change? You are now a published (or almost-published) author. This is a big deal and cause for celebration, but you're still going to have to toil away at that next manuscript.
Bigger publishers, better deals, hitting lists, making bank... They are all good goals. But at the end of the day, you still have to write a great next book. Especially in the digital age, the idea of a book a year (or less often) doesn't work. The drive to get the agent or book deal or whatever? You still need it after, in fact, you might need it more.
The reality is, there's no sweet spot for most authors where they can just sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor. There has to be a push to keep going in order to move forward.
The real trick? The real sweet spot? It's learning to balance that need for progress with the joy of writing. I've said it before and I'll say it over and over again: if you aren't writing because you love it--because it's a passion--you shouldn't do it. But if you can love it even when it's ugly and hard and exhausting...then you'll be able to weather all the storms that come with it.