What author, at one time or another, hasn’t imagined the following scenario, or some version of it: You finish writing your manuscript and send it off to a handful of literary agents. You’re offered representation. Your agent loves your book and can’t wait to sell it. He or she has great connections and promptly sells your book to a New York publishing house. You sign a contract, receive a generous advance, and make minor tweaks under the tutelage of your brilliant editor who totally gets you and your work. You adore the cover the publisher comes up with, which perfectly captures your book’s essence. You start writing your next book while your publisher’s robust and energetic publicity team plans your book tour and places your excerpts and articles in glossy magazines. Your publisher’s PR team arranges interviews for you on national media. All you have to do is show up. Your book is received with praise. You are a successful author. You have arrived. All is well. Now you can relax, sit back, collect royalty checks, and keep writing in silent, solitary bliss while your book becomes an international bestseller.
If any part of this scenario has happened for you, bravo and congratulations! That’s amazing. I’d love to hear your story. But I don’t know anyone who’s experienced this fantasy. Instead, I’ve heard way too many nightmares. And I’ve experienced my share of disappointment and rejection.
Ironically, for many authors, and especially for aspiring authors, waking up from unrealistic publishing dreams, and then confidently laying them down, may be the best strategy for becoming a successful published author. It’s fine to hope for great things, and it’s fabulous to dream, but if you cling to your fantasies—which is more common than you might think—you may miss out on real-life opportunities.
The outcome of your efforts is not in your hands, but here’s what is: showing up; doing what you love and loving what you do; allowing yourself to be guided by your own wisdom; having humility—and a willingness to learn and grow every step of the way. Even if you are offered what seems like a perfect deal, publishing, regardless what path you take, is about what you make of your experience.
If you’re thinking about publishing a book, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the current state of publishing. The best book I’ve read on this subject is Brooke Warner’s Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing. Brooke breaks down complex ideas. Her book is both comprehensive and comprehensible. Even so, I suggest reading it more than once. I buy them in bulk and give them to my students and clients.
Like I said, it’s okay to dream. I encourage it. You need to dream to have a vision to stretch into. I dream all the time. But if your dream doesn’t show up the way you expected—if it doesn’t look the way you imagined—consider alternative options that keep you moving in the direction of your dream or goal. The last thing you want to do is hang your freedom and peace of mind on the vagaries of the publishing industry!
On a recent episode of her podcast, “Write-minded,” Brooke compared landing a traditional publishing deal to attending an Ivy League college. It’s competitive. Students who walk those hallowed halls aren’t guaranteed success, joy, or anything else—even among the small percentage of the population that gets in. In today’s publishing landscape, “admission” criteria often has less to do with your intelligence, creativity, or even the value of your project, and more to do with your author platform. Author platform is the size of your audience. Who you know still matters, but who knows you matters more. Traditional publishers need to sign authors who can sell books. But Brooke’s point is that there are plenty of stellar schools out there beyond the Ivy Leagues, and being denied entry wouldn’t cause you to give up on your education. You’d go somewhere else. You’d keep learning and growing.
The same is true in publishing. Don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater. Publishing is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are more opportunities to publish now than ever before. The key is to do what works for you. If something isn’t working on your path to publication, step off the trail. Find another.
Rumi, the great Persian poet, reminds us, “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.” Release whatever blame or shame may be bubbling beneath your social media façade.
There’s no “right” way to publish a book any more than there’s a “right” way to live a life—except to do it your way.
*My forthcoming book, Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book, is divided into five parts: Dream, Nourish, Write, Publish, and Promote. This post is an excerpt from the “Publish” section.