The Mind-Bending Paradox of Getting Published

Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by fellow Top Ten Blogger, and published author, Larry Brooks of Storyfix.

Other than the pure delight of pouring words onto a blank screen, we writers have one thing in common.  And it’s huge.

It’s the dream of getting published.  We all have it in one form or another.

The process of pursuing “the dream” is a life lesson in itself.  And while the fruits of the dream validate themselves when you get there – yeah, it’s a hoot alright, no question – there’s a little surprise waiting for you in the bookstore parking lot.  One that brings the life lesson of chasing that dream full circle.

It’s not quite a dark side.  But it is an unexpected challenge.

Because getting published can make you crazy.  I know, I’ve been there.

The Surprise Dream Swap

Before we publish we have these little conversations with ourselves.  If I can only publish one book before I die, I’ll be happy.  I’ll be fulfilled.  I just want to see my book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble.  Just one.  Please God, I’ll never swear at another driver on the freeway again.

Just getting there is enough, we believe.  Dreaming beyond that is too big, too much at this point.  Sure, it’d be great to be the next Dan Brown – hey, we dream about winning the lottery, too, which has about the same odds–but we’ll settle for just showing up.

Book signings. Reviews. Keynote gigs. Workshops. Running into someone waiting for a plane who is passing the time with your book.

We swoon at the idea of it.

And then, when it happens, something changes, and quickly. The dream has been fulfilled. But suddenly, unexpectedly, and without the caveat of humility because now that you can smell it… you want more.

You want a career. You want to be Janet Evanovich. You want to be rich and famous doing what you love.

And that’s what will make you crazy.

Because–and this will dawn on you later, after you’ve done everything in your feeble power to make it happen–you will soon realize one of those life lessons. Sanity is accepting the lesson and getting back to work.

But in the meantime, you’ll lay awake nights worrying about your next ranking.

Here’s That Big Life Lesson Realization

You had some control over getting published.  Not much, really, but at least enough to legitimately throw sincere effort at it.  You wrote and wrote and wrote until the book was stellar.  You burned your kid’s college fund going to workshops to schmooze agents.  You’re on a first packages in the shape of a manuscript.  You went for it, put yourself in luck’s path, and it happened.

You’ve sweat blood for this.  To a large extent, you made it be.

And now, your book is there on the shelf at Borders, your review ran the local daily, your critique group buddies drop to their knees at your presence… but you want more.

You want the next step.  Your name in lights.  A guest shot on Leno.  A movie deal.

You want it all.

But guess what – you have absolutely no control whatsoever over that potential outcome.  Once you turn the book over to a publisher, you become a spec of dust swept up into the wing vortex of a departing airliner.

And it will make you crazy.

You will go to bookstores dozens of miles out of your way to move your book to the top shelf of the kiosk, instead of the third row way back in the fiction section.

You will write your own reviews on Amazon under an assumed name.

You will set up book signings at any store that will have you, and you will experience the angst of nobody showing up.  Of selling one copy (in my case, to a priest who felt sorry for me).  Of being introduced to an audience of four by the wrong name.  Of people telling you they found a typo on page 107.

One shift manager at Barnes & Noble approached to ask for my I.D. as I was signing the stock, something my publisher had arranged. I asked her to repeat the question. Then I plucked a book from the kiosk, opened it to my picture and said, “how’s that for I.D.?” She wasn’t amused. Still wanted to see my I.D.  Because, of course, author lookalikes come in all the time to falsely autograph paperbacks. I came back the next day to find that–apparently because I gave this clerk a little attitude–my books, all 24 of them on display, had been taken down. Nobody could find them.

It’ll drive you crazy.

You will watch your book slowly disappear into the abyss of the passage of time. And you will cling to it ferociously, scream for it to come back, and yet there it goes, dwindling off over the horizon of mid-list titles that had their moment in the publishing sun and now join the millions of other dreams in the equivalent of some secret literary elephant burial ground.

It will kill you. You will write another book, but you will rush it because you want that momentum back. You will swap emails with other authors you met on the writing road who didn’t get a second book deal. You will thank the stars that’s not you. Until it is you.

You will reject, at all costs, the notion of publishing your next book yourself.

Until you don’t.

Until you realize that the dream really did come true.

That you were published. And that it was good. Spectacular. It was bliss while it lasted. Getting published is toothpaste that cannot be put back into the tube. It’s forever. Which is why it is all worth it.

And then, there you’ll be, alone once again with that blank screen. And the life lesson will resume.

You are a writer. This is the game you signed up for. This is the fine print. You are playing a lottery game with slim odds. Talent and quality are a factor, but not the primary factor.

This is business masquerading as a crap shoot. It’s a bet you make with your sweat equity and publishers make with their money. You are just a chip in that game, while they are the real players. If your number comes up, you are golden.

If not… at least you got to play. Even just a little.

The real life lesson in it all? That’s easy.

The joy doesn’t reside in the end game. The ecstasy is in the work. The pure bliss of storytelling. Of being a writer, and seeing and then appreciating the world through that lens. Of seeing the poetry around us, of hearing the lyrics.

Sure, enjoy the ride when that publishing moment arrives. Grab it and go. Lose yourself in it, because it may only happen once, and it may not last.

If it doesn’t, give thanks. Then get back to work.

In either case, it won’t be what you think it will be.

You will come back to that blank screen, even if you do become Janet Evanovich. She and her esteemed A-list peers suffer that same moment doubt and fear while alone with a story under development. Which means you are not alone.

You are more like them than you know. You are already one of them.

You are a writer. You pay your dues, you take your chances.

It is up to you to find sanity, and reward, along the way. Getting published isn’t the destination. It’s more like a pit stop, an island of pleasure, an E-ticket ride, maybe a train wreck. And like everything in life, it’s temporary.

Hold on. Anyway you shake it, it’s going to be a bumpy, glorious ride.

Larry Brooks has published five novels with varying degrees of insanity. He is the creator of, recently named as one of theTop Ten Blogs for Writers.” His new book, “Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Writing” comes out at the end of February from Writers Digest Books.

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20 comments on “The Mind-Bending Paradox of Getting Published

  1. Well, no one ever said this was going to be easy. Great article.

  2. K.M. Weiland says:

    Great post, Larry. (And I love the pic!) I’m supremely fond of Anne Lamott’s comment that publishing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – but writing is. Writing, for me, is all about the journey. Destinations are great, and, when we reach them, it’s always cause for celebration – but if we’re so focused on getting there that we miss the scenery, we probably need to readjust our priorities.

  3. Judy Dunn says:

    Wow, Larry. So many truths here. We all work so hard to reach that goal that we don’t appreciate the journey. Thanks for sharing it through the eyes of such an accomplished author (and with such humor and wit, too). : )

  4. “Getting published is toothpaste that cannot be put back into the tube.” This is fabulous, Larry! I’m tweeting it.

    You can probably hear me laughing from here!

  5. Conor Ebbs says:

    Wow, that was a rollercoaster of a read. Great impactful writing.

    If I didn’t get up each morning burning to create, this would send me packing. Getting published would be swell, perhaps, but I’m with K.M. in taking in the views and enjoying the ride.


  6. Ollin says:

    Loved this, Larry! Thank you for being so honest and sincere about your journey. I guess I’m going to make a sequel to this blog after I get published–{Courage 2 CONTINUE to Create} Hehe.

  7. Hi Ollin,

    A small surprise for you over at my site. Don’t worry–just fun bloggy stuff:)

  8. Just wanted to let you know that I named you to receive the highly prestigious Stylish Blogger Award.

    Here’s the link:

  9. souldipper says:

    The photo is awesome, Ollin – if that was your choice.

    Larry, you confirmed that the process has not improved over the last 10 years in spite of the effects of the Internet and Seth Godin. 🙂 I worked for a published writer and all that you described was the experience that she had. Thankfully she was tenaciously willing to go to any length to be heard.

    I came away wondering if there is any other art form that has such bottlenecks.

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks! When I saw the photo I thought it was perfect. It’s a piece of artwork from Germany. Click on the photo and it will take you to the description.

  10. Larry says:

    To all who have commented thus far, thanks for contributing to this conversation. This is like dropping into a party where you don’t know anybody (always hard on the nerves), and finding that you are already among friends, people who are real. Think I like it here on Courage to Create, gonna hang a while. Ollin, thanks for having me. L.

  11. amkuska says:

    Great post! I loved the toothpaste line. What a perfect analogy!

  12. My father utilizes my latest published book as a coaster for his nightly glass of wine. (I suppose it’s convenient that it’s still shrink wrapped). I don’t think anyone in my family has actually read any of my books, other than a distant relative from Ecuador. They tend to prefer People magazine. My first book was even written while I was undergoing chemo and radiation for cancer. Talk about anticlimactic–I couldn’t tear folks away from a Lakers game to show them my first copy when it arrived

    You hit the nail on the head with your post, Larry. I had to chuckle at the absurdity of it all. Publishing is the pie-in-the-sky validation all writers seek, not only in a professional/business sense, but on an emotional level. But once you are there, it’s a different story. People still assume I must be a hairdresser when they look at me. And yes, I am looking for that movie deal next on my agenda.

    At best, I enjoy the fact that being published opens a few more doors and the books act as stepping stones to a life where I can spend my entire days writing, exclusively. A good book is a calling card, some extra chump change every few months, and well….maybe a nice coaster in the end. But I love my memories of the final month crunch, the floor covered in stacks of photos and papers. I love the private moments, ripping open the package like Christmas to see the first sample copy. I take it out and have a quiet drink at a bar by myself, flipping through the pages. Then comes the best part–I put the book down and start writing notes for the next one, knowing my chances are at least infinitesimally better of getting it published also.

    Thank you for the trip down memory lane.

    – Dominique Mainon

  13. Larry says:

    @Dominique — big hugs to you. Singin’ to the choir. Very inspiring, and sparklingly (is that a word? don’t care…) written. Thanks for playing. Larry

    @Souldipper — gee, for a moment there I was preparing a humble thank you for your comment about the photo. Until realized you were talking to Ollin about surrealistic staircases, not the writer of the post. Oops. Now I’m really humbled. Goes to show, we see and hear and read what we want and hope to see and hear and read. Thanks for the reality check (reality: the old gray stallion, he ain’t what he used to be…). Larry

  14. tahliaN says:

    Excellent post. A good reminder of the realities and what to avoid.

    To me this says – be content with where you are and grateful for what you have, then it doesn’t matter where on the journey you are. Wanting more is what makes us unhappy. Also expectations are a killer, because with that comes disappointment. I always say – no expectations, no disappointments.

  15. This is amazing and exactly what I needed to read today. I just finished sending out a few query letters and partial manuscripts with jitters collapsing all over me. Thank you again.


  16. Jacqui says:

    Wow. Almost depressing. I’m going to enjoy the pre-pub ride a lot more now that I know what comes after.

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