How many of us have toiled in front of our computers for weeks, months, or years on end, honing our work, polishing it to a high sheen, hoping our story grabs the attention of an acquisition editor. After receiving one rejection after another, in the mail comes THAT letter, the one that says The Really Smart Publishing House loved your work, and wants to publish it.
I’ve had the privilege of getting that letter. And when it did happen, I felt like I was on top of the world. A publisher actually wanted to publish my novel. But after the euphoria fades, and the hard work of getting your novel ready for print sets in, a new reality begins to blossom—the inevitable publishing setbacks. This is the part most writers never think about when they envision what it’s like to be a published author.
It’s easy to see in our heads excited readers turning the pages of our tomes, sinking their teeth into the twists and turns of the story, ruminating on the nuances of our characters. What we never expect is that the cover art for your book looks horrendous, and you have little say in the matter, or that the book distributor the publisher is working with has gone out of business, which means your book is put on hold until they sign with a new distributor. In my case, I had to wait fourteen months before my novel was released as a result of that unforeseen disaster. Or the editor hasn’t finished with the story yet, and because he missed the publishing window assigned you, the release date for your book gets pushed back six months. And when the novel is finally released, the publisher does next to nothing to help you promote it. It’s as though they’re saying, “We’ve done our part. Now it’s time to do yours. So go out and sell your book.” This then begs the question—Is is worth it?
The only way I can answer this most important of questions is it depends on what day you ask me. In some cases, it even comes down to what time of day you ask. There are times after a long stint on the computer that I’m all out of words, what I’ve written is no good, and it probably won’t get published anyway. In those times of despair, I want nothing more to do with writing, except to just walk away and not formulate another word in my head. At that moment, my answer is an emphatic, “NO. All this work for little reward is definitely not worth it.”
However, after a much needed night of sleep, I wake up feeling a whole lot different. My mind has been recharged, story ideas are flowing again, and when I re-read the previous day’s work, I usually find it’s much better than I initially thought. Changes are undoubtedly needed here and there, but there is almost always something promising to work with. It’s at this point I start to get excited about the story again, and have a renewed desire to finish it. And not only finish it, but finish it well. Ask me the same question at that moment, and my response is an enthusiastic, “YES, it is definitely worth it.”
Like other authors who go through the same type of emotional roller coaster ride, the weeks and months it takes to finish your work is filled with plentiful No/Yes moments along the way. But you plow through those valleys of despair, and eventually finish your novel. If you’re one of the fortunate few, you find a publishing house that wants to publish your novel. The next stops in your literary journey are spending several months addressing the story elements the publisher wants fixed, figuring out what the cover is going to look like, writing the back of the book blurb, acquiring book endorsements, and developing a marketing strategy. Then that glorious day finally arrives. Your book is officially released.
If you’re lucky, your publisher will help you with the promotion, but most of it rests on your shoulders. It is you that goes to the local book stores in the hopes of setting up a book signing, usually with mixed results. You’re the one that contacts books clubs, libraries, local newspapers, radio stations, online blog sites, book reviewers, all in the hopes of finding those few who are interested in promoting your work. Then there’s creating your book website, getting book reviews, setting up a publishing party, signing up for shows and conventions, again, all on your shoulders. And after months of almost non-stop promoting, you will probably have a few hundred sales to show for your efforts, often times, not even that.
I don’t intend to paint a grim picture, but this is the typical life for first-time authors, and second time, and third time, etc. It’s a lot of hard work, and you often don’t have much to show for your efforts.
Is it worth it? That depends on why you write. If it’s to hit it big and be a New York Times bestselling author, chances are that’s not going to happen. Is it to make enough money so you can quit your day job and spend your waking hours creating one masterpiece after the other, again, that’s not a likely future for you. If, however, you write novels because you’re a story teller at heart, and you want to share them with others so they can be taken along on a wonderful journey, then you have a very good chance of fulfilling that dream. And if that truly is your dream, then I say yes, it’s definitely worth it.
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Mike Lynch is constantly awed by the wonder of God’s creation, which has led to his interests in theology, astronomy, history, politics, and films, eventually turning his attention to writing. He published his first (non-fiction) book, Dublin, in 2007. His first novel, When The Sky Fell, co-authored with Brandon Barr, was published two years later, followed by two other books they’ve written together, American Midnight and After The Cross (to learn more, visit Ellechor Publishing House). His latest novel, The Crystal Portal, co-authored by Travis Perry, was released in 2011. Mike graduated from San Jose State with a degree in history, and from San Jose Bible College with a degree in Bible and theology. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children. Visit Mike at his web site.