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It is Insane to Write and Publish a Book. There, I Said It.

“To feel alive.”

That is how a former client, Doug Sundheim, described the reason someone should embrace the idea of risk in their professional lives. This seems to align with the emotions that publishing a book evokes in an author, and would be my interpretation of how Miranda Beverly-Whittemore describes her emotions before her book is released next week:

“I’m feeling a general wash of anxiety when I first wake up every morning.”

What else is she feeling? Oh, a few things:

  • excited
  • nervous
  • guilty
  • chagrined
  • distracted
  • moved and honored

And this: “I’m also prone to burst into tears much more often than usual. Like, about anything.”

Another author, Porochista Khakpour explains her feelings around launching her book (taken from Facebook, with permission):

“Less than one month til publication and I constantly want to ask if something is wrong. There must be something wrong, yes? Is something wrong? It feels like something is wrong. I am lonely, broke, sick, exhausted, and sometimes happy. I still love my second novel. Is this okay? Is it okay to say, hello, I love this book I wrote? Am I kidding? Who am I kidding? I guess I have only a few (lovely) Goodreads reviews and a whole lot of NO Amazon reviews. Is this normal? Am I posting too much about the book? Not enough? I have not sent out a mass emailing–is that okay? Do you want me to? Is that the truth? The Amazon Q+A with a great guest author has not yet appeared on my Amazon page–is this fine? Does Amazon hate me? Some people I know and love have not said a word about my second novel–is this normal? Where is the husband I broke up with too early who could help reread this, who could wash the dishes, walk the dog? Why did I break up with him and him and him etc? How did it go the first time? Is the world different now? Do books exist? Did my first book exist? (Sales would indicate NO.) Do I exist? How much worrying is too much worrying? If I worry myself into a ditch, is there nowhere to go but up? Am I worrying to simply “go up?” What is up? Is it heaven? If I act too happy about photo shoots, am I seeming superficial? If I seem too sullen about photo shoots, am I being ungrateful? If I write this post then will people think I am a failure? Will they walk away from my book because I’ve slimed it in self-doubt? Is this the real me? Who am I? If I don’t write this post, am I just pretending? If I delete this post, am I trying to manipulate your image of me? Am I manipulating my image by participating here? Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am? Please don’t answer that…”

“I am not worried about sales for $. My sales will never make me rich, trust me. But my insecurity with this book is partially rooted in it taking over 2 years of trying to sell it with no success (the first book was sold in a couple months). This one every editor seemed to love and/or be impressed by but ultimately they would freak out about it (or marketing depts freaked out about it) when it came to the final moments. Months of almost-offers would turn into no offers. Part of it was that I had terrible sales with the first book (plus all the great reviews and press in the world, plus awards and awards-lists so maybe it looked even worse to have bad sales.) With this, it would be good to have enough sales so I can publish my third and fourth books but the numbers game is different when it comes to me. I have no delusions of bestseller-dom and all that. That is not even where my head is. This pre-pub experience is just crazy-making even when things are great.”

Some responses from her Facebook friends:

  • “I feel like I’m reading my own thoughts and fears as a writer spilled out onto the page in all their naked and vulnerable glory.”
  • “It is because you are putting yourself out there, and this can be vulnerable and painful. ”
  • “All of this, yes.”
  • “I adore you”
  • “I absolutely love this! Can so identify.”
  • “It is the ultimate expression of the hidden side of the writing life. I found it very human and very moving.”

This week, Miranda, Julia Fierro and I wrapped up a huge book giveaway that featured 24 authors whose books are coming out this spring/summer.

This was a wonderful way to support other writers, and help make 24 people going through a scary process feel as though they weren’t quite so alone. There is a recognition that they have taken an enormous leap, likely feel complex emotions around it, and as Doug may say, “feel alive” because of that process.

I’ve said this before: while there is SO MUCH an author can do to prepare for a successful book launch, they can’t really “plan” for one. So much of this is about trying to create a scenario whereby luck can more likely occur.

Clearly, it is totally and completely insane to write and publish a book. Right? Why would anyone do this? To invest the time and energy; to put yourself out there so completely; to risk yourself professionally and financially to such a huge degree?

It makes no practical sense.

Which is, of course, why writers are endlessly inspiring to me. Why this act of risk is so compelling, because for many writers, they describe their motivation as:

“Because I can’t not write.”

These are the music-makers. I have heard that “everyone wants to write a book,” and have come to believe that, at the very least, there is a compelling human desire to tell stories.

Last year, my wife and I bought a house that needed extensive renovations. We hired so many professionals to give this 100 year old house another 100 years of life. One of the people we hired has an almost magical power to work with his hands, to turn concrete, metal, wood and nails into a home.

He once asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I work with writers. He immediately paused, looked into the distance, and said:

“I always wanted to write a book about a squirrel.”

This blew me away. How immediately and thoughtfully he said it, and how with only the slightest nudge, he revealed something that he had clearly thought a lot about, but you would never know it based on his normal line of work.

That beneath the layers of dried concrete, dust, and oil on his hands, was a storyteller who had not yet put words to paper.

That we – all people – are made of stories. That we look for stories in every corner of our lives. That we, each of us, create stories.

And some of you write them down. And try to share them. And that is totally insane. And I thank you for it.

  • Once again you hit me with a perfect message at the perfect time. First, I join you in excitement about the new books you are helping authors to launch. I identify completely with their pre-launch anxieties.

    And second, I am preaching a sermon on Sunday called “I Love to Tell the Story.” Could be that the squirrel will turn up at University Mennonite Church in State College, Pennsylvania.

    • Thank you Shirley! Have fun on Sunday! And I love the idea of “the squirrel will turn up,” being a metaphor for sharing a story.

  • Karrie Zylstra Myton

    I adore the image of the concrete man with a book inside him about a squirrel. For myself, I write because, as insane as writing is, my life feels more insane when I don’t. Today is my Friday off from writing. I may do it anyway.

  • Ushma Naik

    “That we – all people – are made of stories. That we look for stories in every corner of our lives. That we, each of us, create stories.”

    ..and the sharing of those stories is what connects our experiences – across space, time and distance, even across cultures to people we may never have met. Almost like an affirmation of our shared humanity.

    Dan, I started following your blog casually a couple years ago. I kept coming back because of the useful tips and interesting anecdotes – but what really had me hooked was the utterly transparent, personal and authentic way in which you share stories about the people, projects and experiences you are involved in.

    I’ve been off-writing for a week thanks to a screaming, teething toddler hanging off my tshirt hem but like Karrie, I too might write today. Totally inspired!

    • Wow – thank you so much Ushma! Have a lovely day!

  • Emotion? Anyone? sort of addiction, I guess.
    Thanks Dan, great post, as usual.

  • Carly Compass

    This is a great article Dan. I can really relate to Porochista Khakpour even if I would be afraid to attempt to pronounce her name correctly. Her raw emotions and honest feelings expressed so openly, allows the reader to feel free to do the same. I especially needed to hear your words of encouragement at the end. “And I thank you for it.” Because it’s nice to know that at least someone might appreciate the trials and tribulations that a writer goes through, making the process worth while…Thank you Dan.

  • This post made me smile. Thanks for brightening my Saturday morning.

  • As a newbie writer it is soooo good to hear that my thoughts on writing are not just my own version of craziness! Thanks for posting!

  • Mary McFarland

    Lol! Dan, I love, love, love this. Yes, everyone has a story, even the squirrel (and I’ve talked to a few). I get sidetracked everywhere I go, most recently at a concrete and brick factory–their building was used for making weaponry in the Civil War, and the guys had sooo many stories–so I just want to say, congrats on your upcoming book (can’t wait to read), and thanks so much for this post. Insanely yours, and shamelessly uncaring!