The Scary Truth of Publishing

Trying to get published and even being published is a journey filled with fear, uncertainty, depression and angst. Those are a lot of negative emotions surrounding something that you love to do, but that’s because the truth of publishing is that it is a business. It doesn't feel that way when you are writing. When you are creating your characters, their world, saying the things you've always wanted to say. But once your work is out of your hands it is no longer in your control what happens to it. In traditional publishing, it is up to an agent to LOVE it and want to sign you. It is up to an editor to ADORE it and want to publish you. Then it is up to readers to think your book looks interesting and buy it. Then they have to LOVE it, so other readers will find you and you can publish more books and so on.
So, what does being published feel like when you strip away the insanely-giddy “oh my God someone likes me, my book is going to be a book” feeling?
A fear-induced, constant heart attack.
I have always been an anxious person. I worry, but that anxiety is nothing compared to the high-voltage anxiety I feel now, every day, all day long. Will my book sell enough? Am I doing enough to make it sell? And the worst question of all; were all those agents and editors who rejected me for all those years right? Was I not good enough?
What I am admitting is the worst truth, the black, scary, monstrous thing that authors don’t like to talk about: in order to keep publishing, you need to sell books.
You book could be amazing, special, your beating heart on the page, but none of that matters if no one wants to pay for it.
Of course, sales are nothing you can control. Nothing I can control, and as someone filled with anxiety, this has been the hardest part.
The thing is my book is selling, it’s not a bestseller, but people are reading it. People are buying it who aren’t my mother. It's in bookstores, in libraries. The elation I feel knowing this is probably greater than the fear—the shadowy, shameful fear about book sales--but still I wonder, always wonder if the amount is enough. I am scared that it isn't and I wonder what would be.
What I am clinging to in all of this, what I am learning is the only thing that can keep you sane, or at least is keeping me sane, are the people who read your book and love it; the readers who seek you out to thank you for writing it. The reviews that make you wonder how you had the capacity to do the things they are praising. But some days this doesn't work, because I crave acceptance just like everyone else, and unfortunately in publishing true acceptance equates to sales.
I think about the writer I used to be before I was published. When I found true joy in the turn of a phrase or a funny line one of my characters said. When I was just writing on a legal pad and not thinking about who would like it or buy it. I wish I could feel that way again. Be able to diffuse the fear of whether what I am writing is good enough, will sell enough. That is what the fear is doing to me.
Just like I learned to write, I am learning to be an author. It is a completely different experience. I have told my husband it feels like I am naked on the internet and in bookstores waiting for people to like me. Before I was just sitting in my office writing furiously hoping maybe someday one person would like me and give me a chance. This is where that chance has brought me, now it’s my book's turn to fly or fall on its own.
Being published, my insecurities are no different. The bar for success continues to move. To combat the fear, I know I need to believe in myself and my work. At least that is something I can control.


  1. Hey Lisa,
    Definitely can relate to all of this. I think I'm at the point, though, where I decided I'm not going to worry about any of this anymore. I'm a very anxious person also, but the worry becomes so crippling, you have to let it go right, to save your own sanity and creativity.

    Anyway, that's what I can say today. Talk to me on another day and you may find me breathing into a paper bag...

    1. some days i worry, some days i don't, most days i just try to remember to be grateful :)

  2. If it helps any to know, it gets easier as time goes by. Not because publishing and/or book sales really get any easier. It's always a tough business. The peaks are followed by valleys. But then, if you just keep going, the valleys are followed by more peaks. And though it's always a challenge, you look back and notice that you've survived a lot of valleys. And that does have a settling effect on the psyche.

  3. I hear you, sister! And I wouldn't have believed it on the other end, when I was just scribbling on a legal pad or typing furiously into the night on my laptop. I would have said, 'Bosh! Once I get that book on a shelf, that's it! No more angst. Instead, I discovered that as much as I adore it, it is a lot like children -- because as a friend said recently: "No one tells you that unless you walk into the sea like Edna Pontillier in The Awakening that it is a permanent worry no matter how old they are." Books are like that. Only more public.

  4. When my first book was accepted, I went through this period where I said to myself, "Wait. So--this thing's going to be on a shelf, where anyone who wants to can just pick it up, sift through the contents of my brain, and pass judgment on it??" Once it was out in the world, though, that fear dimmed. (And there's something about having a couple of books out there that REALLY helped get rid of any lingering shyness...)

  5. All so true, Lisa. I've done better since resisting the desire to check Amazon's sales stats for my books. Yesterday I got a notice that they're doing author rankings now. One more thing to avoid!


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