Publishing a Book = Sailing into the Unknown

Replicas of Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria sailed from Spain to the Chicago Columbian Exposition. Image via Wikipedia

Columbus Day. Wooo! *Devil horns* No? Let’s assume most of us have at least somewhat conflicted feelings about this holiday-in-which-we-all-go-to-work-anyway and talk more broadly about discovery.

Or maybe you’re sailing right past the New World without even knowing it’s there? You know, metaphorically?

Maybe it’s been a while since you read anything about Christopher Columbus, but do you recall through the haze of memory since elementary school that Columbus NEVER DID THE THING HE SET OUT TO DO?

Failure! Total loser.

He was supposed to be going to Asia, friends. And he kept hitting this awkward “unknown” continent instead. I like to picture his ships boink-boinking off the coast in various places hoping for a way through.

Sorry, pal. No spices for you.

Even better is that he didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t succeeded in his quest. He called the people he encountered on the land he kept bungling into indios—Indians—because, dammit, that’s where he was going, India, and you’d better not tell him otherwise.

He did four voyages, and every time, guess where he landed? Not in India, never in India.

Is the writing metaphor too heavy? Probably, but I’m going to boink-boink headlong into it until I get there.

I’ve heard that it’s often a writer’s fourth book that gets sold. Not the one you wrote when you weren’t sure what you were doing. Not the one you wrote when you were mad after a break up. Not the one you wrote when you were seventeen, and hey, let’s see what it reads like now. The fourth. Think about that for a while. Do you have what it takes to keep trying, if the first one doesn’t sell? Or the second? Say you get an agent, and you go through the submission process only to have all ports shut to you. Do you have what it takes to get up the next morning and start writing the third?

This is the undiscovered country for me in writing. I’ve written a lot of words that will never see the light of day, and I’ve written one novel that has sold.

Do I have it in me to write the next thing? And the next? With a full-time job, and book promotions for The Black Hour added to my pile of responsibilities?

I like to think so, but I don’t know yet.

The thing about writing and publishing is that we’re all megalomaniac ship captains smacking into things not on the map. Even after we’ve hit sandy beach once, the next expedition is as full of terror as the one before. I’ve heard plenty of writers—including Mary Higgins Clark, who’s written, like a million bestsellers—say that it never gets easier, that every time they cast off into a new story, there’s always that fear of sinking.

But somehow, doesn’t that make the fear easier for people like you and me? If Mary Higgins Clark still thinks book-writing is scary?

I’m still bobbing in the water here, wondering where I’ll land. For those of you still at sea: keep sailing. And for those of you with the day off, *devil horns*.


Author: Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

12 Replies to “Publishing a Book = Sailing into the Unknown”

  1. I remember when I was in elementary school I thought it was very weird that two entirely unrelated groups of people, in very distant parts of the world, were referred to as “Indians.”

    The writing part can be scary, but I think the Columbus analogy is especially apt these days because the map is increasingly unreliable. Twenty years ago, there was a general agreement of how to get published — the question was whether you could get there or not. Nowadays, with self-publishing and e-books and so on, there isn’t even an agreement on how to get from here to there, or even exactly where “there” might be located.

  2. With the map constantly changing, it’s even more amazing that we have found a piece of shoreline. Great analogy and by the way, I have utter faith that you will get the next book written! 🙂

  3. This is so great—I just love the image of Colombus’s ships boinking against shore after shore. He was a stubborn one, wasn’t he?

    I’m one of those people whose first book did not sell, and yes, it was incredibly difficult to wake up the next morning(s) and start writing the next one. But at that point, it also felt like I’d come so far, giving up would be like letting myself stop halfway in the middle of a vast ocean.

    1. I just really like the sound of “boink-boinking.” I might have to find another way to use that. I have a book in the drawer, too. That moment when you know you have to put it away and write something else is hard, isn’t it? But it taught me so much, I’m not sad I had to write it first. Maybe it will sail again someday.

  4. The moment when you realize you have to REWRITE something completely from scratch is also a terrifying moment. That’s what I’m doing with my WIP, because I realized I’d rather die than show the prior version to my editor.

  5. Great post, Lori! Columbus’ flub-ups yielded tons of gold though. I like to think there’s treasures even within my mistakes…Even though, eh-hem, my drawer novels will probably never see the light of day anyhow. 🙂

  6. Well, I’d love to tell you it gets less scary as you go, but it doesn’t. It does, however get EVER MORE AWESOME in terms of the fun parts, and you do get more used to the scary parts. On the whole, it’s an excellent adventure – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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