Are You Ready for the Pain of Publishing?

Ed CyzewskiGuest Blogger: Ed Cyzewski (@edcyzewski)

“Publishing a book would be neat.”

I hear that all of the time from people when I mention I’m an author. I rarely tell them what my experience of book publishing has actually been like—except for this one time.

A friend was just starting to explore writing full time with the goal of publishing a book.

“You’re serious?” I asked.

“Definitely,” he replied.

“Are you ready for two or three years of rejection?” I began. “It could happen. That’s how long it took me to get my first book deal. I’ve heard of successful authors being rejected thirty, fifty, or more times.”

His eyes widened as I continued.

“And then there’s the chance of a contract being cancelled—that’s happened to me and several friends. And that’s just the beginning…”

He looked at me with a furrowed brow and a sarcastic smile by the time I finished. “Thanks for that,” he said.

While he was and still is serious about publishing a book, he wasn’t aware of the hardships tied to publishing a book. I won’t ever downplay the joy of signing a contract, handing in a manuscript, or holding my book for the first time, but authors need to enter the publishing process aware of the challenges and pain ahead of them.

A “Publishing is neat” level of interest won’t cut it, especially when you start speaking with real agents and editors who can crush your dream in one brutal sentence. You need to love what you’re doing in order to make it. If you don’t love publishing, the pain will stop you cold.

If you love the work of writing and sharing your work with others, the pain can’t stop you. Nevertheless, the pain is coming, and you need to be ready for it:

• Publishing Demands Long Hours

I love going to bed at the same time as my wife so we can chat about our day, to say nothing of simply getting enough sleep. However, when a book deadline is approaching, I have to cut corners on the early or late ends of my day.

• Cutting and Revising

The only way I can write a half decent book is to work through several revisions over the course of months. And when I say “revisions,” I don’t mean tweaking a word here and there. I usually print out my draft, hack it to pieces with a pen, and then retype the whole thing so I’m not tempted to keep anything that isn’t the best.

I believe that I can write a good final draft, but the process involved in arriving there isn’t pretty.

• Rejection

You had to know this one was coming. Everyone gets rejected. Even legendary author Frederick Buechner’s latest book, The Yellow Leaves, was rejected by his long time publisher. There could be months of waiting with bad news on the other end.

While some authors have the perfect platform or idea, preferably both, there are so many things that have to line up perfectly in order for your book to be accepted, such as the publisher’s interests, current book line up, or financial status. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them, but either way, a “no” is tough. At a certain point, the rejections stop hurting quite so much, but the first rejections will come and they will sting.

• Asking for Publicity Help

Even blogging legend Michael Hyatt admits that it’s hard for him to ask for book endorsements (see point #4). If you’re publishing a book, you’ll have to tap your friends, colleagues, and experts for their help with promotion. You’ll need to find early readers, blogs where you can guest post, radio shows where you can be interviewed, and venues where you can hold book events. When promoting my own books, I prefer rejection from an editor over libraries and book stores that didn’t return my calls.

•  Indifferent “Readers”

I’ve spoken to a few authors about this, and I think this is the hardest part about book publishing. It’s not so bad if someone reads your book and disagrees. At least they read it. It’s especially hard when I send someone a free book and he doesn’t read it. Rejection is tough, but feeling like people are indifferent is difficult to handle.

Authors will only persevere through these hardships if they make a commitment to their creative passion to publish. If you love it, you’ll create it.

I think there are plenty of people who have what it takes to write a book, but before you take that plunge, make sure you know what awaits you.

While every author has a slightly different publishing experience, there will be plenty of pain.

Do you love the creative work of writing enough that you’ll take a tough day in book publishing over a tough day anywhere else?

* * *

creating-spaceEd’s latest eBook is available FREE Tuesday & Wednesday (Nov 27-28):

Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity


Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and author of Coffeehouse Theology and A Path to Publishing. His blog about imperfectly following Jesus is, and his writing blog is Follow him on Twitter: @edcyzewski.

  1. Ed, thank you for sharing this post. As hard as it is to swallow, it’s so important that we all enter the publishing world with our eyes wide open. I’ve been actively pursuing publication for about a year now and in that time I’ve been on the top of the mountain and at the bottom of the valley – with more highs and lows to come. I think you did your friend a favor by being honest and upfront with him about those highs and lows – but I have to agree, I love writing and pursuing this dream so much, I’d rather spend a tough day in publication, than a tough day anywhere else, because when those highs come, it’s so worth it.

  2. Whether it’s on a Bible study, sermon or novel, I write every day. Creating new stories, promoting and being in the public are also constants in my life. So publishing doesn’t seem all that frightening. Would it if my next meal depended on it? Ah, there’s the rub.

    Just as pastoring is a calling, so is writing. If one is called to full-time writing, then God will provide the means. In my case, I think I’m called to bi-vocational writing. It’s not an either/or, but a both. Perhaps when I’m done with my NaNoWriMo book, I’ll blog on this calling.

    Thanks for your input into my understanding of publishing Ed!

    • It is really a matter of putting it in the Almighty’s hands, and then neither looking back nor meddling.

      • Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:

        Oh, Andrew, I’ve put my writing in God’s hands but hadn’t thought “then neither looking back nor meddling.” Tough to do, but thanks for your words.

      • Is second guessing the same as meddling?

        • I’m afraid it is.

          The problem with second-guessing (and meddling) is that they really try to take God out of the equation – we think we can bring about a successful future outcome though reference to our own past experience, rather than trusting God to maintain the road ahead.

          I once tried an experiment – on a straight stretch of highway, I wanted to see if I could drive a straight line by reference only to my rear-view mirrors – keeping the lane line markers in the same spots on the mirrors, basically.

          The outcome was predictable, and oncoming traffic was probably quite scared (I should have picked an empty stretch of road, but such is hindsight).

          The cop who stopped me just shook his head and let me go with a warning. “There’s no way I can write this up,” he said, “without my looking as dumb as you.”

    • “Would it if my next meal depended on it?”
      Yep, in a nutshell, that’s the pain of having time to write.

    • But don’t you see, PJ? That because you have all that experience as a pastor, you weave such amazing depth into your work? I know this to be true.


    • Stuart says:

      Hi PJ
      Are you a Christian author?
      If so, could you recommend any Christian who does editing of books?
      I have written a Christian fiction book, and aim to self publish it, but need it to be edited. I’m hoping to find a Christian editor to do the work. Just wondered if you would know of any Christian who does this kind of work

      • Hi Stuart,

        I’m not the best one to ask for this nor do I think Rachelle wants me to promote an editor here.
        I recommend asking Sally Apokedak or Beth K. Vogt (Google, you’ll find them) for advice as both know the editor end of things well.

    • Anne Love says:

      P.J.–I love your mention of writing being a bi-vocational calling. I think sometimes I love writing because I have rough days elsewhere in my full-time work. I think of my writing as complimentary more than either/or. And I agree, if your paycheck doesn’t depend on the writing, it changes the dynamics a bit.
      Thought provoking comments. Thanks.

  3. fiona says:

    Thiis is an honest and insightful post. Writing is only a fraction of the journey and if people really knew the emotional cost of both that and the later stages of editing, publishing and marketing, I think it might ward off the comments such as ‘That’s neat,’ ‘How nice,’ or You’re so lucky to be able to stay at home.’ both of your blogs are really interesting. I’d like to read ‘Coffeehouse Theology.’ thank you for your wise post.

  4. Thank you for the honesty, Ed! It’s brutal honesty. :) I’ve heard over and over that as writers/authors we must develop a thick skin and your post just backs this info up.

    I feel I’m passionate about writing enough to survive the rough seas. Of course, there are times when I will probably want to throw in the towel, but I know I was called to do this. I can’t not write. :) It’s my calling whether I have rejections, bad reviews, or fickle readers. We must press on.

  5. The tough days don’t really bother me, perhaps because the road to get here – and, physically, stay here has been far worse.

  6. I love the candour, and have read and heard this kind of brutal honesty before. Let’s face it. Reality bites. There’s a lingering still small voice at the back of my head, my very soul going, “But there’s a chance, right?”. It’s there. Everyday. Without fail. If we go into this love affair without blinkers on, we face it all the better. And because we do love it, we can never give up. Sucker for punishment? Neh. It’s just the way we’re made :) No spirit of timidity in this breed.

  7. A great quote to start off with, which I just placed in one of my books:

    “The worst days of those who enjoy what they do, are better than the best days of those who don’t.”
    — E. James Rohn

    On the other hand, here are some quotations to put the business (and it is a business) of writing in proper perspective.

    “What people really want … is to be broke. At least, that’s one likely interpretation of a new YouGov poll that shows more people [in Britain] would rather be a writer than anything else. Now, it’s possible they’ve all got their eyes on the J. K. Rowling squillions, but the financial reality is rather more depressing. Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers’ and agents’ slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer than 1,000 copies … It’s not even as if writing is that glamorous. You sit alone for hours on end honing your deathless prose, go days without really talking to anyone and, if you’re lucky, within a year or so you will have a manuscript that almost no one will want to read. Your friends and family will come to dread requests for constructive feedback …”
    — John Crace writing in “The Guardian”

    “Nobody ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have while trying to write one.”
    — Robert Byrne

    “Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!”
    — Edna Ferber

    In short, you have to more commited to writing and marketing your books than 99 percent of writers are. If you aren’t, the chances of your being successful at this game is extremely low, about as low as your chances of winning a major lottery prize.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  8. Lisa says:

    I began my writing journey this year. I knew there could be rejection, but I was not prepared for how much it hurt.

    While this post is difficult truth it is so important know these things ahead of time.

    Writing is like breathing to me, I would take a tough day here over anything else. I actually have enjoyed how the rejections have summoned something greater out of me. :)

    • ed cyzewski says:

      I hesitate to say this, but at least in my experience, rejection gets easier to take because you become a better critic of your own work and learn more about the perspective of editors who may reject your work. Also, if you’re in the Christian market, you may be rejected because your theology doesn’t fit a publisher’s audience.

  9. I do love it so I’ll take it. Thanks for the interesting post!

  10. I love writing and find it beneficial whether anyone else ever sees it or not. That said, I have to agree that indifference is the worst kind of rejection.

  11. Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:

    Ed, I appreciate your honesty and insight of this volatile business. I know authors with similar experiences to yours, so I’m no longer naive about publishing.

    I’m reminded of the quote: “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” (The attribution is convoluted but interesting reading.)

    Writing is my passion, so drop by drop, I’m going to pour my life into this work.

    Thanks for this post!

  12. Jo Murphey says:

    Great topic and so true. Most writers fail in love with the idea of publishing they forget rule #1 and rule #2 of publishing…grow a thick skin and persevere.

  13. Sue Harrison says:

    Thank you for this information, Ed. A great post. You make a very good point by saying that a person has to love to write. If a writer doesn’t love the process enough to continue writing despite rejection, then writing should be a hobby not a destination.

  14. R.P.M.G. says:

    Yes, Ed thank you for posting… I have callouses on my hands from my day job… callouses on my emotions and mind because I am a writer… they can be found on my heart from loving and in my soul from living… but they are ALL great reminders of how grateful I am … for these gifts and to be alive!!!

  15. Petra_B. says:

    Wow this sounds so terrible that I wonder that there are still books published at all. Actually everybody in their right minds wouldn’t want to go through this.

    • ed cyzewski says:

      I didn’t write about the rewards. :) Like I said, you’ve gotta love it.

      I asked a friend who’s a firefighter to write a post on my blog for 9/11, and he wrote about people asking him why he does such a dangerous job. His response was that he can’t imagine doing anything else. I feel the same way about writing and publishing.

  16. Brad Boney says:

    My experience has been the complete opposite. I understand that your points are mostly true, but if your friend had asked me the same question, he would have gotten a very different answer. I picked up my laptop a year ago and wrote my first novel. I submitted it to the top publisher in my genre (gay romance) and seven weeks later I landed my first contract. I’m holding the paperback edition in my hands today. I sent a draft of my second book to my publisher a couple of weeks ago, and got a contract six days later. Have I quit my day job? No, but I’m having the time of my life. My publisher’s business is booming and everyone has been a dream to work with. My first review was an A+. Bottom line, if you write a good book, no one can stop it from being a success. As for indifferent “readers,” you never know where that book is going to end up. Maybe the “reader” will sell it to a used book store, and a year later someone will pick it up and it will change their life.

  17. Ed, thanks for the great post (I just bought your book)! I started this painful process seven years ago. You nailed it! The rejection, the revisions, the crushing of ego, the learning. It’s just as you described. Yet, here I am preparing to market my novels at upcoming contests, prepping blurbs and log-lines. At the same time, I’m preparing to self-publish my bible study material on my website.

    This is what I do. I’m a writer. After the rejection, I brush myself off, take the criticism to heart, learn from it, and get back to work. Words like yours are a good reminder that I’m not in this alone.

  18. Yes–totally agree with you. As a writer, you have to reach the point where you KNOW you are supposed to do it. Not just THINK SO, until you get a certain number of rejections and some feedback that makes you want to hurl. You KNOW you will stick with it, putting in the long hours and drumming up the blogposts and editing and re-editing and submitting and WAITING (hardest of all, I think).

    Almost five years and two books into this process now (working on the third). There might be hope on the horizon and there might not. I don’t get my hopes up until I clap eyes on that acceptance email!

    God has provided all kinds of wonderful friends and opportunities along the way. And I’ve learned SO MUCH. Much as it literally pains me to say it, I wouldn’t go back to my starry-eyed first-novel days. I still love that novel, and I might go back to it and add the 30K words that would make it viable as the spec. fic. novel that it is. In the meantime,


    Great post!

  19. Laura Cowan says:

    Knowing just how hard the publishing process kept me from trying for a few years, but after I had tried every other career (editor, copywriter, blogger) that could make me happy, I KNEW I had to be a novelist. I agree with the previous comment. I think the only way you can make it through everything you mentioned PLUS the changing landscape of trying to figure out if you should go rogue and self-publish, with all the difficulties that entails, is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love this and it’s not so much a career as a part of you, and you will do it no matter what happens with the parts that are out of your control. Thanks for the post.

  20. A great reminder. I’m on the publishing road right now, Ed. And I”m actually thankful I have a full time teaching position that pays well. In some ways, I think this frees me to have fun with my writing (extra important since I’m a humor writer). Still, there is a public perception that I’m now going to be making a lot of money from my writing. Ha!

    The indifference. Yes, that will be hard. Every year, while I study Elie’s Wiesel’s memoir, Night, with my teenage students, I show them this video of him speaking to teens. He says, “I am against indifference…indifference is not an option.” He also says that the opposite of love/beauty/knowledge is not hate/ugliness/ignorance, but indifference.

    I am so off topic now. Anyhow, just bought your book!

  21. Tonya says:

    I’ve been taking writing more seriously this fall and have been putting in a significant amount of time into working and learning. It’s caused me to really think about the reality of publbichsing because I’m begining the grasp the amount of work that goes into it. The reality that it could be years to not only be published but then years more befor I actaully make a career out of it has me thinking a lot and wondering do I want to pursue this? Yet, I get every morning and go to computer to keep working

  22. atothewr says:

    I would take a hundred bad days of publishing over one bad day at a typical job. I would do it for free if I could still support myself. Nice post. Good advice.

  23. Heather says:

    Thanks for this. When people find out I’m writing they often ask me “when are you going to be published?” as if it’s a given. I know my writing isn’t up to that standard yet, but it’s difficult to explain to people that this is about a 3 year process (if everything goes just right), and quite frankly, the state of the publishing world might be totally different in those 3 years.

    So, now I have a post to explain my future processes with them. Thanks.

    • ed cyzewski says:

      And the truth is it could go faster and it could go slower. Most of my “break throughs” are not planned as such. I just pitched a book to a publisher that I thought was my strongest project, and they just offered me a contract for something that I didn’t think they’d want. So what does anyone know really? We just keep improving our writing and plan as best we can so that we are faithful to our calling and gifts.

  24. A tough day in publishing vs. a tough day anywhere else? Thank you for putting it that way, because the truth is that long hours, difficult do-over processes, rejection, asking for buy-in and getting indifferent responses are hardly unique to writing and publishing. Plenty of vocations hold these same pain points, but I think writers tend to feel them acutely because our work matters to us in a way that doesn’t necessarily translate into every other job or industry. The love of writing makes it painful — but also worthwhile.

    • ed cyzewski says:

      Exactly. I experienced plenty of “rejection” when I worked on projects in the nonprofit sector, but they weren’t things that were tied to directly to myself. Still, everyone has bad days at work, so it helps if the work matters to you.

  25. This was great, thank you.

    I wrote a blogpost a few days ago about the assumptions people make about writers and publication.
    I should have added something like “Oh, you have kids? When are they going to amount to something?”
    I want to stab a fork into my leg and yell “I’m done!”, but the people I’ve met along the road to “The End” keep me going. Kind words, kicks in the butt, encouragement and friendship certainly make fighting my way out of the valleys a whole lot easier.

    Faith and knowing that I’m meant to do this not for my glory, but His, is the wind in my sail.

    (Speaking of roads, anyone else want to drive on a HIGHWAY just using the rear-view mirrors? Oh my WORD!)

  26. Mary Vee says:

    Your words are helpful and have been proving themselves of late in my world.

    A friend is experiencing all these pains of birthing a book described in your post. I have kept notes of her experience, hoping, and knowing one day they, too will be mine.

    As a mom, I know the difficulties in pregnancy and birth, even the after times with 2:00 feedings and terrible twos. Still I would go through it again if I stepped in a time machine.

    So I sigh and say, yes, I realize the road to publication is treacherous and painful, but I am ready and willing to learn, and someday experience publication.

    Thanks, Ed for the reality check.

    • ed cyzewski says:

      We have a 4-month old who is not a fan of naps or sleeping through the night, so we can relate a bit to this and it is a pretty apt comparison for sure!

  27. Thank you for the advice, I’ll need it. My Christian mystery is being critqued now and I’ll start sending out query letters after the holidays.

  28. Maria says:

    One part of this agonizing process you forgot to mention is all the waiting. My publisher saw my synopsis and asked to see more. A month later they asked to see a partial. Three long months later they asked to see the full manuscript, and they’ve had it for a month now. I check my email daily, praying it won’t accidentally go to spam and I’ll miss it. The thought that I may be waiting for a rejection is particularly tough, but such is the publishing world.

    • ed cyzewski says:

      I hear you. Just speaking from where I’m at, and this may just be my personality, the waiting isn’t necessarily that bad at a certain point. I agree it was awful at the start of my publishing journey, but the more queries you send out, the more you interact with editors at conferences, and the more you learn about the business, you can deal with it a bit better. I don’t want to lead anyone astray on this one, but that’s just my take.

  29. Tim Klock says:

    Ed, that was some well-written and honest advice. I appreciate that. There is nothing in the world I would rather be than a published author. I know it’s tough. I think I’ll always write, no matter what. Thank God for helpful people like you and Rachelle to help the rest of us along.

  30. Thanks for this. At first, I thought this would another post by a published author, telling writers to essentially give up because it’s too hard. But, I was pleasantly surprised. I appreciate you adding that despite the difficulties, if you love sharing your work and prefer to endure these difficulties over those of another job, than you can do it. I am on my third year of trying to get published, and my third novel. Thank you for explaining the rejection process not as the end of the world (or writer’s career), but simply part of the process. :)

    • ed cyzewski says:

      Yes, if you love it, never give up. I would add that anyone who makes it sound simple or painless is either lying or a very rare exception. The majority of authors out there have to work very, very hard to find a publisher and to market their books.

  31. Thanks for the tips. I am a self published author and am learning as I go. My first serious novel will be released next year and its hard to know whether to try and get the attention of a publisher or, continue to self publish.

    • ed cyzewski says:

      I wrote a post over at Jane Friedman’s blog about the myth of “self-publishing” that may be helpful–mainly because I point out how the most successful self-published authors are pretty savvy as business people who know how to bring in qualified people to do what they can’t. For me personally, the trick with self-publishing is that you aren’t just a writer. You’re essentially opening your own publishing company–at least if you want to do it right.

      There are always exceptions, but there are plenty of self-published books with under 100 sales because the author hit “publish” and waited.

  32. Dan Miller says:

    If the focus is “getting published” it can lead to a lot of pain. If my focus is getting someone to give me a car it can be challenging to get from Nashville to Dallas. If I just want to make that trip I can ride a bike, hitchhike, take a plane or bus, or simply start walking.

    We get too focused on “getting published” rather than just getting our message out there. I sold over $2 million worth of 48 Days to the Work You Love (55,000 copies of a rough 3-ring binder at $39) before I ever talked to a publisher. By then it was clear people wanted the message and publishers were standing in line.

    Today there are so many ways to move our message. Getting published may be one of the last and least important methods.

  33. Sandy Cody says:

    I find it interesting that he talks about publishing a book, but not about writing one. Seems he’s missing a pretty important step.

    • ed cyzewski says:

      The writing part is tough, and was mentioned briefly in point one under “Long Hours.” However, there are plenty of writers who really enjoy the writing process, even if there are times when it is extremely hard. I wanted to focus a bit more on the next steps of publishing where the pain can really sting sometimes, especially if you’re not ready for it.

  34. Lanny says:

    I am ready.

  35. Sundi Jo says:

    Thanks for your honesty and I’m glad you kept persevering.

  36. Megan B. says:

    “Do you love the creative work of writing enough that you’ll take a tough day in book publishing over a tough day anywhere else?”

    That is the perfect way to phrase the question. My answer is absolutely Yes.

    I’ve already encountered most of the pains you list. The only one that scares me is the long hours. If it’s just for a couple of months before a deadline, I think I can take it. I just don’t want my husband to forget what I look like, if you know what I mean. :)

  37. Jessica says:

    Hi! I’m really a first-time reader and I already love what you’re saying. I agree strongly with everything, but I have a few questions. They may seem a bit stupid, but I’d just like to be sure about a few things. Is there an age that you have to be to publish a book? Do I have to tell the Publishers my age? I feel as if I do, I’ll be shoved out of the way immediately. Last of all, (And I think this one is a stupid question.) Does the book have to be finished when you send in a bit of it to a publisher? Or do you get them interested and continue writing? Thank you

    • ed cyzewski says:

      Those are great questions, and you’ll find most of the answers in Rachelle’s most popular posts in the right sidebar. And I don’t think age matters necessarily.

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