What It Takes to Succeed in Publishing

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

I recall seeing a television program that included a segment about a Vietnam War POW who, during eight years of imprisonment and torture,  mentally created plans for building his family’s dream home. He didn’t just work on the big ideas of how many rooms, but he figured out how many nails were needed, how many bricks, etc. Then he would decide to move a room to a different part of the house, which would affect the rest of the design and keep his mental gymnastics going.

His preoccupation with the minute details kept his mind off his present, horrific, and seemingly endless situation.home-792519_1280  The house plans also kept  him hopeful, optimistic that he would live to build that house.  Eventually he did construct his dream house, and he gave the camera crew a tour through it, explaining that he probably decided on lots of windows and open space because he dreamed up the home when he was in a small cell with no windows.

Succeed in Publishing: Hope, Optimism, Hard Work

How does that translate to the writing life? It takes that hopeful, optimistic stance to stay strong through each phase of a writing career.

Succeed in Publishing: Pre-Published Dreams

Before you’re published, optimism and envisioning the day you’ll have a published book keep you going. The reality is that publishers have few slots for an overwhelming number of writers. And the reality is you can work smart and hard to hone your craft and to come up with a concept that perks up a publishing teams’ interest. The reality also is publishers are looking for the “just right” manuscript to put in that slot. Why shouldn’t you optimistically hope it happens to be yours?

Succeed in Publishing: Reality Sets in Mid-Course

When you’ve gotten a few books under your belt, your challenge is to remain hopeful and optimistic as you observe how hard it can be to get your book discovered by its potential readers. Realistically, it takes lots of marketing muscle and tag-teaming with your publisher to succeed.

Succeed in Publishing: Persistence Pays off

Then, when you breakout from the pack of other writers, and your star starts to shine, you need to find ways to remain hopeful and optimistic that your good run will continue–but realistic enough to realize you need to write well, write fast, and stay connected with your readers for that to be the case.

Hope and optimism with a healthy dose of hard work comprise the equation to hacking your way through the jungle of publishing. Dreaming a little dream of reaching your destination never hurt either.

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37 Responses

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  1. For a week that promises to be full of intense moments, reading about hope and optimism in publishing is a great start.
    And that there are chances of perfect optimism plus unshaken hope plus diligent hardwork yielding success means I’ve got a shot, sometime, someday.
    Whoopee…

  2. Great post to start the week, Janet.
    * Under the circumstances, I do not have a realistic future in publishing; infirmity is precluding that ever more forcefully on a daily basis (and I am recovering from a bad fall and concussion yesterday, so I ask your indulgence for any manifest awkwardness).
    * Hope and optimism are, to me, but chimeras. There is a more solid foundation beneath, to wit:
    1) Quitting is the avenue of excuse for layabouts and mewling idlers; it is not the option of a gentleman.
    2) The example one sets in perseverance may have no effect on one’s fortunes. but may inspire another to efforts which will bear magnificent fruit. The man who plants a redwood will not, in this life, see its majesty; only its potential.
    3) We are afforded. through self-publishing, the opportunity to share our words, however mean or artless; we may reach an audience of one, but would we pull the hand of salvation from that individual because we could not turn our writing to commercial success?

    • Yes, Andrew. You are so encouraging.

    • It pains me to see you say things like, “I do not have a realistic future in publishing;” because you express yourself beautifully, and occasionally have tongue firmly planted in cheek, giving all of us that oft-needed quiet chuckle. Though I barely know you, you strike me as the epitome of one who runs with endurance the race set before him. Stay the course, brother. Finish well!!

    • I love your words, Andrew. Each of your points is spot on. I appreciate how you look beyond yourself and how you can be an influencer of others. Well done, friend.

  3. Carol Ashby says:

    Janet, this is a list that applies to success in research and engineering as much as to writing. I had a manger who asked me why I thought I’d succeed when many others had tried and failed. I told him two reasons. First, the failure of others might just mean they hadn’t take the right approach. Second, I was attacking the problem with a new approach not yet tried by anyone. (It did end up working.) Sounds a lot like what leads to publishing success: Find that new approach and do it well. Only God knows how that might pay off.

    *Andrew’s comment about commercial numbers struck a chord. My debut novel is not selling at a level that would make a traditional publisher happy, but it’s selling steadily enough to stay on Amazon page 1 with most of its keywords. Each sale means a book in the hands of a reader who might find the story is exactly what that person needs to draw closer to God. Or maybe that reader will have a friend who needs the message desperately and will share the book. I figure its message of how God can give us the ability to forgive what caused terrible pain is worth all my efforts to get it out there, even if no traditional publisher would be happy with the sales numbers. But for me, success isn’t just making lots in royalties. I’ll feel truly successful when I hear from someone that it made a real difference to them or to someone they care about.

  4. The story about the POW’s house sounds like my dreams (the while-I-am-sleeping kind). I often dream of houses, usually big old houses, with many rooms. Sometimes there are just too many rooms to renovate, so we live in a few and the others await our attention. Other times, I open a door and find a huge room, unexpected and beautiful. I sense that these dream rooms are opportunities: some are just waiting for someone (me?) to step in with a plan and start the work. Others are joyous gifts.
    *My book is room of the first kind, where I am working my plan. But I hold a quiet hope that one day it will be the second kind–a gift bigger and better than I can imagine.

  5. Janet, truly it’s an uphill struggle for writers at all stages. I appreciate your tips for all of us. The struggle never ends. But, as author Margaret Atwood said, no one makes us write. so we really can’t whine.Thanks for sharing with us.

  6. I needed this, Janet. When we were first concerned that my daughter might have a kidney tumor, at the age of 13 months old, a friend said, “It just can’t be. Shelli, you aren’t strong enough to endure that.” She didn’t mean it in a bad way … she loves me … I figured she meant that Shelli was too soft-hearted, girly. But I also knew that thousands of kids came down with cancer every day … why would my daughter be exempt? She wouldn’t. And I also knew that God would give me what I needed. But I can also turn that around to the writing world. I’m sure tons of writers get discovered each day or are at least given hope … if I work hard enough, why not me? God will give me what I need.

  7. Every blue moon or so, I feel like I might lose my mind and run away and join the normals. But I CAN’T.
    Okay, lonnnnng story short, and I refuse to give details, but a health and weight loss motivational speaker named Bob Briggs has a lecture entitled “remember the future”. It’s quite fascinating and it made me think of my writing journey, amongst other things.
    The concept of keeping our future goals ahead of us, ahead of our plow, as it were, keeps my mind on what is ahead, not what is behind and beside.
    And remembering the wisdom of a conversation I had back in October with a well loved and multi-pubbed author, and her husband, in which he said “Your job isn’t to do anything other than lead them to the healer.”
    It’s Isaiah 30:21. “This is the way, walk in it.”
    I watched a Beth Moore video about her trip to visit Native America (last October, in Chinle, AZ) and cried when I saw the faces of so many Native and Anglo believers worshipping alongside each other. It fueled my fire and gave me hope.
    Without getting into details, please pray for those who made promises to me, that they will keep them, and for them to be inspired to stand behind my work.

  8. Janet, what a perfect post for a Monday. Thank you! Today, I’m polishing my proposal for a third book, so hope, optimism, and hard work will be necessary in equal doses. (My fingers accidentally typed “hard words” the first time around. Sometimes…too many times…that’s true. 🙂 )

  9. David Todd says:

    For me, since for the moment I’ve chosen the self-publishing route, and sell almost nothing, I maintain optimism by making plans and then executing them a little at a time. I recently planned out my series of church history novels, and was a little surprised when it came to nine books without doing a whole lot of thinking. Wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do, and have no time to be pessimistic. Then I planned out my USA history non-fiction series, essentially doubling my workload. Now there’s no time to be lazy. Especially since I have a series of cozy mysteries to program next.
    .
    Pessimism comes to me when I can’t see the trees for the forest. The forest overwhelms me at times, especially that part of it not related to writing. So I have to learn to keep plugging along, one paragraph at a time, knowing it’s all part of my plan, and, hopefully, God’s plan for me, or for someone who someday will read one of my books and benefit from it.

  10. Janet Grant says:

    Each of your comments is inspiring in and of itself. Thank you all, for your words of encouragement and hope for all of us!

  11. Janet, I like this post. The reminder to envision my book as the one publishers pick, rather than slipping into the pessimistic mindset is one I need. Remaining hopeful is crucial on this journey. Thanks for your words today.

  12. Janet, as a neophyte in this industry, I sometimes get the sense that my questions are silly, so I lurk in the shadows, reading the responses of others. But I want to poke out of my shell here a bit and ask about this tidbit:

    “The reality also is publishers are looking for the “just right” manuscript to put in that slot.”

    Is it possible to come at our writing in such a way, using such a novel approach (perhaps the way Carol Ashby noted below) that it does not fit the available slot, but rather forges an entirely new slot?

    Does my question even make sense?

    – damon

    • Janet Grant says:

      Damon, your question does make sense. Creating a new slot is a possibility. Harry Potter did that by the length of the first book (“Kids won’t read such a big book!”) and the use of magic as an element of the story (“Kids wouldn’t be interested.”) Harry Potter was rejected by oodles of publishers. Here’s a peek into how the process went for Rowling. Considering that the book paved new ground, I would say it had a fairly smooth ride to being published.
      But, even bearing all this in mind, writing in a way that doesn’t fit in a slot makes it much harder for a publisher to take a chance on your manuscript. Publishers think in terms of slots–this is a YA fantasy, that is an adult suspense, this is a memoir, that is a prescriptive nonfiction book.
      If a publishing team looks at your manuscript and asks, “What is it?” You’re most likely to be in trouble.

  13. I love that story! I would love to see pictures of that man’s house. And yes, the application to publishing brings hope as well.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Kristen, I tried to find a stock photo that looked something like his house but didn’t succeed. The large rooms all had soaring ceilings with beautiful wood rafters, wood walls, and entire walls made of windows. It was lovely, peaceful, and very open feeling.

      • Peggy Booher says:

        Janet,
        The house sounds beautiful. I can understand why the man would want beauty, room, and openness.
        *At first I couldn’t understand how that tied in to publishing, but you made it clear.
        *I didn’t see that program, but I did read another POW’s story. If I remember correctly, he also planned something he would do or build once he got out. He credited that detailed mental exercise as helping him maintain hope throughout his long ordeal.
        *I remember reading about a Chinese pianist who was taken captive by the Communists during the Cultural Revolution, I believe. They had him in prison so long they believed he would never play the piano again. But during his long captivity he replayed the music over and over in his mind, from one piece to another. When he was finally released, he played beautifully.
        *Stories such as these are truly inspirational for me; they show a person does not have to give up or give in to the circumstances in front of him.
        Thanks for the inspiration.

  14. Jerusha Agen says:

    Thanks, Janet–I needed this encouragement to be hopeful today! What an inspiring story of the Vietnam POW and a practical application that’s helpful in many situations.