What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal

I’m telling my publishing story in five parts until next Friday (the 18th.) You can read the previous posts here: Pt. 1 (The Art of Backwards Book-Writing), Pt. 2 (Agents, Platforms and Gifts in Disguise), and Pt. 3 (Faith is an Empty Room).

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The contract will come in the mail with the publisher’s name on it, and for a few minutes or hours or days, you’ll feel on top of the world.

Here you are, at the beginning of a dream come true, at the precipice of all you’ve been waiting for.

You’ll sit down at the kitchen table. You’ll lift your pen to sign the papers.

You’ll be trying to have a moment, but your kids will be screaming at you from the living room. “Mom! I don’t want this show!” or “Dad! Get me a granola bar!” Because to them, you’re not an author, you’re their parent, and nothing here has really changed.

*

Although you’ve always been a writer, the book deal will make you feel legitimized in some ways – like someone else actually sees it too. It will be nice to be able to tell people that you have a book coming out, and for a moment, their eyes will widen, and they’ll give you a look of awe-tinged admiration.

But then. Then they’ll ask what you’re book is about.

You’ll stumble awkwardly through your memorized synopsis, and it will feel entirely inadequate to get at the heart of the thing you’ve written. It will never feel totally natural to summarize your book in this way, and even though you’ll get plenty of practice, you’ll hem and haw a little bit every time. Because what your book is really about is not the plot that forms its backbone or the life events that make up its context. Really it’s about love and hope and fear and the shared human experience. Really it’s about everything.

But you won’t be able to find a way to communicate any of this in an airplane seat or at a cocktail party, and your inability to do so will make you feel inadequate all over again.

“So anything like 50 Shades of Gray?” The stranger you’re talking to will ask. Or they’ll ask if you’ve read the latest New York Times bestseller and begin to summarize its compelling plot. And you’ll just nod and sip your drink and nod some more.

*

There will still be only twenty-four hours in the day, and it still won’t feel like enough. Especially now that you have a book deal, which means you have deadlines and accountability and people who can’t do their jobs until you do yours.

You’ll still struggle to put the words together into sentences. You’ll still delete a lot. You’ll cross out entire pages of text in your notebook, throw the thing across the living room, feel absolutely sure that they’ve made a mistake. That you’re not really a writer at all.

At some point, you’ll sit in the dark in front of the blank screen, the cursor mocking you with its steady tapping, and you’ll wish you’d chosen some other work.

when we were on fire - landscape 2 - smaller

Although you have a book deal, you’ll still forget at least one thing at Target every time you go. The laundry will still pile up and so will the dishes. People will cut you off in traffic. You’ll still, inevitably, find yourself waiting in the longest line.

Few people, if anyone, will recognize you in public. Your relationships with bookstores will change ever-so-slightly, and you’ll be a little jealous whenever someone else comes up with a really great book title.

Your publishers will be great, but their world will not revolve around you. There will be other books to promote, other deals to sign, other things to get done, and so you will have to adjust your expectations. You’ll have to learn to do new things, to play different roles in regard to your work. It will feel uncomfortable and new and you’ll hate the sound of your voice promoting your work, but you’ll do it anyway. Because along with the book deal comes a deep, haunting desire to have your book fly far, to have your words find readers who will love them.

*

At night, the moon will come out, and you’ll lie there, looking up at it. And if you didn’t know who you were before you got the book deal, you definitely won’t know now. Because it doesn’t really change much. It doesn’t catapult you into some higher tier of humanity or toward a better version of yourself. It doesn’t fix whatever was broken inside of you before.

You’re still the same person.

And yes, it’s a dream come true, but when dreams crash into reality, they take the full weight of the mundane. They have to. And so a book deal means paperwork and marketing, promotion and editing, self-depreciation and insecurity…just as much as it means joy, excitement, and hope.

You’ll get the book deal, and don’t get me wrong – it’ll be wonderful. But it won’t beat a summer sunrise, a sloppy toddler kiss, a walk through the apple orchard in the late afternoon light with the people you love. And it will be so hard to remember this sometimes. It’ll be tempting to believe that numbers will make you happy. Endorsements. Great reviews from prestigious sources.

But really, they won’t. As my friend Glennon says, there is no there there. It’s the moments that you walk away from your computer, back into the wild of your own life, that will do it.

It’s these average, precious moments – not the book contract – that keep you rooted to your own heart. They will save you. They will keep you at it – this whole exhausting, beautiful business of publishing your book.

They will give you the courage to continue living the mundane beauty of your dream….one ordinary step at a time.

28 thoughts on “What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal

  1. Last night I saw a news item about the new Nobelist for economics. The reporter mentioned that her husband is also a world-renowned economist. And believe it or not, my first thought was “I bet THEY don’t lose socks in the dryer.” What I hear you saying is that they do. Good to be reminded of how gloriously messily human we all are.

    1. I’d imagine that the dryer eats socks indiscriminately. 😉 (Seriously, where DO they go?!) I’d be curious to know if this was your experience publishing a book too, John.

  2. But seriously: is your book anything like 50 Shades of Grey?

    😉

    Great post, Adds!

  3. I’m not as far along on my publishing journey, but I have to say YES YES YES. All so true. To make it worse, I chose to sign with a publisher who said they would publish my book in 2015. I know it can happen faster — but in their lineup, based on what they already had scheduled, that’s where mine would fit. They knew I might not take it and go with someone who would get my book out sooner. But because I was impressed with them, I decided to wait. So for almost a year, my friends have known I have a book deal. I turn in the manuscript in January — and then still have to wait at least one year for it to come out. I don’t have an actual release date yet. It’s so far away it definitely feels like I’m imagining things. I’m kind of kicking myself. I’m impatient and normally choose the fastest option, but I still think this was the best one for me. If I don’t lose my ever-lovin’ mind.

    1. That must be an excruciating wait. I can’t really imagine. I definitely did my share of waiting, but it was all pre-pub-deal, so it felt very different. Grace and peace in this last scramble to get the manuscript done…and then the next year of waiting.

  4. “There is no there there. It’s the moments that you walk away from your computer, back into the wild of your own life, that will do it.” – Just beautiful, and so true in many areas of life. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m looking forward to reading your last installment next week!

  5. So wise, Addie, and so honest. Thanks for sharing your story – for those of us at all different stages in the writing/publishing journey.

  6. Addie, I’m not one to comment on blogs often, but I have to tell you that you are so…likable? Relatable? Maybe “human” would be the best word to describe it. Your voice is authentic, and powerful, and engaging – but in a way that calls for contemplation and reflection. It draws the reader in without begging for attention. It offers an invitation to explore live through your lens, without taking the person by the hand and dragging them with you. It is a rare quality to find, and something that few writers have mastered. but you have. Thanks for that.

  7. I’m so glad you shared all this. And this was lovely. “But it won’t beat a summer sunrise, a sloppy toddler kiss,” – I need to hear that daily, and not just about book deals (that don’t exist!) but about all sorts of things.

  8. These average, precious moments…they will save you. So true as it applies to your book journey and to life in general. I have loved reading this series. I love reading anything you write cause you are so humble and honest and make me turn my head to the side and say, ‘uh-huh’.My stacks of books keep multiplying, but yours will go straight to the reading now short pile, can’t wait.

  9. I died when I read the 50 Shades of Grey part. Died!
    Thank you for writing this Addie! As a reader who loves the words of your book (and many others besides) I’m glad you’re pushing through these hard things. We need this book. We do.
    Also, I am a nerd and love that you wrote this in second person. I have this dream of writing something this way, and you do it beautifully. xoxo.

  10. “At night, the moon will come out, and you’ll lie there, looking up at it. And if you didn’t know who you were before you got the book deal, you definitely won’t know now. Because it doesn’t really change much. It doesn’t catapult you into some higher tier of humanity or toward a better version of yourself. It doesn’t fix whatever was broken inside of you before.” Yes. This. Thanks.

  11. I was drawn to your blog when a friend of mine liked your post, “For the one who married young,” on Facebook. That post has been balm to me the past few weeks, but that’s not why I’m commenting currently. I’m commenting because I was wondering if you’ll be posting a book club question guide for your book, or if there is one already in it. I was a member of Youth For Christ in my teen years, and so much of what I’ve read in your posts speaks to me and my adolescence, and like you I had a crisis of faith, but unlike you I did not find my way back to Christianity. I feel like anyone with any sort of mature faith structure necessarily has to go through an evolution of belief, and I would really love to use your book as a text for myself and others in my old YFC group to discuss your faith journey and our own, to see who like you found their way back home, and who made a home in other places.

    1. I love this Kerry. Thanks for commenting (and sorry I took so long to get back to you.) There IS a reader’s guide at the end of the book that might be useful to you. Check it out and let me know. (I love the idea of using the book to sort through your own faith journey. I’d love to hear how that goes.)

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