Robert Cormack

5 years ago · 5 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Stop Worrying About Being Published.


“I’m still in the middle of writing my collection of short stories, but I’m wondering which is better, getting an agent or self-publishing.” Someone’s comment in a writer’s group.

Last week I joined an online writer’s forum, figuring I should rub shoulders with other literary folk. You have to make the effort, otherwise you end up talking to your dog. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once said, “I tend to spend too long on the rug chatting with the dog. He eventually moves away, looking thoroughly embarrassed.”

I’ve embarrassed a few dogs myself — not to mention cats and hamsters — so I’ve decided to stick to embarrassing people. Not that I take any particular delight in embarrassing people, but it seems hard to avoid when you read some of the comments on these forums. My favorite came in the other day: “I WILL HAVE A BOOK PUBLISHED IN 2017. I don’t know what the story is going to be; But I will do it; that’s a Promise.”

For all I know, she’s writing query letters now, getting a jump on the silly stuff—like actually writing the book. Sort of like the guy who wrote: “I’m still trying to turn my amazing dream into a book. Will publishers accept point form?”

Now, we’re all anxious to be published — even if we are published. Some of us are currently on the bookshelves (even in public libraries). But that doesn’t stop our anxiety. One book hardly represents a career, although that’s hardly what people want to hear. They're fully committed, in other words. To read some of their comments, though, you get the impression they wouldn’t mind embarrassing a few dogs if it gets their names in print.

I’m quite concerned with the impatience out there. It used to be “You learn to write by writing,” Today, it’s “You learn to write by publishing.” How we got to this stage is a bit of a mystery. I know it has something to do with the ease of self-publishing today. Why waste time waiting for a publisher when you can publish right now— before dinner, if you like.

In our mad dash world, this seems utterly practical. With one simple keystroke, you’re a novelist. You can stand with other novelists and say you’re a novelist. If someone doesn’t believe you’re a novelist, you can pull out a copy of your book and prove you’re a novelist. Then it’s only a matter of time before a publisher sees your book online and snaps you up, right?

Well, first of all, publishers rarely snap up self-published books. I know you’ve heard stories (yes, “Fifty Shades of Grey” was self-published first), but most are like romance novels. You’re more likely to get kidnapped by a handsome pirate (and you know how few pirates there are out there — even in Somalia).

Authors lucky enough — and talented enough — to get snapped up by a publisher usually aren’t “snapped up” at all. Most publishers only accept agented manuscripts. Agents are rarer than hen’s teeth. In fact, you’re more likely to run into a hen with teeth than an agent with teeth.

Even if you’re lucky enough to find an agent, this isn’t the end of the publishing process. You’re only at the beginning. By the time you finish with the agent, you’ll wonder which is harder, writing a book or publishing a book.

Here’s essentially how it works (and I’m giving you my own experience since I’m the only one here besides the dog and he isn’t published — at least not yet)

Between the time I finished my first novel and found an agent, it was well over a year. In that time, I rewrote my novel four times. When my agent (Peter Riva of Transactions International) took me on board, my novel had to be rewritten before it went to the Frankfurt Book Fair (this is the largest trade fair in the world).

The rewrite required me to change the location of my novel. Peter said he couldn’t sell Canadian locations, so I had to relocate to Chicago (not me personally, just the book; I couldn’t afford to go to Scarborough). I ended up using topographical maps along with four virtual real estate sites (I plan to do the same thing when I vacation in the Azores next spring).

All of this had to be done in three weeks (that’s when Peter left for Frankfurt). There was no interest in my book at Frankfurt. That meant two more complete rewrites with an editor who tried to join all my paragraphs together.

At the same time, I had to write book cover copy, hire a book designer, a proofreader, then apply for copyright through the Library of Congress. The book title was rejected twenty times and the cover design four times.

When the book was officially launched, five years had gone by. And, again, this was just the beginning. In most publishing contracts, you’re required to spend at least 6 hours a week promoting your book. That includes having an official website, and turning the side of your house into a billboard.

You also have to do some giveaways, which means handing over all eight of your author copies to people who are more interested in getting something free than writing a review. Out of those eight copies, you might get back two reviews — and some can be pretty nasty.

Now, okay, it’s nice to see your novel on the shelves. It’s even nicer having people call, saying they read it. But, by then, you really don’t care anymore. The anxiety you felt worrying about getting published, is now replaced with the anxiety of being published. Every day, you check the sales rankings, waiting for that moment when it skyrockets into the best seller list.

Trouble is, people pay for the best seller lists, just like publishers pay to have certain books put on the tables at major bookstores. I tried cozying up to one of the salespeople, but obviously it takes more than two subway tokens to sway these folks, and that’s all I was prepared to offer.

If you’re saying now, “Well, that’s why I’m self-publishing. I don’t have to go through that hassle. I just send Amazon my manuscript, they print it, throw it up online, and the next thing you know, I’m replacing “Fifty Shades of Grey” and getting interviewed on Charlie Rose.”

Look, even my dog knows it’s not that simple (and he’s a dog). Self publishing requires just as much forethought, attention to detail and promotion as any published book. And forget those companies claiming they can put you in a million homes. All they’re doing is selling mailing lists to each other.

Not that I’m discouraging the self-publishing route. Just don’t expect miracles. It’s like Hollywood where every car jockey and waitress is an actor. Most remain car jockeys and waitresses. The few who make it (and it’s a very few) make it because they work harder than anyone else (yes, even Tom Cruise works harder than anyone else).

And remember, writing isn’t about your life story, or your feelings, or the great dream you had. It isn’t about going on a writer’s forum, saying, “I’ll be published in 2017.” It’s a process of persistence, of writing every day, giving up weekends, giving up friends, giving up everything. It’s a constant, unrelenting struggle. Those who make it rarely describe how much they’ve lost financially and emotionally.

“You learn to write by writing,” Hemingway once said, and even my dog knows that’s the truth. Not that he cares anymore. If he has to listen to one more complaint from me, he’s threatened to become a hobo (and I’ve seen him look out the window with just that intention in mind).

Fortunately, a small royalty check came in yesterday, so he gets to eat, or he thinks he’s going to eat. I don’t have the heart to tell him it’ll probably only buy two cans of dog food. Once he realizes he’s getting more Kibble than meat, he’ll go back to the window, dreaming of life on the road with other hobos (probably more than a few former writers).

So please, everybody, stop worrying about being published. Learn to write first. Then at least you can say you’re a writer. That’s what my dog believes as well (but he thinks he’s getting a full can of dog food tonight — the fool).

Robert Cormack is a novelist, blogger and freelance copywriter. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details (you can also buy my book from them).


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Lexus Peters

4 years ago #40

Im writing a memoir right now..could you help me with feedback on my writing??

Robert Cormack

4 years ago #39

It takes a lot of time to convince young people how much is involved in writing, Joyce \ud83d\udc1d Bowen Brand Ambassador @ beBee. My stepdaughter was a natural writer, but never had the discipline. She went to Europe instead and became a mother.

Robert Cormack

4 years ago #38

It nice having a book, Pascal Derrien, but it's an enormous amount of work.#53

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #37

funny I missed that one the first time around I was probably busy talking to my cat :-) I have been having more than one (more than 2) people telling me to write a book or organize my articles , yes but no... I suppose it would be nice to have a book (hard copy) on my chimney shelf but past that...... :-)
My son told me today he is a natural writer. (He can't even speak proper English.) I told him he might be a natural storyteller, but writing is something else entirely. Writing you must study. I believe the rules that are imposed. My headboard is filled with English books to this day. I've heard about the infamous circular file. I'd offer to lend my son a few books on the subject, but he tends to puff his chest as if he is warding off evil. His loss.

Robert Cormack

4 years ago #35

Good luck with that, @Dominique Peterson.#50

Dominique 🐝 Petersen

4 years ago #34

Or someone who hasn't finished writing her book (let alone having it edited and formatted) but wants a quote from the Printer!

Robert Cormack

4 years ago #33

You could be right, Paul Walters. People should understand that getting first books published isn't nearly as hard as the second or third. Everything gets decided based on the popularity of the first. "Horse" is actually a trilogy, but they won't publish these books until my horsey does better. They've also been sitting on two children's books. "Love these, Robert," my publisher says, "but we can't put these out right now...or possibly ever." That's the real business of publishing.#48

Paul Walters

4 years ago #32

Robert Cormack When you get the firt one done and people ask, "what is it you do?" You really can't say " I write book" My titles only began to sell after I had five novels published ...Tis a hard road we tread and methinks there are more writers 'out there ' than readers !!!

Robert Cormack

4 years ago #31

Quite true.

Robert Cormack

4 years ago #30

Quite true. Perhaps there is a saturation point.

Robert Cormack

4 years ago #29

Possibly. It doesn't come up in "Across the Great Divide"#39

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #28

I'm sure instant gratification plays a role. We see movies were people write a book and ten minutes later (with a few dissolves), they're famous authors living in splendor. This is like couples thinking they're as funny together as Mork and Mindy. We lose a sense of reality and, therefore, expect this instant gratification. The whole idea of music and movies you can download in a minute, it all plays to the same theme, and it's reducing so much of the artistic quality. An artist friend of mine is quite proud of the fact that she produces a painting a day. My mother, an artist, produced maybe two paintings a year. Four of them hang in my house. I never grow tired of them (and not because they're my mother's). She spent the time learning, studying and perfecting. That's what you add to basic talent. Maybe we'll saturate the market with bad work. Let's hope that's when we change.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

5 years ago #27

I agree. Perhaps today's instant gratification mentality that plagues the world has something to do with this publishing frenzy. Also, the academic community's requirements don't help the situation either (publish or perish). Still, once the market gets saturated with low quality books, I'm sure we're going to see a change in perspective. Everyone can publish something nowadays; getting others to read and re-read what you've published is another story...

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #26

There's actually some controversy over whether Grossman owned Big Pink or he'd bought it for Dyan in his capacity as business manager. In any event, Dylan admitted spending more time at Big Pink than he did at his own home (not far away). As the kids came, and his motorcycle accident, Dylan spent more time at his own home (which went on for many years).

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #25

I'm following him now, Ren\u00e9e Cormier#37

Renée 🐝 Cormier

5 years ago #24

You should connect with John Sliz, Robert.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #23

No, it doesn't get any easier, Paul.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #22

No problem, Camille, glad you enjoyed.#34

Paul Walters

5 years ago #21

Robert Cormack five books in and it doesnt get any easier Robert! However a great read, thank you

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #20

Many do, Robert, that's a fact.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #19

Yes, the "Basement Tapes" were never something Dylan wanted distributed. In fact, they sat in someone's garage in Woodstock for many years. The loose quality of Dylan's and The Band's work allows a certain amount of leeway when listening. There's an interesting version of "You Ain't Going' Nowhere," that's worth a listen, also "Wheels on Fire." Robbie, in particular, learned a lot from Dylan, particularly on the lyrics side. There was so much creativity going on back then in The Pink House (Dylan was actually the landlord).

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #18

Sure, there's always a chance of having a best seller. I still think that chance increases exponentially with time spent making your work better. In other words: "Haste makes lousy fiction."

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #17

I've written about both (saves time coin-flipping).

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #16

I thank you, and my dog thanks you."

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #15

A friend of mine wrote a book specifically to help promote his business. I think it worked out pretty well for him. That's definitely a different part of publishing.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #14

I still keep a message from my agent/publisher: "No two paragraph breaks together."#13

Jim Murray

5 years ago #13

Thanks. Now you know why I give my ebook away for free. Nobody messes with it but me. I'm with Phil Friedman here. There is a very small percentage of all the work that gets published that produces enough revenue for the author to derive anything remotely resembling an income from it. The authors who are lucky enough to make it, are literally driven by an ungodly amount of ambition. On the one hand I admire it. On the other I can't help but believe that for most, it's an exercise in self-delusion. If your book sold, I'm happy for you. If you're living off the proceeds you're in the 1% club.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #12

#18 This raises an important point about objectives, don't you think? If a writer's objective in writing and publishing a novel is to gain literary recognition, then however long that takes is worth it, or at least is what it is. But if a writer writes to generate income, then I suggest to you that one might want to re-assess book writing and publishing in the context of contemporary digital publishing. For example, about three years ago, I published an eBook that I give out free (well, not exactly free, but in exchange for an email address to build my prospect list for my consulting business). I submitted the eBook to multiple industry-specific editors for review and received very strong reviews and notices in a dozen legitimate publications, both trade and consumer. Distribution is now passed 5,000 (PDF) copies sent out by email in answer to requests. No direct revenue, but I can attribute at least three solid consulting contracts, worth tens of thousands of dollars, to prospects reading and liking the eBook. ( ) More recently, I wrote an eBook for hire for a management systems software firm, which they use to build their own prospect list, in an extreme example of "content marketing". In this case, the work did not generate anywhere near the same revenue, but -- and this is important, I think -- in one fell swoop, it generated more than some authors make on a published "book" and with less than one tenth the time and labor input. ( ). So, what I am saying is, the issue of book writing and publishing is at the same time more complicated and less complicated than some would have us believe. If writing and publishing a book is a purely business decision based on ROI, that is one thing. But if about something else, like literary achievement, quite another. Cheers!

David B. Grinberg

5 years ago #11

Thank you for the excellent advice, Robert: "It’s a process of persistence, of writing every day, giving up weekends, giving up friends, giving up everything. It’s a constant, unrelenting struggle. Those who make it rarely describe how much they’ve lost financially and emotionally." The above words of wisdom are from one who certainly knows from experience. In short, writing a novel is a laborious slow burn which might feel never ending -- and that's without a difficult publisher. A few other thoughts: 1) I like talking to dogs because they're good listeners and don't talk back. 2) I agree that while self-publishing is better than not publishing at all, it's still better to go the traditional route of finding an agent and publisher -- which will pay off more in the long run (both literally and figuratively). But this is very difficult for first-time authors. 3) Just remember that you may want to kill your publisher about 1,000 times in the course of the publication process. That is, if you're even lucky enough to find one. That's because the publisher will likely demand you re-edit your manuscript for the upteenth iteration based on what you may consider their narrow minded standards. Yes, this even happens to great American writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. 4) No risk, no reward. The odds of getting published -- much less writing a best seller -- are slim. But try to stay positive and think big because if one never tries then one never knows. Moreover, some long shots are bound to come in based strictly on the law of probability. So why not YOU? Believe and achieve!

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #10

No, I'm not in the 1% club, but I can buy dog food (just wish I still had a dog)#18

Jim Murray

5 years ago #9

Thanks. Now you know why I give my ebook away for free. Nobody messes with it but me. I'm will @Phil here. There is a very small percentage of all the work that gets published that produces enough revenue for the author to derive anything remotely resembling an income from it. The authors who are lucky enough to make it, are literally driven by an ungodly amount of ambition. On the one hand I admire it. On the other I can't help but believe that for most, it's an exercise in self-delusion. If your book sold, I'm happy for you. If you're living off the proceeds you're in the 1% club.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #8

Thanks, Ben. We passed about 20 titles past women, since they make up about 75 percent of the buying public. And, yes, there is a lot of "crap" as you say, but I contend there wouldn't be as much if people took their time. David Ogilvy never sent out copy the same day. He always gave it an evening and a night. That's one of the cardinal rules in "Confessions of an Advertising Man." I always wait a day before I post a story. I also wait three months before I start the second draft of a novel. There's a discipline to writing and eager (let's say aspiring) writers should be aware of that.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #7

Yes, every Geico spot is genius. I love their stuff. I always laugh when people ask what it's like coming up with funny 30 second commercials. If only they knew how much work is involved, how much talent you need. You really have to know your craft to write for 30 seconds. It takes so much discipline. In some respects it's like a short story. Every word counts. Elmore Leonard wrote a short story collection later in life and admitted it almost killed him. "Short stories are a bitch," he said. "Way harder than novels." Same goes for advertising. Back in my agency days, we'd have journalists come on board, thinking copywriting would be a breeze. They only lasted a couple of months. We scared the crap out of journalists.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #6

I remember having a roommate back in the seventies who loved Hendrix and Clapton. He bought a Traynor amp the size of our fridge, he got a wha-wha and fuzz buster. He still couldn't play worth shit. Anything we do—if we're serious about it—takes enormous time and patience (talent doesn't hurt, either). Publishing is the endgame. Being good (and I mean real good) is the daily process. As to "small, literary magazines," I've been with Rosebud for 17 years now and I've loved it. How many people can say they've been on the masthead with Jewel? Or shared the centre spread with Bishop Desmond Tutu? I know it has nothing to do with the writing itself, but I still get a kick out of it. As for haste, I mean publishing too soon. I mean asking the obvious question: Will I be embarrassed by this in five years? I had a short story collection picked up by a Calgary publisher. He thought I showed promise. After some revisions, he dumped me. I'm glad he did. Those stories weren't even close to being ready.#11

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #5

Well, Robert, I guess I understand your emphasis... but haste about what? Becoming a competent or even "good" writer? Haste to have a novel published? Or a book, because not all "books" are novels? Haste to be peer reviewed and accepted in a literary "small" magazine for poetry or short stories? If it is haste simply to "be published", then that is easy to solve these days with the wide variety of digital self-publishing platforms such as LinkedIn or beBee. However, an aspiring "writer" is still then faced with whether he or she is being read. Easy to publish. Hard to be read amidst all the ambient static and noise. Perhaps, you mean haste to become a "writer" worthy of the appellation? If so, then I agree. Developing one's craft as a writer takes a lot of writing. Never mind that in this age of templates and software, the expectation is often that any half-wit can become a writer for a $129.95 investment. And even if one adequately refines one's craft as a writer, that may still not be enough. For before writing comes thinking. Which is why I personally value exchange and genuine conversation so highly. Being eloquent is nothing if one has nothing to say. So, if that is what we're talking about when referring to haste, then I agree... I think. Well, let me ponder that for a while. Cheers!

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #4

@Gerald Hecht, if you're having fun, great. A tattoo would be nice.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #3

@Phil Friedman, again, I'm not so much concerned about where you publish as much haste. It's the impatience I worry about. With haste, I think we fail at giving writing its due. This is a craft and it takes time.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #2

@Camile Mari: So much depends on whether you're looking at this professionally or not. I've always written as a profession, so my "love" of writing consists of the craft as much as the inspiration. That can affect how or why or where you publish.#1

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #1

Robert, in this piece, you bring some welcome reality to the table. A few points come to mind. 1) Novelists are not the only writers in the world. There is satisfaction to be had in writing all manner of material (not to mention income). 2) Authoring potboilers is not the same as authoring great literature. Don't confuse commercial success with literary accomplishment. I am, therefore, not sure what the intrinsic value is of being "accepted" by a less than minor "publishing house", and wonder how that compares with say building a genuine and dedicated online readership in the tens of thousands (which some writers whom I know have done). 3) Most writers write to be read, so being published by a publisher who charges you to produce your book will get you nowhere because after the book is published, everything is marketing and sales, and without an investment in your book, the publisher will do nothing about that. If you're going to have to do all of your own marketing, then you might as well simply pay to have the book printed. It will leave you less in the hole that dealing with a vanity publisher. I for one am happy to see a writer's community developing here on beBee, and hope that you will become an integral part of that community. Thank you for your insight and good advice here. And cheers!

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