Finding a Publisher, Living the Dream

Book Publishing

Ep 37 My Writing Journey to Publishing

Today I’m talking honestly about getting published. I’m sharing the misconceptions I’ve had about becoming a published author as well as things I’ve learned about the publication process. I’m sharing fears, tears, and indecision. 

Traditional vs Self Publishing

Today writers have a lot more options for publishing their work than they did fifteen years ago. The question of whether to traditionally publish or self publish has been my BIGGEST dilemma. This decision has burned up so many of my brain cells. And I’m not exaggerating by calling it a dilemma because I will have FINALLY, after weighing ALL the pros and cons and doing a TON of research, come to the conclusion to traditionally publish. Then I walk into another room of my house, it’s not 30 seconds later and I am 100% convinced that the best route is to self publish. 

This has been going on for several years. It’s a big decision because both options require a lot of time moving in very different directions. I want to talk about some of the pros and cons of each option.

Traditional Publishing

Finding a Literary Agent

To be traditionally published you generally need an agent. Publishing companies (with the exception of a few small ones) no longer accept manuscripts directly from authors. This means writing a query letters (a cover letter) and “querying” agents. This requires spending hours researching which agents might be a good fit and even more hours perfecting the query letter. Next plan to spend several months sending out your queries and waiting for agents to respond.

Waiting for the Query Response

Most agents do try to respond, even if it’s to say, “Thanks, but I’m not interested. Maybe you’ll get an agent who says, “I like your query. I’d like to read the full manuscript.” THEN, you wait months for the agent to read and say either “Not a good fit for me” or “I think it has potential, change this” or “I like it. I’ll represent you.”  You can repeat this process to 25, 50, 75, 100 different agents. 

Agent Revisions and Shopping for a Publisher

If you do get an offer for representation, you’ll spend months to a year doing revision with your agent. This is when you’ll come to understand that your agent represents 50 or so other authors and your manuscript is not his/her only priority. Once all these revisions are done, the agent THEN begins to solicit editors at publishing houses. At this point the agent essentially repeats the process that you went through to query her. A lot of writers believe (this was true for me) that once you land an agent, everything else will be smooth sailing. However, it does happen, that an agent is unable to sell your manuscript to a publisher. Or, the agent may sell to a small publisher or not succeed in getting you a cash advance. You might question whether your agent is doing all she can for you. Maybe you’ll consider finding a different agent.

Waiting for the Finished Product

Another scenario is that your agent does sell your manuscript and you’re happy with the contract. THEN, another round of revisions begins with your editor and from that point your book will be one to two years before publication.

Author Percentage of Sales

Most people are surprised to learn that under a traditional publishing contract, the author typically only earns 10% of book sales, AFTER they earn back any cash advance. So on a $15 paper back  the author earns $1.50. Also, the publishing company owns the rights to the content, so the author doesn’t get the final say on book cover.


Today publishing companies expect authors to do the majority of their own marketing. I saw a comic showing a writer sitting across the desk from a publisher presenting a contract, and the caption read:  “We’d like to publish it, do nothing to promote it, and watch it disappear from the shelves in less than a month.” I’m not saying this is true in all cases. I know many successful, traditionally published authors who have a fantastic relationship with their agent and sing high praise of their editor and publisher. Still, the hard truth is that most traditionally published authors will sell less than 500 copies. 


The good thing about traditionally published books is the vetting process. You can see how anyone who gets through this lengthy ordeal has to know what they’re doing and that the manuscript has been edited over and over again to produce a good book. Many authors who feel their manuscript is done are astonished at how much more revising they do with their agent and then their editor. Though there are still plenty of low-quality books put out by traditional publishers, for the most part, if you pick up a book from one of the big five publishing houses, you can feel confident you’ll have a pretty good read.  

Self Publishing

Considering the amount of time it takes and the little control and profit for the author, why would anyone choose traditional publishing? Why wouldn’t you just self publish? My question exactly!

Because the world of self publishing has as many pros and cons.

Do It Yourself

Some people compare self-publishing to building your own house. Yes, you could probably google and learn everything you need to know to build your own house. But you’ll make a ton of mistakes in the process and it will take much longer than hiring someone. Self Publishing is a LOT of work. When you traditionally publish, you have a team working for you. You have multiple editors: content editors, line editors and copy editors. The time they spend on your manuscript is time you don’t have to spend. To self publish either you spend that time yourself OR you pay someone, up front, to edit. Editing is not cheap. A self published author should budget several thousand dollars for good editing.

Other things you’ll do yourself (or pay out of pocket to have done):

  • design your book cover
  • format and layout
  • plan the interior design including font and any graphics or special features
  • write your back cover copy
  • get an ISBN
  • You design your own cover or pay someone to do it. 


When you self publish, you are your own marketing team. Some printers require the author to buy 500 or so copies of their book, which you want to do because you want to sell them, right? But then you have 500 books in your garage and you have to find a way to sell them. The marketing is often the factor that most discourages self publishing.


I think, and I know this is true for me and many authors, the big issue about self-publishing is VALIDATION. I crave the validation that I believe would come from being chosen by and agent and picked up by a major publishing house. I want or (have wanted) that STAMP of approval that my work is good enough to bear the name Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette. I could sort of sail on the confidence that somebody else says I’m a good writer.

Autonomy, Speed, and Profit

One of the biggest pros of self publishing is the autonomy. You can get your book out much faster. You have full control over cover design and you keep 100% of profit (after your expenses). Most authors (even those traditionally published) discover that no one is going to promote and champion your book as powerfully as you will.

So, self publishing is a big investment of time and money. Essentially you are taking a gamble on yourself. However, with Kindle Direct and other print on demand services, you no longer have to buy hundreds of book copies and store them in you garage. 

The Dilemma Self Publish or Traditionally Publish: That is the QUESTION!!!

Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants said, “If I had known how hard it would be to publish a book, I would have never started.”

I can so relate. I would have never predicted I would be here, 10 years after my first writing class, still working every day to 1) become a skilled writer and 2) decide the best way to get my writing off of my hard drive and into your hearts and hands. 

Writing is like showing up in a boxing ring and getting punched in the face over and over and then coming back for more the next day and the next day  and the day after that. 

Why do I do it? Why does anyone do it?

For me, writing is the manifestation of my hope for connection. It’s putting my thoughts and my human experience out there to see if anyone else thinks and feels the same way. Writing is my way to feel that I’m not alone in this world, which is strange to say because the writing process is so isolatory. Mostly I write because I so intuitively feel the power of story to build empathy, understanding, to connect us. 

Mary Karr, author of the memoirs Liars club, Cherry, and Lit said, “ We are all hardwired in moments of empathy to see ourselves in another. Hearing each other’s stories actually raise our levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which is what nursing mother secrete when they breastfeed—what partly helps them bond with their young. It helps to join us together in some tribal way.” 

Mary Karr  also said, “I don’t write because I want to, but because it’s better than the angst over not writing.”

My Choice

What I have found is a hybrid publisher, a mix between traditional and self publishing. Which is so me. I can’t decide between one or the other, so I’m going to find a way to do both. And I really like so many things about this option.

STILL, my  brain is going all kinds of crazy telling me “this isn’t the best publisher, this isn’t the best way . . . to the point that I have even Googled applying to the Master Fine Arts program at Syracuse University. Yes. That’s in New York. And yes, I live in Utah and have children well immersed in school here. And, Syracuse’s MFA accepts a total of 12 students, from the world. 6 poets and 6 fiction writers. No nonfiction, especially not memoir. YET, my brain is so convinced that I still need to do MORE with this manuscript. I am big time fighting my own “It will never be good enough” syndrome. 

I am asking myself: Am I giving up my dream of being a traditionally published author? Am I settling? This is a real question. I get to decide the answer, and this is what I’m deciding:

My dreams are safe in my head. They can be as big and glorious and perfect as I want them to be in my head. Things always look better in my fantasies. They are pink, and bubbly and happy with no imperfections. In my head, no one can criticize or burst my dream bubble. 

But, here’s the truth, what good does a dream do in my head? 

This is what I’m learning. I’m learning that the process of making dreams into reality is MESSY and not very pretty. Things are never as fantastic in reality as they are in fantasy, whether it be a romance, a marriage, a dream vacation, even winning the lottery. There are hang-ups and problems with any situation. And I’ve decided I would rather live a nicked up, bruised, dented dream in real life, than keep a flawless, ephereal dream in my head. 

I can do real. I can do messy. 

So I’m saying it out loud “I have a publisher and I am going to be published within one year!” 

It is going to be real, it is going to be messy, it is going to be a LOT of work.

In fact, it is already real, it’s already messy, It’s already a lot of work.

And it’s awesome. 

Folks, Look at this! Can you believe it! I AM living my dream.

Thanks for being with me on this journey. I love that you’re here.