Whenever we dream of publishing a book, we dream about the day when readers will hold it in their hands. We can picture the cover, see our name spelled out on the spine, and imagine the look on the faces of the readers who have put down their money to read what we have to say. It’s a wonderful picture and the reality is as good as the dream – except that the reality also contains the fact that pub day is just another day in which you have to fight for your book’s life.
This fact is not a bad thing – it’s just something that writers who have not been published tend to ignore.
On Tuesday, my client Sam Polk’s book, For the Love of Money, was released by Scribner. Here is the part of the dream that looks glittering on the surface:
· For the Love of Money is a beautifully produced hardback book and the publisher released an audio version (read by Sam) at the same time, which is pretty much the dream treatment.
· On pub day itself, Sam spoke about the book at an event at Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood, California, where his friends, family, and fans toasted him with wine, and there were cupcakes, and a special celebrity guest (more about that later.)
Here is the part you don’t see – and this is only the part of this story I know about. There is no doubt much more that only Sam knows:
· Sam’s road to publication was long. When I gave him a hug a the signing, that’s what he said to me – not “Woo hoo!” or “Whee” or “YAY!” -- but a sort of shocked and mournfully spoken recitation of that hard truth: “We started this six years ago, can you believe it?” I can believe it, because I am intimately familiar with the process of making books. But when Sam first walked into my classroom at UCLA with a burning to desire to tell his story, he probably thought he would kick it out by spring. To his enormous credit, when that didn’t happen, he didn’t throw up his hands in frustration. He doubled down and kept working.
· The book went through many, many iterations, and not just polishing-up revisions. Full-on overhauls about where to start, what to include, what the point was, where to end, what to emphasize, what to diminish, what to amplify, what to ax. Sam was fighting for his book’s life from the very start – to make it relevant, to make it commercially viable, to make it true to his heart, to make it good, to make it something he could be proud of. He let it rest, he sought various teachers and advisors and readers, he picked up and started again – over and over and over.
· He took the time, effort and energy to write other pieces while he was working on the book – like the NYT piece that went viral in January 2014 and this one, which was published the week before the book launch. Writing a feature-length story for a national publication is not something you just toss off easily because you wrote a book; it’s a whole art unto itself and Sam worked to master it.
· He pitched 82 agents. Just read that line a few times and let it sink in.
· He did all this while starting first one non-profit business and then another (See Groceryships and Everytable), while getting married and having a child, while his wife was a med school resident, while real life pressed in on him.
Once Sam landed an agent and then a publisher, the hard work continued. Sam was wrestling with his story all the way to the 11th hour, and even then, he didn’t stop fighting for its life.
He has worked on his website and his messaging. He is working on more ideas for writing articles and making connections. He has said yes to interviews and meetings. And let me remind you again that he only has 24 hours in a day, too, and his wife is pregnant with their second child. Sam doesn’t get a free pass to anything – and neither do any of us.
But that is what makes it worthwhile. To have something worth fighting for. To have a book you believe in enough to keep pushing. And to have a sense of why your story might matter to the world.
And speaking of that, the special guest Sam had at his book signing was Father Greg Boyle, author of the New York Times bestseller, Tatoos on the Heart, a book of essays about gangs, faith and unconditional love. The event was billed as a “conversation.” Father Greg, as Sam calls him, has become Sam’s mentor and friend. They are both concerned with the question of how to transform a life, how to live authentically, how to close the gap between “us” and “them” in all their permutations, so even though Sam’s book is “about” a Wall Street guy who was addicted to money, it shares a lot in common with Father Boyle’s story, and with the work Sam has gone on to do after leaving Wall Street.
I did not ask Sam so don’t know exactly why he invited Father Greg to share the stage with him, but my guess is that it was because Sam didn’t want to shine a spotlight on himself and his book. He wanted to elevate the conversation. He wanted to make it bigger than just him. That’s another thing Sam does very well – he thinks big. He seeks out mentors and friends. He is gifted as this, as well as telling stories, and he embraces this part of the work, too. This is important, because so many writers think of marketing as evil or hard, but when you think of it as just connecting, it becomes beautiful.
But do you see how the fight just keeps going? On launch day, Sam had no idea how his book would fare in the world, whether the excitement and conversation around it would result in sales, whether he would make money, or an impact. He was just showing up, the way he had been showing up for the six years it took to make the book.
So wherever you are in your book’s lifetime, fight for it. Fight to shape it, to write it, to polish it, to pitch it, to sell it, to connect people around it. Because all the days in which you fight for your book are good days.