The Road is Dark, and Full of Terrors

People often ask me what my road to publication has been like. It’s not a question that lends itself to a short or particularly intelligent answer. It was long, bumpy, uphill, dark and full of terrors, plagued by dead ends and switchbacks.

For years, I wanted to write. I kept a journal and built worlds in my basement, but I never took it too seriously. There were always other things that seemed to be more important, and there was always tomorrow…

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. — Macbeth, William Shakespeare.

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_01_002Finally, I’d had enough with putting it forever off and being a “one-day” novelist. Like Dante Alighieri,

“In the middle of life, I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell of that wood, savage and harsh and dense, the thought of which renews my fear. So bitter is it that death is hardly more.”

So bitter is it that death is hardly more. Yeah. It was time to get to work.

So I stayed up late and got up early, squeezing in a few extra minutes of writing whenever I could. I didn’t quite know what I was doing or even how I would do it, but I just kept writing and sharing my work and trying to improve my craft. And I started growing an audience. I knew, somewhere in my heart, that if I could just get people to pay attention to my work, I’d find a way to make a living off my words.

Now, after 18 months of hustle, a few opportunities have emerged. Over the course of six months, I’ve launched two books (both self-published), with two more in the pipeline. Soon, I expect to start doing readings and book-signings, and I’ll be releasing an online course and offering in-person classes.

But there’s so much more to it.

Like the twenty years of learning about publishing and business while working at legacy publishers. Or the practice I got in college as a writing student. Or how my mother used to read to me from Greek mythology at bed time.

Becoming an author isn’t like becoming an elected official. There’s no declaration of your candidacy, no calling into question the size of your competition’s “hands.” There aren’t caucuses to decide on a nominee.

The experience of becoming a published author is mysterious and practical at the same time. It takes effort, but sometimes it also seems to simply be happening to you. Like the first time someone offers to interview you, or asks you to do a guest post, or posts a random 5-Star Review. You don’t realize what’s happening behind the curtain, in people’s hearts and minds. While you’re busy hustling and writing the next thing, they’re reading the last thing, and connecting with it in some way that you can’t see or know. It becomes a sort of mysterious alchemy.

You become an author when people start thinking you’re an author.

The hardest thing to overcome is the notion that becoming a published author really changes anything. The day I dropped Hedge King in Winter, I still had to run out to the store for milk and eggs. There wasn’t a clown-car that showed up and divested a full media fanfare at my front door. There weren’t multi-billion-benjamin movie contracts starring Bradley Cooper. It just doesn’t work like that.

When I drop A Merchant’s Tale in April, I’m still going to have to figure out how to pay the rent.

But what I’ve come to understand is that finding your way to publication is more of a path than a plan: it involves unexpected twists and turns, and fortunate accidents along the way that seem horrible at first, but are really just another part of the process. And of course, there are those lonely days you feel will never end, when your author rankings seem like they’re in free-fall no matter what you do.

Finding one’s way through the wood, dark and full of terrors, is never as simple or as easy as one wants it to be.

When I began working on my new book, A Merchant’s Tale, I thought I knew what the process of publishing a book looked like, but what I learned surprised me.

  • You can’t do it on your own. You need help. I’ve had many guides who helped me understand my path to publication and what to do with it.
  • You have to practice. It isn’t easy. If you want to get published and realize whatever other goals come with that, you’ll have to fight for it.
  • You won’t “just know.” You won’t feel any differently on the day after you publish than you did on the day before you published. Discovery happens in stages and clarity comes with action. The most important thing you can do is take the next step.

In my books, I feature the stories of everyday people. I want to communicate that adventure is not something for “chosen ones,” but for everyone. And in those seemingly ordinary stories, I think we understand our own lives a little better.

At times, I think we all feel like our own stories are a little too ordinary for our liking. But what if in that ordinariness, there is also something extraordinary? That’s one of the ideas behind this book.

Get the book!

I hope you enjoy reading A Merchant’s Tale as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope it shows that the most amazing adventures can happen to the most ordinary people. And I hope you find yourself looking forward, as I do, to whatever lies beyond the next horizon.

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Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

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The Author
Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
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