Enduring the Pain in the Quest for Publication

How much pain are you willing to suffer to get published traditionally?

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain lately, mainly because I’ve been in a lot of pain. I had a root canal a couple of weeks ago. The procedure itself went smoothly. After three shots of pain-killer, I didn’t feel a thing while the endodontist finished killing my tooth with long, needle-like instruments that looked like they came straight from medieval torture chambers.

In fact, I didn’t really feel all that much pain until a couple of days later. Then an infection set in, which is apparently common in about twenty percent of root canal patients (according to the receptionist at the office!). For days, my tooth was sensitive to the barest touch, my gums were raw, and my jaw ached.

I was miserable, especially whenever the Ibuprofen began to wear off. I ate a lot of soup, oatmeal, and of course brownie batter. And waited impatiently for the antibiotic to finally kick in.

Throughout the experience, I tried to remind myself, the pain would eventually get better and that I’d no longer have to worry about that pesky tooth that had been bothering me for so long. But let’s face it, when we’re in pain, nothing seems to help.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is hang on and just endure it.

We’re a part of a modern culture that has a low threshold for pain. We like to avoid any form of physical or emotional hardship or difficulty. In fact, we often go out of our way to circumvent painful experiences.

When it comes to traditional publication, at times, it may feel like the journey is filled with one root canal and subsequent infection after another. We know what’s coming—the long waits, the rejections, the stinging feedback. We’ve heard others talk about it, we brace ourselves for it, but then when it comes we’re unprepared for how much it really hurts.

I’m always saddened when I hear about a writer who gives up the quest for traditional publication because of the pain and the heartache they experience. It’s one thing to stop writing or to self-publish after carefully weighing the pros and cons, after deliberating what’s best for your particular manuscript and situation. But it’s another to get discouraged because of the hardships and just throw in the towel.

If you’ve decided that traditional publication is the right road for you, then here are three things to keep in mind regarding PAIN:

1. Remember PAIN is part of the process.

Most traditionally published authors experienced incredible pain to get where they’re at, years of writing, scores of rejections, tough criticism, and long waits. All of us would like to think we can beat the odds, that somehow we can bypass the filtering system (agents and editors) that eventually allows the cream to rise to the top.

But the vast majority of us (myself included), have to undergo the long, painful squeeze through the sieve.

2. Avoid letting PAIN fester into bitterness.

Sure we can complain about how dredge makes it through the filter and now sits on the shelf. We can grumble about how unfair the process appears and call the process a lottery in luck. We can even derail agents and editors as close-minded.

But the fact is, commercially viable, well-crafted stories are still in demand. Agents and publishers are still looking for talented writers. If you’ve worked hard to become the cream, you will eventually rise to the top and will get scooped up.

If we stay humble about our abilities and realistic about the process, then we’ll be less likely to let our pain fester into bitterness.

3. Realize PAIN helps us get better.

We can let the pain make us bitter, or we can let it push us to be better.

Olympic athletes, movie stars, famous musicians—all had to work hard to get to the top. No doubt they spent years and years perfecting their skills in order to finally get to a successful point. They’d be offended if we told them they only got where they’re at because of luck.

The fact is, the pain of hard work is still the main ingredient in becoming successful for any profession, including becoming a published author.

What pains have you faced in your quest for traditional publication? Are you willing to keep suffering to rise to the top? Are you letting the pain push you to become better? Or are you tempted to give up?


  1. That's funny, I blogged along a similar vein yesterday! It is definitely a painful process, and so easy to lose hope. For me, it was simply a matter of holding fast to my faith and belief that I was on the path God had for me. And that eventually, if it was meant to be, I would see my words in print. Not an easy journey for sure, but I'm just under two weeks away from that moment now, my release day, and I can say if you can hack, it is so worth it!!
    Hope you feel better soon, Jody!

  2. Hi Catherine! Congrats on being so close to your release!! That's such an exciting and busy time! But you're right, the pain is well-worth it, especially once you start hearing from readers!

  3. I sort of agree with your overall point here, but not particularly as it relates to the current publishing landscape.

    It's not so great right now to have a print publishing deal with a big New York house. Not with how e-rights are currently structured and not with how long it takes a book to get to market, how poorly print books are performing overall, and the direction things appear to be heading.

    I agree that too many writers are e-pubbing that just haven't put in the time and work on their craft. But they aren't avoiding heartache and pain. Far from it, they will feel it acutely when their self-pubbed "masterpiece" fails to sell even a handful of copies to the paying customers.

    Sure they might get a few buys out of friends and family but that dies out and then their books will sit there and sink to the bottom of the ocean.

    Hard work, effort, craft, blood sweat and tears still rule the day when it comes to writing. No matter how you publish.

    By the way, lest you think I'm naysaying print deals because I can't snag an agent or something--I currently am working with one of the best lit agents around at a top flight agency. But I do it with a bit of misgiving, because I truly don't think print publishing is such a good route to travel anymore.

    Yes, there's plenty of pain to go around. But wearing your scars as a badge isn't going to sell more copies or make you anymore money, although it might make you feel like you're "better" than some of these self-published clowns who didn't work as hard as you.

    It's kind of akin to the old cliche, "when I was your age I had to walk three miles barefoot in the snow to get to school." Really? Great. You had it harder and worse.

    Instead of being proud of that, you should realize how unfairly, how underpaid and mistreated most writers have been under the traditional print system that is currently crumbling into dust.

  4. Yep. I've experienced pain. Hindsight is such a brilliant thing. I can look back at those things now and see the purpose. At the time, however, it's pretty fuzzy. Just keep on keepin' on! Great post, Jody!

  5. In response to qniz, I think self-pubbed authors have it hard too, if only because they have to do more "publishing" work or, if they choose a vanity publisher, they may have it harder in the future due to bad contract clauses.

    I'm sorry about your pain, Jody! My brother had an infection too and it was bad. :-( Excellent post though. I think you made some great points.

  6. Obviously vanity publishing is ridiculous and a waste of time, shouldn't really even be part of the conversation.

    I think we're talking about e-publishing through kindle and nook, etc. For many writers, especially polished and seasoned writers, it's the best way to go.

    In rare cases I think pursuing both avenues is beneficial. I can't honestly think of a good reason for a writer to NOT e-publish at the moment. Even if you have a print contract you should e-publish.

    There's a lot of money to be made, control over your work, and people who miss the boat on this really will be kicking themselves in the future when e-pubbing is more crowded and competitive and difficult to make money at...

  7. Heck, it's my middle name! ;)

    Seriously though part of why I kept it in my name is because of your point about it helping us get better.

    "Pain is God's megaphone to arouse a deaf world." C.S. Lewis (hope I didn't butcher that)

    It spurs growth. I actually have a high threshold for emotionally pain and am quite a sally when it comes to the physical stuff.

    Next up...a crown for me. I think I was four when I had my root canal. ;)
    ~ Wendy

  8. to rouse a deaf world.

    Rouse, the word would be rouse.

    ~ Wendy

  9. gniz & Jessica,

    You both bring up a good point. If I were going to add another point to my list I'd have to say:

    4. By giving up the pain of traditional publication, we'll bring a different set of pain that comes with indie pubbing.

    The bottom line is that any type of publication is going to be hard work and involve pain. We just have to choose the route that we think is best for us and our book.

    gniz, I'll be curious to see how your misgivings pan out as you move closer to publication. My experience traditionally has been far from unpleasant. I've really appreciated the experience. Even though I have a fairly large social media presence, I still wouldn't have been able to sell nearly the amount of books if I'd gone e-pub. Not by a long shot. And yes, I have to split my earnings--but I look at it like I'm paying for exceptional editing, cover design, publicity, and marketing. Besides, my target auidence (for inspiration historical romance) is still largely mid-age to older women who are still mainly reading print books. I'd miss out on a HUGE portion of my readership if I only went the e-pub route.

    Now if an author is established and has a large platform, like James Scott Bell (who just recently e-pubbed his first set of novellas), then maybe you have a good shot at successful e-pubbing. I'm watching his venture with curiosity!

    Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts! I appreciate the conversation! :-)

  10. Publishing has been a difficult industry to build a career in for as long as I've been on the scene. When I first began pitching romance to publishers, the strong series lines at houses like Bantam were falling away, Harlequin was being bought by TORSTAR and absorbing Silhouette, and that was the end of romance.

    Now our top authors have merged into and conquered mainstream suspense and thrillers, and epublishing (and self-publishing) options are offering more opportunity than ever before.

    But you're right. None of the changes have been easy at any point. And watching the industry that we knew as publshing crash and rebuild itself into soemthing no one can predict, even now, has been the most difficult ride of all.

    We're on a crazy train, but if we take the journey together, sharing the information and lessons we're learning, we'll get to the next stop. Then THAT will one day fall away, and even greater challenges will mesmerize us.

    Embracing the pain, yes. But maybe not feeling so freaked out by the inevitableness of all this is a good first step, too.

    "'Tis," a friend and I keep saying to each other, with each new shock we have to think our way through.

    It's just part of the game...

  11. I haven't had the pleasure of going through the pain yet as I'm still working on my first piece, but I know it's coming. I really enjoy information like this to show how the process will eventually work for myself.

    Hope that you get to feeling better!

  12. I'm more afraid of NOT getting what I want than feeling pain TO get what I want. So bring on the pain! It's only temporary, right?! :)

  13. Pain is a great motivator. In my case, I was published and then my publisher folded. Getting back to square one within an 18 month time-frame was very sobering (and painful, yes). I think that getting back in that valley re-energized my work and taught me that there are no guarantees...even when you do achieve publication.

  14. In my incredibly long journey of trying to get published, I have been through several phases - ecstasy, defeat, renewed hope, excruciating agony, numbness, calm.

    It's the calm we want to achieve. Then, sending out queries and receiving rejections simply becomes a daily task rather than a shot of pain. And from that calm place, we can keep writing, the most important thing of all!

  15. One day, I'm on top of the world, the next I'm down in the dumps. No way am I ever in between, or ambivalent about writing! I'm so sorry about your root canal. If I were in your position, I would use it as an excuse to stop blogging. I'm such a wuss.

  16. I'm not in pain. I have coffee. ;)

  17. Yup. Getting a book published will result in pain at times, but that's only part of the process. There can be joy on the journey for those who are embracing their passion for writing and doing what they love. That's what makes enduring the painful times worth it.

  18. I’m with Keli on this one. I feel the pain, excruciating at times, but the joy of the writing experience outweighs any negative that may come along. Thanks for this post as I was feeling a bit of the pain this morning.

  19. I really appreciated this piece. Can't vouch for word-on accuracy here, but I believe Tolkien phrased it something like "I have held up my heart to be shot at."

    Maybe that's a lot of why I read so much fantasy fiction... it's a reminder to be brave and grit through the hard stuff. :)

    Hope you feel better! Apart from the fixing of a problem, I've never heard anything cheerful about the root canal experience.

  20. Great post Jody! I am only starting to feel some of the pain with regards to the traditional publishing route, but I agree it is necesarry.

    I hope you feel better soon and that you are not in too much pain or discomfort.

  21. Your tooth story makes ME hurt and dread what is surely to come! 20% is an awfully high number of infections.

    I sure hope you are feeling better!

    To answer your question, most of the pain over writing is just discomfort. But the real agony is the hardships we must endure to mature and develop our own character.

    We write from a soul. Always. God knows this better than we. He is in the process of refining us, and He knows the hardships help us. So He doesn't remove them. Instead, He redeems them. I ask God for inner character which writes beautifully, and I pray NOT to hurt. But God can't give me both.

  22. Some interesting takes on the pain of publishing here in the comments section (which you responded to quite gracefully, Jody!) - at the very beginning of my own eventual publishing path (and not sure what road it shall take), I find this post reassuring - thank you!

    And feel better soon!

  23. This is one of my favorite of your posts. Both parts of your analogy resonate with me, and I really appreciate the reminder that the way is always through pain, not around. And that we can never know what really waits for us on the other side until we're there.

    Traditional publication is important to me, a big part of my dream, and I'll work until I get there, or until it's clear my path has shifted.

  24. "But let’s face it, when we’re in pain, nothing seems to help."

    This is very true, Jody. Some days it's hard to believe that the pain will be worth it, or that it will get better when confronted with the uncertainty of whether we will get an agent or not, and whether our novels will ever get published. Even worse is the self doubt that often accompanies the pain. (Am I even good at this or am I just wasting time?)

    Having said this, it's encouraging to know that almost every author has been through this and that it DOES get better. Thanks for the advice!


  25. You hit it. Pain is inevitable in this industry. And I've talked to writers who get frustrated because writing itself can be painful. I try to reassure them that it's okay if the process isn't easy as long as it is fulfilling.

  26. The process of getting published was long and painful - and I wouldn't change a thing.

    God used that time to build my character - it definitely built humility - and to prepare me for the pressures and joys of publication.

    Hmm, I think He might know what He's doing :)

  27. It's interesting that you would pick this blog topic this week because it's hitting close to home right now!

    Getting my revision notes last week was something of an eye opener. Now, first of all, let me say that my agent is being simply amazing. She's taking a TON of time to make this ms the best it can possibly be. And to do that, she's ripping it limb from limb. Now, don't get me wrong, I can see her point in 98% of her comments, so she's definitely on the right track. Good heavens, why couldn't I see that head hopping? And when did that passive writing creep in? And yes, maybe that character's motivation could be a little stronger. Hmmmm...


    Now, she does her best to temper the disasters with comments about what's done right, so it's not all bad news. But she's got 3 editors interested already, she's going to pitch it at Sleuthfest this week-end to try to get more interest going and the darned thing's not done yet and I work a full time job. I'm shoehorning working on the ms into every spare second I've got. There's a little pressure for you.

    But you're right, it's all about pushing me to be better, so yes, it's painful and yes, it's all worth it.

    But if you've got any spare brownie batter lying around, I wouldn't say no to it... ;)

  28. Hi Jody -

    Ooo, I can relate to your dental woes. Last summer, I had a crown and gum surgery.

    Does anything worthwhile come without pain? Anyone who's given birth, studied for a profession, trained for a sport, or even tried to lose weight will tell you, "no pain, no gain."

    No matter which route you choose, traditional or self-publishing, there will be plenty of suffering involved.


  29. What a great post! I'm currently in a "review my dedication" phase of my writing. I'm not giving up, just evaluating my quality and deciding what step to take next. Perhaps this is a "fall back to lick the wounds" process, but I know I'll get back to submitting. I just need to find the right process for me. Thanks for the tips!

  30. What a great post! I'm currently in a "review my dedication" phase of my writing. I'm not giving up, just evaluating my quality and deciding what step to take next. Perhaps this is a "fall back to lick the wounds" process, but I know I'll get back to submitting. I just need to find the right process for me. Thanks for the tips!

  31. I finished Draft #7 of my novel, and may have to head into eight. Crazy, yes, but the novel keeps getting better. I thought I'd be on submission after Draft #2. Silly me.

    Hope your mouth feels better soon.

  32. I like this post, Jody. It's so real-to-life.

    I think we are in a very good position nowadays where there's still the chance to self-publish easily if traditional publishing just isn't working. We can then just take the advices of professional editors and agends and use them when self publishing our stories.

    I feel so sorry, that your teeth gave you such a hard time.

  33. Ouch! It's bad enough having a root canal (I've had one) without an infection to boot. Hope it's better now, take care. I got the nicest rejection yesterday so that's my ouch for the week.

  34. Sad, but true. Once again, you show us your wisdom, Jody. *sigh* Break out the Ibuprofen! :-)

  35. OMG, yes. I tried so hard to be mentally prepared for the pain, but the truth is sometimes it hits harder than you expect. I had my share of frustration, tears, whining, and immense discouragement, but all I could think was, "no one ever said it was going to be easy," because I've never read one writer say it was a breeze.

    So I wrote that down on a post-it note and put it on my desk, and every time I felt the pain I'd look up and remember that it's part of the process.

  36. I can't help but notice how few comments this post received compared to most of your other posts, Jody.

    I think that as a culture we are unwilling to endure delay, frustration, and the perseverance that a writing career demands. I completely agree with you that hard work is the primary component to any author's success.

    I hope your tooth pain (and the infection) is gone. But hey, you got a good blog post out of it! :-)

  37. Rejection. It's tough. I consider it a badge of honor. I keep at it, encouraged by other writers who told me of their struggles.

    I keep an open mind and keep striving to do better.

  38. Excellent reality check there. Some things are worth the agony caused by torture queries.

  39. I don't consider it pain. Every writer I know want to make money writing so they can keep writing. I've been traditionally published since 1991 when my first hardcover came out. I made the decision this year to go indie and release my Civil War trilogy next month on the 150th anniversary of the war for a lot of reasons. One is quite simple: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. I'd rather be in charge than once more let people who have other priorities decide the fate of my book. I'm not saying there are bad people publishing, but the bottom line is the business is badly broken and few seem to accept. It's not something to get emotional about, it's just reality.

  40. Hi Bob! Thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation! I'll be interested to see how your venture into indie publishing goes! Wishing you all the best!


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