Four years ago, I impulsively sat in front of a Stanford class and said I was going to write a book. I had no idea what it took, although I thought it was a relatively straightforward process: You have an idea. You write a book. You find a publisher. Your book comes out. Success! It wasn’t until I actually went through the process myself that I realized how complicated it was (i.e. – so much more complicated than I had ever imagined). It turns out that between research, drafting, edits, and rewrites, writing 50,000 words is actually one of the easiest parts of the whole thing.
I think that’s the problem we often face when confronting the contrast between how we perceive things to be and how they are in reality. When we read about someone's accomplishments, we usually imagine a fairly simple path—perhaps three or four steps. In reality, those accomplishments probably took more like twenty, or even fifty steps, with months or even years of false starts and trial-and-error in between. We tend to simplify things we don't understand into easy-to-digest pieces, which skews our view of them. The truth is, we can never really know how hard something is until we experience it ourselves.
This perception-reality gap gives us a false sense of what it takes to accomplish anything. It’s easy to put something down as simple inspiration or luck, but in reality, there is no magic. Accomplishments, first and foremost, take hard work—and a lot of it. For every announcement of a job promotion, a startup funding, or the completion of a major project, we see only the end result, not the journey that led there. We have a hard time processing everything that comes between the initial idea and the final achievement.
To illustrate, here is what most people think goes into publishing a book (I know, as I was one of those people):
Write the book
Edit the book
Submit the book to the publisher
I was already in the throes of the publishing process when it finally dawned on me just what I had gotten myself into. So much more goes into writing a book than I realized, such as:
Coming up with ideas
Drafting multiple pitches
Picking an agent
Writing a proposal
Refining that proposal
Shopping the book to publishers
Picking a publisher
Writing the rest of book
Submitting the first draft
Submitting the second draft
Promoting and marketing the book
Promoting and marketing
More promoting and marketing
As part of the process of launching my book, I have spoken to many authors. If I had met them earlier, I might not have even started this project. But since embarking on this journey, I’ve learned so much about what happens after you close your computer and send in your manuscript. Believe me when I say that it’s so much more than just typing and doing book tours.
The Curse of Survivorship Bias
The other day, my agent asked me if I was interested in writing a second book, if the first book was successful. The look on my face made her laugh. She was instrumental in getting my book published, and I’m incredibly grateful to her, but I replied, “I might only have one book in me.” (Kidding - I have some ideas for a second already…)
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