Confessions of an Author Newbie: A Story of High Hopes, Heartbreaking Failure... and a Stick-Figure
This is my only-slightly-inspirational story for the world’s would-be writers out there. I can honestly say, “Believe in your dreams,” but make sure you’re ready to pull out your heart and stomp all over it a few times. Publishing your book is a series of amazing highs and devastating lows. Someone told me once—not only do you need to believe in your work, you need to bleed every word. Now, I finally understand, and as I’m mopping up the carnage—I’d like to share my gory details.
It all began at our kitchen table. I had written one of my poems about plunging toilets and was reading it to my family. The laughter around that table legitimized what I was starting to feel—these silly poems were actually pretty funny. Seeing my son giggle pasta bits out of his mouth would inspire me to turn these crazy ruminations into a publishable work. But sadly, it would be many, many years before I could pass myself off as an actual author in a guest blog!
“My poems about plunging toilets, snotty noses, and all manner of sticky parenting situations seemed destined to make me the king of parental potty humor!”
What came next—was months of huge anticipation and possibilities. I was quickly able to secure an agent. My poems about plunging toilets, snotty noses, and all manner of sticky parenting situations seemed destined to make me the king of parental potty humor! Seriously, who wouldn’t love it? Well, after a large number of interested publishers, and a lot of excitement, the startling answer was—no one. I went from hero to zero shockingly fast. Soon, only my dog and my agent seemed willing to speak with me. Actually, that’s not true… my agent didn’t call me for a couple months, then dumped me in an email.
“But I just learned the hard way—you have to make others believe.”
Yes, the paragraph above probably lasted longer than my first shot at literary stardom. I was crushed. Obviously, you believe in your work if you’re actually trying to get it published. But I just learned the hard way—you have to make others believe.
I got word from an editor that my poems weren’t "bad" per se, it’s just nobody was exactly sure what to do with them. My mirthful vision of fatherly angst had come up short. Or, at the very least, I had failed to show people how this could be a sellable book. I couldn’t even market it as a solid doorstop—there weren’t enough poems.
Half-heartedly, I began retooling. Seriously, once you’ve come this far—can you really let it go? All I had to do, was make my "funny"… funnier. The doubts loomed large. I was becoming concerned the poems weren’t enough. Then came that fateful day. My wife handed me one of our boy’s drawings, and there—staring at me—was my "stick figure hero." (See below).
We laughed and laughed, then suddenly, we both froze. There, in front of us, was the vision for Stark Raving Dad. The rudimentary ugliness highlighted everything it meant to be a dad: from the lack of time, to the lack of sleep, to the lack of respect for the most private of things—using the bathroom!
“Soon, I was able to find a new, great agent that was actually willing to talk to me—and within a few months, we sold it!”
Adding my kids’ "masterpieces" to my poems would become the perfect "compliment." Soon, I was able to find a new, great agent that was actually willing to talk to me—and within a few months, we sold it!
Of course, we all know, it takes a bit of luck and timing to actually get a book to the finish line. But if you truly believe in your work—maybe you just need to find your "stick figure hero." What slight enhancement sets you apart? An argument could be made that the poems were good enough… they just hadn’t found the "right person." But I know in my heart, the additional illustrations really made the difference. They were the "rainbow sprinkles" on my cupcake. (Yes, sprinkles make all the difference!)
So what’s my advice? Besides inferring that child labor is a worthy cause? I think if you truly believe in your work, you’re the one who knows what makes it special. And therefore—you’re the one who knows how to make it special. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much. In my odd case, adding my kids’ grade-school art flipped my tragic fail into successful redemption.
Ultimately, I can say Stark Raving Dad sold to Running Press and it’s actually going to be published. Which is a lot better than having it stuffed away in a drawer and always wondering, what if? Now, to end this piece, I want to say the rest was history. But honestly, my book hasn’t come out yet. I’m suddenly in the world of marketing and publicity. And that will require a whole other, painfully long blog article. Of course, it isn’t easy. It’s a long, daunting, rollercoaster-ride to success…
And like dad on the toilet, just know it takes time.
Sanderson Dean is an Emmy Award-winning copywriter in the wonderful world of entertainment advertising. From NYC to LA, he's worked on thousands of movies, TV shows, and video games for numerous movie studios, television networks, and advertising agencies. And after more than twenty years in the business, it's a safe bet you've seen, heard, or read some tiny tidbit of entertainment advertising he's spent countless hours toiling over. But perhaps his biggest accomplishment—is surviving his two boys. He now resides in the San Francisco area, still copywriting for Hollywood, and using his spare time to write poems about poop and other messes. Check out his new book Stark Raving Dad at starkravingdad.com