I am 32 years old, I just signed my first book contract. It’s for the Asian Arguments series at Zed Books, and the manuscript is set to be completed by March. This deal has been in progress for the past three months, and now it’s official, the dotted line has been signed.
You sometimes hear these stories about some blogger who was picked from the masses like a gold fish being scooped from a tank of hundreds of other nearly identical peers and presented with a book contract with a good publisher. This is perhaps a fantasy for new bloggers firing up their first .blogspot.com, but it’s a fantasy that dies fast after a year or two of bashing impotent missives into the brick wall of an over-stimulated, under-amused public. It’s something that has happened before, sure, but it’s not something that really happens.
“You’re like some teenage girl trying to get discovered by a modeling agency in a mall,” my wife once scornfully tried to cauterize my blogging practice. Well, that sort of happened.
I have been blogging full time since 2005. This habit first began as a training ground for the books that I would someday write. Then I began making money, and after a few years cultivated a readership far beyond the number of books I could ever dream of selling. The priority of being an author was pushed down by the day to day workload of running websites until I just about lost site of it in the mire. Though I’ve been working on many books on a wide range of topics for years, until recently none had yet gained much inertia. Some, like the A – Z perpetual travel manual, felt like outright chores, others had topics too far outside the range of general public interest to warrant much time input, while others I was just writing because I knew they would make money. In all cases, working on them felt like dragging logs through a forest. Sure, I could move them alright, but that doesn’t mean their going very fast. Partially, this was out of personal preference: when presented with the option of writing a blog post or article, clicking the publish button, and getting my daily dose of fulfillment, I generally found myself putting the books, which are not so immediately gratifying, off. I almost became secure in my identity as an internet writer — losing sight of what this entire project was supposed to be preparation for. I sat back, sighed, and accepted my position. Then Paul French wrote.
The subject heading of the email said “Chinese Ghost Cities.” It was an invitation to write a book for a series he edits at Zed.
I found no reason to waste thought in deliberation, and responded immediately. I was in — of course. I then spent the night wondering if he’d made some kind of error. His other writers have advanced degrees from high ranking universities, they are professors, they are journalists for big publications. My wife put an end to this fast: “No, I’m sure he wanted the other guy hanging out in ghost cities.” Fair enough.
The next day Paul wrote back telling me to submit a proposal. Two weeks later I had a draft of one finished. It passed it on to the commissioning editor at Zed, she gave it initial approval, and then the wheels began spinning — I made it into the peer review process.
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For the past three months I’ve been working on this book and going through the process of getting it published. The peer review process was a touch brutal. My proposal was torn to shreds by a British university professor, but the criticisms were all dead on. I picked up the pieces, twisted them around, patched them back together, reinforced the seams, and ended up with a sturdier model which received final approval from the publisher. I was sent a contract, I signed it, and now I wake up each morning scared shitless.
But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether.
On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.
The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it. –Seth Godin